Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called
Training Exercises for Dogs of Any Age continued...
Never allow your puppy or dog to be off-leash at the park until she’s reliable at coming when called at home and in your yard and neighborhood. The first time you go to the park, attach a long line—a lightweight leash or rope that’s at least 20 feet long—to her collar. Walk in the park while holding the end of the line, but make sure the line isn’t tight. Allow it to drag on the ground between you and your dog.
Any time your dog turns to look at you or nuzzles you, praise and reward her, either with a tasty treat or a quick game with her favorite toy. Watch her carefully, and when you think she’s about to turn and look at you, call her. If you need to, turn and take a few steps in the opposite direction. As soon as your dog looks at you, praise her. Keep encouraging her to come to you. When she reaches you, praise and reward her with a few delicious treats or a game with her favorite toy.
Don’t call her if she’s sniffing the ground, saying hello to another dog or playing. If you call when she’s distracted and she doesn’t come, you’re teaching her to ignore your call. Instead, call her when she’s highly likely to come so that you can establish a strong habit. And remember to be generous with your rewards!
Once your dog is reliable at coming when you call while wearing her long line, start to test her when she’s more distracted. If she doesn’t come right away, turn and run a few steps away from her while calling. She’ll either decide to chase you or she’ll be dragged by the long line. Either way, praise her for coming and encourage her to catch up to you. Be genuine with your praise and generous with your rewards when she does.
As your dog’s reliability improves, you can let go of the line and let it drag so that your dog has the illusion that she’s off leash. Continue to practice calling her, initially when she’s highly likely to come and later when she’s somewhat distracted. If your dog doesn’t come when you call, pick up the line and run away while calling her. Reward her when she catches you. As she continues to improve, cut a few inches off the line every three to four training sessions. Behave as though nothing has changed.
Eventually, you’ll end up with a short one-foot line attached to your dog’s collar that you can grab if you suddenly need to restrain her for some reason. You can leave that “handle” on her collar indefinitely if you wish.