One of the most common phone call enquiries we receive these days is about how to get dogs to recall at dog parks. Our professional opinion on dog parks aside, our advice to clients is that this process will take time, effort and planning to achieve results.
The reason most dogs won’t recall in a dog park environment is they haven’t yet been trained to recall in that environment. Often dogs will recall in the home and in the backyard, but if the necessary steps to train the technical recall steps in multiple locations and in multiple conditions have not been taken, this will undermine your progress at the dog park.
Teaching your dog to recall under high distraction is also dependent on building and fostering a certain state of mind and level of engagement in your dog before you attempt to take them to a dog park environment.
Dogs will generally fail to recall when the distraction level is too high. Levels of arousal and distraction generally accord with the scale below. This is far from comprehensive, but does give a visual understanding of why your dog isn’t recalling in some environments. A dog park environment is a very HIGH distraction level – level 10. The home environment on the other hand is a very LOW distraction level – level 1. This leaves a great number of levels in-between that can and should be trained and tested before you can expect that your dog will reliably recall at the dog park.
There are obviously significant variables that affect this scale, however in general terms the distraction scale is as follows:
Quiet = No dogs or people
Busy = Dogs and people present
1 = In a quiet home
2 = In a busy home
3 = In a quiet backyard
4 = In a busy backyard
5 = On a quiet footpath
6 = On a busy footpath
7 = At your local café
8 = At a quiet park (not a dog park)
9 = At a busy park
10 = At a dog park
Overcoming different levels of distraction requires some skill and an understanding of what motivates your dog.
In fact, there are professionals in the dog industry who would argue that expecting your dog to recall at the park shouldn’t be a goal at all, and would advise people simply not to go to dog parks. Whilst this is certainly appropriate advice in many circumstances, there is certainly a very strong dog park culture in the mighty West, and if we can assist people to be able to recall their dogs out of less than ideal situations this is definitely beneficial to our dogs and to the community as a whole.
If training your dog to recall at the park, our key recommendation to clients is don’t go to the park when it’s peak hour. Go when it’s quiet, be consistent with the steps and the training and stay vigilant. You never know how well socialised other dogs are at the park, and incidents happen more often that you think.
Remember, even if you can control your own dog’s behaviour, you cannot control the abilities of other dogs or dog owners in an off lead dog park situation. If you do choose to take your dog to these environments, being able to at least recall your own dog may assist you in a difficult situation (even where your dog is not at fault).
The key pointers we would give to train a reliable recall are as follows:
Encouraging safe socialisation and training with your dog is a must for any owner, particularly those who wish to attend dog parks. We come across dogs in our training and in our daycare facility who have developed issues socialising with other dogs as the result of bad experiences in dog parks. Assessing their abilities and distraction levels in a controlled environment is extremely useful to determining the best techniques and processes to train recall specifically targeted at your dogs’ motivations and experiences.
If you put in the work and the effort, you will be rewarded with a great relationship with your dog and the piece of mind that you have a much better chance of recalling them in a time of need.
If your dog is aggressive or reactive in an off lead, dog park environment, professional training advice and guidance would be highly recommended, as this is likely to require further training beyond those of recalling a dog without these traits.
Photo credit: Jane Cowan ABC