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Training Tips: Can all dogs learn to reliably come when called?

Last week I wrote about how to know when a dog can be trusted off leash. Based on the comments, it seems like most of you allow your dogs off leash in some situations.

One question that came up was this:

Can every dog learn a reliable recall? Or do some dogs always need to be leashed?

I don’t know the answer to that.

Of course, there are many dogs that should currently never be off leash, but does that mean there’s no hope for them?

With the right training, can any dog eventually earn some off-leash privileges?

I shared the example of my former foster dog Cosmo the American Eskimo. As much as he loved food I could never get him to come when called once he was outside. He was always on a leash, and when we practiced the recall on a 50-foot rope, the only way to get him to come when called was to “reel” him in.

Cosmo the American Eskimo dog

Meanwhile, he was nearly perfect indoors. We took two sessions of obedience classes, and he earned his Canine Good Citizen test on the first try. But coming when called while off leash and outside? Ha! Not gonna happen!

Some of you wrote about your dogs who have gotten loose and how stressful it was to get them back. Others said their dogs have too much prey drive to be trusted off leash.

I also tend to think the prey drive is just too strong in some dogs to be able to trust them. On the other hand, some people have had great success through extensive training using a shock collar and/or highly valued food.

If you give your dog a meatball every time he comes when called, that just might do it (for some dogs).

The correction from the dog shock collar may also be just enough to stop some dogs from chasing, as Ted Kerasote wrote about in the book “Pukka’s Promise.”

Kerasote used a shock collar to stop his Lab from chasing deer.

It worked.

So, for you trainers out there as well as everyone else, what do you think?

Can all dogs eventually be trusted off leash?

For me, that will always be the goal. Whether or not I’m able to achieve that with every dog I ever own may be another story.

Related posts:

Stop a dog from whining and pulling on walks

All of That Mutt’s dog training tips

*This post is part of the blog hop Training Tips Tuesday hosted by Dogthusiast.

scott wollins

Monday 19th of September 2016

Shock collars are medieval - and they should be on the list of things 'shitty' owners do - when I saw a puppy shocked by invisible fence for first time - it was last time I would ever view shock fences are humane...

scott wollins

Monday 19th of September 2016

My fur-girl was a runner - no possibility of off-leash when she was 6 months old - today we walk anywhere off-leash - a few months ago she was petrified of thunder - now she can walk on beach during a storm - if you trust and believe in your dog's potential to grow and change - it can happen!


Monday 19th of September 2016

Very interesting read and every dog is different. My JRT has the chase instinct and I don't want her to lose it. It's part of who she is. But we do have a shock/beep collar and we don't need to shock anymore. She reliable returns with or without the beep. Beep is only used if she doesn't respond to "Leave It. Come". I love that she can be independent and still come reliably. She's more "her" because of that freedom ;-)

Bruce Bolduc

Monday 19th of September 2016

We have worked with our dog since we got her 1 1/2 years ago on obedience training. About 90% of the time, she is a great dog. However she has a strong prey drive and has been will run thru our electric fence and has run around our neighborhood several times after rabbits and will not return for anything when she goes "terrier mode". Her breed is a ground prey hunting dog (Patterdale terrier) so we do not let her off leash.


Monday 19th of September 2016

We finally used a *shock* collar w/our Belgin Shep/Retriver mix Sade-Mae. We only use the VIBRATE mode and I can FINALLT walk her off leash, still on leash when off our road, we live in the country but she still doesn't get that a car will hurt her and she has to move over! But, while in the wooded areas and on our private road she goes off leash, she gets to chase the chipmonks ect, track the deer, bear and other scents w/out fear that she will not respond when called to be *with me* I'm 5'7" & only 108 lbs (not by choice) Sade-Mae is 98 over the last 2 yrs (Sade-Mae just turned 4yrs, we adopted her when she had just turned 2 yrs old) I have had many dog walking related injuries..even my first broken bone (my wrist) so, after much research and discussion and 2 broken harnesses, leashes, collars..we went w/the *shock* collar but it had to have the VIBRATE feels just like a cell phone on vibrate mode. So, that's my experiance, both myself & Sade-Mae are MUCH happier now! In fact I am starting to let her be off leash to roam the yard & back woods on our property..that's a hugh step!

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 19th of September 2016

I'm so glad you've found a way to give Sade-Mae some off-leash time in a way that is safe. I'll probably use a shock collar with Remy eventually for hunting.