One of the biggest frustrations I see from pet owners when they’re at the dog park is not being able to get their dogs to come to them—when it’s time to go and their dog disagrees. Whether you want to pull your beloved pet away from another dog showing aggressive tendencies; keep them out of the mud after they were given a bath just hours before; or avoid a dangerous and life threatening situation, having your dog come to you when called (also known as recall) is one of the best skills they can have when frequenting dog parks.
When recall training your dog, here are a few key points to remember.
By Clay Witte, Past President and Board of Directors
- Be patient. Your dog is still a dog, and while they will learn many words, they can’t understand complex sentences. Keep things simple when giving commands. One-word commands are much easier for your dog to grasp. Saying “come” or “here” is much better than “come over here right now.”
- Taking your dog for a walk or a good play session before training can help them be more focused.
- Remain positive when training. That makes it more fun for you and your dog, and your dog will be much more eager to come to you if your tone is positive and encouraging.
- Practice at home and in the back yard before going to the dog park. Dogs are much easier to train without all the distractions that the dog park can bring.
- Just because a dog is older does not mean they can’t learn. It just might take a little more patience. All dogs are different—I only know what has worked for me.
- Finally, treats are your friend! For the most part, kibble works just fine, but you may also try bits of hot dogs, chicken, or refrigerated soft food to really get your dog’s interest.
I started training my dog, Otto, for recall when he was about 10 weeks old. We started in a hallway in our house with me sitting at one end, my wife at the other, and Otto in the middle. One of us would call his name, wait for him to look at us, and then hold out a treat. As soon as he would start to walk toward either of us, we would say “here.” Waiting for him to start moving was the key, otherwise “here” had no meaning. This would be repeated a few times until we felt comfortable that he had it down. We would then practice this in different parts of the house, teaching him to associate the “here” command everywhere—not just with one location. The last part of working in the house was to have my wife and I be in different rooms and not visible to each other, calling him back and forth between us. This can be the most difficult part, but will indicate if your dog has learned the command word and not just the tone of your voice.
After training in the house a few sessions, it was time to go outside. I used a long leash for this part, about 20 feet long. I would let Otto roam around the full length of the leash in the back yard. Every couple of minutes I would tell him “here,” sometimes giving him a gentle tug on the leash when he was distracted by a stick, squirrel, or gust of wind. Remember, always reward with treats and affection when your dog does what they are supposed to do. That way, they associate the commands with food and love.
After I felt comfortable with a few backyard training sessions, it was time for the dog park. I used the same approach from the backyard in the dog park. We practiced it again and again, first away from other dogs, and then while he was busy in play with dogs. After a while, the long leash was no longer necessary, but the range of my voice became a problem. German Shorthairs tend to run a lot, and screaming at the top of my lungs for my dog only tends to excite other dogs around me (and him). It is crucial to remain calm around your dog and other dogs in passionate situations because dogs are very aware of human emotions and things can escalate very quickly when people are yelling, even with the best of intentions.
Using A Whistle
I decided to introduce a normal whistle for his “here” command. I first started this away from other dogs but in the dog park. I would blow the whistle one time, naturally drawing Otto’s attention. Then I would give him the “here” command. When he started running at me I would blow the whistle three times. After a few times doing this I simply stopped saying “here.” Now, I just blow the whistle once and watch for him to pick his head up and blow the whistle three times. Through constant reinforcement and A LOT of treats, I can get him to recall to me from about a quarter-mile away (the limit of the Lincoln dog parks). For this technique of recall, I have seen people use dog whistles as well as kazoos.
The Bottom Line
There are some situations where recall can be tricky. For example, if another dog owner is feeding him treats, Otto is less likely to run to me. This will become less of an issue as he grows older and our bond grows (at the time of this writing, he is only 11 months old). Similarly, Otto will be distracted if an aggressive dog tries to run him down or knock him over when he is coming toward me. In this situation, at least you are closing the gap between you and your dog, and hopefully the other owner is paying attention. It has been my experience that most dogs at the dog park are good and those aggressive dogs tend to filter out over time. Sometimes he is just stubborn as all dogs can be, so I pick my battles. Finally, I am not a professional—this is what has worked for me. All dogs are different, so be sure to consult a professional trainer and keep at it. And remember: All dogs can learn new tricks!