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Your sweet, playful puppy is so smart and adorable. But he turns into a race car zooming away from you when you want him to come.
I’ve trained many puppies and seen them run away from their owners even though there’s a bond between the two.
There are many reasons why puppies run away from their owners. Very young puppies during their first few months usually want to remain with us.
As a puppy matures, which occurs various times depending on the dog, he generally becomes noticeably more independent.
This usually starts around four to six months old. Small dogs mature more quickly than larger ones do.
Why Does My Puppy Run Away From Me?
Sometimes it’s hard to understand why our pups run away from us. It’s frustrating and sometimes difficult not to take it personally.
But if you’re taking the time to read this, you obviously care about your puppy. And you’ve treated your puppy well. He gets walks, plays fun fetch games, and gets yummy treats.
Check out this interesting article on teaching your dog how to come when called.
Puppies treated this well don’t run away because they don’t like you. But there are many different reasons puppies run away from us.
1. Running Away Is Fun!
Running Away Is Fun! We call Max to come and take a step towards him. The game’s on. Max starts playing “catch me if you can.”
Max’s owner runs after him and, with a smile on his face, Max runs the other way. Of course, Max’s four legs carry him quickly to another adventure while his owner repeatedly calls his name.
This can become a fun game for dogs. But not so much for us. I had a client who called me to train her dog because she had fallen and was badly bruised while chasing her new poodle puppy.
Every time she called her puppy, he ran the other way. At first, he stood there until she started walking towards him. Then, he did zoomies away.
Puppies perceive this as a fun game. It’s difficult not to engage in it. But try not to.
If you train your puppy that coming to you is more fun than the chase game, you’ll solve your problem. Below I’ll discuss how to get your pup to come no matter what.
2. Your Puppy Was Punished When He Came To You
He Was Punished in the Past When He Came To You. We don’t intentionally make our dogs not want to come to us. Sometimes owners see their puppy chewing on a chair leg and call him to them to correct him.
If you berate your pup by saying “No, BAD DOG!” after he finally comes, he’ll remember that. And he won’t want to come the next time.
You can also say “eh-eh” as an interrupter before giving him the safe chew object. You can also try putting a chew deterrent on such surfaces like Bitter Training Spray.
Always test on an inconspicuous place before putting the spray on the chair.
PRO TIP: It’s very easy to poison the “come” command. Be very careful and always make returning to you a positive experience for your puppy. Trust me it’s easier said then done.
3. Your Puppy Had Some Other Negative Experience When He Returned To You
Other Negative Things Happened When the Puppy Came. Despite their youth, puppies have good memories. If something negative happens when they come, they won’t want to come the next time.
Even though a pup may learn to love his crate, if you call him to you and put him immediately into his crate after he comes, chances are he might not come the next time. His fun ended.
Or you may have grabbed him by the collar when he hasn’t learned to like being touched on the collar. The next time you call him, he runs away.
In addition to practicing the training exercises below, so that he’ll come reliably, don’t reach for his collar.
I believe that dogs should learn to accept and even like collar grabs, but you must teach this separately from the come command.
One way I teach it is to have the puppy in front of me and give a great treat simultaneously when I touch his collar, saying the cue “collar.” just do this a few tines per training session.
As the pup starts to like the game, I progress over time to gently placing my hand in his collar. Eventually, most pups are conditioned to enjoy having their collar handled.
My current rescued golden retriever came to me at about six months old. No one taught him to enjoy having his collar handled, so he actively tried to get away.
Because I had to handle his collar for many reasons such as attaching a leash, I worked through the issue. Now he loves when I handle his collar.
4. You Use An “Angry Voice”
You Call Him in An “Angry Voice.” Sometimes we unintentionally call our dogs in a voice that isn’t welcoming. We may be in a hurry. Or we may panic when we see our dogs engaging in something we don’t like or that’s unsafe.
So we use a harsh voice (usually a deeper tone than our normal tone) when we call him. Dogs can read our tone and he may think that he’ll be punished when he comes, even though we may have great treats ready to give him when he comes.
It’s important to use a happy, friendly tone when calling your pup.
5. Your Puppy Doesn’t Know The “Come” Command
The Puppy Wasn’t Trained To Come To You. As I always tell my dog training clients, we all start somewhere. When I trained my first dog as an adult, at first I expected her to come to me no matter what.
It was frustrating calling her and she’d look at me and walk away. I had to do the hard work of training her that coming to me was more rewarding than playing with her favorite squeaky toy.
We can’t expect our dogs to perform a command that we haven’t actively trained. When we train, we teach our dogs not only a language but also the rules.
It’s important to set up short training sessions of about five to ten minutes a few times a day. We can’t expect the pup to read our minds.
6. You Didn’t Train Your Dog In Different Environments
You Trained Your Dog To Come But Didn’t Train In Various Settings. With any command or cue, we need to train it in various places. If you just train your puppy to come only when in your house, it’s likely that he won’t come to you when in your fenced yard.
Dogs don’t generalize well. If they’ve been trained to perform a command only in one place, chances are that he’ll think that’s the only place he has to perform that behavior..
So when training any command, it’s best to start without distractions then add distractions when they’re able to handle them.
Initially train in a calm environment without motion or noise distractions so that your pup can focus on what you’re teaching.
7. You Repeat The Command
You Repeat the Come Command Many Times. It’s easy to get into the habit of telling your dog “come, come, come, come, come, come.” It’s not good to repeat any commands.
Sometimes, the repetition actually becomes the command. But more than likely, the command becomes like white noise. The dog hears it as background noise and ignores it.
When that happens, it’s no longer a command. It’s lost all meaning and is totally ignored.
It’s then time to retrain the command.
8. There’s Something More Fun Then Returning To You
Sometimes a puppy sees something in the distance–like a favorite toy in the house. Or a squirrel while in the yard.
So the puppy runs to the fun object and away from us. That’s why we have to become more fun to the puppy than the things around us are.
We must also teach the dog how to pay attention to us and how to come on command even with distractions.
PRO TIP: When first teaching your puppy to “Come” make sure you have something very rewarding for him when he returns. Regular treats won’t do maybe get him a piece of steak, some super stinky Salmon, even small pieces of hot dog have worked well for us. Most dogs will return to you if they think a juicy piece of steak will be their reward.
How Do I Stop My Puppy From Running Away From Me?
1. Become More Fun Than Your Surroundings
It may sound silly, but I tell my clients to “make it a party” when calling their dog.
Use a happy, upbeat voice. Have very high-value treats ready when he comes. I really like Happy Howie’s meat roll when teaching a dog to come.
It’s a meat roll that comes in beef, lamb, or turkey. And it’s irresistible to most pups.
It can be sliced and the slices cut into small cubes. I cut pieces into about the size of a pea. You can find Happy Howies Treats on Amazon.
Once opened, the roll must be refrigerated or frozen. I put plastic baggies of the cut-up pieces in the freezer. I can grab a baggie and go training.
Have a favorite toy ready when your puppy comes to you. Have him play a short game of tug and then throw the toy and have him fetch it.
Make him want to come to you! After you call his name and say “come,” start running a few steps AWAY from him as he comes towards you. Then stop.
Running away can ignite his prey drive. He’ll also wonder what’s happening and want to chase.
To be even more exciting, when I’m training a puppy, I’ll even add a happy sound as I move away. This can become an emergency/reliable recall in addition to the more formal come command.
When training my current puppy Millie, I say her name and say “puppy, puppy, puppy” in a high-pitched voice.” When she reaches me, I say “YES! GOOD COME!”
I’m praising her for coming even though I didn’t use the word “come” in the emergency/reliable recall of “puppy, puppy, puppy.”
As she loves being petted, I pet her after she comes all the way up to me as part of her reward. I also give her a jackpot (3 or 4) of yummy treats in a row.
I also train her to respond to the come command separately and praise and reward the same way.
2. Train the Puppy To Come Reliably
Training a puppy to come reliably takes time. We all want our puppy to come as soon as we call him.
But most puppies won’t unless we teach them what’s expected. When I’m first teaching a puppy to come, I show him a great treat to lure him toward me.
At the same time, I call his name and say “come.” When he reaches me, I praise and give him the treat. I also give him two or three additional treats one after the other. It’s called a jackpot.
He’ll really want to come the next time if you do this. Dogs remember when positive things happen.
If the puppy doesn’t come or doesn’t come quickly, I move backwards when I say the pup’s name and the come command. This usually makes most puppies come quickly.
You don’t have to back up forever. We’re just trying to develop a new habit.
After a few days, try calling the puppy to you without showing the luring treat and just praise and give the reward treats.
You want to phase out luring him to you so that he doesn’t become reliant on it.
When the puppy comes to you, don’t reach out for him. If you reach your arms out a couple of feet, many puppies will stop out there and won’t come all the way up to you.
When I’m training a new puppy, I hold the reward treats near my leg, so that he has to come right to me.
- Have Treats Ready. Always have your reward treats ready before you give the command. Otherwise, while you’re fishing for your treats, the puppy will probably run off to another adventure.
- To Pet or Not To Pet? As part of the reinforcement for your dog coming, you can pet him after he comes as long as he doesn’t back away. Some dogs love to be petted; others don’t. Of course, we teach them to be handled for grooming and training, but, if the dog doesn’t love it, I don’t add it into part of the reinforcement for coming.
- Distractions. In all training, start without distractions and add them as your pup is able to handle them. We always want to set our puppies up for success.
- Using a Leash. Of course we want our puppies to come reliably off a leash. So I work with the puppy coming inside to me while off a leash.
But I also practice when he’s on his six-foot leash when he’s just sniffing around, so that he learns he also has to perform commands when he’s on a lead.
- Using a Long-line. Once he’s used to working on the regular walking leash, I’ll practice using a long-line. I prefer cotton ones and use a 20-foot one to start.
I don’t let the puppy go the whole length of the line at first. I hold about 10 feet back, eventually adding more length when the puppy’s been coming to me fast and furious.
I prefer a plain cotton or nylon long-line and do not use flexi-leads for this. I recommend a long-line like the one made by Guardian Gear found on various lengths on Amazon.
- Train in Different Places in Your Home. In all commands, you want the dog to understand that he has to perform wherever he is.
So train in different rooms and areas of your house so that he’ll generalize that he has to come to you wherever you call him.
3. Taking It on the Road
Dogs are generally very situational and don’t generalize well. So if you practice only in your living room, chances are that’s the only place your pup will believe he has to perform the command.
But don’t go from a quiet environment to practicing near a loud street. It will be too much for most puppies to handle.
We always want to set our dogs up to succeed. So start with adding small distractions like someone walking by 20 feet away. Add closer or additional distractions only after the puppy can handle it.
If you have a fenced yard, you can start to have the puppy come to you without distractions. If you need to first show him the treat (lure) when you’re outside, do it even if you don’t have to any more while inside.
You can always phase out showing the lure treat and just give the reward treats.
Once the puppy can handle some distractions, go different places and practice. Go to a shopping center and practice. Practice while on your walks.
When he became pretty reliable, I even took my dogs to playgrounds where children were playing.
My sheltie puppy Duffy learned to come to me even when the kids were playing baseball. And Duffy loved to chase balls but he learned to ignore them because I made it more fun to come to me.
When he came, he was praised, got treats and sometimes a game of tug with a favorite toy.
Game to Play While on Walks: A fun game I play with any new dog I have while on their walks is to just suddenly call them as I back up a few feet.
I make a big deal when they come: “YES!! GOOD DOG!!” and give a jackpot of three or four small treats in a row (not all at once).
I play the game only one or two times on a walk. I want to not let it become boring. Playing this game also helps ensure that the puppy is more likely to come to you while outside.
4. BONUS: “Find Me” Game.
In addition to teaching the puppy to come through the come command and a reliable/ emergency recall, I also play the “find me” game.
Very young puppies a few months old generally want to stay
with us and not wander off. As a puppy becomes older and bolder, he’s more likely to explore his environment.
In the game, you hide and call the puppy’s name a few times. Make a big fuss and treat when he finds you.
Make it easy at first. Just hide behind a chair or around the corner right outside the room. Eventually, you can hide further away.
You can have a helper gently hold the pup’s collar so he doesn’t follow you. When you call the puppy’s name, the helper has to immediately let go of the collar so that the pup doesn’t get an inadvertent correction in attempting to find you.
Caveat: Don’t overdo this game. You don’t want the puppy to become a Velcro dog or to develop separation anxiety
5. Catch and Release Game
In addition to teaching the puppy to come and remain with us, one game we can play is the “catch and release” game.
Dogs often don’t want to come because their fun is ending. So we can play this game and teach the pup that the fun will continue.
After your pup comes, praise and reward, then sometimes tell him “play!” and let him go back to playing. By doing this, he’ll see that the fun can continue.
6. Changing the Cue
If your puppy has truly learned not to come because of any of the above reasons on the come command, don’t despair.
If the come cue has “been poisoned,” you can re-train the command using a different word like “here.”
We actually use “here” with our service dog puppies in training in place of “come”.
Every puppy is different and has learned different things over their lives.
Teaching your puppy to come when called is easy to mess up. We’ve been training puppies for years now and we still catch ourselves making mistakes.
One such example: I called Elsa to me the other day because she had a wood chip in her mouth. When she got to me I took the wood chip away. This is a good example of something negative happening when coming when called.
Do you think Elsa will be more or less willing to return to me when I call her next time?
If you said “less” than you are absolutely correct. Now we need to work that much harder to let Elsa know that every time she comes when called, she is rewarded with something extremely positive. Can you say a nice juicy steak? Maybe…
Does your puppy run away from you when you call him?
If so what have you done to try to get him to come when called?
Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.
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