Coming When Called at the Dog Run

What are the benefits, if any, of taking your dog to a dog park or dog run?

Problems With Taking Your Dog to the Dog Run

Years ago I used to love taking dogs to the dog run. I don't anymore. I've seen too many situations where dogs, their owners or dog walkers, were out of control.

In one case I saw a dog walker pick up one of the dogs he was with. Apparently he thought she was misbehaving, so he lifted her up in the air then threw her to the ground as hard as he could in what seemed to be a twisted version of the alpha roll. In another case a dog owner wasn't happy with the way two other dogs had interacted with his dog, so he picked up each of the dogs and deposited them inside a fence around a crab apple tree. There was no way for the dogs to get out or for their owners to get in. (My perception was that both of these guys weren't taking their medications.)

Assholes aside, just being at the dog can be problematic for you and your dog.

Blogger Jaymi Heimbuch has written an online piece providing 15 things people do wrong at the dog park. One of the trainers at Leerburg has also written an anti-dog run piece, primarily from the perspective of problems involving "dominance" and "packing behavior" in dog runs. And on his blog at Dog Star Daily Eric Goebelbecker has written a piece titled, "Dog Parks and Why You Should Avoid Them."

Many people believe that their dogs just love going to the dog run. And in a way that's true. But the fact is, most dogs love going anywhere that's familiar to them. Many dogs get excited and wag their tails when they go to the vets' office! And, yes, sometimes your dog will find a few friends to play with at the dog run, but sometimes there's trouble.

Coming When Called at the Dog Run

Recently, however, I took a client and her 7-month old French bulldog pup Winston to a small dog dog run in Riverside Park. I did this with one purpose in mind. My goal was that in the midst of the action, I wanted to teach Winston to turn on a dime and come running back to me and his owner whenever I called. These days, that's the only use I see in going to the dog run

Here's the general idea on how to intensify and increase your dog's desire to come when called: Whenever you take your dog to the dog run, always bring along some treats and the squeaker from a squeaky toy. Don't sit on one of the benches, looking at your smart phone or table. Pay close attention to your dog. When he’s not interacting with other dogs, or not sniffing around, and seems to need something to do, give a loud whistle, or clap your hands, or squeak the squeaker. (If I’m in a big dog run I’ll use an actual ref’s whistle.)

When he looks at you, show him that you’ve got a treat. BUT DON’T CALL HIM TO YOU YET! Wait until he starts running toward you. Then, while he’s already in the process of running, say “[Your dog's name], come!” in an excited voice. Then reward him with the treat and a lot of praise. (It wouldn’t be a bad idea to jump up and act happy and get him to chase you around a little too.)

This will probably excite not only your dog but several other dogs in the vicinity, so let things settle down a little, and the dogs will start playing again. Wait until there’s another lull in the action, and repeat.

Another cool trick is to play a modified version of “hide-n-seek”: When your dog isn’t paying attention to you, move. Go stand or sit somewhere else. Then, when he looks back to where you used to be standing or sitting, and can’t see you, he’ll suddenly have a strong desire to find you. When he does, wave a treat and run away. He’ll come flying toward you as fast as he can. As he does, say, “[Your dog's name], come!” in an excited voice, then reward him with the treat and a little bit of chase. (Most dog runs frown on people getting dogs to chase them around like this, so you have to keep it to minimum.)

After a few days of doing these exercises, your dog will automatically start looking for you when there’s a lull in the action. He’ll even start coming back to check in with you from time to time. It’s vitally important during this stage, that every time he comes back to you on his own, without any direction from you, that you praise him and give him a tasty treat.

When It's Time to Leave

One other important bit of advice, if your dog is in the habit of running away when it’s time to leave the run, never stand there with the leash in your hand and call him! Have the leash hidden, and put it on your dog while he’s distracted by eating a treat out of your hand, or ask him to jump up on you while you leash him up.

Another good tip: after you leash him up, take him for a brisk walk, a game of chase and tug, while running or jogging around or near the dog run. Then take him back inside and let him loose again.

If your dog has as much fun playing with you as he does with the other dogs, you may find that when you get back inside the dog run he’ll actually hang around you for a while before he finally runs off and throws himself into the tumble of dogs waiting for him. If you do these exercises often enough, and make your dog’s experience of leaving the run with you as fun for him as being inside with the other dogs, he won’t associate the leash with the feeling that “the fun is over.” And the really cool thing is, after just a few weeks of playing with him, you can simply show him the leash and he’ll come running over to you to be leashed up. You won't need to keep doing this every day, either. Nor will you have to keep giving him treats every time he comes (you should gradually wean him off the treats altogether any- way; they're just a tool for those initial stages of learning).

Lee Charles Kelley

"Life Is an Adventure--Where Will Your Dog Take You?"

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© 2016 by Lee Charles Kelley.