You've taught your dog to come when called -- congratulations! Except ... forget about it when she's playing with other dogs. How can you get her to pay attention to you then?
Tip #2: Work on Your Dog’s Attentiveness to You Around Other Dogs
Practice with a friend and her dog will build your dog’s attentiveness. But you can also work on attentiveness around dogs in other contexts. In an earlier episode, I explained how to teach your dog to look at you on cue, and also to check in with you spontaneously. Once you’ve taught the cue in less enticing contexts, try this: When your dog wants to greet a dog friend on leash, ask her to look at you first. Hold out for a moment of real focus from her, not just a glance skittering over your face and then back to the other dog. Reward that focus by giving her the okay to go say hi.
You can also borrow a common puppy-class trick. Here again, you’ll need to work with another dog. It’s important to pick one who won’t growl or snap at your dog in the presence of treats, so don’t use this method at the dog park. In that context, you could start a fight. Pick a fenced area or use a long line to keep the dogs safe. Let them meet and greet and play for half a minute or so, with their leashes or lines dragging on the ground. Then you and the other dog’s owner step in, each holding a delicious treat under her own dog’s nose. Turn your dog away from the other dog, pick up the leash, feed your dog the treat, ask your dog to sit or to look at you, and then reward by letting the dogs return to play. This is another way to help your dog learn that attention to you around another dog she’s having fun with pays off in treats for her – and doesn’t necessarily end playtime, either.
Tip #3: Play!
Speaking of playtime: what do dogs get out of play with other dogs? That’s not a trick question. The answer is “Play.” (Or part of the answer, at least – dogs’ bodies and their sensory world are so different from ours, we’ll probably never fully understand how they experience life.) If your dog loves to play, and all the playtime is over there, with the other dogs, then the scales are weighted heavily to sticking with the other dogs, you party pooper.
So when your dog is off leash, play with her. Play fetch. Play tug. Play “Find this treat and then chase me while I run away.” Play any silly game you and your dog come up with. As always, use toys and food cautiously in the presence of unfamiliar dogs, and of course if your own dog may aggress over them. By the way, small, crowded dog runs often ban treats and toys for this reason; in a context like that, I’d recommend just going to collect your dog rather than calling her to come to you.
Tip #4: Choose Your Moment
All of us, dog and human, have only so much attention-paying capacity to go around. (This is why study after study finds that nobody multitasks effectively.) Call your dog while she’s immersed in sniffing a bush sprinkled with fascinating pee, or has just started a bout of play with another dog, and odds are she will not respond. We often complain that the dog is “blowing us off,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if she literally did not hear us. I am almost always happy to pay attention to my wife, but if I’m immersed in a suspense novel it can take me a few seconds to even register that she’s spoken. Sorry, honey!
So when you want to call your dog to you, choose your moment. Call her when she looks up from the informative shrubbery, or when she and her play partner have broken away from each other. She is much likelier to respond to you when she isn’t utterly absorbed in something else.
Time to turn your attention to something else, because that’s it for this week. Stop by and see me, or at least my avatar, on Facebook, and you can also write to me at email@example.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future episodes.
There's a huge archive of Dog Trainer content at quickanddirtytips.com/dog-trainer. If you browse through there, or the Pets section of Quick and Dirty Tips, I'm sure you will find the answer to any dog training question you may have. Thanks for reading!