There’s no greater joy than walking your dog through the park. Your dog looks to you, eagerly. You understand and trust each other, so you remove the leash and happily watch your dog romp and sniff. You call your dog to “come,” he turns around and sprints toward you, smiling.
To enjoy this picture perfect scenario, safely, you need a rock-solid recall (training term for “come.”) Here are a few tips for building your dog’s recall, at the park.
Build the foundation while assessing your dog’s capabilities.
If you’ve never trained your dog to come when called, or you’ve repeatedly used the term without showing your dog what you want, practice the cue inside. By teaching your dog to “come,” without distractions, your dog learns the meaning of the word.
To assure your dog’s safety, consider his personality and behavioral limitations. A well-trained, yet fearful dog can be startled by a backfiring car, causing him to run away. If your dog has shown aggressive tendencies, it’s best to keep him close because dogs often respond instinctively when away from their humans. Or, perhaps, your dog likes chasing critters. Before trusting your high-prey drive dog off-leash, make sure it’s impossible for him to follow a squirrel into danger.
Once you’ve established your dog’s limitations and practiced “come” inside, take your dog’s training to the streets.
Safety is critical.
Walk your dog through a new park or neighborhood, and allow him to wander to the end of the leash then call him to “come.” By allowing him to naturally become distracted by novel smells, from a short distance, he’s more likely to respond than if you called him from 50 feet away.
Play games to reinforce your dog’s recall. If your yard is secure, hide treats under a toy and call your dog. Next, hide behind a tree or use more appealing treats to distract your dog before calling him. If you practice with varying distractions and in multiple settings, you’ll be much closer to a park-worthy recall.
Practice your dog’s recall where you need it, with the distractions that matter to your dog.
If your dog is reliably coming when called in your yard, you’re ready to train your dog at the park. Find a secure location like a tennis court or fenced-in play area so that you can remove your dog’s leash. It’s imperative to practice “come” off-leash around real-world distractions, but you need to keep your dog safe while he’s learning.
In a secure area, have a friend hold your dog by their harness while you run away, so you engage his natural desire to chase. Once you’re 10-15 feet away, call your dog to “come” while your friend allows him to run to you. Every step your dog takes towards you, cheerily say “good dog.” When he arrives at your feet, reward your dog with his favorite natural treats or toy. Pay your dog immediately, while close to you, with the highest value reward.
If your dog doesn’t run to you, practice “come” in a less distracting environment for another week.
If your dog happily comes to you, off-leash, in the secure area of the park, you’re ready to add distractions relevant to your dog. For critter-chasing dogs, loan your cat-loving friend a pair of mittens. If kitty sleeps near your mittens (or another item you can shape into a ball) they’ll smell like a kitty, so you can humanely practice “come” away from another animal’s smell.
Place the mittens on the ground and call your dog to “come.” When he runs to you, reinforce him with his favorite rewards, randomly, and you’ll build recall reliability much faster.
To add more difficulty, toss the gloves away, so you tap into your dog’s natural prey drive before calling your dog to “come.” If your dog doesn’t come running, repeat the stationary exercise—it’s vital during training sessions that your dog always completes the task.
Practice your dog’s recalls every day, in various settings and with distractions specific to your dog. If you build your dog’s recall reliability at his pace, where you need it most, he’ll happily “come” when called, even at the park.
About the Author
This post was written by our guest author Brandi Barker – a specialist in canine training and behavior.