Noel Pepin Canine Behaviour Specialists
Noel Pepin Canine Behaviour Specialists

Coming on Command


Think back to the last time "Rover" started chasing something down the street. You yelled "come", nothing. Then you yelled "come" a little louder, but still nothing. You started running down the road after Rover, muttering unpleasant words under or over your breath. You are not alone, this situation happens everyday. When dogs chase moving objects like balls, bicycles, or cats, they display instinctive behavior -- "prey instinct". Early ancestors of our modern pets survived by observing and responding immediately to movement. The canine that spotted the rabbit or the mouse first, chased it, caught it, and lived to pass on this characteristic. The canine ancestor who ran from the charging mammoth, the saber tooth tiger, or any other predator, survived to pass on this tendency. Nature, through the natural selection process, equipped canines with a trigger like response to movement.

Rover's`prey instinct' may not be as acutely developed as his wild ancestors, but movement will usually trigger a chase or flight. Trying to control this instinct, which is embedded deeply in our dog's canine roots is not easy, but the answer lies in the same place, in our dogs instinctive canine behavior.

Dogs aren't born understanding our language. Their verbal aptitude is not sophisticated by human standards. With repetition they can learn to respond to the words like "sit",or "come", but most of their communication is done through non-verbal cues. They exhibit ritualized gestures and postures which hold the same meaning for canines around the world. These gestures and postures seem instinctive.

The way of the pack

Visualize a wolf pack. On an elevated slope close to the pack, a dominant male surveys the pack, (usually looking for subtle cues from the adult females). A young male walks up to the lead male. His stance is stiff and erect, his hair bristles. He uses gestures meant to challenge the older male. Growling, and perhaps exploratory bites occur, while the two males measure each others strength and determination. Sometimes this posturing leads to fighting, most often not.

Suddenly, the postures of the two change. The young male assumes a down position and the tension of the moment lessens. The dominant male places his jaws around the neck of the subordinate male and when he feels the downed male relax, he releases his grip. The dominant male, having asserted his leadership, allows the young male to rise. Before leaving, the subordinate male often licks the leader around the muzzle then trots off. Nature shows us the social influence of the down posture. In canine culture the down position displays respect and a willingness to accept authority.

Learning begins with the mother

The importance of the "down posture" is demonstrated by the canine mother early in every puppy's life. By five weeks puppies have very sharp teeth. You probably remember sharp puppy teeth which attacked your slippers, or your house coat, or anything that moved.

Visualize a young canine approaching its mother wanting to suckle. The mother wants her offspring to eat, but those sharp puppy teeth are just too painful. As the young pup trots towards mother, she growls. The pup halts for a moment but is hungry, so it moves towards mother. She turns and firmly grabs the muzzle of the puppy. The puppy drops to a down position. Mother growls and puppy relaxes his muscles, still remaining in the down position. Mother releases her grip on the pup's muzzle. The young pup rises and licks the mother's chin and then trots off. Mother has given her puppy a powerful lesson - display a down posture to show respect and acceptance of authority.

The down posture

The down posture reinforces messages about whose in charge. Your puppy or adult dog, carries inside it many of the instincts of its wild ancestors. Rover, needs to learn to display his acceptance of your authority by assuming a down posture when you request it.

There are many positive techniques to teach Rover to down. Cheerful language, food treats, positive touching, or play are great ways of practicing and reinforcing the down posture.

Before Rover gets fed, ask for a "down". Before you go for a walk, ask for a "down". Before you invite Rover to sit on your lap, ask for a "down".

Make the down posture automatic for Rover. Not only will he respect you more, and be more obedient, but when he runs down the road chasing something that moves - prey instinct, when you call, "down", he will be more likely to stop the chase, lay down, and look to you for direction. Once he is down, he will respond to your "come" command.

Noel Pepin -- Noel Pepin Canine Behaviour Specialists

Noel Pepin Canine Behaviour Specialists