Dog Recall Training: How to Teach Your Dog to Walk Off-Leash

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17 Minute Read
Updated August 12, 2021

Have you ever wondered how all those dogs at the dog park come running back to their people with a quick whistle or call? If you think dog recall training is impossible with your hyperactive pooch, think again!

Teaching your dog to walk off-leash doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. With the right tips, time, and consistent training, your dog can frolic freely with his buds at the off-leash dog park.

Dog recall training offers tons of benefits to both you and your dog, starting with a strong and trusting bond. Building a healthy relationship with your pooch will build the trust between you that encourages your dog to stay close and come back to you when he’s called.

Another reason to consider improving your dog’s recall training is to boost his exercise routine. Sometimes your dog just has way more energy and stamina than you can keep up with. Teaching your doggo good recall will allow him to spend more time playing, running, and exercising without you having to keep up with him.

Before you free your beast, you need to teach the basics of good leash manners.

Loose Leash Walking

loose-leash-walking (1)

Like with most dog training, you need to learn to walk before your run. Literally. Good leash manners are the foundation of building a trusting relationship with your dog and help to teach appropriate vocal commands.

Spend some time teaching your dog loose leash walking to instill a few lessons that will help you when you are ready to give him some more space. Vocal commands, hand signals, clickers, and treats are all useful in teaching your dog good walking manners.

How to Teach Your Dog Not to Pull

Let’s face it, some dogs are just too excited about their walks. They can yank you down the street like Marmaduke, which makes your walks a total nightmare. If you ever want your dog to have the freedom to walk off-leash, then you need to teach them that you are walking them, not the other way around.

Here are some basic steps to help you teach your dog to heel, come, and give you a comfortable slack leash on your daily walks:

1. Choose the right gear

Some dogs are too stubborn for a plain old collar to be effective. Choose the right dog collar or a no-pull harness to give you more control over your dog’s strength.

2. Limit distractions

Walk during off-peak hours or in less busy areas to limit the number of distractions that may catch your dog’s attention. This will ensure that your pup hears your commands and pays attention to your actions.

3. Stop, Ask, Wait

When your dog pulls, stop. Don’t pull back on the leash or yank your dog in a different direction. Just stop, ask for the appropriate behaviour, like heel or slow, and wait a few seconds for him to respond.

Tasty treats are a great way to reward this behaviour when your pooch listens, and then you can keep moving. If he does not comply, then ask again. Try to give him time to process the request instead of just rapidly repeating the vocal command. 

4. Repeat

Your dog will be stubborn at first, so be prepared to take long walks that don’t go anywhere. Stop, ask, and wait as many times as needed. At first, this will make for some very frustrating and tedious walks, but with practice, your dog will put the pieces together. 

In time, your dog will learn to walk at your pace, wait for your direction, and leave your arm in its socket. For even more information and helpful tips, check out How to Stop a Dog From Pulling on Leash.

How to Teach a Dog to Comeoff-leash-dog-sitting-near-owner (1)

Once you’ve mastered loose-leash walking, you are ready to start giving your dog a little more space to work with, but to do this, you need to make sure your dog knows what you are asking of him.

You can repeat the word “come” or point to the ground next to you until the cows come home, but if your dog doesn’t know what that means, then you’ll just confuse him. Take some time to show your dog what "come" means in just 3 steps:

  1. Teach your dog the vocal commands by using them when they do the action unprompted. Hold up a toy or a treat to get your dog to come to you. Use the word come as your dog makes his way over, and make sure to praise your dog for responding appropriately.

  2. Repeat this over and over and over again. You want your dog to associate his actions with the word you choose, and subsequently, the reward.

  3. Once you’ve taught him what the word means, you can start asking for the action and rewarding him. Practice starts at home, so keep treats nearby to ask for the action frequently throughout the day.

Off-Leash Dog Training

Off-leash dog training is more than just letting your dog loose and hoping he’ll return when you call him. It requires several steps and even more training sessions to show your dog how to behave off-leash and in different environments.

Remember that every dog learns differently, so one step may take longer than another for your dog to understand. Don’t try to rush, and keep calm when your dog struggles to grasp the concept.

The more frustrated you get, the more stressed and confused your dog will be, so take your time and repeat each step as many times as you need to make sure both you and your dog are comfortable with the process.

5 Steps to Teach Your Dog Good Recallcorgi-practicing-with-recall-lead (1)

If your dog has never experienced the joys of walking off-leash, then you are most likely going to need to spend a little time on each step to help them get used to the rules and routines. Here are 5 steps to practice recall and work your way up to walking them off-leash:

1. Practice at Home

A great way to get started is in your very own backyard. Your enclosed yard will allow your dog to get a short distance from you so you can practice your vocal commands before moving onto more open areas.

Start by letting your dog roam free in the yard and when she gets far enough away, call her back. Distractions like toys, neighbours, and other pets can help your dog learn to focus on your commands, even when fun is happening all around.

Try to set a routine time to practice this each day. The more he hears the command, the more it will become second nature for him.

2. Use a Recall Lead

Once your dog has figured out consistent recall in the yard, you can move to a less restricted area and continue training with a recall lead.

Recall leads are just really long leashes, and they are a great tool for practicing recall because your dog can get used to having more freedom of movement in an open area while still being secured to you. Recall leads come in different lengths, some as short at 10 ft, and others as long as 30 ft.

Your dog can explore to his heart’s content, and you can practice calling him back to you. Don’t pull on the lead; simply stand still and use your vocal commands to call your dog back. When your dog returns, give him lots of praise and reward.

Practicing recall with the long lead will give you some peace of mind, but it will also be training a very important habit called the “check-in.” Through repetition, you will be teaching your dog that he should be stopping and returning to a safe distance to check in with you throughout your walk.

It’s your dog’s way of saying, “Hey, are you coming?” If your dog occasionally returns to you, especially without being prompted, then he’s checking to make sure you aren’t getting too far behind.

3. Add Distractions

The more distractions that you can practice around, the better because you want to test how well your dog listens when you call him. People, kids, bikes, and other dogs are all factors that you may encounter at an off-leash dog park, so you want to make sure your dog will respond to your call even if something exciting happens near them.

Expect some missteps during this step because dogs act on instinct. They likely need to practice this step with various distractions so that they can get used to responding to you even when they are having fun.

4. Fenced Dog Parks

If you’re feeling confident in your dog’s recall skills at this point, then it may be time to try a fenced, off-leash dog park. These dog parks are perfect for dogs that are still practicing their recall but are ready to try it without the long lead.

This allows them to increase the distance between you, more easily interact with other dogs at the park, and get even further away to practice recall. Dogs learn exceptionally well from other dogs, so he will watch how other dogs behave and likely mimic some of their actions.

Not every city has a fenced off-leash park for dogs, but we recommend trying it out if you are lucky enough to have one.

5. Leap of Faith

The last step is usually the hardest as it involves a little faith. If your dog has nailed the previous activities, knows his commands, doesn’t stray too far without coming back to check in on you, and doesn’t get too distracted by other dogs and people, then it’s time to set him free.

Keep a very close eye on him and practice calling him back and rewarding him every few minutes. Choose a distance that you are comfortable with and when he gets too far, call him back, reward him, and set him free again.

It may be nerve-racking at first, but eventually, your dog will learn to stay close by, return when called, and even learn to follow the lead of more experienced dogs at the park.

Leash Laws

Walking your dog off-leash is most dog owners’ dream, but be aware that just because your dog is off-leash trained, that does not mean you can toss out your leash and collar forever. Stick to designated off-leash areas and parks in your city and be aware of the areas that your dog needs to be on a leash.

Lots of parks for people allow dogs, but not always off-leash. This could be in residential areas where dogs could get onto private property, public parks with landscaped gardens, parks designed for young children, and even areas that are just too high traffic to be safe for dogs to roam off-leash.

Leash requirements on walking trails are also important for the safety of your dog and others. While your dog may be ready to ditch the leash, other dogs may not, and may never be because they aren’t comfortable getting too close to other dogs.

Keeping your dog on a leash in these areas will ensure that your dog doesn’t introduce himself to a nervous, scared, or aggressive dog by mistake. It will also reduce your dog’s possible interactions with wildlife.

Know the leash laws in your city and make sure you are respectful of everyone that uses these public places. Not only could you end up with a ticket for disregarding these rules, but you could also be putting your dog and others in danger.

The Dangers of Off-Leash Dog Training

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While you may dream of the fun and freedom of walking your dog off-leash, and there are tons of benefits for dogs that can, there are some dangers too. Even the best-trained dogs can get themselves in sticky situations if they get too far ahead.

Before you hit the trails or dog park, familiarize yourself with all of the dangers of letting your dog run loose. You can’t prepare for everything, but knowing the possibilities will help you stay prepared as best you can.

Check out a few of the things that you may run into when walking your dog off-leash:

    • Leashed pets
    • Wildlife (bears, skunks, porcupines)
    • Fast flowing water
    • Stagnant bacteria-ridden water
    • Toxic plants
    • Cliffs or unstable ground
    • Cars, bike trails

Local dog parks may not have as many dangers lurking, but hiking trails, campsites, and other more rural areas might have one or all of these dangers nearby too. Make sure you know the environment and are prepared to direct your dog away from these possible issues.

Something as simple as what could happen if your off-leash dog decides to run up to a dog who is on a leash. It's not uncommon for the leashed dog to be intimidated, so you need to recall your dog to prevent an unpleasant situation. 

Not for Every Dog Can Be Off-Leash

On paper, the steps for teaching your dog good recall may not seem that hard, but not every dog will be able to live a leash-free life. There are several reasons that recall training might not be right for your dog, and you may find that no matter how hard you try or how long you train, your pup may always need to be leashed.

Here are a few reasons to consider not letting your dog off-leash, or at least not without much more training:

  • Your dog is aggressive towards other dogs
  • Your dog is not well socialized or has never been around another dog
  • Your dog is reactive to things like bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, or scooters
  • Your dog is fearful of specific traits in humans, like men, hats, or beards
  • Your dog is injured or recovering from an injury that limits his mobility or ability to play with other dogs
  • Your dog is deaf or blind (not a deal-breaker with the right training and environment, but it’s a significant challenge)
  • Dogs with high prey drive (especially in off-leash parks that have a lot of wildlife)

Easiest Dogs to Train Off-Leash

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Some breeds are known for having intense bonds with their human family and don’t tend to stray too far from what they know. These breeds aren’t guaranteed to pick up recall skills quickly, but they have the right instincts to learn how to walk off-leash with you safely.

Here are 5 dog breeds that are known for their reliable recall skills:

1. Labrador Retrievers

Not only is this dog one of the best off-leash dogs, but it’s also one of the most popular dog breeds in Canada. Labs are known for being loyal and playful, so don’t be surprised if they are a heavily represented breed at your local dog park.

2. Australian Shepherds

This natural herding breed is no stranger to having the freedom to run loose, making them easy to train off-leash. They are intelligent and loyal, and take direction well, but don’t be surprised if those natural herding instincts kick in at the dog park.

3. Boxers

This goofy breed may not look like the quickest canine, but they are a highly intelligent breed that loves to please their favourite people. Though they have lots of energy and will gladly take off running, they always know who their family is and are quick to learn their return commands.

4. Poodles

Poodles are known for being extremely intelligent, making them one of the easiest dogs to train. They learn commands, words, and other directions fast, so recall training should be quick and painless. Poodles are a very popular breed because they are considered one of the best hypoallergenic dogs

5. Border Collies

Another super smart herding breed, border collies have both the brains and the stamina to dominate the dog park, lapping his friends, and exploring every nook and cranny of the trails. They are a medium-sized dog, so they can easily fit in and keep up with their furry playmates of all sizes and breeds.

Don’t worry if your dog isn’t on this list. With the right training, almost any dog can learn to pick up on recall training. Many dogs learn the tips quickly, but it all depends on the training, their temperament, and even their environment.

Choose the Right Off-Leash Dog Parks

Once you and your dog have mastered dog recall training, it’s time to find a fun park for your dog to run free, make friends, and get in a good workout. Most cities have a designated off-leash area, like a park or a walking trail, so find out what’s available in your city.

Look for the amenities that best suit your dog’s favourite activities. Fenced-in parks are great for beginners, but space may be limited. They are a great place to start, but you may find that your dog, especially larger breeds and dogs with lots of stamina, may quickly outgrow this confined space.

Other amenities, like water fountains, clean-up stations, ponds or lakes for swimming, or even obstacle courses are all great for providing your dog with a safe and comfortable dog park experience.

Get the Lay of the Land

Before you hit the trails, it’s a good idea to get to know the boundaries and layout of the dog park. Check out how big the park is, and plan a path to walk. This will allow you to be prepared if your dog gets out of sight, or takes a wrong turn.

If you know all the exits, and where each path leads, you’ll have a much easier time finding him if he gets lost exploring.

Best Off-Leash Dog Parks in Canada

Most cities have a nearby off-leash dog park, but many major Canadian cities have some of the best ones. We put together a list of our favourite dog parks across Canada!

Off Leash Dog Parks Calgary - Sue Higgins Park

Sue-higgins-dog-park-calgaryPhoto credit: calgarycanine.com/sue-higgins-park

If you are looking for a dog park that really has it all, Sue Higgins Dog Park in Calgary is the place to go. It’s not only massive and fully fenced but Sue Higgins is also loaded with a variety of terrains and amenities for any activity your dog might love.

Off Leash Dog Parks Edmonton - Buena Vista Dog Park

Some of the best hiking trails in Edmonton are in Buena Vista Park, and who’s a better companion for your next adventure than your pooch. Buena Vista offers several riverside trails and wide-open spaces for dogs to play fetch and romp around with their friends.

Off Leash Dog Parks Toronto - Cherry Beach

If your dog is a natural swimmer, then why not take him to the beach. Cherry Beach is an off-leash park that has easy access to the water so your dog can go for a cooling dip and put a fun spin on his favourite fetch game.

Off Leash Dog Parks Ottawa - Conroy Pit

Your dog will love this spacious park as much as you’ll love the gorgeous scenery. Conroy Pit offers several trails for your pooch to explore, play with friends, and run out all that extra energy. This is one of the busier parks, so it’s best for dogs that are really well socialized.

Off Leash Dog Parks Vancouver - Spanish Banks Park

Spanish-banks-dog-park-vancouverPhoto Credit: thedognetwork.ca/directory/spanish-banks-off-leash-dog-park-vancouver-bc/

Who doesn’t want a beautiful view of the mountains, the harbour, and lively downtown Vancouver while they walk? Take your dog for a run along the sandy shore of Vancouver, explore the flats during low tide, or just frolic in the field at Spanish Banks Park.

Off Leash Dog Parks Winnipeg - Charleswood Dog Park

A dog park that is truly made for dogs, Charleswood Dog Park is a spacious area for dogs to play. Free from bike trails and other amenities that are made for people, this park is dogs only (and their humans).

Off Leash Dog Parks Saskatoon - Hampton Dog Park

This huge dog park is great for dogs that love to really kick it into high gear when they play. Choose from several walking trails, play a rousing game of fetch, or just let your dog hang out with some doggy friends.

Off Leash Dog Parks Victoria - Macaulay Point Park

Just a short drive from downtown Victoria, this off-leash dog park is centred in the middle of the breathtaking Macauley Point Park. The off-leash area is large and open for high-energy play and allows access to a variety of terrain including the beach.

Off Leash Dog Parks Langley - Uplands Dog Park

Uplands-Off-Leash-Dog-Park-langleyPhoto Credit: thedognetwork.ca/directory/uplands-off-leash-dog-park-langley-bc/

Being one of the largest open space dog parks in Langley, Uplands Dog Park is great for dogs that need lots of space, love to run, and don’t mind a bit of a busier environment. The fully fenced-in park also features a segmented fenced-in area for smaller dogs to play safely if they are intimidated by the many larger pups that frequent the park.

Off Leash Dog Parks Montreal - Notre-Dame-De-Grace

Notre-Dame-De-Grace Dog Run in located in the center of Notre-Dame-De-Grace Park and offers a fully fenced and safe space for dogs to run free and play. The park offers amenities like water fountains and a basic wooden obstacle course for a more exciting environment for your dogs.

Is your favourite off-leash dog park on our list? If not, let us know which park you think is the greatest in the comments below!

General Dog Park Etiquette

Dog parks are great if you are looking to improve your dog’s exercise and social skills, but always make sure you know the rules before you go. They are made for public use, so you need to make sure you are treating these areas with respect.

Often the rules for each park will depend on the amenities and region, but there are some pretty universal rules and etiquette for anyone who frequents a local dog park. The most important rule is to clean up after your dog and yourself.

These big open spaces can easily get littered with trash and dog poop, so be a responsible pet owner and keep dog parks clean and safe for everyone.

Find out more about everything you can do to act respectfully at the dog park in Dog Park Etiquette: Appropriate Behaviour for Dogs and People.

Dog Recall Training Takes Time

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While the core principles of recall training are relatively simple, each pet will pick up on these methods differently. It’s important not to rush the process or you may end up setting your dog loose only to have to chase them down when they don’t return.

Recall training is about trust, and that trust goes both ways. If your dog doesn’t trust you, then he won’t return when you ask him to. Building a strong and healthy bond with your pet is very important.

Recall training with a new pet, or with new people will likely not be effective until you’ve had more time to spend with your pooch. Your dog needs to feel both safe and comfortable with you before you can expect them to give you their full attention.

If your dog is especially hyperactive, recall training might take much longer than you’d like. It’s best to keep a level head and avoid showing signs of frustration if your dog seems to be a little scatterbrained.

Your dog will easily pick up on your emotions and it may affect their responses too. When you are feeling discouraged or frustrated - Take a break. Have some casual playtime with your pooch and take a step back from your training session. Go back to it when you are both relaxed and ready to focus again.

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How is your dog's recall? Let us know your struggles, tips, and success stories in the comments below!

Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channeling some crazy cat lady vibes with her four lovable, but rebellious cats.

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