How to recall your dog: 5 simple steps

Calgary has more square kilometres of off-leash dog area than any other city in North America, but if you want to take advantage of any of it, you'll have to teach Fido to come when called.

Association and repetition in various environments a critical part of training

If you're having trouble getting your dog to come when called, here are some tips. 1:43

Calgary has more square kilometres of off-leash dog area than any other city in North America, but if you want to take advantage of any of it, you'll have to teach Fido to come when called.

Under the city's responsible pet ownership bylaw, pet owners must be able to recall or control their dog at all times while in an off-leash area, said city spokesperson Maryann Houston.

If you're having trouble in that regard, here are five simple steps you can use to train your dog.

Remember, dogs learn by association and repetition, which makes practice critical. 

"Wherever you are going to be with your dog is where you need to practice," explained Janette Meyer with Calgary's bylaw service centre.

"Don't just practice at home in your backyard. Practice in as many different situations that you can think of that the dog will be in: at the park, in the street, at the off-leash park."

1. Create a "marker"

Begin by associating a marker, such as the clicker pictured above, with a treat. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

It's important to reward your pet as soon as it obeys your commands.

Begin by using a clicker or a word like "yes" to signal to your pet as soon as it has done something good. 

"The reason for a marker is that by the time you go and get your hand in your pocket to get a treat and give it to the dog, there's been a delay," said Meyer.

"By the time you actually deliver the treat, the dog could've done a few other behaviours and think that's what it's supposed to be doing."

2. Get their attention

'A dog that keeps checking in with you and looking back to where you are is more likely to come than a dog that's just out there enjoying its life,' says Meyer. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"Humans are boring," said Meyer.

"The most exciting thing for dogs is to go out and sniff." 

You'll need to teach your dog to check in with you, look back at you, and remain aware of your presence while outdoors. 

To do this, say the dog's name and reward it with the marker when it looks at you. 

3. Grab their collar

Teach your dog not to be afraid of a collar grab by associating this action with a treat. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Sometimes an owner will have to grab a dog's collar to keep the dog safe, but without the proper training, a dog might bolt or recoil when it sees a hand shoot out towards it. 

"You want a dog to be okay with you grabbing for their collar," said Meyer.

To do this, speak your dog's name, grab its collar, and then reward it. Repeat the exercise and make sure to reach for the collar from different angles. 

4. Add distance

Begin testing your dog's recall from short distances. Gradually increase the distance as your dog begins to catch on. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The next step is to gradually increase the distance at which your dog can be recalled. Start by putting your dog on a six-foot leash.

Then call your dog's name and run backwards. Once it follows, say "come" or "here" and reward your pet when it listens.

5. Enlist the help of a friend

Request the help of a friend as you continue to increase the distance. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

To keep increasing the distance, start by having a friend stand 10 feet away from you while you hold on to your dog's leash.

Ask your friend to call the dog. Then lead your dog on the leash toward your friend. Once the dog comes, grab its collar, and as always reward them.

Keep repeating this exercise, adding more distance between you and your partner as you go.