Getting your dog to return

on command

Getting Your Dog To Return

By Virginia Pennefather - Delta Accredited Behavioural Trainer, Puppy Class Instructor

Our doggie off leash areas often double as sporting grounds on weekends and evenings. This can offer fantastic socialisation opportunities for our dogs where they get to meet lots of lovely kids, adults and other dogs. Having said that not everyone loves your family pet as much as you, and as dog owners we have a social responsibility to ensure that we can get them to return to us when called

You will always be competing with the environment for your dog’s attention. Some dogs will never overcome certain instinctive behaviours (for example a major desire to go meet wild rabbits). When this is the case you have to go into management mode and keep them on lead. It’s unlikely that anything would be able to get them back until they’ve satisfied their natural instincts
We often sabotage a ‘reliable recall’. If you only ever ask your dog to come back to you when you are ready to leave the park and go home, then he will quickly learn that when you say “come” he should run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. Remember that you are a constant in your dog’s life, he knows you’re always around, but he may only get to frolic off leash with his mates a couple of times a week – and he is going to maximise that opportunity

Ask yourself if you call your dog to come to you at home, how quickly does he do that? If he’s not breaking the land-speed record then that’s where you should start. Get out something really startlingly yummy as a treat (BBQ chicken is a good example, or even a container with a teaspoon of cat food) then call him to you from a very short distance. Give him the treat and praise enthusiastically. Do this a couple of times a day over a week or so around different areas of your home / garden

When you go to the park think about initially keeping him on a long, light line and only go when it’s quiet and his canine buddies aren’t around to distract him. Call him once only from a small distance and don’t do it when he’s in the midst of intensively catching up on the newest scents. Reward generously and then immediately let him go off again. Always remember that a pat on the head for coming back means very little to him when he’s at the park interacting with his mates and reveling in all the different aromas
Never punish or grumble at your dog when he comes back to you. Dogs live for the moment. If your dog has lifted his leg where he shouldn’t or nicked someone’s ball and then come back to you, any form of admonishment will only jeopardise future recalls

When your dog is freely roaming and he ‘checks in’ with you at the park, think about rewarding him for it. It makes hanging around you more enticing. Intermittently ask him to come, reward and put his lead on then take the lead off and let him go again. At some stage the lead will stay on and he’ll go home, but you’ve conditioned him to be more accepting of your movements for when you eventually decide you want to go home. Dogs pick up on our body language quicker than our voices, so that’s how they ‘always seem to know when it’s time to leave’. It’s a good idea to desensitise your actions so they are less inclined to anticipate us

With a bit of consistent training using positive reward based strategies it is possible to get a reliable recall