Why Does My Dog Ignore Me Off-leash

When our beloved furry companions fail to come when called, it can often be frustrating and concerning for pet owners. There are two types of disobedience that dogs exhibit when off-leash: passive and active. With passive disobedience, the dog simply stands, sits, or lies down and watches as the owner calls. This could be due to apprehensiveness or a lack of understanding of the owner’s request. On the other hand, active disobedience occurs when the dog not only ignores the owner’s call but also enjoys not coming. This poses a major training emergency.

Apprehensiveness: The Fear Factor

If your dog shows apprehensiveness when called, the underlying reason is most likely you. Reflect on your actions and interactions with your dog. Your dog may be afraid of you or have had negative experiences in the past, such as being punished for coming when called. It’s crucial to address this issue promptly. Approach your dog with sweetness and gentleness, taking small steps backward and calling them while offering food treats if necessary. Gradually build their confidence and trust through positive reinforcement, and their obedience problem will likely disappear.

Irrelevance: Making It Worth Their While

Sometimes, dogs understand what we want them to do but fail to see the point. They might be tired, bored, or simply uninterested in coming when called. For larger dogs, getting up and moving towards the owner can be a significant effort, and the reward better be worthwhile. If the dog has experienced repeated recalls with no meaningful outcome, they may perceive it as a boring exercise. In this case, the relevancy of coming when called needs to be revamped through proper training programs.

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Revamping the Relevancy

To make your dog understand the importance of coming when called, you need to give them a reason to come. Create a sense of urgency by causing a disturbance: rattle furniture, bang on the door, or drop their food bowl. By getting your dog’s attention, you can motivate them to come. However, when they do come, never punish or reprimand them. Instead, show them what they missed by not coming earlier. Tease them with a tasty treat and give it to another dog or even eat it yourself, demonstrating the rewards they could have had. This way, your dog will grasp the relevance of responding to your call.

Is Your Dog Lazy or Actively Ignoring You?

Lazy dogs often refuse to come when called because they know the owner will eventually come to them. Some owners reinforce this behavior by immediately heading towards the dog as soon as they call. Instead, it’s important to make the dog come to you. This approach applies to dogs that are not coming but are not engaged in any other activity. However, if your dog is actively ignoring you and having a good time, every second they don’t come reinforces their disobedience.

Active Disobedience: When Fun Takes Priority

Dogs often run off or refuse to come when called because they associate play and training as mutually exclusive. They fear that returning to their owner means the fun will end or that they might be punished. This type of active disobedience requires immediate action. Every second you delay allows the dog to reinforce their disobedient behavior. The first step is to catch your dog, as their safety is at risk when running off-leash. Once your dog is safely back on a leash, they should not be off-leash again until they are trained to come when called, regardless of their current activity or distractions.

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Step 1: Catching Your Dog

Catching a distracted and fleeing dog is often easier than it seems. Typically, the dog is running towards a distraction, making it easier to approach and put them on a leash. However, chasing the dog down may be necessary. Avoid shouting “Come Here” if your dog didn’t respond to a normal tone of voice. Instead, use an emergency, inhibitory command like “Sit” or “Down.” This change in command conveys urgency, not anger. It’s crucial to practice these emergency commands in stressful and distracting situations to ensure your dog responds appropriately.

Step 2: Training Your Dog

Training your dog to come reliably when called requires commitment and effort. Many dog owners struggle with recall in various settings, even in safe, fenced environments. It’s essential to establish basic control and obedience in simpler and controlled spaces before allowing your dog off-leash in public places. Practice recall commands in safe areas, such as a dog training class or a fenced yard, to build a solid foundation of control and readiness for off-leash training.

Safe Areas to Train Dogs Off-leash

There are plenty of places where you can train your dog off-leash while ensuring their safety. Dog training classes, forming a doggy play/training group, or using a long line for exercise and training are all viable options. Keeping your dog on a leash and away from potential trouble is a wise choice.

Preparing for Future Emergencies

It’s important to prepare your dog for potential emergencies and train them to respond to shouted commands like “Sit” or “Come.” This ensures that in urgent situations, your dog understands the command’s meaning and doesn’t perceive it as anger. Even if you don’t plan on letting your dog off-leash again, it’s crucial to train them to respond reliably in distracting situations. This practice will ensure their safety and the safety of others.

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Reinforcing Obedient Behavior

Many dog owners make the mistake of letting their dog off-leash only to leash them after they come when called. This reinforces unruly behavior and discourages obedient responses. Rather than ending a play session when the dog comes, make it a part of the reward. Instruct your dog to sit-stay before letting them off-leash, and if they come when called, allow them to go play again. By doing this, you reward your dog for coming when called, making it a positive experience.

Training Game: Play Recalls

To teach your dog to reliably come when called, integrate recalls into play sessions. This helps your dog understand that coming when called doesn’t mean the end of playtime. Start by whisper-requesting your dog to come, and if they respond, give them praise, petting, and a treat before allowing them to go play again for a short time. If your dog doesn’t come, give a clear command in an emphatic tone. If they still don’t respond, have another owner hold their playmate to interrupt the play session. Once your dog comes, repeat the recall until they respond immediately. This way, they learn that coming when called is rewarded with continued playtime.

Practice Makes Perfect

Training your dog to come when called may be challenging in the beginning, but with practice, it becomes easier. Alternate between recall and play commands until your dog reliably responds in the presence of their playmates. Gradually increase the number of playmates to create a reliable response even in a large group. Consistency and repetition are key to success.

Remember, training your dog requires patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement. By understanding the underlying reasons for their disobedience and implementing the appropriate training methods, you can teach your dog to come when called and enjoy a safe and harmonious off-leash experience.

Excerpted from “How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks” by Ian Dunbar.