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I have a one year old dog who loves to play outside, but doesn't come inside when I call her. She often will look at me, sometimes even coming to the door, only to then run back outside, almost as if she is taunting me. She has been getting better when I say "Bella, come!" but it's still not close to where I want it to be.

I bought one of those dinner bells with the intention of her associating the bell with treats, like classical conditioning with Pavlov's dogs. I then plan on ringing the bell when I want her to come in. However, I want to make sure I do this correctly. How do I do this?

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Classical conditioning means that the dog learns to associate a cue with a pleasurable event, and responds as strongly to the cue as they do to the event. Pavlov's dogs knew that the bell meant that food was imminent, and so they salivated upon hearing the bell even when they could not see or smell the food yet.

The key to classical conditioning is repetition of the cue/reward sequence for many (hundreds to thousands) repetitions. With a recall, you should start off with a very short distance on a leash, do a bunch of repetitions and slowly increase the distance. But the sequence is always the same: give the cue, and immediately reward the dog when he gets to you. I recommend that you incorporate a "collar grab" as part of the recall: Reach for the dog's collar and then give the treat when you have your hand around it. So getting hold of the collar is all part of the sequence. Of course, you will spread this out over many days and weeks. Neither you or your dog want to do 100 recalls in a row. Incorporate it into your daily life, and call the dog for dinner, to go on a walk, to go play in the yard, etc.

There is nothing special about a dinner bell vs. a verbal cue. A dog can respond just as well to "Come!" or "Here!" or any other word you choose as well as a bell. Just be consistent with the cue. And remember, you won't always have a dinner bell with you, but you do have your voice.

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  • One point FOR the bell (or any other tool) would be that is hard to have a "frustrated bell-ring"; Sounding frustrated and/or angry when calling by voice can happen so much easier!
    – Layna
    Jan 25 '17 at 6:46
  • While it may be "easier", the point is to get the dog to want to come to you. Dogs love to play and respond well to happy people and tones. By using a frustrated tone, you would be doing the opposite of this and possibly giving them a reason to ignore you.
    – Kate
    Jan 25 '17 at 14:38
  • I recognize the advantage of my voice, since it is always with me and can be used anywhere. She is actually really good about coming when I call her while we are at the did park, since she knows she will get a treat but there isn't the "punishment" of having to come inside. The main reason for the bell is because of my large yard. Since my yard is over 2 acres, she probably can't hear me all the time if I yell through a door. It takes me five minutes sometimes just to look through all my windows trying to figure out where she is. I thought a bell could be heard better if she is far away.
    – Brendan
    Jan 25 '17 at 22:25
  • @Brendan - You can teach the bell as well as your voice. Just start to incorporate it into your training in your yard, and offer the reward every time you ring it. Note that a reward doesn't have to be food -- it can be play too, like throwing a ball, or playing a short game of tug with a rope or other toy. It should be something of high value to the dog. My Golden Retriever would rather chase a ball than get a treat, where my Bearded Collie isn't much of a toy dog. Do what works best with your dog. But, as Dalton says in his good advice, don't make the bell always mean coming inside.
    – jalynn2
    Jan 26 '17 at 12:59
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jalynn2 has some great suggestions and that is a good idea for training. The thing I would suggest you do immediately, though, is catch and release.

By that I mean that, like jalynn2 said, your dog has to see the reward as equal to or greater than anything else she'd rather be doing. If you think about it from her perspective, she's having a great time playing outside and if she comes inside with you, her reward is to be in a "boring" room where she knows all the smells already and nothing is happening to grab her attention.

I've noticed with friends and family members who keep their dogs inside all the time, or even in a fenced in yard, they'll bring the dogs to the river and turn them loose. The dog will tear off to play with the other dogs and then the owner will immediately start to try calling them back. There is no incentive there and they'll definitely be ignored, so they should call the dog. If they don't want them to run off, they should be leashed. Also, when they go to leave, some of them will run around chasing their dog, yelling "sit,sit,sit,sit,sit!". When it finally does, they'll praise it. This devalues and disassociates any meaning from the cue for the dog.

I can catch these same dogs for the owners, though, for two reasons. One, I don't try to catch them until the initial buzz from the new stimulus has worn off, and two, because I catch-and-release the dog. By that I mean I'll take opportunities to walk up to the dog, pet them, and walk away. You can almost see them cringe, expecting to be picked up or leashed and led to the car.

After a few repetitions, though, they run up to me to be petted when I look at them, or at least don't run off. I might do this 10-20 times through the day, whenever I'm walking by them. So when I do it once at the end of the day, they don't expect me to pick them up and aren't trying to get away. They've also worn themselves out by then.

I think you should do something similar. I think you should go out while your dog is playing, call her over, give her a treat, and let her go back to playing. Do it a few times per session. You can go over and catch her, play with her, and let her go back to playing. If you repeat this more times than when you bring her in, she won't mind being caught, because overall, it's more fun throughout, than the negative of being brought in can impact. You can also make being inside more fun. Of course, let her wear off a lot of the excess energy before you even try. Teaching a proper fetch is a good way to help with this, but it isn't some dogs game. Once you bring her in, play with her inside. Don't make being inside an end to fun, but another place to have fun.

Just two more examples before I stop. My Jack Russell doesn't like the cold. Her kennel is upstairs and when I call her down to potty in the mornings and evenings, especially, she didn't want to come down. She knew she was going from a warm bed to a cold outside. I have to go to work or bed, so she didn't have a choice. She'd be very reluctant and slow, though. It would make me angry and frustrated. I took a breath, stepped back, and thought about it from her point of view.

In the end I decided to call her down, randomly, throughout the day. I'd give her a treat and send her back upstairs. At first, she was extremely reluctant to come down. After just a few repetitions, she'd run downstairs for her treat. She didn't seem to mind that 2 times out of 12, she'd go out to use the bathroom in the cold.

Along the same lines, she didn't like it when I started walking more to loose weight and we were walking after dark. She was trying to lag behind and run home (she's normally loose leash and does great) or something similar. Again, I was highly frustrated having to constantly look back to see if she was with me. I finally wised up and started giving her pieces of treat occasionally. She got to where she was thinking about the next treat instead of being out after dark and now she doesn't think anything about walking a couple of miles in the dark.

So I think this method could really help you. Give it a shot and see if it works. Good luck.

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