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Most of our dogs love their off-leash playtime. But what do you do when you can’t get your dog to come back to you at the park?
Trying to chase your dog down or yelling at your dog until she stops playing is time-consuming, frustrating, embarrassing, and ineffective.
Instead, put your Dog Training Hat on and get to work teaching your dog to love coming when you call her – even at the park.
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we answer the question,
My one year old dog loves to run around in the park at times when she is allowed to be off leash, but I have a terrible time getting her back on the leash when we have to go. How can I train her to come when play time is over?
– Signed, Playful Pups
PS – If you read this blog post and still need more help, don’t just submit another Ask a Behavior Consultant! We don’t answer repeat questions.
Instead, sign up for a 15-minute or one-hour troubleshooting call. One of our Certified Dog Behavior Consultants will work to understand where your training needs more work and help you come up with a plan for success.
Our goal here isn’t to teach your dog, “Come when I call, or else.”
We want to teach your dog, “When I call you, awesome stuff is about to happen and it’s worth joining the party.”
Loyalty inspired by love will always be stronger than loyalty inspired by fear.
Be sure to avoid the common mistake of scolding your dog – even if she blew you off and you’re frustrated and embarrassed. Try to make it AWESOME for Fido to “be caught” by Mom or Dad!
How To Teach Your Dog to Come at the Park
Playful Pups has a really common problem – her dog listens sometimes, but not all the time. She’s probably already got some of the basics of off-leash training down. There are two main reasons that this happens:
Issue 1: Motivation
We often overuse our dog’s cues – especially come when called. Once we think that we can control our dog’s movements with our voice, we just can’t help ourselves! We call, and call, and call.
It’s no wonder our dogs get sick of responding. They just want to play in the park, after all!
While we’re enjoying our newfound control over our dogs, we forget to pay our dogs for their hard work. Slowly, your dog is learning that coming when you call doesn’t pay, doesn’t pay well enough, doesn’t pay often enough, or results in the end of playtime.
There’s good news, though: we don’t have to find treats (although amazing teats help) that are better than playing in the park. We just have to build up your relationship with your dog so that it’s more powerful than playtime.
Issue 2: Distraction-Proofing
Another common reason for recall training to fall apart is a lack of proofing. Sure, your dog can come when you call her in class or in the backyard. She might even come when you call her in the tennis court that you use for practice.
But can she come when you call her near a squirrel? Around a plate of treats? Near another dog? While someone else runs past?
We now have our next steps if the answer to those questions is anything but, “Yes, she can! We’ve practiced all of those things!”
Luckily, proofing your dog’s “come when called” behavior will do wonders for building up your dog’s motivation to come when you call her.
Play The “Can You Come When…?” Game With Your Dog
If you laid out all of your dog’s favorite toys and treats, plus someone offering petting and another person offering praise, what would your dog pick first?
(Hint: I’ve met very few dogs who would pick praise or petting in this situation, yet many of us continue to use praise and petting as a “reward” for tough behaviors like coming when you call them away from a party at the park).
Pick that item – whether it’s liver, roasted chicken, a tennis ball, or a frisbee.
Now start to play the “Can You Come When…” game.
Pay your dog with that Super Amazing Item when she “wins.” Give her treats only when your hand is on her collar. I often break the treat up into multiple tiny morsels so I can give them out in 1-2-3-4-5 quick treats. This makes a big impression on my dog!
If the answer to “Can You Come When…?” is no, that’s ok. Just make it easier and try again.
This game is a great time to get creative! Here are a few ideas, but feel free to make up your own variations. Start with the ones that will be easier for your dog (that depends from dog to dog).
During practice, use a long leash to ensure that you can catch your dog if she doesn’t come. I use a 30-foot-long line and let dogs drag it behind them. Use safe areas for practice, such as fenced-in fields.
For the options that involve food, it’s much easier to start with the food further away from your dog. Don’t start out asking your dog to literally step over chicken to get to you!
Check out the “Can You Listen When…?” game here.
Until your dog can come when you call her in distracting versions of this game, don’t risk it at the park.If you can’t skip the park or have your dog drag a leash at the park, don’t use your come when called cue. You’ll just weaken it! Just use treats and other coaxing methods to get your dog.
If you still need help with your dog after reading this post, set up an appointment with us for a 15 minute or one hour behavior help call. We can help troubleshoot your particular situation and come up with a solution!
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.
This is super awesome and helpful! I feel like my only issue is that my dog is truly only motivated by the fun of playing with other dogs. She spits out treats at a dog park and has no care for toys.
Hi Jules! That’s not uncommon. You could start out practicing with “dog park TV” where you hang out with your dog a block or two away from the park. Once she’s calm and bored at that distance, you can move closer and closer as you gradually strengthen her skills at listening to you near other dogs.