Training: Part 3 – The Open Dog Park

As we were filling out the adoption papers for Knox, I had dreams of taking him to Crab Park and watching him play with all the dogs, or swim in the ocean, or play fetch with us.

After taking him home, all those dreams were dashed when we learned that he was a little reactive, a little crazy pants, and had absolute zero recall. Determined to fulfill my dream, once we got past those pesky bad behaviours, I enrolled him into Recall class with Shelagh Begg of Dizine Canine.

#knoxdog | Shelagh Begg & Dizine Canine


While we’re only on class 3 of 6, we’re learning (and in most cases, relearning) some important lessons:

  • Be FUN! Be so much more exciting than everything else.
  • Make recall the best thing ever.
  • Don’t only use recall as a removal from awesome things or punishment. No, “GET OVER HERE. NOW.”
  • Don’t use a word you’ve worn out.
  • Be consistent.
  • A formal recall always has a SIT.
  • Your dog needs be comfortable about being touched and grabbed.

Are you that guy at the park that constantly yells “Come! Come here! Dog! Come over here now!” You’ve probably worn out “come” and should find a different word.

My favourite resource for dog behaviour training is, no surprise, is from Dr. Sophia Yin. Go through her entire recall archive and soak it all in.

#knoxdog | Shelagh Begg & Dizine Canine recall class

A distraction!

Step 1: Get his attention. You just need your dog to learn to “check in” even when he’s having the best time of his life. What word or sound gets your dog’s attention? We’re using a whistle right now.

Step 2: Grab his collar, tail, scruff, ears, legs, body… anything. After you get his attention, he should be okay with being grabbed, just in case you need to move away from something. There should be no surprise, no anxiety, no running away. Just focus on you 🙂

While working on recall, we’re learning to use the highest of value treats like cheese and sausage. We’ve worked on associating “attention” with super awesome stuff whether it’s using a non-verbal word, a noise, or even his name. You never want to use his name as the attention word or recall word  … but we’ve cheated.

We’re still working on it. It’s a long, long process. But my dream is getting a little more real. Sure, we can’t go to a super busy dog park, but when we visited the local unenclosed Charleston Park, he made an amazing 180 spin when I yelled his recall phrase: Let’s go!

It was so good that it even impressed the other owners at the park!

Does your dog have a solid recall? What’s your recall word? Do you let them off-leash?

#knoxdog | Charleston Park

This park is the best park ever!

#knoxdog | Charleston Park

Water? Water!



  1. Darryl Halse · November 13, 2014

    Great post – you guys are doing so well with Knox. You’re doing all the right things, now it’s just a matter of consistency over time for more and more results. Yay Knox!


    • nicolb · November 13, 2014

      Thanks so much, Darryl! You guys have been invaluable in helping maintain consistency when monitoring his greet and play manners. 🙂


  2. Gloria · November 13, 2014

    This is super helpful. Maeby is good about staying close to us (and staying near enough that she keeps looking at us and knows where we are) when we take her to the beach but we are nervous about smaller spaces that are not fenced in, where she would get bored with the small amount of space and run off. She’s also good about coming back when her name is called…but not directly to you, haha. Of course not. She runs at you and then past you and will stop a few feet away. This will be great so we can take her to parks that are closer to us (one within walking distance) that isn’t fenced in. Thanks for sharing!


    • nicolb · November 14, 2014

      I’ve rarely brought Knox to areas that are not fenced off. This park excursion was a bit of a fluke with his recall, but it does comfort me to know that he learns quickly and actually does know what I want, even if he doesn’t always do it.

      One of the most important things we’re working on with the formal recall (the “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY! Come and stay with me!”) is that he has to sit and focus. He gets “released” back to play within seconds and we’ve been working up to focus for longer and longer durations. Try breaking each step out in parts (attention, sit at attention, come when called, come when called from a distance, focus and release, etc.) and chain them together as Maeby becomes more confident.

      We’re both in this together! 🙂


  3. mytwopitties · November 18, 2014

    Those are great training tips & ones that I have used often. I learned from Kaya & Norman that dogs respond to different types of recall too. Kaya does best with one loud, “Kaya come!” If I throw in a “good girl” before she actually gets to me, she gets too excited, breaks her concentration and runs past me or darts in another direction. Quite the opposite, Norman does best with the puppy style, high-pitched voice, lots of enthusiasm and even better if I crouch down so he’s heading for my face.

    I think it helps to make the release exciting too. I’ve taught them “Go running!” so after they’ve come, there is a really fun follow up command. Individually, Kaya likes a quick obedience session like rapid-fire “sit, down, heel, down, come, sit, go!” She gets super focused & excited for the next command, then she tucks her butt & runs when released. Norman would be really bored with the same exercise and he would barely walk off once I got to the “go!” part. For him he likes it when I run with him for a few steps and say stuff like “we’re running!” then I literally push his butt so that he’ll scoot off on his own and yell “good boy!” If I’m lucky he’ll run in some big circles, other times it’s just 10 feet. Either way, he really likes it:)

    The universal answer, like you said, is that it must for fun and rewarding for the dog!


    • nicolb · November 22, 2014

      It’s so true! After so many recalls, we’re learning that he’ll get distracted if we don’t make excited notes. While he’ll run towards us full speed (and look super cute doing it), crouching down a bit, looking at him directly and lots of enthusiasm works wonders. Love reading about all the little differences between Kaya and Norman! 🙂


  4. Pingback: Play Time!: Dog Parks? No thanks. | #knoxdog

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