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Canine Behavior/COME command


Dear Ms. Connor, over the past few years you have been very generous in providing excellent advice - and I am quite grateful for that. Here is what I'm current dealing with:
The COME command is falling on deaf ears - most of the time. It is NOT falling on deaf ears when it involves coming to retrieve a treat, or being fed a meal - or going for a "ride" in the car. The time it DOES fall on deaf ears is when I'm asking my girl to COME over to me so I can put a leash on and take her for a walk. She simply looks at me when I say Come - and absolutely nothing happens. I realize there are probably 3 ways to deal with this - 1) ignore it, try again later  2) bribe her with a treat, and when she Comes, give it to her and put a leash on  3) simply go over to her and put a leash on ( my concern with this way is that I feel it could cause anxiety and even aggression, since she probably knows she's done something wrong, and I am not happy ). FYI, Ms. Connor, I've tried # 2 above on many occasions, and it did NOT work. She's too smart and knows a bribe is coming. What can I do to improve this situation ?
Thank you much,

The dog is responding to the food reward but only on her own terms.  First: you must replace the word you use and start from scratch; second, you must use a clicker.  Third: you must examine why your dog is so averse to having a leash attached to her collar for the sake of going out (which most dogs are eager to do).  I think this is actually the most important thing: why is the dog so hesitant to go "out" or to have a leash attached?  Are you using a choker collar; has she had fearful experience(s) going in/out any of your doorways?  You say you can't "simply go over to her and put a leash on) because of anxiety or aggression.  Why does she "know" she's "done something wrong" if you approach her?  Methinks, Horatio, that the problem lies not in our stars but in ourselves.....

Watch the following video:

Before even trying to use the clicker on your dog (or "charging it", as the saying goes, which means conditioning the dog to the fact that click=treat; click then becomes the primary reward), use it on a friend or two in a place where the dog cannot see/hear (friend's house).  Tell the friend you want him/her to "do" something simple and you will click as s/he gets CLOSE to doing it, then NOT click if s/he moves farther from doing it.  Humans can report back: you are confusing me, or they can very easily fall into the "spell" of the clicker (and it's pretty funny actually) and try just about anything to get that click.  Then have them do it to  YOU.  Now: understanding the power of this operant conditioning tool (btw, it is used with autistic children), you are equipped to "charge the clicker" for your dog.  Begin this way:

Approach the dog while s/he is lying down in a very relaxed mood, (at first, muffle the sound of the clicker by keeping it in your pocket)   toss high value treat (hot dog, cheese, etc., small piece) and the MOMENT the dog grabs it, click;  back away a foot or so, wait for the dog to react.  The dog may be startled (surprised) and may look a bit confused, but s/he WILL react in some manner (probably get up and come over to you).  If s/he does not get up, repeat the toss/click as described.  Eventually (most likely after the second click/treat) s/he will get up and approach you.  When s/he is standing in front of you, click/treat, back farther away.  Dog will follow, may automatically sit this time but if s/he doesn't, that's okay: when she gets to you, click/treat, back even father away; this time dog WILL come click/treat.  Now back even further away and AS SHE IS COMING TO YOU, use a new word (Presto), click/treat; back away again (further), say "Presto" AS DOG IS COMING TO YOU, click/jackpot "many pieces of high quality food reward", end session.

A few hours later as dog is calmly lying around, scoot down to her level, use your word (open your arms), dog will come toward you, use your word until she is in front of you, click/jackpot, end session.

NEVER use any recall word for any purpose other than reward while you are re-training.

Randomly for the first few days, in plain sight of your dog and close proximity (not from across the room), cue the dog to "come" with your new word. Your dog NOW understands what the click means (THAT BEHAVIOR is going to be rewarded RIGHT NOW) and has a new cue for "sit".  

If dog refuses to engage (hardly likely) put leash on dog indoors and gently lead her to you.  I've never known this to be necessary.

Repeat the cue (special word) at least three times daily INDOORS (DO NOT use it to ask her to come to you for leash attachment).  As it becomes clear the dog understands the cue (Presto) and gets up and comes to you enthusiastically, praise greatly, back up, wait for dog to come forward to you again, click/treat.  Now you're ready to take this outside NOT OFF LEASH.  If you have a fenced yard and a bunch of friends of family members, sit in a circle with high value treats.  Each person (randomly) should use "the word" and, when dog arrives in front of them, offer a treat, followed immediately by another person (randomly in the group) doing the same.  A few minutes three times a week of this (it's fun, people are laughing, dog is happy), you will have a solid recall but do not test the dog OFF LEASH.

Meanwhile:  Since you feel some trepidation regarding approaching the dog to put on her leash, put her on a house tab (very lightweight leash with handle cut off) only when you are at home.  Approach her on a curve, stop before you get to her, yawn, continue, pick up the leash, and as you swap the house tab for the outdoor leash, pop a treat into her mouth.  This is counter conditioning any fear she might have acquired to having a leash attached.  Examine carefully any reason (even the most obscure) she may have acquired a fear of leash attachment.  Use followup feature to inform progress or ask questions.  True conditioned response to the clicker allows you to shape elaborate behaviors with delayed food response.  You might want to go to Karen Pryor's site: to see how well this works.  I can make an Orca perform an "entertaining" (but natural) behavior using a whistle (in place of the clicker), so using this method with a dog is always successful if it's used properly.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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