What if I told you that YOU had the power to get your dog to listen to you more often? Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not and even better: it’s really easy!
These three things are simple enough for everyone to do with their own dog. Try it for a month and let me know how much better your dog is doing when you ask him to do something for you.
Why do these things?
It may feel like a waste of time to do this extra work. You’ve already taught your dog good manners, why should you have to do more? Because, like people, dogs do better when they get a little more support, attention, and instruction.
Sure, you can go along with a dog that sorta sometimes listens, but why stop halfway? Especially when it’s so easy to take it to the next level where your dog isn’t only listening to you but is happy to do it!
Plus, life is a whole lot easier for you when cooperation is the norm, instead of the exception. Wouldn’t it be nice if your dog came the first time you called (and was wagging his tail the whole way), instead of going out into the yard and chasing him around a bit, resulting in your being late for work?
What are the three things?
These are all pretty easy, dirt cheap, quick, and effective. Let’s dive right in without delay!
Change up the reward. Make a list of the things your dog really likes. No need to spend much time on this — make your list on the back of an envelope or on your phone, even. It doesn’t matter where you write all this stuff down, the purpose of this quick exercise is to show you just how many things your dog enjoys.
Here’s what would be on my dog’s list:
- cherry tomatoes, cheese bits, any food leftovers, really
- dog treats
- pork rawhide
- back scratches, tummy rubs
- car rides
- “squirrel” and then racing to the door to chase the bird feeder pilferer to the fence
- squeaky toy
- face massage
- happy talk
- opportunity to be chased by me through the house
- opportunity to chase ME through the house
- a quick training session
- stuffed Kong
- game of tug
- a round or two of fetch
Look at all those different things I can offer my dog when he’s done something I’ve asked! Switching up rewards keeps your dog interested in what you’re asking, makes it fun to listen to you, and will greatly improve his manners.
Make it unpredictable. If your dog knows that when he comes inside, he gets a boring old dog cookie, you can bet he’s not going to be in much of a rush to do what you’ve asked. Think of it this way: if you knew that when you go back to work after lunch, you’ve got a 4-hour boring teleconference, wouldn’t you want to hang out at the restaurant a little longer? Would you really want to rush back to work? Just to sit in a meeting all afternoon? (If you answer yes to this, you’re an odd character and I don’t understand you.)
With the list you created above, you’re now ready for huge variability in how you reward your dog for doing what you like. You’re the gatekeeper to all the things your dog loves. Open that gate to those things when your dog does what you like! Be generous! No one appreciates a stingy gift. If your dog comes to you — no matter how long it took him — reward generously with one (or two or three!) of those things on the list above. I’ll bet you he comes even faster the next time you call him. And even faster the time after that! It’s a beautiful cycle — you reward generously and unpredictably and your dog responds faster and with more enthusiasm. It’s a cool thing to see when your dog recognizes that listening to you opens up the door for him to have fun, get a goodie, or play a game with you.
Practice. How many days a week do your kids spend practicing with their school sports teams? How many practice days do professional athletes put in before every game? A LOT in both cases. We completely expect athletes to put in the practice time if they’re going to be star players, right? The same thing goes for your dog. Your dog will be as good as his practice. If he’s going to be a star, he needs practice time.
What does this mean for you? It means that right before you’re going to give your dog something from that list you created (above), you’re going to ask him to do something for you. If we look at the coming when called example again, it means maybe you call your dog three times before you really need him to come in. Let’s say you’re getting ready for work and you know that you have to leave the house at 7:30a to get to work on time. Instead of calling your dog to come in at 7:25a (where he’ll be “rewarded” by being crated and your leaving , call him at 7:10a. When he comes to you, give him a tasty treat and send him back outside to play in the fenced yard. Call him again at 7:15a. Maybe you throw a squeaky toy for him and let him continue to play and explore the yard. At 7:20 call him again, this time you chase him for 15 seconds around the yard (if he loves to be chased, of course). Then at 7:25, the for real, I need you to come right away call, he gets a stuffed Kong inside the house (in his crate if you crate him during the day) as you leave.
This doesn’t take much extra time, but boy does it make a big impression on your dog! If you stick to this practice regimen (calling your dog when you can reward him and send him back out to play [another reward!]), before you know it, your dog’s recall will be stellar! He’ll come to you the first time, every time!
These three things work independently of the other. They work even better if you implement all three strategies together. This stuff is easy — anyone can work it into their schedule. It’s cheap, it’s easy — and it’s effective. Start by making the list of the things your dog loves, then start the program. You’ll be amazed at the difference you can make!