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Maggie's recall is improving but still isn't reliable in high distraction settings (i.e. places with small furries) and I'm starting to wonder if it might be better to get her off the leash sooner rather than later since I'm starting to think she's leash-wise and because I just hate restricting her from all the fun the other dogs have on our hikes with my boss and her dog. I'd love some input from you all since I know a lot of you have dogs that hike in wild areas with you off lead.

 

 

Here's the situation:

 

The off leash opportunity I'm considering would occur in a state park on a lightly used trail (used to be unmarked, now marked). The trail is a minimum of 1/2 mile from any road, 3/4mi and 2mi from any well traveled roads in either direction. She'd be accompanied by myself, my boss, my boss' dog Pepper, and Ziva, possibly my DH as well. Pepper and Ziva both do go out of sight to explore occasionally but Ziva checks in and is called back regularly and Pepper checks in periodically.

 

The area is very wooded and Pepper and Z have been known to go off on wild races after something so prey drive could very likely be activated. Pepper and Z are rarely out of site on these tears for more than 5 mins or so.

 

In the past, Maggie has been allowed off leash in areas closer to roads but that was stopped after she ran under a fence after a rabbit and got hit by a car (I should've been more responsible about checking the fencing) about 3 years ago. Before the car incident she had gone after a rabbit and caught it - I had to physically pick her up off the body once I found her to get her to leave it. Another time she went after something in a cornfield but after only a few mins she reappeared looking for me.

 

I know she is highly bonded to me and DH as well as Ziva and does tend to stay close unless something catches her attention. On past off leash hikes she would chase her dog friends but would return immediately if she couldn't see or hear me (if I call her she will stay gone, but if I get quiet she comes running).

 

So any thoughts?? I know that ultimately this is my decision, but I'd love to hear how others have handled the decision to allow (or not allow) a dog off leash, especially those with high prey drives. How do you know when it's "right" to take the leash or long line off?

 

Thanks!

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Slippery slope.

 

It took me a while to reach this point, but my rule is now that the dog gets to be off leash only when I am 100% sure it will not take off and get in trouble. If there are no distractions around that I can't guarantee my dog will recall from, off leash is fine. If we're separated from trouble by a secure fence, off leash is fine. Every other situation gets evaluated using the 100% criteria. I can't tell you how much more enjoyable life has become since I got this through my thick skull.

 

Your reasons for wanting to "get her off the leash" don't make sense to me. I don't care if the dog knows the difference between when the leash is there and when it isn't. I just want the dog to do the right thing when the leash isn't attached, and practicing the right thing when it is attached is part of getting to that point. (Plus training, of course.)

 

As for fun, my dogs get plenty of off-leash fun in safe places. But they also enjoy their on-leash hikes, in a different way, mainly the enjoyment of going someplace new, seeing unusual things, being with me, and sniffing, lots of sniffing. Kepler, who gets to be on-leash quite often, runs up and stands waiting to be leashed just so we can get going. This is outdoors, where he could run off if he wanted to - he's just learned that getting his leash attached is how to get the hike started. He's leashwise all right, and I couldn't be happier about it. :rolleyes:

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Interesting challenge! I pay a lot of attention to off-leash/on-leash questions on here, mainly because I never had a specific plan for this. My trainer mentioned early on that a lot of his dog-students never progress to "off leash," which surprised me, because I assumed all dogs did, eventually.

 

I've always taken dogs to a safe, outdoors place (where they couldn't get hit by a car if they were careless) and let them go. I've had a couple situations, early on, when the dog went after an animal, and I had to stay in one place, calling, for several minutes. (Buddy went after some deer on day 4 or 5 with me, and I thought, "Well, that's the last time I'll ever see THAT dog!") But the dogs always seemed to want to be with me, and none have ever gone far. They've always come back fairly quickly. And after a few early mix-ups, I haven't had trouble with them leaving to chase animals. In fact, Buddy was AWOL last week for a minute or two. He had found some particularly stinky dead thing to roll in. But after I gave the "come here" whistle a couple times, he came running to me - with the dead thing in his mouth. He promptly threw it on the ground near me, and continued rolling in it. :rolleyes:

 

I guess my philosophy has been to let the dogs get lots of early tastes of freedom (in a safe place), so that being off-leash didn't end up being a rare "forbidden fruit" opportunity for them to exploit by running crazy. Mind you, I've never had a dog with a very strong scenting prey drive - once a prey animal speeds away, my dogs have realized they couldn't catch it and lost interest. Meanwhile, I have friends with beagles and huskies who say their animal will run miles away if allowed off leash. I guess, like everything else, it really depends on your individual dog.

 

Mary

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In all honesty, if you have any doubt that your dog will not come back to you when you call her, instantly, 100% of the time, no matter the distractions, I think you already know the answer: she shouldn't be off-leash. Even your saying that your other dogs often go out of sight chasing animals for "no more than five minutes at a time" would personally worry me tremendously--five minutes' worth of running away from you at top speed is more than enough time to get very far away from you and into a whole lot of trouble...especially if a ROAD is only half a mile away! You have already stated that if you call her, she will "stay gone," but then "come running" if you are quiet....I must very respectfully state that this does not sound at all like a dog that is ready to be off-leash in a highly distracting situation, especially when you know that she has a very strong prey drive.

 

As an example: Mojo has medium prey drive. Although he doesn't really care about squirrels, rats, or animals around that size, Mojo DOES get excited about larger animals--bigger birds (ducks, geese, seagulls) or fast-moving birds (swallows), plus cats, rabbits, raccoons, skunks...not to mention, of course, joggers, bicyclists, other dogs, sheep, cattle, etc. Now, over the last eighteen months, I have tested him repeatedly--more times than I can count--in safe, fenced situations, starting from our own yard and ranging up to a 5-acre dog park, and he has proven to me each and every single time that NO MATTER WHAT, I *can* call him off the chase of animals, people, or anything, INSTANTLY. As additional safety measures, I taught Mojo a moving stand (with the verbal command "wait"), which means to freeze where he is in a standing position, and I can also put him into a "down" at any time, both while he is running and when he is at a distance from me, with a combined verbal and hand signal command. I am not saying all of this to brag about my training, but simply to indicate that in my personal opinion, I believe these things should be rock-solid before the dog is ever allowed off-leash in an unfenced area....precisely because I do NOT want my dog hit by a car, to get himself otherwise injured, or to injure someone else or another animal, as my dog = my responsibility. (As an aside, after having been appropriately desensitized for eighteen months, Mojo also now completely ignores dogs/joggers/bikers when off-leash--i.e., he no longer chases them and doesn't need to be called off.) As another example, there was a skunk in our yard one night, and Mojo saw/smelled it before I did, and leaped forward ahead of me down the garden stairs, barking and growling with hackles raised and racing directly at the skunk in full attack mode; however, I only had to utter "Mojo, COME!" once, firmly.....and the dear dog wheeled around and came right back to my side, and we were able to get back into the house safely. Thus, in my mind, Mojo has clearly earned the privilege of being off-leash in public, unfenced places where off-leash dogs are allowed.

 

Therefore, Mojo and I regularly go hiking at Runyon Canyon--an unfenced, and legally designated off-leash section of 160 acres within the thousands of acres of Griffith Park mountain wilderness, where there are rabbits, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and mountain lions (among who knows how many other creatures) that freely roam the territory. From the second his leash comes off, Mojo literally never goes out of my sight range when he is off-leash: if he gets ahead of me on a trail by more than twenty or thirty feet, he always turns around and either 1) comes back for me or 2) waits for me to catch up, and he does it all of his own accord without my having to say anything to him or call him to me. In all honesty, I can't really take full credit for training this behavior, other than that he has plenty of respect for me and enjoys working with me enough, and/or he has enough anxiety at being all alone in the world, that he doesn't WANT me out of his sight. In my personal opinion, I consider this to be appropriate off-leash behavior for a dog in a public place. One step better would be for him to stay right beside me, off-leash, at my pace and NEVER get ahead of me, but as he is a very high-energy and excitable dog and a lot faster than I am, I am okay with his going a short distance ahead of me and coming back--that way, he actually burns more energy going 2-3 times the distance I do. :rolleyes:

 

Now, contrast Mojo to Wolfee (foster), who has an extremely high prey drive. We have a squirrel that lives in the tree right next to the house, and Wolfee could sit and watch it--motionless--for hours. I've actually tested the "hours" part of that statement. Not food (not even rare steak!!), not praise, not yelling, not cajoling. not anything, will budge him from that spot if the squirrel is out and actively chattering at him. I have actually physically dragged/carried him away from the tree about thirty feet, thinking that might be enough distance that I could have the chance to redirect him (as he is very food/clicker-motivated), but as soon as I set him down, he will race back to his spot before I can say/do anything--albeit with an apologetic look on his face--and resume his watch. I literally have to leash him or carry him into the house, where he will then go to the glass door and watch the squirrel from inside the house, and where I can redirect him to some extent, but once I stop working with him, his default behavior when released is to run back to the door to see if the squirrel is still there.

 

OTHERWISE, aside from squirrels, Wolfee has an excellent--and I mean, excellent, gleefully-running-towards-me-at-top-speed recall--in pretty much all other situations. He can be in mid-play with another dog--and he LOVES other dogs--and I can actually call him to me (just as a test) with little difficulty. While I have never seen him with a skunk or rabbit, I suspect he would treat them like squirrels......thus, this one problem with small prey, despite his great focus on me in just about every other situation, has caused me never to trust him off-leash in an unfenced area where there could be small prey (i.e., just about every unfenced area), as I have essentially zero confidence that he could be called off in any reasonable amount of time (with "instantly" not even being in the picture here). First of all, Wolfee is not my dog, but he is my responsibility, and the last thing I want to do is lose him in the Southern California wilderness. Second, I already know that once he takes off, he might be miles away before he "hears" me calling him back, considering how "deaf" he already is with me standing right next to him when he is sitting motionless under a tree. I discussed this issue with his rescue representative, and she completely agreed that my assessment of the situation was wise, and that Wolfee would never get to be off-leash at Runyon Canyon.....and it does not bother me, nor her, nor Wolfee, one little bit. For example: even when I didn't really trust Mojo way back in the beginning of our relationship, I used to take him hiking at Runyon Canyon all the time--ON-leash--and he still had the time of his life! He was just happy to be outdoors in the sun, running with me, leashed or not. I don't think he ever really felt "deprived" of being off-leash, even with dozens of other off-leash dogs running around him....and Mojo is LEASH-REACTIVE, meaning that he is ALWAYS more comfortable off-leash than on, so you can take that for what it's worth!!!

 

If Wolfee WERE my dog, however, and at some point in our relationship I was somehow able to conquer the dreaded Squirrel Tree on our property with some degree of reliability, here's what would have been my next step, and thus my suggestion for testing Maggie's recall amid strong prey distractions before she ever sets foot on that trail: take her to a designated, fenced, off-leash dog park where there will likely be rabbits, or at least, very small dogs running around that your high-prey-drive dog may mistake for rabbits. If you can't call her off those and/or down her instantly when asked in full chase, she is not yet ready for the open trail when who knows what may pop out of the next bush and take her down into a ravine. If she CAN listen to you when in full predatory mode inside a fenced area, that is definitely encouraging, but not the be-all and end-all, of course....even Wolfee could be easily called off of racing around after small dogs....he obviously knew the difference between small dogs and squirrels, and didn't want to eat small dogs (he just liked to chase them and then play with them), or of course I wouldn't have allowed him in an off-leash dog park, either. Nonetheless, if she does pass that test, I would then take her on the trail with a VERY sturdy retractable leash or a 20'-25' cotton web long line and see how that goes. After all, in my humble opinion, even when off-leash, she should never be more than 25'-30' away from you, anyway, at all times. If she proves time and time again that you never have to jerk on the long line to get her to come, even in the face of a fleeing rabbit, she no longer needs the security of the long line and you can cautiously try her off-leash, but I would still keep a sharp eye out and carry high-value rewards with you (toys, treats, whatever Maggie really likes) until she has been on that trail enough times (and for me, enough times would be over several months--but again, that is my humble perspective on this) that you know what she will do in practically all conceivable situations.

 

To address the leash-wise point: perhaps you say this because you have already tried the long line and she respects that when she doesn't respect just you when completely off-leash, so my suggestion for that was something I had actually recently re-read in Control Unleashed: Leslie McDevitt (author) states that most people train their dogs to sit before their leash is taken off, hold a stay, and then bound forward on a verbal cue for the release (myself included). Ms. McDevitt, however, advocates subtly taking off the leash like nothing has happened and then continuing to walk ahead nonchalantly. A leash-wise dog will still bound ahead, reveling in his/her newfound freedom, but a non-leash-wise dog won't, and will keep heeling alongside you (i.e., that is the goal of this exercise) until you verbally send the dog away from you (e.g., "Go"). Essentially, the dog should STILL want to interact with you and work with you, whether the leash is on or not, regardless of the situation. I know that sounds like a lofty ideal, but since Mojo has managed to accomplish this, I know it can be done.

 

Here's one tip you can try that has worked well with Mojo: let her off leash in a safe situation that does involve forward movement (a directional trail or path with you moving purposefully forward). If she starts to bound away, immediately click. She should then immediately swivel back around towards you in surprise, especially if you've played the CU "Look at That" game, or taught her to "watch" your face. Give her a treat and then release her. Keep walking forward along the path. As she starts to bound away again, repeat the click and then treat when she comes back. Keep doing this. The distance she bounds away should get shorter and shorter each time you release and she should be coming back faster and faster, until she is crabstepping sideways in a forward direction just a few feet ahead of you and not bounding away at all even when you say your release cue, with her face happily turned back towards you and looking for her click/treat. Your dog should eventually realize that staying near you as you move forward together is MUCH more rewarding than going off to do her own thing, and you can gradually increase the distance she is allowed away from you and the amount of time she is allowed before she visually checks back with your face.

 

Here's one more tip (that you've probably already tried, but I'll write it out just in case): when she is free, busy sniffing bushes or whatever (low-level distraction) and definitely not looking at you, call her name (i.e., not a "come" command--just say her name normally). If she even flicks an ear in your direction, click and treat. Repeat until she immediately turns her head to look directly at you when you call her name. Eventually she should swivel towards you, even at a distance and even when engaged in something else when you just whisper her name....and then keep amping up the levels of distraction. A lot of dogs (not saying yours) seem to ignore their own names because names are often abused as "come" commands when the dog doesn't want to come, so re-sensitizing a dog to his/her name is a great way to check in with your dog and have her check in with you, but is not necessarily a "come" command. With enough clicking/treating she may very well come running towards you when you call her name, anyway, and you should, of course, definitely encourage that, but I (personally) always only use "come" when I MEAN for Mojo to come running towards me, and his name just for attention-getting, to be followed by a separate command.

 

I strongly urge you to consider fulfilling the criteria I have mentioned before you allow your dog the privilege of being off-leash in a situation that could potentially harm the dog, for her own protection--and most especially for a dog with very high prey drive, when she could harm other beings.

 

I hope all that made sense and that you will find it helpful!!!! I'm sorry to go on at such great length but I really feel very strongly about this. I think far too many dogs are allowed off-leash when they are not yet ready, and in another (somewhat) related point, I think even reliable dogs should not be allowed off-leash in areas where the law says that dogs must be leashed....I know *my* life would be much, much easier if leash-reactive Mojo could walk around in my neighborhood without a leash, but even though I consider his obedience to me to be as close to 100% as a living, breathing, sentient being is ever going to get, if there is any possibility of his coming into contact with a car, a coyote, a stray outright aggressive dog, or a human who is afraid of dogs, etc.--for everyone's safety, and most importantly my OWN DOG'S safety, I would much rather have the leash on and have to click/treat constantly than risk his life off-leash to his reliable performance of obedience commands. At least in a designated off-leash area, there are no cars, although you still have to watch out for every other possible little thing. Just my (thirty-)two cents on this. :D

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I wouldn't risk it. I lost a dog who was off leash and took off after something in a state park several states away from home. The state park backed up to a state forest, so acres of land on which the dog could wander. The park also had a number of caves, sinkholes really, in which a dog could have fallen (didn't know this till after the fact when walking along the trail looking for her the next day, and it really had me envisioning my dog at the bottom of a cave, unable to get out and eventually starving to death). This is a dog with a reliable recall, but together with a youngster she took off on the trail of something in a moment when I was distracted. The youngster came back; Willow did not. Fortunately, this story had a happy ending because we found Willow (or I should say she found my van and waited for us while we were out hiking and calling for her) the next day. I had left a glove at the trailhead as a scent marker the night before when we finally gave up the search, and she must have heard us calling, come upon the glove and then saw the van, because when we got to the end of the trail the next morning (it was a big 5-mile loop), she was waiting at the van with the glove. Lame and with a cut over her eye (which says the me she might have fallen in something, but not so deep that she couldn't get out). You can't imagine my and my sister's relief (she blamed herself for suggesting we take the dogs for a walk in the park in the first place) on seeing Willow there. Since that incident, I also always carry pictures of the dogs with me so I can make reward posters should, doG forbid, something like that ever happen again.

 

If you have any doubts, I'd say it's not worth the risk. If she's run off chasing something before, that would just add to my doubts. And multiple dogs are a recipe for egging one another on if a chase should occur, and I think that's the most likely scenario for losing a dog.

 

J.

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I think only you can decide if the risk is worth it. Out of my three, I have one (Lilly) that I would never trust off leash. It sucks for her, but I'd rather know she's safe.

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Hi -

 

Besides losing Maggie:

 

I'd say keep Maggie on a leash. It's a privilege to allow dogs in state parks, and running through brush or chasing wildlife doesn't respect that privilege, same as a person setting up tent in a wrong area. My dogs stay on trail, or if they can't, on lead -it's also respectful to fellow hikers who may not not be as appreciative of dogs.

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Maggie's recall is improving but still isn't reliable in high distraction settings (i.e. places with small furries) and I'm starting to wonder if it might be better to get her off the leash sooner rather than later since I'm starting to think she's leash-wise and because I just hate restricting her from all the fun the other dogs have on our hikes with my boss and her dog. I'd love some input from you all since I know a lot of you have dogs that hike in wild areas with you off lead.

Here's the situation:

 

The off leash opportunity I'm considering would occur in a state park on a lightly used trail (used to be unmarked, now marked). The trail is a minimum of 1/2 mile from any road, 3/4mi and 2mi from any well traveled roads in either direction. She'd be accompanied by myself, my boss, my boss' dog Pepper, and Ziva, possibly my DH as well. Pepper and Ziva both do go out of sight to explore occasionally but Ziva checks in and is called back regularly and Pepper checks in periodically.

 

The area is very wooded and Pepper and Z have been known to go off on wild races after something so prey drive could very likely be activated. Pepper and Z are rarely out of site on these tears for more than 5 mins or so.

 

In the past, Maggie has been allowed off leash in areas closer to roads but that was stopped after she ran under a fence after a rabbit and got hit by a car (I should've been more responsible about checking the fencing) about 3 years ago. Before the car incident she had gone after a rabbit and caught it - I had to physically pick her up off the body once I found her to get her to leave it. Another time she went after something in a cornfield but after only a few mins she reappeared looking for me.

 

I know she is highly bonded to me and DH as well as Ziva and does tend to stay close unless something catches her attention. On past off leash hikes she would chase her dog friends but would return immediately if she couldn't see or hear me (if I call her she will stay gone, but if I get quiet she comes running).

 

So any thoughts?? I know that ultimately this is my decision, but I'd love to hear how others have handled the decision to allow (or not allow) a dog off leash, especially those with high prey drives. How do you know when it's "right" to take the leash or long line off?

 

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Most of what I've read here is very true and in my case I have some very strict guidlines.Never is she off leash anywhere close to a road,other dogs and even people.I'am fortunate to have a beach nearby that is far from any roads ect.I can scan this particular beach a good 5miles in either direction and detect any movement long before the dog becomes aware,and she is occupied chasing sticks into the water.Her recall is good,but I still wouldn't want to put it to the test in an uncontrolled situation.

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It's a privilege to allow dogs in state parks, and running through brush or chasing wildlife doesn't respect that privilege, same as a person setting up tent in a wrong area.

 

I totally agree. When hiking, all beings should stay on the trail. It's just not good form to allow your dogs to go chasing after anything out on a hike. If your dogs (and those of others with you) can't/won't stay on the trail, then they should be leashed. Letting them run off and be gone for "five minutes or so" is really asking for trouble, as others have noted. I've done LOTS of hiking and backpacking with dogs (off leash) in the high country for many years. When I hike, my dogs are allowed to run up ahead of me (on the trail), but they know not to go round a corner where I can't see them, so they are never out of visual contact. When they get to a bend in the trail, they stop and wait. If other hikers are approaching from the opposite direction, mine will come back to my side, park themselves just to the side (like within a few feet) of the trail to let others pass. That is trail etiquette. When I'm hiking and my dogs are under control, I don't need to encounter several dogs tearing after something with no owners in sight. If I were a hiker afraid of dogs and saw some tearing around with no owners in sight, I'd probably make sure I reported it to the ranger when I got back to the station. Heck, I'd do that anyway, as allowing that kind of activity might eventually lead to "no dogs allowed" on trails. In fact, here in CA, in state parks, dogs are not allowed, only is US parks.

 

As for off leash in general, I think they should always be within your sight, unless they are on a 700 yard blind outrun (or other similar task).

 

A

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I just wanted to add that Maggie will have fun off leash or on. The fun part is getting to go do something with everyone else. I doubt she'll be thinking to herself, "Wow, I could have more fun if I were off this danged leash."

 

J.

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We struggle with this, too. We have been hiking with Hoku since he was a pup and our plan has always been that we carry the long (50') line with us. While hiking in a safe place (no roads near by) I'll engage Hoku in an ongoing game of stick (thrown only up or back on the trail, never off the trail) , which he loves, and I can keep his focus on me quite easily. Even just carrying the stick and throwing every couple of minutes keeps his attention. If he ever gets out of sight (on trail or off), he goes on the long line or leash for a while. I stay vigilant, and if I see something that I think could set him off, he goes on leash. He has learned that he hikes with us, stays in sight, and gets to have all the sniffs and fun he wants, either on leash or off. I have not been able to hike for a while now due to a bum knee, so having just had surgery, I am hoping to get back out into the High Country soon... Will be interesting to see how he does now. I would agree with the others that out of sight is not OK for any of the dogs.

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I'm with Anna and capnree--all but one of our dogs are reliable off leash, but I don't let them run off leash in places where other people may be hiking/jogging/walking because, unlike Anna's dogs, mine have not been trained to stay in sight, come back when they encounter others, etc. Besides them taking off after something, I don't want them to scare or sniff or otherwise bother people who might be jogging by.

 

It took years to get an off-leash dog park in Ann Arbor because so many people had had bad experiences encountering dogs off leash and, often, owners who didn't see their dog's bad behavior as a problem (or worse, saw bad behavior as something caused by the dogless people). On the trail near our house, we regularly encounter dogs off leash with no owner in sight--these dogs almost always do something ill-mannered until owner comes in sight and starts either calling for them or telling me not to worry the dog is really friendly. I usually smile and say that mine's pretty aggressive :rolleyes:

 

Not saying at all that Maggie (or any other dogs being discussed here) would be like that, but I just think it's important that people who don't like dogs not have to confront them off leash on shared public trails. Like others have said, Maggie can still have a really good time even if she's on leash. Using a longer lead might give her a little more freedom to sniff and such if you don't find it gets in the way.

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Well, in Maggie and Maggie's owner's defense, I don't think she was really referring to encountering people or other dogs on a trail, although of course those issues are relevant to this discussion...I just think prey-drive issues with wild animals are totally different than human or other-dog issues, and have to be treated differently when training appropriate off-leash behavior, as one category of behavior is much more instinctual than the other. I guess I did not emphasize clearly enough that yes, Mojo sticks with me on the trail and never leaves the trail (what I meant by moving forward with me) under ordinary circumstances--he is calmly and happily trotting forward with me, never more than 25-30' ahead of me, and usually much closer. Once he gets about 30' ahead of me, he will stop and wait or stop and come back to me, as he pleases, automatically. Those are *ordinary* circumstances. Ordinary circumstances also include encountering people and other dogs on a trail. *EXTRAordinary* circumstances would include IF a coyote or a deer were to suddenly hop down from the hill to our right, land in front of us not more than six feet away, and continue crossing our path down the hill on the left--both of which scenarios have actually happened to us. OF COURSE anyone could expect Mojo, or any other dog, to spook, look, and react, but because I have great verbal control over Mojo in particular, and because he always sticks close to me and is not so far ahead of me that he can't hear me, I have complete confidence that he is NOT even going to start to chase or attack the animal despite his innate desire to do so--I can stop him in his tracks with a word. As another example, if we hear a rattle(snake) in the bushes as we walk past and he steps closer to investigate out of curiosity, I can call him off and he will immediately leave it and come back to me.

 

Again, what I am trying to say is that if one does not have that level of control over a medium-to-high prey-drive dog, or heck, even a curious dog, at that close range and those levels of distractions in emergent situations, that dog should not be off-leash....but I guess the obvious extension of what I am saying is that just because a dog has prey drive doesn't *automatically* mean that he CAN'T be off-leash--it all depends on your level of control over the dog. Thus, I tried my best to address the prey-drive issues in my lengthy post while briefly touching on the human/other-dog issues, but I will write a few additional words regarding human/other dogs here in response to the other excellent comments, as well.

 

I totally agree that other humans and dogs should not be harrassed on a public trail by your dog. I think the majority of lawmakers would happily ban dogs from every public place if they could, and it only would take one dog-related accident to ruin it for everyone else. I think that Anna's description of her dogs' behavior exemplifies the ideal off-leash behavior when encountering people/other dogs on a trail. In any case, I just wanted to put it out there that I think there are also other acceptable levels of polite off-leash behavior and trail etiquette below the ideal that Anna has posted. Mojo was initially extremely reactive to the sight of pretty much everyone and everything; Black Watch Debatable here on this Board was the one who actually suggested to me, when I had told her of Mojo's fondness of barking at oncoming people when I first found him, "What if one of those joggers was an off-duty COP?" Thus, I worked and worked on these issues ON-leash until I succeeded....and let me tell you, it was pretty painful. Again, with Mojo's being ON-leash-reactive: I figured that if he could ever calmly pass joggers/bikers/younameit on a leash, he would then be able to pass them off-leash even more calmly...and I'm sure you all can imagine how hard it is on a reactive dog to be walking on-leash with a horde of OFF-leash dogs barreling up to him and crowding all around him (if only EVERYONE felt that their dogs should not harrass other dogs)....but Mojo eventually could do it, and do it calmly, which is when I felt he was ready to have the leash off. Thus, Mojo now calmly trots past oncoming dogs and human men, women, children, joggers, and bikers as if they aren't there, not even looking at them, *without* my having to say anything to him to redirect him or distract him...and I did not take his leash off for more than eight or nine months until I was 100% certain that he was going to do exactly that. I DO consider that a huge success for us, since people who see him would never even guess that he is reactive. This desensitization work was done IN ADDITION to training and proofing all the other obedience commands (recall, wait, down, stay, etc.) that I mentioned earlier. In my opinion, BECAUSE I have a reactive dog, and one with medium prey drive, to boot, the bar is set THAT much higher for us in terms of making sure that Mojo is well-trained, than it is for someone with a more normal dog.

 

In any case, I do think that Mojo's current policy of ignoring/avoiding oncoming humans/dogs is acceptable (since it had never actually occurred to me to try to train what Anna has), since he does NOT sniff or get in the face of or otherwise interact with human or canine strangers on a trail, and essentially concentrates on moving forward with me as if we are the only ones there. He does not, however, automatically stop and come back to me *just* because he has seen someone--which, btw, is really amazing, Anna; as I stated above, Mojo will instead automatically stop and wait or stop and come back to me because I believe that *he* is uncomfortable being more than 25'-30' away from me and/or out of sight around a bend, whether there are oncoming people/dogs or not--plus because I have reinforced this behavior by clicking and treating, as I mentioned in my original post. I.e., we can be completely alone on the trail, and he will stop and wait for me regardless. Because he constantly turns back to check in with me visually, even if I stop momentarily to catch my breath or tie my shoe, he will automatically wait and/or come back because he is always looking to see what I am doing, even if I haven't said anything to him. Nevertheless, you'd better believe that I am going to try to train him to do what Anna's dogs do from now on! He will obviously heel to my side and let others pass when I ask, but he certainly won't do it automatically....I can't wait to start training this! Thanks for the great idea!

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Two thoughts to add to my earlier reply:

 

First, if you do want to work with Maggie off=leash, I would NOT do it when the other dogs are present, nor when you are walking with another human. The presence of other dogs greatly increases the likelihood that Maggie's "bonding to you" will break down in favor of them all turning into a pack and taking off. When it's just the two of you, you two are the pack, but when there are other dogs involved, the canine members of the pack can easily get carried away and take off, forgetting about the "pack member" (you) that didn't choose to follow along.

 

As for having other humans along, I find that when working on a dog's off-leash behavior, I need to have ALL my attention focused on the dog, so I can give the recall cue the very instant they start to think about taking off. I have learned that there is simply no way to do this when you are chatting, even casually, with another person.

 

Second, and this is in response to the comments above dogs' behavior when running off leash in a park, I found it very humbling to watch the video associated with the City of Boulder Voice and Sight Dog Tag Program, aka "Green Tags", as referenced in Laurae's recent thread about the Colorado dogs getting together for a group hike. If you go to that page, there is a link to watch the video about the expectations of a dog who has earned the right to a Green Tag and the off-leash privileges that go with it. I think the video does a really good job of demonstrating and justifying those expectations, and I urge anyone who takes their dog hiking off-leash to watch it and honestly evaluate whether that dog is ready for off-leash privileges yet.

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I don't want them to scare or sniff or otherwise bother people who might be jogging by.

 

There was a rule in a local park near me that I thought was an EXCELLENT one. Dogs were allowed off leash, and people were allowed to ride horses. But the rule signs stated, "No one should be approached by your animal if they do not want to be."

 

I let my dog off leash all the time, if we're in a park where there are no cars. But I always follow that rule. (This is easy, since Buddy really couldn't care less about meeting people - he's all about sniffing pee, all the time.) If I see anyone coming, I make Buddy wait, move off the trail, and sit. The other people say, "What a good dog," Buddy gets a treat for listening, and everybody's happy.

 

I definitely wouldn't be letting him off leash in parks if he ran off, away from me. Too many chances he'd accidentally knock over a small child or something.

 

Mary

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I found it very humbling to watch the video associated with the City of Boulder Voice and Sight Dog Tag Program, aka "Green Tags", as referenced in Laurae's recent thread about the Colorado dogs getting together for a group hike. If you go to that page, there is a link to watch the video about the expectations of a dog who has earned the right to a Green Tag and the off-leash privileges that go with it. I think the video does a really good job of demonstrating and justifying those expectations, and I urge anyone who takes their dog hiking off-leash to watch it and honestly evaluate whether that dog is ready for off-leash privileges yet.

 

That IS a great video! And humbling, as you said.

 

My first reaction was, "Wow... the City of Boulder has its act together. Look at those clean parks! Look at this professional video!" My city hasn't even been able to arrange curbside recycling yet - we're still expected to haul buckets up to the dumping center during the odd hours they choose to open!

 

My second reaction was, "If all owners followed those rules, I would never have any problem with my dog!" It's other dogs' charging us that creates reactivity in my dog. If I could walk in an area where other dogs were off-leash but under control of their owners, it would change my world.

 

Mary

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If it helps to share, Tucker has huge instinct to chase. He will track a rabbit and be gone in a second if I'm not paying attention. He will also follow a flying bird (pretty much running blind to what's on the ground possibly in front of him) until he caught it if he could. For pretty much the first year of his life after figuring out his ears turn off when he is locked in, he drug a long line around (30ft) And if I could tell he was starting to take interest in a smell or going for a chase I would get to the leash without him noticing, give him his recall then he would have a choice. Most of the time his choice was the wrong one and he would pretty much get flipped in the air or have his hind end whipped around. It took almost a whole year of this routine and him growing up (I know Maggie isn't a puppy though). Tucker is now almost 3 and has had lots of off leash privileges because he makes the right choice. As soon as he starts slipping and making the wrong choice on a recall (even by a few steps) He is back to being leashed and he gets it pretty quickly that being off leash with other dogs is a lot more fun that having to be stuck by mom's side all the time. I wouldn't say now that Tucker's recall is 100% but I don't take him to places to be off leash where his recall might go out the window and he chase something into a dangerous situation. I have faith that he will be 100% reliable soon with his recall though. I wouldn't count out yet that Maggie is a leash dog. I think just about any dog (once you find out really how to get their attention that they need to come back to you when you call) can be off leash with the right person. I know most won't agree, but for me the dog needs to clearly understand what the reprimand is when they choose not to listen, and it needs to be either WAY more rewarding than what they are ignoring you for (which when it comes to chasing things is very difficult to find), or it needs to be unpleasant enough to make them think twice about what got that reaction.

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That video was excellent. I wonder how many of US could pass, most certainly not Usher. Bailey could have, well, maybe-LOL. That is WAY more "under control" than I thought. Even if you are in obedience and have a perfect off leash heel, there is NO GUARENTEE that a border collie, or any BC Mix will not chase prey.

I agree with the "humbling" part. If you look at the photo section and see Cruisin' in Style with Usher, you will notice that 99% of the time he is on a long line. Around the neighborhood, he heels off leash, he goes into stores, but IF a little critter came up, I just wouldn't trust him. I just love him too much and he's happy with the long line.

Dianne

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Sorry I disappeared - internet was down all day yesterday. :rolleyes: You guys have been quite helpful and I really appreciate all the detailed posts.

 

Interestingly enough, yesterday we were on our weekly hike as described in my OP, Maggie leashed, Z and Pepper off, when 4 deer broke cover not more than 20 feet behind us. Z and Pep took off after them and Maggie strained at the lead screeching. Z and Pep came back about 2 mins later panting hard, Pep had bitten his tongue and was frothing bloody drool and Z had banged her knee and had been stung by a bee (stinger still in) in her *vulva* of all places. Quite the adventure!

 

I do think we have lots more work ahead of us when it comes to Maggie going off lead, especially given some of your input and yesterday's events, but I did want to ask/clarify a few things:

 

- unfortunately we have NO safe off lead and fenced areas nearby; Maggie is not a dog park dog (she ignores dogs if given space, but dog parks are so small around here she can't handle them) and even our tennis courts and baseball fields are not fenced securely. This means that, until I get a yard, we have nowhere to practice recalls without a longline and definitely no place to add distance or distractions on par with prey. We do occasionally work at the training building at work on recalls out of play with Z and those are going well.

 

- Maggie's prey drive is not off the charts, but it is high. She will "leave it" when she's spotted critters while on lead and we are working on an auto-look before chasing anything (I use squirrels in trees as rewards for this, all while leashed), she does not scan the environment for critters constantly, but she does alert to rustling sounds and will briefly freeze in place before chasing critters (in the past at least).

 

- Maggie will not bother people on leash or off, dogs she tries to avoid. This trail is rarely used (in the last 10 or so visits we've seen people twice), and mainly by another dog walker with about 8 off lead dogs, with the occasional biker or horse. Maggie will ignore bikes as will Z, dunno about horses.

 

- many of you talk about how reliable your dog's recalls are, but how did you get them there? Sheer repetition? Shock collars? Raised in safe off lead areas from puppyhood? Nelson's Really Reliable Recall? How would you recall train a dog if you had to use longlines vs. having secure fenced areas?

 

- How did those of you with solid downs or stands out of motion train these behaviors? What about the ability to stay on trails only? And to automatically return to you when another creature (dog, human, horse, biker) is encountered?

 

Additional thoughts, input, and insights are very welcome!

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I have no clue what others do, as I only train dogs to work livestock (but in doing so, they learn to be very obedient dogs). In working with stock, we often start with a long line (if the dog needs it) to call them off the stock. Bit by bit, we wean ourselves away from that. If you have a solid recall in the environment of livestock, and can call them off stock, you're pretty much good to go anywhere else. Now, if mine see a kitty dash out in front of them (whether in the pasture on on the way to the truck, near the house), they will think about giving chase, and maybe take a step or two, but I call them back, and back they come. Immediately.

 

Does your dog have any inclination to work stock? If so, you might take a few lessons, as calling off stock usually comes fairly early in the training. You wouldn't necessarily have to seriously pursue working, but it's the best way I go to get a handle on a dog, as long as the dog has some interest,

 

A

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Not meaning to be rude -but this is a real question --why are you worried about getting Maggie off lead when you have 2 (although I understand one is not yours) dogs *chasing* deer off the trail -shouldn't you be worried about teaching them to stay with you before you even consider Maggie? Deer, rabbits, squirrels, what have you -my dog is not allowed to chase them. Period. I have had him since he was a pup, and that was always the rule -I understand if perhaps you came to Maggie or Z when they were older and habits were more ingrained, but then I would be keeping both of them on lead, until they understood this rule -or on lead, always.

 

It really is very unacceptable in a national or state park to have an animal doing the above, and detrimental to having dogs in parks for the rest of us. As with the horses -why wait to possibly find out the hard way, if you're unsure? The dog, rider, and horse could be seriously injured as a result. Horses are prey animals -I doubt most would be able to stay calm if suddenly presented with the sight of three dogs tearing after deer.

 

As far as not chasing animals --I would not be using squirrels up a tree as a reward for Maggie -all you are doing is teaching her that this is acceptable. If I let my dog do this, he would progress from ignoring squirrels completely, to looking to me for permission, to avidly staring and looking for squirrels at all times.

 

If this helps, here are some of the reasons dogs (and people) stay on trail --it's not just to be polite, it's to preserve the area for everyone to enjoy.

 

(Taken from treadlightly.org)

 

-Stay on the trail even if it is rough and muddy. Walking on the track edge and cutting switchbacks increase damage and cause erosion and visual scarring.

-Walk single file to avoid widening the trail.

-Spread out in open country where there are no trails. Spreading out, rather than following each other’s footsteps, disperses impact and avoids creating a new trail.

 

...Consequences of chasing wildlife: falling in a hole (as was mentioned), encountering an animal with distemper or rabies, encountering a bear or panther, causing an older, younger, or weaker animal to lose strength (or possibly be injured) in a chase from a dog (increasing it's chances of becoming dinner for someone else, or losing energy it has stored to live -water, fat), being skunked, pick up more ticks than one would on trail, snakes...

 

All of the above are not just for the fanatics -most people I know who hike follow these rules.

 

To answer one of your other questions, noting I've had my dogs since they were pups (with the exception of a rescue that will never be completely trusted off leash, and so if he hikes with us, he is on lead, and enjoys himself completely), the recall was through sheer repetition -if my puppy is feeling sly, and does not come, I go and get her with a swift walk. (ETA: She is not particularly soft, unlike my other, which I would probably only scare in doing that as a puppy.) I won't take her off leash on trail (or anywhere besides our playing field) until she is probably older, more mature, and 100% trained. Then I know she will stay on trail, because I'll know and trust her. You probably know this -but in general, if a dog can't be trusted doing something, don't give them the opportunity to fail. If I were to set my puppy up in an amusement park and call "come", she wouldn't. But, by not letting her fail from the beginning, she later will be able to do so. This might be harder now that your dog is used to running off trail, or in the other example, looking up a tree for a squirrel.

 

I hope my tone does not come out as harsh - I am trying to be sincere, but it may not come across that way, this being the internet.

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I have to say I completely agree with what capnree says. Z and Pepper have no business being off leash, either, if they cannot be controlled (I am confused--are they yours, too, or do they both belong to someone else?). Chasing 4 deer for 2 minutes, coming back bloody and with a bee sting is not simply "Quite the adventure!" It's completely disrespectful of the parks in which you walk and all the wildlife there.

 

I watched the Boulder video, and found it to be completely reasonable. I found nothing amazing about what they are requiring dogs to do to be able to be off leash in their parks or wilderness (I don't get the "humbling" part that some mentioned). ALL DOGS should behave that way in public, anywhere, not just on the trail, if they are to be allowed to be off leash. It doesn't matter if you've only encountered two people in the last year or whatever on your hikes--the point is that even if noone else is there, you need to respect the wilderness and the wildlife in it. We are extremely lucky to even have places to hike where we can take our canine friends. Respect that wilderness. Please,

 

A

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many of you talk about how reliable your dog's recalls are, but how did you get them there? Sheer repetition? Shock collars? Raised in safe off lead areas from puppyhood? Nelson's Really Reliable Recall? How would you recall train a dog if you had to use longlines vs. having secure fenced areas

 

Repetition, long lines, walking them down, sheer time in the saddle with recalls being enforced. As puppies I do use treats, but it quickly becomes simple a cause/effect thing - I call, you come here, or I go get you. Stock work just builds on that foundation. Any advanced training does though - doesn't have to be sheep. Well trained pointers and retrievers don't bolt about either.

 

I'm a little alarmed with your original post saying you dogs were out of sites for "only" about 5 minutes. Thats a LONG time actually, and given how fast a dog can run they could be well and truly gone, or in horrible danger by that point. Also since this is a public place, any time out of your site threatens other dogs owners rights. All they have to do is run up to a non-dog friendly person - even if they just spook the heck out of the person (and it would me, to have 3 dogs flying up to me all over a sudden with no owner, and I like dogs!) to create some serious and well ground complaints to the city or property owner that hurt us all.

 

My rule on public property is on lead, or if allowed off lead at minimum in my direct sight and under verbal control. Anything else is unacceptable.

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I wonder how many of US could pass, most certainly not Usher.

 

Both my border collies could, easily. Woo would not. Not even a tiny bit. But Woo is the devil.

 

Even if you are in obedience and have a perfect off leash heel, there is NO GUARENTEE that a border collie, or any BC Mix will not chase prey.

 

That's kind of like saying "there are no guarantees in life" - it's sort of a meaningless phrase. There are, in fact, no guarantees in life - but there are reasonable assumptions of probability based on extensive experience. As an example, Tweed has NEVER chased a small animal in his entire life - he is not interested in them. Neither did Briggs, for 11 years (except for the cat in the house only - outside cats were ignored). Piper has - with permission to "go ahead" - but calls off on a dime even mid chase. She is generally not that interested in chasing wee critters and loses interest quickly anyway. I am not at all concerned that either of my dogs would chase small wildlife and not call off if something did prompt them to.

 

Again, Woo would chase, kill and eat any small critter in his visible sight line - small critters include cigarette packages, Starbucks cups and anything else the approximate size of a squirrel or vole. But again, Woo is the devil.

 

So I am actually confident that both my dogs could pass that tag test easily - though Piper would need a brush up on not sucking up to baby carriages. She LOVES baby carriages. But my dogs are off leash almost exclusively and have a pretty healthy respect for the reality that RDM does not take kindly to an ignored recall.

 

Having said that, I wish they could pass this information on to Woo. Woo has no respect for anything, and this summarily includes his recall. He is frequently on a leash where the others would not need to be. He is also leash-smart and will recall perfectly and happily even mid chase on a long line, but not when I take it off. And because I know from experience that he will put himself in danger because of his prey drive, I don't bother risking his life.

 

I too need to echo canpree - Maggie is just one of your worries if your other dogs are running deer when they are off leash! It sounds to me like NONE of your dogs should be off lead. In some municipalities here, dogs who run deer can be shot on sight. It's a terrible habit, and really awful for the deer. You need to keep them all on a lead if you can't stop them from taking off. I think your experience with the HBC last year would be proof enough of that, don't you?

 

RDM

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