Who Let The Dog Out? – Training Diaries Part 1

When Bobby became a part of our life we knew pretty soon that it would take months maybe even years before he would be able to walk off leash. During our first holiday with Bobby, we walked on the beach and I thought it would be a good idea to give it a try – let him off leash. I mean, what could go wrong? It would be so fun to have a stroll at the beach. He hates water so he would not run into the sea and there was no one around on the beach. There were no streets nearby too so there really was no way we could lose him. Moreover, he still was way too heavy so how fast could a chummy dog run?


Believe me.

The moment I unleashed him, off he went – there was no sign of him coming back. He just ran off into the dunes – where of course some rabbits were. His behavior took me by surprise and I just stood there at the beach, his leash in my hands, yelling his name. We tried to catch up with him but….ever tried to take a sprint on the beach? I was so exhausted and disappointed. Disappointed in myself for my bad decision-making skills and disappointed in Bobby for running away just like that. He showed no solidarity whatsoever. Eventually, we succeeded to catch him. He looked so happy that I really couldn’t get cross with him but I took this little adventure as lessons learned. One of the many lessons my dog taught me.

Since then we never unleashed him during a walk again. I was too afraid to lose him again and clearly, we first had to do some work before taking that chance again.

Get to know your dog
In our case, we don’t share a long history with Bobby. He came to us as an adult dog and we just took him with us. With time he learned to trust us and opened up. We learned more about of him every day and slowly we became a team, a team with lots to learn. One of the things I learned very quickly, is that Bobby loves to follow tracks and chase animals. He gets super excited and forgets everything around him. He forgets to listen and he forgets that I am even existing. At the beginning, I got angry and disappointed. Why does he ignore me? Why is he not listening? Why is he acting so badly? After a while, I realized that not he was the problem but I was. I wanted him to do things he had never learned. Why should he listen to me when he smells that track of a squirrel. What should he do instead? Instead of labeling my dogs behavior as bad I stopped feeling bad or hurt and just focused on how to communicate with him. I had to understand why he was acting that way and see the world from his perspective.

Work with your dog
Instead of suppressing his behavior I focused more on teaching him what he should do instead! I considered his needs and tailored the training to his abilities. Short training sessions with lots of treats (at the beginning) and small steps. With my goals in mind, I started to train step by step making it a fun activity for both of us.

Training goals:

  • The moment I unleash him he stays with me until I tell him he can go
  • He stays close to me and follows my direction
  • He comes back immediately when I am calling him
  • He sits and stays when I tell him so

Having goals in mind when training your dog is important. Keep in mind to formulate positive goals. What do you want your dog to do instead of what you don’t want him to do. I tried to set realistic goals that we both can achieve. Goals that will improve our bond and take our walks to the next level. Knowing that Bobby loves to chase animals and follow tracks I started the training in a little park where I knew that he will not get distracted by other animals. That way he gets the chance to fully concentrate on me and learn what I want him to teach. There is no point in starting the training in the forest where I know in advance that he will run away. Don’t expect him to do everything right from the start but create an atmosphere in which he can succeed. With time I will take the training to the next level by training in more environments with more distractions but for now, we are fine.

Walking with my dog off leash made me aware of how I all too often misused the leash. If Bobby doesn’t listen – I pull (softly) the leash. Bobby wants to go another way – I pull the leash. Bobby wants to eat the cat poo – I pull the leash. First of all, this kind of behavior is lazy and secondly, it doesn’t teach him anything except that I do or don’t want something. That something, however, is not clear to him. Realizing that I started to use the leash as if it wasn’t there. Although not being 100% consistent I train him to listen to me and my commands. This takes time, practice and patience. However, the more your dog listens to your verbal commands whilst on the leash, the bigger the chance he will do so when off the leash (although this does not have to be the case!!).

Using a long training leash was a great aid to train the commands without being at risk losing him. With time I felt confident enough to take the leash completely off and it went great! It took us some months but hey! Now, 1 1/2 years after our beach runaway adventure Bobby can walk off leash in our nearby park. This makes me so proud! This is real progress for us. Of course, we still have to keep training and he still sometimes wanders off but we now have a base to work on.

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