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Despite his small stature, your Cairn Terrier is probably intelligent, fearless, and active, as is their nature. He also makes the perfect companion for snuggling up on the sofa with after a long day. Guests are always quick to say how cute he is and he’s always sociable and eager to say hello. However, take him outside of the house and it’s a different story. As soon as you let him off the leash he runs for freedom. He’s overwhelmed by all the sights and smells, so getting him back to you is challenging to say the least.
Training him to come will put your mind at ease when you’re out and about. It will mean if you are a near a road, you can call him over and not have to worry about him being involved in a traffic collision. It will also assert your position as pack leader, making it easier to teach him a range of other commands too.
Training your Cairn Terrier to come can prove challenging. However, the younger he is when you start training, the quicker you will see results. The biggest hurdle is finding the right incentive. Once you have that, you just need to get him in a regular habit of coming when called. It will, of course, require consistent and rigorous obedience training.
If he’s a puppy he should be a fast learner. Therefore, you could see results in just a week. If he’s older and stubborn, then you may need a while longer. It could be a month or so before you see consistent results. Succeed and you won’t need to worry about him bolting when he sees another dog on the horizon. In addition, if you are in a rush to get out of the house, calling him over will now be quick and stress-free.
Before you get to work, you’ll need to gather a few bits. The main component will be treats. Alternatively, you can break his favorite food into small chunks. For one of the methods, a clicker will also be needed.
Set aside 10 minutes each day for training. You can practice inside and in your yard, before finally training when on your daily walk.
Once you have all the above, you just need patience and an optimistic attitude, then work can begin!
The Treat Lure Method
Take him into a quiet room where you won’t be distracted. Make sure you have a pocket full of treats with you too. Then lean down so you are closer to his level and capture his attention by holding out a treat.
Stand just a few feet away from him and give a ‘come’ command. You can use any word or phrase you like. Cairn Terriers can learn hundreds of different commands. Just give it in a playful tone. He will learn quickly if he thinks he is playing a game.
Encourage him to come to your feet by holding out the treat and patting your legs. Once he is at your feet, hand over a tasty treat and give him some verbal praise. The happier he feels, the more likely it is he will repeat the behavior again.
Build up the distance
Practice this for a few minutes each day. However, gradually increase the distance you stand from him when you call him over.
Lose the treats
Once you can call him over even when you are out on walks and there are distractions about, you know he’s got the hang of it. At this point, you can slowly phase out the treats.
The Ping Pong Method
Head for a quiet room with your Cairn Terrier, a friend, and a toy. You are going to encourage him to run to you by holding him back slightly. Sit down and face each other, leaving around 10 feet between you.
Hold him back
Have your friend hold him by the collar gently. You don’t want to hurt him, but make sure he can’t run over to you until called.
Look at him when you give the 'come' command and give it in an upbeat tone. You can also hold up a toy and pat your legs to further encourage him to run towards you. After your friend has held him back for a couple of seconds, he will come charging towards you. Simply holding him back will make him want what he can’t have.
When he does come bounding into your lap, make sure he gets a generous reward. A treat or a minute playing with his toy will do the trick. The greater the reward, the more eager he will be to play again.
Make it harder
Practice this for a few minutes each day. However, start sitting further apart from each other. Also, you can then lose the friend and just call him over when there isn’t anyone holding him back. Keep practicing until he comes running up to you even when there are distractions around.
The Click & Reward Method
A clicker is a fantastic way to communicate with your Cairn Terrier. It’s your way of letting him know he has performed a behavior correctly. So, give a click after he performs any instruction, such as ‘sit’, ‘wait’, etc.and follow with a treat or other reward.
Once he is familiar with the clicker, stand a couple of feet away from him and hold up a toy. At the same time, give a ‘come’ command in an animated voice. You want him to think he is playing a big game.
Click & reward
As soon as he comes running towards you, give a click and then hand over the toy. Spend a minute or so playing tug of war and making him happy. This will make him want to play again.
After a day or so of standing close to him, start giving the command when you are in a different room. Again, make sure you click when he arrives and reward him. Once he’s got the hang of that, start practicing when you are out on walks too.
Never punish him
It is important you never punish your Cairn Terrier. Positive reinforcement is the most effective training technique. If you punish him, he may become scared of you and then less reluctant to come when called.
By James Barra
Published: 02/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021