Call them the Finger Crossers, if you will -- those folks who know if their dogs get loose they'll get them back only when conditions are absolutely right: if there isn't another dog to play with, a squirrel to chase or a scent to follow. Or if they're fast or lucky enough to corner them.
If you're one of these dog owners, you may well be in the majority. While "Come" is one of the most basic of dog commands, it's probably the one dogs obey the least. While it's true some dogs are naturally more inclined to come when called than others, obedience is not an impossibility for any dog.
Figuring out why your pet won't mind is the first step toward fixing the problem.
Maybe your dog is afraid to come to you. If you're one of those people who have to chase your dog, you may also be someone who isn't very happy when you've finally caught up with him. Screaming at your dog for running away or punishing your pet when you collar him at last is a good way of making sure the next time he gets loose he'll run farther, faster. Wouldn't you?
Being reunited with you should be a positive experience. Never, ever punish a dog for coming to you or for failing to come.
If you're not punishing him, perhaps your dog really doesn't understand what you want. Few people practice the "Come" command enough -- or at all. You probably use "Sit" a half-dozen times a day, just around the house, but you probably don't use "Come" in the house when you want your dog near you. Maybe all you have to do is open the refrigerator. If that's the case, your dog doesn't understand the relationship between the command and the action of coming to you. He just knows if he's sitting in the right place at the right time, you might drop some food.
Or maybe your dog doesn't see why he should listen to you. You may have a dog who believes that what you want is only one of the factors that go into his deciding what he's going to do. A dog who knows what's expected of him and respects you is going to mind you. A dog who thinks you're a dope who couldn't catch a bus is going to treat you like the fool he thinks you are.
If the problems are training and respect, you can fix them both together. Train your dog, work with your dog, and the respect will follow. Teach your dog the "Come" command in increments, on a standard 6-foot leash, on progressively longer and lighter lines, and with lots of praise. Practice, not just in formal sessions but in everyday life. And sharpen up all your dog's manners, because they all help reinforce your role as leader. Elicit the help of a trainer if you just don't seem to be getting anywhere.
Should your untrained dog get loose, there are a couple of tricks you can use to catch him. Try to sweet-talk him in with a kneeling, open-arms stance, or run away from him, enticing him to follow -- the chase instinct is very strong in most dogs. Another strategy is to use a command he knows well, like "Sit." Once he's planted, you can take him by the collar. (Don't forget to praise for the sit!)
Remember, though, a loose-dog situation is not about obedience -- it's about keeping your dog from becoming road-pizza. If you're one of those Finger Crossers, keep him on leash for his own safety and start training now.
Pets on the Web: The parakeet, or budgie, is one of the world's most popular pet birds, a wonderful starter pet for a novice or child who's still interesting enough for the more experienced bird-keeper. The "All About Budgerigars" Web site (www2.upatsix.com/abs/allabout.htm) is a good source of information for both the first-time 'keet keeper and the experienced breeder or show competitor. You'll find many gems among the articles and dozens of essential links to other sites. The only criticism: This site could use a lot more pictures, especially of some of the more unusual colors or varieties.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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