Spring time often means more little critters are out and about. The smells are stronger as the ground thaws and your pups have cabin fever! All winter they’ve been cooped up and they want to run. When was your last hike in the woods? When was your last off leash walk? What your dog did last autumn may be different than what they’ll do now. Often times, dog’s will get excited at the new sights and sounds and when not prepared for this new challenge, they'll run off and listen poorly. Follow these steps and you’ll be ready to go when summer hits!
Use your leash!
Just because your dog is capable of being off leash, doesn’t mean that they should be. Unless you’re willing to gamble two weeks pay that your dog will come each time you call them; don’t do it. Porcupines, skunks, other leashed dogs, people fearful of dogs, small children and more, are never a good match for an off leash dog. While your dog is earning his freedom, you can practice for what it will feel like to be off leash with the use of a long line. A 15 to 30 foot leash is a great way to practice your dog’s skills while maintaining control and safety. We often train dogs on a 6 foot leash so they're used to working within that area. However, once they are 15 feet away from you it may be a different story. Utilize a long line, which you can get from most pet stores, until you can trust your dog 100%.
Attention first/voluntarily check in's.
When you know your dog is capable of walking nicely and doing well, we tend to have high expectations. After a long winter it isn't uncommon for our dogs to lose some of that attention and we just need to build it back up. Begin with a super simple exercise, name recognition. Just say their name and when they look at you offer a treat. We want to remind them that their attention is still valuable and when offered, good things still happen! Once they start responding perfectly to their name you can increase the challenge by doing nothing. Yup, just wait for your dog to look at you on their own. When they do click and treat.You’ll be surprised how much voluntary check in’s improve your dogs on and off leash skills.
Ask for more.
Now that your dog is paying attention to you more and is even choosing to do so on their own, we can increase the challenge. Wait for your dog to voluntarily check in with you, when they do what next? Well you can ask for a “Touch” or “Come.” Both of these behaviors get your dog coming to you in a positive way. Don’t forget to make it fun for your dog as well! Lots of praise, play, and treats. As this becomes fun for them you can increase the level or distractions. Dole out more leash and wait until they aren't already paying attention. Call their name and when they look your way ask for a Touch! They’ll come running at the chance to play the game.
How to handle your dog’s prey drive.
Many of our dogs have a high prey drive and as such, can be difficult as those squirrels and chipmunks are getting more active in our woods. When we’re practicing come when called we always say, “try to be more interesting!” But here's the thing. You will never be as much fun as those little critters. So here’s how to tackle the issue. When your dog sees a woodland creature and starts getting stimulated, just stand still and hold the leash. You’re just going to wait until they stop getting excited, yes this may take some time, remain attached to your dog and what will eventually happen is they’ll turn to you for that check in. When they do calmly say “Yes” and sprinkle some high value treats on the ground near you. Once they’ve eaten them you may see your dog jump right back up and get excited, wait again for them to check in and repeat. Do not move on until your dog is giving you their full attention. With this exercise you’ll start to see over time that when your dog hears or sees a woodland creature they’ll turn to you instead of chase. I’ll never forget the first time Piper jumped at the chance to chase a squirrel and instead, ran toward me!
Keep your walks engaging.
Your dog wants to walk just for the walk, and that's awesome! However, if we can make the walks about a bit more than just exploration than our dogs will be more engaged with us. Take on some parkour skills and periodically ask your dog to put their paws on a log, hop onto a small boulder, jump over a downed tree and such. This is so much fun for the dog and you’ll quickly find that they’ll be looking for the next parkour opportunity. Every so often you could stop the walk and practice some tricks or even some manners cues. Bring along a toy and periodically play some fetch with your dog and even use this as a reward for good behavior.
What it comes down to is that the walk is about a heck of a lot more than just the exercise. Get out there, breathe the fresh air, slow down, enjoy your time with your dog, and have fun.
Want more in dept guidance in teaching your dog to be reliable off the leash? Enroll in our online course, Beyond The Leash! Learn more, click here.