It isn't a one step process. To hear all the stages of the process, you can check out one of my earlier posts on Teaching a Reliable Recall.
Today I wanted to post about a few ways to tip the odds in your favor when you are getting mixed results from having your dog off leash.
You should take some time to think through what motivates your dog. Will they work for hot dogs? A game of tug? A stick? Those are the things you want on your side. You need to compete with the wide world of fun your dog will experience off leash, so boring isn't exactly the way to go.
Also think about what your dog has trouble ignoring when out on a walk. Will he come unless there is a dog in the distance? Or do squirrels lead her on a merry chase through the woods while you're left on the trial? Maybe you have the pup that sees you unclip the leash and just book it without a look back.
Skye was a squirrel hunter. Her once fantastic recall was gone when she discovered chipmunks in the forest. Our ultimate low was one walk I'll never forget. Skye ran into the woods within 2 minutes of being off leash. I saw her twice in an hour- both times she was running hard and didn't have a clue I was there. When she didn't come back to the car, I had to walk the trail again until I heard her crashing through the woods. I left the trail and found her digging up a chipmunk hole without a care in the world. So I started over with her on a long line- if she listened she was rewarded, if she ignored me in a situation that was within her ability to come I would put her on a short leash for a few minutes.
But back to some tips- one reason I like using a long line in an open space is that I can spend a few minutes warming the dog up. They can run a little while attached to me and I can gauge their focus. It won't be perfect, but I want to see a dog hearing their recall word/sound and responding to it. With Shirley, her response can be a little noncommittal; she looks to me, but isn't running over. But if I have her attention, I will praise her loud and proud, then turn to go in a different direction. In an open space your dog will be able to tell your front from your back if they are looking at you. So let them run and be dogs, but make sure you are deciding how far you go in each direction.
As with anything in training, timing is important. In the early stages I don't call the dogs for at least 5 minutes after I let them free because the odds are they will ignore me. It can be tough to restrain yourself the first few times you unclip that leash- you immediately have the urge to call them back! In an open space I know there aren't other people/dogs nearby to call them away from anyway, so this time is mostly spent sniffing and peeing. I pick my direction and head out with or without them (usually without). The first dog to catch up gets a little party- treats and praise up the wazoo. Each dog that comes to me on their own will also get a treat, but only the first dog gets the party.
I'll play this game every so often to keep a little competition going with the dogs- usually the lolligaggers will up their game after they realize that they're missing out. I also take time during the walk to play with the dogs, running and dodging, throwing sticks, etc. I'll ask them to sit for pictures during the walk and reward their good behavior. Sure, the romping and sniffing and freedom is the best part, but for my dogs it isn't the only fun part. Being near me is fun off leash and I work hard to make it that way.
However, every dog has an off day. Sometimes the environment is too distracting for what you've practiced. Sometimes your pit bull sees a freshly manured field and her brain turns off until she is thoroughly covered in poo. It's okay to revoke a privilege for a while as a consequence for ignoring you as long as you don't give up. So you had a bad day, you were "that owner" chasing your dog through the park. It happens. Go home, blog about it, and pick things up tomorrow after a nice cup of coffee. If one bad day puts your dog on leash for life, then my guess is they'll give you a run for your money the next time they get a taste of freedom. Just stack the odds in your favor when you let your dog off leash and build up their ability to handle distraction as time goes on.
My last hint- bring along a dog or two with excellent recall. I would never let Bradie, Shirley, or Cody off leash so soon if I didn't have my dogs to influence the rest of the beasts!