Puppy Won’t Come When Called?

Ah, life with a new puppy! We have a 14 week-old Border Collie pup named Hope at the farm, and what better reminder of the importance of “talking to your dog” with your body! We’ve been working hard on teaching him to come when called by giving him lots of positive reinforcement for running toward us when we say That’ll Do.” (The classic herding dog handler’s phrase . . . you might have heard it in the movie Babe?). As soon as his head turns toward us we reinforce his attention by running away and letting him chase us, by laughing and clapping and giving him lots of yummy food treats when he catches up.

However, we noticed that Hope was much more responsive to me than to my partner Jim, even though Jim was doing a great job of giving Hope treats and chase games when the pup came running. I put on my “field observer” hat, and paid more attention to our behavior. Sure enough, I soon realized that if the pup showed the slightest hesitation to leave something that distracted him (and there’s always a lot of that any time a pup is outside, right?), I bent at the waist and snapped my fingers or clapped my hands at the level of the pup’s head. With very rare exceptions, this caused Hope to move away from the distraction and come to me.  Good puppy!

This makes sense when you think about it. First of all, imagine life through the eyes of a puppy. If you’re able to, get down on your hands and knees and look at the world from the level of your dog’s eyes—boy does it look different! When we call a dog to come our faces and hands are often far above their level of vision. It makes sense that our movements have more impact if we make them at eye level. Don’t you pay more attention to things directly in front of you?

In addition, the movement of bending down contains a compelling message to a dog. When dogs want to play, they bend forward to each other in a “play bow,” a signal universal understood to mean “let’s have fun!” No wonder they respond it when you bend down! Of course, you have to be at least 5 feet away from them for it to look like a play bow to your dog; if you are closer it’s more like looming over them, which can be scary for some pups.

The next time your pup, or full grown dog for that matter, looks at you as if she’s pondering whether to come or not, try bending forward, clapping your hands at her eye level and then moving away so that she is stimulated to chase you. Is it going to work if your dog is about to chase a squirrel? Very doubtful! But it might be just enough to “talk” a dog into coming when called if she’s on the fence!

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Positively Expert: Patricia McConnell

Patricia McConnell, PhD, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, (CAAB) has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals. She is known worldwide as an expert on canine and feline behavior and dog training, and for her engaging and knowledgeable dog training books, DVDs and seminars.


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