When dogs run away when called, owners are often frustrated and quite disappointed. Understandably so. The last thing you want is your dog doing the total opposite of what you want him to do, especially when you need him to rush to you pronto or when there are possible dangers lurking around.
From Your Dog's Perspective
You call your dog and expect him to come to you immediately. Your dog instead ignores your recall and decides to keep sniffing or chasing some critter. The moment you move in his direction with the intent of drawing him closer or getting him, your dog runs off. What gives? Why is your dog taking off rather than coming closer?
Before considering placing a call to a doggy psychologist asking for tips on why your dog does the opposite of what you want him to do, it helps to take a closer insight into why dogs sometimes act in the peculiar ways they do.
So let's discover several possible reasons as to why dogs run away when called, rather than coming closer as we would expect them to do.
Fear of Missing Out
"Time flies when you are having fun," goes the saying. Let's face it: many dogs find outdoor stimuli and situations very reinforcing. Whether sniffing around, chasing furry critters, eating rabbit poop or digging holes leading to China, your dog's favorite past times keep him busy and happy.
Countless dogs therefore look forward to spending time outdoors. Just the mere perk of being able to stretch the legs and release some pent-up energy makes the outdoors super rewarding.
After all, we can't blame them: most dogs were selectively bred for some engaging in some outdoor activity. Retrievers were bred to retrieve downed birds, spaniels were bred for flushing birds out of bushes, coonhounds were bred to "tree racoons" and sighthounds were bred for coursing.
And when dogs aren't sniffing, digging or chasing, they are often having a blast at the dog park, a place where they get to burn off excess energy and play with other fun doggy friends.
All these stimuli and situations draw our dogs like magnets competing against us. When we call our outdoorsy dogs when the are having so much fun, they start associating their recall with the fun coming to an abrupt end.
Recall after recall, your dog therefore comes to dread being called and when you move in his direction, he plays hard to catch because he simply doesn't want to leave.
A Matter of Negative Associations
Raise your hand if you ever called your dog to give him a bath, trim his nails, or close him in a crate when you were about to leave for work. If your hates baths, nail trims or being left alone when your leave, chances are high he has learned to associate his name when called with these negative happenings.
In such a case, it can be said that his recall has been "poisoned." Poisoned cues are a real thing when it comes to dog training and the recall is one of the most commonly affected.
Poisoned cues are simply signals that a dog associates unpleasant things. They often encompass verbal commands we give to our dogs, however, there are many other cues dogs respond to, such as body movements, scents, and sounds. Cues, therefore, precede behaviors and virtually tell the dog what happens next.
Once your dog therefore learns to associate being called with something unpleasant happening right afterward, rest assured he'll eventually stop coming when called and will even attempt to run away if you try to get him.
Playing a Game of "Keep Away"
The "keep away game" is a favorite game among dogs. Indeed, the keep-away game among dogs is a game that comes naturally to them with zero learning required. You'll therefore see puppies and dogs play it with their owners and other dogs.
Requirements involve an owner willing to run a bit (or at least willing to try to) and a dog loving to be chased. Most likely, your dog has invited you to play this game many times in the past.
It usually starts with you moving in your dog's direction in hopes of catching him and grabbing him by his collar. Then, as you slightly move towards your dog, and you are just an arm's reach from his collar, your dog abruptly swifts away in hopes of you trying to catch him. If dogs could talk, their excited barks would say: "Come and get me, catch me if you can!"
Coincidentally, this behavior seems to occur right when you seriously need to get a hold of your dog. You may have rehearsed with game already many times, if you have chased your dog in the past when he got a hold of your shoes.
Sensing Your Frustration
One major cause of dogs running away when called is dogs sensing their owner's growing frustration. Dogs are sensitive beings that are very in tune with our emotions. They can readily interpret our body language, movements and tones of voice, even when we try to keep cool.
When dogs sense us getting angry or frustrated, they are often intimidated by us and this only pours fuel to the fire. No dog likes to come to an owner who is in this type of negative mood because it makes them think they are in trouble.
Dogs actually are attracted to owners when they are calm and have established a history of trust and pleasant interactions with their dogs.
Falling into the "Treat Trap"
It is often tempting for owners to reach out for food or toys to lure the dog in hopes of getting him come close enough for us to clip on the leash or reach for their collar. However, with time, this method will backfire.
Soon, the dog starts associated the treat with being reached for and taken away from all the fun. While the treat may have initially worked as a bribe, sort of like a promise that says "come close and you'll get this in exchange" but soon the dog realizes it has become a trap.
The treat therefore no longer works to draw your dog near. He has understood the trap. So now you're left holding a stinky treat and a dog who runs away the closer you move towards him.
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs have their own good reasons for running away when called. Now that you are aware of several phenomenon, the next question is: "How do I get my dog to stop from running away when called?"
This is a good question and the answer is: with loads or training, consistency and patience. Following are several tips for preventing your dog from running away when called.
How to Stop Your Dog From Running Away When Called
One of the greatest joys of dog ownership is having a dog who comes when called. Such dogs are happy and enjoy the perks of more off-leash freedom compared to dogs who run away and risk becoming a danger to himself and others. Following are several tips for training a dog to stop running away when called.
- Provide enough exercise and mental stimulation. Many dogs run off when called because they are in desperate need for exercising their bodies and minds. Ensure your dog receive a sufficient daily dose of exercise (walks, swims, hikes, play, canine sports) and mental stimulation (training, brain games, socialization, sniffing and foraging opportunities).
- Never call your dog for unpleasant things. Avoid using your recall to scold your dog or to do anything that your dog perceives as unpleasant. Also, don't use treats to lure your dog to come to you to avoid falling into the treat trap. If you need to get your dog for anything unpleasant, spare your recall from becoming a poisoned cue. Your recall needs to be perceived as music to your dog's ears.
- Rename it and refresh it. If your recall has already been poisoned, rename it and refresh it with some positive training sessions. For instance, if a dog has learned that ''come!'' often means ''time for bath time,'' you are better off teaching a whole new cue such as ''over here!'' said in a happy tone of voice and followed by some tasty treats.
- "Proof" your dog's training gradually. This needs to be done before granting off-leash freedom. In other words, work diligently and systematically on training a strong response to a recall starting in areas with little distractions and gradually exposing to more and more distractions. Start training your dog to come when called indoors in a quiet room, then progress to a room with more distractions, that move to your yard, then off leash in a fenced area or with your dog on a long line. Gradually introduce increasing levels of distance and distractions. Only once you have attained a reliably response (with your dog coming when called at least 80 percent of the time) can you then try off leash in a safe area around mild distractions. Remember: off-leash freedom is a "privilege" that a dog must earn through repeated successes.
- Reward to impress. You want to leave a strong impression on your dog when he comes to you when called. Make sure to be generous. I like to praise lavishly and feed 5-8 pieces of small treats in a row, making the dog feel as if he struck the lottery.
- Acclimatize your dog to collar grabs. This will teach your dog to not fear being grabbed by the collar. Touch the collar and give a treat, then grab the collar with your whole hand around it and give a treat, then grab the collar and let your dog walk one step and give a treat, and then practice grabbing the collar and letting your pup walk a few steps towards his food bowl a helper has placed on the floor. Let go and have him enjoy his meal. Do these exercises often enough to obtain what's known as a conditioned emotional response. Afterward, start practicing recalls and grab the collar before feeding him several treats. This will help change your dog's emotional response towards having his collar touch and can help prevent further instances of playing hard to catch when you're reaching for the collar.
- Reward voluntary check-ins. This is a great bonding exercise that will provide a foundation of trust and establish a reinforcement history with you. Walk around a fenced yard and carry treats in your pocket or treat bag. Deliver a tasty treat to your dog every time he comes close and "checks-in" with you. With time, you'll see him paying more and more attention to you despite the all the stimulus package of the great outdoors.
- Make mental notes of failures. If your dog fails to come when called, make a mental note of exactly what may have happened. Perhaps your dog was exposed to something that was too distracting or perhaps something had a bit worried. Next time, you may want to create a set-up, where you systematically expose your dog to lower levels of these distractions to find again his responsiveness zone and restart from there.
- Preempt potential problems. When in doubt, leave it out. In other words, avoid keeping your dog off leash and calling him when you aren't sure if he'll come. Every time you call your dog and it goes to deaf ears, imagine it as if you were emptying a piggy bank in which you have diligently placed coins over time. Every time he comes to you instead you are filling it up and even getting a nice return on your investment.
- Take off in an emergency. Here's a little tip if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation where you need your dog to stop running away and come towards you. Try to make silly noises, move your body away and run the opposite way. Most dogs find chasing us irresistibile and this may prevent them from running off.
- Consider the risks of being off leash. Finally, consider the risks of dogs being off-leash. Anything can happen. Here are ten big dangers of off-leash dogs and alternatives to keeping dogs off leash.