Ask A Trainer: My dog refuses to come inside when I want him to!

Q:  I just got a new dog. I’ve had him for 6 days. he is 1.5 years old and was on a farm before, always outside.  He is having trouble with being inside.  He prefers to be outside but at times I have to make sure he is in – like when I am not home or at work etc. at night when it is time to sleep when I call him to come inside, he comes to the patio door and then just stands there, doesn’t want to come in.  If I try to grab his collar, he runs away or otherwise, I’d have to force him in.  I have tried treats etc, even good ones but he is not interested.  I could have a tbone steak and he still probably wouldn’t come in.

He does respond to the word “come” and will come to be in any other situation, just not for coming into the house.  I’d rather not force him in, so what I end up having to do is put my coat on (brrr) and go out in the yard and tell him to get in.  He runs around the yard a couple of times like it is a game and then he finally goes in on his own.

I would like to avoid having to put on my coat and shoes to do this.  Any suggestions?

Melanie

Hi there Melanie,

Thanks for writing in with such a good question!  You are not the only who would love to have their dog come when called, as many people have trouble with this very issue.  The come command is very important thing for your dog to learn, especially because it can ultimately save his life one day, and makes for a more obedient pet.

It can also be daunting to teach a farm dog new rules, where he cannot roam at will, as he did while he was on the farm.  So, I definitely understand your frustration.  I also understand the need for him to come when called, especially when you have to go to work, and cannot leave him outside all day, unattended.

The thing is, that when it comes to training your dog commands, you want your dog to want to obey you.  You want your dog to enjoy doing what you’ve asked of him.  The results of positive training are usually that, a dog who wants to obey commands.  The real trick here is getting your dog to obey a command when he might not actually want to, which is the case with your dog when he’s asked to come back indoors.  Having a dog do something he might not want to actually do is the real sign of a well trained dog.

You have to remember that dogs will always chose what pays off best for them.  In this case, staying outside, and not listening to you pays off better for your dog, and it’s what he’d prefer to do.  This is what we have to change.  And we do this by increasing the dogs motivation, and finding out what currency is most rewarding for him.

One of the first things I’d ask you is how much exercise your dog gets.  I don’t know what breed he is, but being a youngster, he will need more activity than an older dog would.  At least 30 to 60 minutes a day of structured exercise, or stimulation.  This can be a combination of both mental and physical stimulation.

If his only form of outdoor exercise is running around in the backyard, then this is obviously not enough.  Especially if he’s been used to being outside for much longer periods than what he’s getting now.  Running around in the backyard is not structured enough.  He will need to have regular walks.  If you have a treadmill at home, this is also another marvelous way to help exercise your dog as well.  You can also increase his mental stimulation by practicing basic obedience on a daily basis, incorporating lessons into every day activities.  Helping him drain some of his excess energy will help greatly, and will also help keep him healthier as well.  A tired dog is often a well behaved, happy dog!

You CAN teach your pooch to come when called!

From what you say, he does obey the come command inside the house, and that it’s when he’s in the backyard and doesn’t want to come back in, that is the problem.  What I would suggest in this case, would be to work with him outside, in the backyard.  I know you said you would rather not go out with him, but it really would be better, and would give you the results that you want.  What your dog wants most, is to be with you, and since calling him from the door, hoping he’ll come back inside isn’t working very well, then this might be something to seriously consider.

The first thing I would do is get a very long line of rope, say 20 to 30 feet.  The cheap yellow stuff from either Home Depot or Rona would do the trick fine.  (Much cheaper than buying a long lead!)  Go out with him into the yard, and let him lose, with the rope attached to his collar…let him drag it around.

Make sure to have some of his favorite things with you.  Even better, would be to vamp it up a bit, and have some extra special things that he loves, that you ONLY use when working with him in the backyard.  It could be a squeaky toy (so long as he uses it appropriately), a ball, some very high value treats (that need to be tiny, pea sized, not too big so that he has no time to chew it, but instead swallows it right away.)  Cheese, cut up hot dogs, cut up chicken or steak, something that he can’t say no to!

While you are outside with him, what you are going to start doing with him is playing with him.  Yup, play with him.  This is what he wants most, believe me!  From the sounds of it, he’d really enjoy a good game of chase, as most dogs do.  You can play fetch, or any other activity that you both find fun.  Remember, the more fun the both of you have, the more rewarding it will be for the both of you, not just your dog!

While you’re playing, you will starting incorporating the come command.  Since he wants to play with you, he will probably come when called, providing that you are playing.  And this is what we want.  We want him to associate the word come with something marvelous.  We want him to believe that coming to you when called is the best thing in the world, and will gain him the best rewards ever.  This is what I mean by increasing his motivation.  At the moment, while he’s outside, the word come represents going back inside, and stopping all fun, which isn’t enjoyable to him at all.  If we think of it from his point of view, it’s not hard to understand why!

When you ask him to come to you, try using an excited voice.  While you are saying the word, ask it WHILE you are slowly backing up from him.  Back up from him no matter how close or far away from you he is.  The act of moving away from him, while he can still see you, will entice him to move forward towards you.  As soon as he makes a step towards you, praise him. Get happy!  Get excited!  Then give him his awesome reward!

Since most dogs love playing chase, asking him to come while you move away from him will almost always get him to follow you, which is what you want him to do.  He’ll do it even more so if he thinks it’s fun.  But never make the mistake of chasing your dog when you ask him to come.  You can run after him as much as you want, but if he doesn’t want to be caught, you’ll never catch him.  And believe me, he knows this!

Make sure to start this while he’s pretty close to you.  Don’t wait until he’s across the yard before asking him to come back.  You will want to work in baby steps, so that we can set him up to succeed.

Once he listens to the come command from close up, and he does it correctly at least 90% of the time, then you can increase the distance.  You will still get excited and happy, and he will still get that awesome treat or toy that he loves so much.  By now, he will start learning that coming back to you, even while outside doesn’t mean going back into the house all the time.  He’ll start learning that coming to you, even while outside is fun.

Now that distance is being introduced, we have to ensure that we always set the dog up to succeed.  We should NEVER ask a dog to do something that we are not able to enforce.  And this is where the long rope comes into play.  If you ask him to come, and he dawdles, takes his time, or just ignores you, then you can step on the rope, and then slowly reel him in, like you would a fish.  You will NOT repeat the command.  You will not raise your voice, and you will not yank, or pull hard on the rope.  You will just reel him back to you, hand over hand, until he’s where you want him to be.  once he’s there, you will reward him. This way, he will learn that when he’s asked to do something, he’ll have to do it, but that it’s also a good thing.

Another thing I would suggest would be to practice the come command and then start moving towards the house, as if you’d go back in.  But then let him play again.  I often do this with my dogs while we’re in the yard, at the dog park, or out in the woods.  I often call them back to me, reinforcing the behavior, always teaching them that coming back to me is marvelous and fun.  Coming back to me doesn’t mean the end of all things fun.  And this is what I want them to know.  It’s now ingrained in them.

You need to keep in mind that this will take time, patience and effort on your part.  There is no magic fix.  But if you’re serious about it, and consistent, then I have no doubt at all that your dog will start coming to you when called, no matter where he is!

Good luck and happy training!

Meira

6 comments

  1. Excellent advice, you can’t expect a dog to come to you if there is a negative outcome in doing do, you must always train your dog to understand that no matter what has their attention, when you call, they will find something more rewarding with you. When you have achieved this they will come every time without hesitation. Melanie would be well advised to follow your instructions

  2. Great article on how to get your dog to come back inside when he doesn’t want to, by my friend, Meira Frankl

    Any other poochy problems.. give her a shout.

  3. Great article – can’t wait to see if it works. My husky mix is a sure challenge to coming in at night.

  4. This was an extremely helpful article – thank you so much!

  5. Melanie – You asked the EXACT question I was going to ask/what I’ve been searching for! We rescued a “lab/husky” mix recently and during this frigid weather we have come to realize that he MUST have been an outside dog. We know nothing about his history, but he is well trained in tricks, but behavior is a whole other thing. He loves being inside, but the colder it has gotten, the longer it is that it takes him to come inside – it’s maddening – to the point of me being late to appointments or getting ready to battle a half hour or more to get him inside before going anywhere. He stands at the door, with big puppy dog eyes and I open the door and off he goes.
    Meira – the rope thing is pure genius! The snow is 2+ feet deep right now which is making fetch… Interesting. But if he has a rope on him when he’s running endless circles it will give me something to work with. I will get back to you when I get this going. I’m desperate. Thanks so much!

  6. I have a similar issue, however, our dog was a stray that we rescued from a shelter and we have zero history on her. We were told she was super sweet, a great family dog and listened well. We could tell from the moment we met her at the shelter she was very skidding around people. We brought her home hoping she just needed love and attention and training. However, it’s becoming very evident she was more than likely a stray her whole life and isn’t used to being around people. Our biggest struggle is getting her inside from being outside to go potty or just run aroundwith her toys and such. She will lliterally stay outsidefor hours and not even ccome near the door if she sees or hears a person. We don’t want to get rid if her but we are not sure what to do at this point. We have four kids and can’t have a pet scared of peoplewho requires more time and attention than all four kids combined. Advice? We love the dog and would love to keep her and have her be well trained.

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