One of the most important duties, if not the most important one, of living with a dog is keeping our dog safe. That means, keeping our dog safe from other people, keeping our dog safe from other dogs, and keeping other people and other dogs safe from our dog (which is ultimaltely keeping our dog safe if we extrapolate the consequences of not doing it).
Dog ownership is a privilege, not a right. Having your dog off lead in public is definitely a privilege but more and more I’m seeing people who view it as a right. Unless you spend time and effort consistently training a recall, it is very unlikely that it will happen on it’s own. No recall can be 100% as our dogs are living, breathing beings with their own minds and desires, not washing machines. This however is not an excuse. For me, I try to play the probablilty game. The question I ask is “Do I have a 95%+ chance my dog will come back to me right now?”.
The thing we need to remember is that “right now” changes and the “right now” of right now, is different from the “right now” of 30 seconds ago or last week. Things can change in a very short space of time and we owe it to our dogs and the other people sharing public spaces to have our dog under control.
Questions I ask myself when out with Watson
- If she appraoches another dog, can I recall her?
- If another dog approaches her, can I recall her?
- If she gets spooked by something (not an issue with her fortunately), can I recall her?
- If a dog gets in her face and acts aggressively, can I recall her?
- If she sees a running dog, squirrel or rabbit, or a cyclist or jogger can I recall her?
- Can she greet another dog civilly?
- Can she greet a person civilly?
This is not exhaustive but you get the idea. If the answer to these questions is no, then your dog does not have good enough behaviour off lead to be off lead. Your puppy, who trotted along next to you, whose recall you didn’t reinforce when she was doing it naturally, who you let have unlimited off lead play with other dogs in order to “socialise her” a few short weeks later is a teeneged monster with no reinforcement history of recall who is now exploring the world and ignoring you. Being on lead and off lead or not the only options. Long lines, being off lead when safe and on lead when not are perfect alternatives.
A few stories from my own experience to share with you. I advocate the use of long lines. As you can see from my videos, Watson is always wearing the long line at the moment when I’m working in public parks. I ask clients to use the long line because it prevents the dog being reinforced for unwanted behaviour and makes it easier to reinforce wanted ones. So, some examples (details changed ot protect the innocent and the guilty)
- Client comes to me with a large, aggressive dog. We work successfully and put together a protocol for training. He comes back to me a week later, his dog had jumped on (although thankfully not injured) another dog. The dog was off lead in a public place and he had come off the trails and “thought it would be ok” as it was quiet. There was another dog in the car park and the client’s dog jumped on the other dog and pinned it. All avoidable if the dog had been on lead or line.
- I’m working with client A who has a large reactive dog. A previous client. client B, who uses the same park (we had worked the previous week doing recall with her dog) walks along past us. Myself, client A and her dog are at a very safe distance working with her dog. Client B’s dog sees me, and breaks away from client B and runs towards us. Client B laughs and shouts “it’s because he hears the clicker”, while we are trying to manage the situation and prevent B’s dog from being jumped on. No, dummy, it’s not because he hears the clicker, it’s because you’ve done no recall work over the last week as I see you every day, and your dog is off lead (this was internal dialogue as there is a time and place to address this)
- This one is a personal favourite. I’ll call the ower Big M. Big M has a 6 month old large breed working dog who would be a dream to train if he actually bothered. Big M uses his phone a lot when out with the dog and doesn’t pay attention to his dog. Big M’s dog, let’s call him Houston, is a really cool dog. He is super friendly but doesn’t always read what the other dog is telling him very well and this can lead to bother. I’ve seen more than one dog telling him off for being too pushy. Incident 1 – I’m working with a client and his Labrador for manners training. Big M comes along with Houston, and I swear, kicks the football directly towards us. Houston runs past the ball and then tries to engage our dog in play, which we shut down as our dog in on a long line. Big M shouts “Houston noshnosh” (possibly Houston’s cue for dinner time in the house) for at least 40 seconds in a valiant attempt to recall Houston. Houston ignores him. I eventually ask Big M to come and get his dog. He takes Houston by the collar, walks 10 feet way then lets him go. Yes, you guessed it, Houston comes running back in. This time I ask him to take Houston and put him on the lead. We walk away to give him more space. Incident 2 – the very next week, I see a guy at the park who has a dog aggressive terrier. This fellow does an absolutely admiral job keeping out of every one’s way and trying to improve his dog’s behaviour. Houston comes running over and there is a big stramash with lunging, barking and shouting. This happened because Big M thinks he has an absolute right to have his dog off lead and not do anything to train Houston to come back and has little consideration for others using the park.
Now, I know I work in public and accept that these things can happen and also dealing with it is a necessary part of my job. But what if I was I regular joe out with his dog, doing his best to train and keep his dog under control and one of these incidents happens. Is that fair? All of the above examples could have been prevented if the the dogs had been either recall trained or on lead.
We are fortunate in Scotland to have off lead parks. I know many other places don’t. Please have respect for your dog and the others using public spaces and either recall train your dog appropriately for those circumstances or keep your dog on a lead.