We have all been there at some time or another as a dog owner. That dreaded moment when our pooch doesn't want to come back to you and finds the park much more fun than you are!
A few days ago I was in a park with the dogs I walk daily, when we bumped into a dog walker struggling to get a small Jack Russell back to her and onto the lead. This had been going on for about half an hour and in the end 3 of us were trying to lure this little dog close enough to grab hold of her. We thought we were starting to be successful as she got within 30cm of us but as soon as one of us moved, she was off again keeping out of arms reach.
We tried treats, we tried high praise and happy voices, we even tried rounding her up by flanking her & herding her. Then we tried one last effort and thought if we can gradually herd her into a goal with the nets on, we could catch ourselves a dog in the nets!!
This too failed as she was too wise and quick to be outsmarted by 2 hoomans!
In the end the dog walker laid down on the floor and stayed still until the inquisitive little dog came over to see what was going on and climbed onto her lap to sit, making it easy in the end to capture her.
Our dogs are all so different, the best time to teach a dog to be off leash is as young as possible, letting them know it's okay to be free and at that age they will naturally follow and it's also a time when they have no fear and trust us to be their leader.
If you do own an older dog that has been on a flexi lead or short lead for it's lifetime, the first thing to do is to learn to relax and keep calm when walking them, to build up a trust and let your dog know you are in control of any scary situation like a person in a high vis or a bin bag blowing in the wind, as well as meeting and greeting new dogs on the block!
When at the park the best way to guarantee your dog doesn't just take off to find the fun is to attach a "long line" in place of their lead. A long line is basically a lead attached in the same way to the collar but is about 30-50ft long. You can then hold one end and let your dog believe he is free to roam. Don't let him get to the end of the line and tug to pull, before he gets to that use a high voice and a loud "Bodger(dogs name) then pause, COME". If he doesn't respond at first give a tiny tug on the line to let him know you are there and use the call again. When he turns and comes running to you, give him lots of fuss and reward, maybe even a tasty treat. As he knows he is getting fuss and reward, it won't be long before he loves returning to you. But never give up on this training until you are sure he is returning to you every time. Different breeds may take longer to learn than others but perseverance will pay off in the long term. Once you are happy the recall is going well, try dropping the line so it is dragging around the floor, so if need be you could stand on the line to stop your dog running ahead too far and then revert back to the training again.
My little Yorkie was always on a Flexi-lead for many years due to a horrible experience in a woods. I let him off leash with all confidence, without training him to recall or even knowing how he would react, I was foolish, he didn't look back and took off along the woodland path, way to quick for us, he vanished from sight in seconds. We were incredibly lucky as a walker was coming along the path the other way too and saw this little tiny dog flying along on his own and scooped him up and walked back in the direction from which he came finding us running, red faced and out of breathe panicking. We were so grateful.
The years ticked by and after reading, studying, watching everything I could and doing online courses and attended courses about dog behaviour and training I started again to train Rocky to be off lead. I used the techniques I described above and very quickly he was off long line and mooching about the park happily. He now joins me most days on my working walks with a mixed bunch of dogs and they are his pals. The message in this is NEVER GIVE UP TRAINING & you can teach an old dog new tricks.
I have to say also that if you are happy walking your dog on a lead, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that if it makes you feel safe and happy when out with your dog then that is what it's all about- The joy our dogs bring to us.
I have to say the joy of seeing my Yorkie Rocky walking about a park doing his own thing, safe in the knowledge he is trustworthy to be off leash and return to me is immense. It is like all things in life, if you put the time in, you reap the rewards. Dog training is very much the same with the added bonus of having your pet well behaved and happy for a life time.
If you would like to follow little Rocky on Instagram find him by searching little_rocky_the_yorkie and see him living life to the full.
until next time...