Do you remember when you were a young child and you had done something wrong? In stern voices, your parents would call you to come over to them. You would slowly approach them, dreading what your punishment would be. Well, dogs are similar to young children, and when you use a threatening tone, they certainly do not want to come anywhere near you.
I recently spent some time watching people and their dogs on a bike path. Most people would call their dog to come and the dog would ignore them. They would continue to call their dog, and each time, their tone would reflect their frustration. Their dog would focus on sniffing the ground, and he would get a little farther away each time the "come" got louder and angrier.
Would you want to go near a person using an angry tone of voice? When the dog eventually did go up to its human, the human would yell at the dog for not coming in the first place! So now the dog has been punished for doing what was asked of him. This trains the dog not to come the next time.
When we were children, we probably had a pretty good idea why our parents were upset with us. Dogs do not have the same level of understanding. They only understand that they are getting punished for doing what you just asked. Their minds are in the moment. They do not understand that you are upset because they failed to respond to the first command to come promptly.
Something to keep in mind is that dogs do whatever behavior works to get them what they want. If the behavior they just performed by coming to you is punished, then they are not getting what they want. This results in your dog failing to respond eagerly and promptly to that command. No matter how angry you are when your dog does come to you, you need to reward him. To vent your anger, you can tell him how disappointed you are in him but in a very pleasant tone while petting him. This way, you are praising your dog while getting out your anger and the dog only thinks that he is getting rewarded. I usually say, "You are such a good boy, but I am so mad at you" - in a very nice tone, of course.
Having a dog respond promptly to the command to come is one of the most important commands he will ever learn. It could be life saving.
This command is always the first thing that I teach a new dog in our family. There are things that can be very dangerous for him off leash: traffic, cars in driveways, wildlife, other dogs, etc. If your dog does not come when you call him each time, you need to go back to leash work.
It is very simple to teach your dog to come when you call him while he is on a leash. The method that we use is to call the dog's name and then say "come" while backing up and holding your hand palm up for the dog to touch. When the dog touches your hand you say "touch" and give him a treat or praise. After the dog has learned this, command the dog to sit after the touch.
I'm sure you have seen a dog that comes near and then circles the human after being called to come but won't let the human actually get close. This is why we teach them "the come then touch" method. What you have then is: dog's name, come, touch and then sit. So when you call your dog to come, he immediately comes to you, touches you and then sits. You can teach all of this on a leash. Your dog will have fun because he will love to please you and will be performing a behavior that gets him a reward.
Char Quinn is the executive director of the Eagle Valley Humane Society, is a certified professional dog trainer and volunteers as an animal protection agent for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Email comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.