For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of owning a dog is watching them run at full stretch. It’s so easy to see the joy in your dogs’ face when they are able to have free access to a large space. Imagine what that would feel like. Dogs spend the vast majority of their time confined to the same house, with the same smells, same sights- not much changes. But outside, everything is new, and vibrant, and smells great! How wonderful to be able to investigate all of these things at their own leisure. ??Often what happens is, people adopt a new dog and they wait months (sometimes even years) before they allow them off the lead at the park. They finally summon up the courage to unclip the lead, and their dog takes off, owner freaks out, and when they finally catch up with their dog, they put them straight back on lead, and vow never to try it again (at least for a little while). If this is the case, how is your dog ever going to learn to stay close to you if they are never allowed off lead?
There are so many recall and off lead control lessons you can teach your dog, but in order to teach them they have to be off lead. Hmmm, seems like a catch 22. There is an answer though. Before you go out make sure your dog is hungry (don’t feed them for several hours before going on a walk), take lots of high value food (raw meat, chicken wing tip, cut up frankfurt), then find a large space that is safely enclosed, and let them off inside. This is so effective for a few reasons.
Firstly, and most importantly, you are more relaxed. If you are relaxed you will spend less time calling at your dog which just sets them up to ignore you. It will also allow you to enjoy watching your dog explore and run safely- you wont help but smile watching them chase the birds, dig, roll, run through the grass, or fall over because their legs got tangled up (very funny when it does happen).
Secondly, they cant go too far so you can begin shaping their behaviour to teach them to pay attention to you and check in from time to time. Give them a bit food when they come close to you. Always acknowledged their attention with a loving word or some food or a game (most dogs love to play chasie). This is so great because you are training them without them even knowing it! I believe this is the best and most effective way to train any behaviour. While you are walking around the space get in to the habit of changing direction often without telling your dog. This will teach them to pay attention to you, it also sets them up to come racing back to you which is a great opportunity for reinforcement.
Thirdly, the enclosed space gives you the opportunity to practice some recall (coming when called) exercises (I will cover these in a later blog). After a time in the enclosed space the novelty will have worn off and this is the perfect time to practice recall exercises as now you have become the most interesting thing in the space.
Finally, an enclosed space usually has only one or two entrance areas that you may be able to see at all times. This allows you to be able to see when someone (person or dog) is entering, or about to enter, and you will be able to prepare for this. The enclosed space also stops your dog from bothering passing traffic in the way of bikes, joggers etc. You can train your dog in the enclosed space to ignore these distractions without fear of them failing, and you getting yelled at.
Use any enclosed areas you find, over time your dog will become so much better behaved off lead, and any problems you are having at home with them will also be diminished just by allowing them to run free each day. Eventually you will be able to discover a world of walking tracks which is so much more fun than pounding the pavement- snore.