Dogcharmer: George won’t come when called

Is he turning a deaf ear, or does he have a hearing impairment?

A dog may be trained to come when called if it's not hard of hearing. —Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Dogcharmer, 

We have the cutest little Westy imaginable. His name is George. We got him when he was 3 months old. He’s now 4½ months old, and hasn’t come to us once when he’s called. Not once. Any suggestions? 

Bob and Carol

Dear Bob and Carol, 

The first thought that came into my head when I read your inquiry was, He’s hard of hearing or deaf. Make sure that’s not the case, with your vet if necessary. What happens when you call him to be fed? Does his hearing suddenly improve? One of the very first things I start immediately with all dogs is the recall, because we all know how hard they are to catch if they don’t want to be caught.

From just several feet away, make eye contact with him and call him, “George, come!” If he comes, give him the treat with lots of praise the moment he arrives. If he plays dumb, bend your knees and stoop down a little. There’s no animal that reads the body language of a human better than a dog. Bending down is an invitation to a dog to come to you. If he still doesn’t respond, walk past him with your treat-laden hand passing by his nose as you then step away from him, turn around, and quickly call him to come. When he arrives, treat and praise. 

Once he gets the idea, it’s time to increase the distance from which he comes to you when you call him. It’s very important that success builds on success, so increase the distances accordingly. If he’s still reticent about coming, the “walk by” of his nose has a piece of chicken in your hand, instead of a dog treat. The goal is to condition George to come when called. So practice this multiple times a day in the house. If you have a fenced yard, bring the routine outside with him off-leash. Having your dog reliably come when called is invaluable for your relationship. Practice, practice.

If it turns out George is deaf or hard of hearing, don’t despair. I’ve successfully worked with about a dozen deaf dogs and blind dogs. My own dog, MacDuff, was deaf in one ear and totally blind for the last two years of his life, and off-leash in the field across from my house almost every day. 

Good luck (and practice),
Dogcharmer Tom 

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