Reliable Recall at the Offleash Dog Park

How to train your dog not to run away from you at the park!

Second to learning how to walk nicely on leash, new dog owners’ second most requested call for help is a reliable recall while off leash. In Toronto, the unfortunate thing is most dog owners are inadvertently training to teach their dogs to run away from them!

What do knowledgeable dog owners do differently to train their dogs to stay nearby and come when called?

Shower your dog with attention and rewards when he’s near – Reward your dog for staying near you by rewarding with food (the morning dog park run is a great place to feed your dog breakfast) and fun games (tug of war, fetch, wrestling, hide and seek). Too many dog owners go to the dog park and stand in a circle talking to other dog owners, paying no attention to their dogs. They’re too focused on their coffee or chatting with owners and are about as interesting as rock to their dogs. Can you blame a dog for getting bored and wandering off?

Don’t let your dog loose focus on you for too long – By staying engaged with your dog at the park by playing with him, it’ll keep him from getting locked onto an interesting scent or chasing a squirrel – you’ll be able to interrupt and redirect with more fun and games. Dog owners that ignore their dogs often discover their dog is almost near the dog park exit are too late – any they end up rewarding the dog for leaving the park by calling their name (finally) and chasing them down – the attention earned for running out of the park is often the only form of reward that these poor dogs get! Their owners are rewarding them for leaving the park grounds by ignoring them when they’re near and paying attention when they leave.

Don’t let your dog off leash until he’s ready – A new puppy should be trained to return to handler every time he goes to the park. Keep the puppy’s leash dragging so in case he decides to bolt, you can catch him (and prevent the puppy from being rewarded for ignoring the owner). Off leash rights are something a dog should earn through consistent focus and recall exercises at home and in the yard. You might not take away the leash dragging until after a few months of daily off leash work.

No matter what your dog did right before, if he comes back to you, reward and praise lavishly. Punishment damages the trust a dog has and gives them a reason to second guess ever returning to you. Dogs that are trained punishment free never have to think twice about what’s waiting when he gets back to his handler.

Remember, reliable off-leash recall is a behavior that requires daily, consistent work, and its reliability changes dynamically based on the degree of distraction in the environment. Be patient and aim to be the most interesting thing at the dog park for your dog, every day.

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