Reprinted with permission from AKC Family Dog, May/June 2006.
To subscribe: http://www.akc.org
Nero, is enjoying an off-leash romp with his owner in a giant field near a quiet road. Nero has just caught his hundredth tennis ball, and trots back to his owner, happy and worn out. Breaking the quietness of the moment, a loud blast from the air horn of a truck causes Nero to leap to his feet. He races toward the road, but his owner calmly stands up and calls out to him, "Nero, come!" The distance from the road, plus the fact that his dog is a competitive obedience star, keeps the owner from being worried. However, noticing that the dog's pace is picking up in the direction of the road and away from him, he feels his stomach tighten. "Nero come!" he screams, to cover the distance between him and his dog; now the owner is running, too, yelling, realizing the dog has totally tuned him out and is now in danger. The dog steps into the road, the truck is barreling toward him and ....
Ch Aua Skif Bellavicenza "in flight"
And what? You tell me. Does the dog take a miraculous leap back toward the owner and is spared a potentially life-ending injury? If so, does the owner pledge from that day on to never let his dog off leash except in fenced-in areas? Does he remember that pledge when the fear and panic that he's feeling on this day is gone, six months from now? Or, does the dog make the ultimate mistake and step into the road? I don't believe in letting my dogs run off leash unless they are in safely enclosed areas. In the case of competitive obedience and agility practices (and trials), the dogs are on command and have a leash on before they enter the ring, and it is removed only when inside. After the performance the dogs go back on leash before they exit the ring so the owners can have total control over their dog. All of my dogs and those of my students learn to heel off leash and to come off leash. Some of these people are training for the specific purpose of competitions, but in most cases, they just want their dogs to have useful skills in case of offleash emergencies.
ICh. Faraon BRAUDAG (left) and ICh. Elker BRAUDAG
THE COLD-NOSED TRUTH ABOUT DOGS OFF LEASH
Fact: Dogs are animals driven by instincts, the depths of which we will never fully understand. Trained or not, they can, in the blink of an eye, honor their inner canine and be gone from you forever. Even though my dogs have achieved the highest levels of obedience titles, I won't take the risk that comes with an off-leash dog. Since I own high-energy dogs, here's what I do to fill their need for hard exercise without the risk:
- Own a fenced-in yard. It's fun for them and convenient. The day that your whole family is down with the flu and there's no one to walk the dog, you'll appreciate this option. If you don't/can't have a fenced-in yard, do the next best thing..
- Have a friend with a fenced yard. Even better, a friend with a friendly dog with a fenced-in yard. Instant play date.
- Visit tennis courts after hours, provided the dog is allowed. A great, safe way for you to not only play a game of fetch with your dog, but a terrific place to practice your off leash "come when called" command. (Watch out for the Indy 500-type dogs who race around the courts at breakneck speed-there's a chance they could tear up their paws on a rough surface. Checking their feet a few times during the session will help your dog avoid painful tearing or cracking of their pads.)
- Use fenced-in dog parks. (If your dog is not in possession of an air-tight come command, I would suggest you put him on a long dragline so you can always bring him hack to you. Of course, in large groups of dogs, or areas where there are a lot of trees and vegetation, a dragline can pose a tangling hazard, so use discretion.)
- Visit non-fenced-in areas with aforementioned dragline attached to your dog. The length that you choose depends on how fast you and your dog can run-slow runners with fast dogs will want a line at least 50-feet long, fast runners with slow dogs could probably go with 30-foot lines. Err on the side of safety and get the longest line you can find.
THE "RUN TO THE CAR" COMMAND
If your dog loves his car rides, start giving him the cue phrase "Wanna go for a ride?" before you take him out with you. If your dog doesn't like the car, use the cue phrase and bring him (on leash) to the car. Tell him to sit, open the door, and help him into the car. After he's in, give him a few high-quality treats or a favorite toy that will make him look forward to his next car interlude. You don't even have to go anywhere with him-just get him used to the idea that the cue phrase plus getting in the car equals payday!
If your dog broke free from his leash during a walk, call out your cue to him and run to the nearest car. It doesn't have to be yours; just pretend to open the door. Too much realism, though, could set off a car alarm, so be sure to tame your inner actor!
Kondeloro Gypsysexklusiv Triumph