Ensuring your dog has good recall is one of the most important obedience exercises you can teach them.
It enables you to confidently let your dog off leash at the dog park knowing they will return to you easily when you are ready to go home and helps to ensure you can get their attention and immediately come back to you for safety reasons.
Unfortunately, it is one of the most common problems I often hear about “oh my dog just won’t come back to me at the park”, or “I’m too scared to let them off the leash in case they run away”. This is a totally avoidable situation, not to mention a very frustrating and sad one for both the owner and dog who can’t enjoy a relaxed off leash walk.
So many times the only time owners call their dog back at the park is when they are going home. If you were out having fun with your mates and you know when your name is called it means the party is over, would you be in a hurry to rush back?
Make it fun
Topline the thing to remember is that dogs like to sniff and search out the world around them, so if you do have an independent dog that likes to take off to explore or go play with its mates at the dog park, you need to make sure that even when they are off having great fun, the reward they are going to get from you is even better than what they are doing at that time.
This might be by using treats when you are still in training so that they are more than willing to head back to you when called to receive one, or extra excited cuddles and praise that is so much more fun to get from you (the most important person in their life!) than having that last sniff around.
In short, we need to make it a fun and positive experience for the dog to come back to you. As their recall becomes a more established routine, or there is no major distraction for them, you can wind down the treats as time goes on and generally a pat or ‘good dog’ acknowledgement will do.
Even the best of dogs will still need a bit of extra encouragement at times when the attraction away from you is a very strong one (smells, mate), so that’s when you may need to up the excitement at your end or show them a treat, making sure you are close enough to entice them rather than standing on the other side of the park and giving them the chance to pretend they didn’t hear or see you!
Avoid reinforcing bad behaviour
Never allow your dog to keep ignoring you as you call their name over and over again. This is teaching them the WRONG behaviour which we do not want to reinforce. If you are not confident about their recall, then you should always make sure you are close enough to entice them with treat and an exuberant call.
You could also use a 1-2 metre ribbon on their collar in the early days when you are moving off lead and into public areas so that they can still run around freely, but so that you or others have something to grab on to and pull them in to you as you call their name. It’s also important that you practice recalling them often and then letting them go off to play again, so that they don’t learn that recall means the end of the fun.
Seek professional help if needed
You can see how the recall is demonstrated here as it is an exercise best seen in action, or seek out the services of an experienced dog trainer to assist if you are having major problems with recalling your dog as this is something to not leave for too long and expect it to somehow fix itself.
Remember, dogs do not grow out of problem behaviour. They grow IN to it as it becomes a more established behaviour over time, so get onto it early and enjoy having a safe, leash free outing with your dog as soon as possible!
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.