Now, today's blog is more of a rant than it is a blog, so I apologize in advance if I offend anyone. But here goes - lots of people really need to start keeping their dogs on a leash!! Now, don't get me a wrong, I have been working very hard to train Rudy to be off leash when we are running in the woods, or out for a leisurely stroll on a quiet path. I want to be able to enjoy my dog both on and off leash.
I know what you are thinking - Rudy is a reactive dog - how dare she have him off leash and bitch at other people about their dog being off leash. Well, here is what I am going to tell you about who I think should, and should not, have their dog off leash! I enjoy having Rudy off leash. I take him out to play ball in our condo's yard, I enjoy running much better with him when I don't have to worry about getting tangled in a leash, especially when we are running in the woods, and I have a hard enough time not falling over my own two feet. I have spent months and months of working on ecollar training with Rhonda and on my own in order to be able to have Rudy off leash. And although he does have issues with other dogs, I don't have to worry about that when I have him off leash. Do you know why??? Because he is never, I mean never, allowed to run out ahead of me while off leash - period. If he can't follow the heel command for some reason while we are running or even out strolling, then he immediately goes right back on leash. Most of the time, after the first few corrections when I take him off leash, he gets it - and he falls in line at my heel.
His being at my right heel at all times means I have absolute control over my ability to leash him quickly in the event I see something I feel he either won't be able to handle, or I know will cause him to fail. If I for a moment think I see something like that, wham - I lean to my right, and toss the leash over his head. Having Rudy at my heel means that he is still under my control - always. And that is in addition to having him on the ecollar. It is my fail safe - it means that if for one second Rudy doesn't respond to the ecollar correction, then I am still close enough to lasso him and reign him in.
Most of the time with the ecollar, as soon as I stop, Rudy also stops. If I see another dog coming, or another person, or squirrel up ahead, I can turn to him, say sit, and he will sit at my side. I leash him up, say come on, and we run by the oncoming distraction without incident. But if Rudy has seen what I have seen, sometimes he is already too adrenalized to sit, so I still have the luxury of (a) turning the ecollar up to get his attention, and (b) tossing the leash over his head. Now, ultimately the goal is for him to be able to go out ahead of me, and for me to know his recall is solid enough that if I yell "here" he is coming back to me no matter what he sees up ahead of him. But he is nowhere near this point. You see, I know Rudy's limitations. I recognize them, I accept them, and I know exactly where is in his training at all times. Why is this so important? It is important because I cannot allow him ever to run up on another dog, another person, or another animal. Two reasons - (1) I don't yet know what he will do, and (2) I have no idea what the other person and or dog will do! And that is exactly the point I want to focus on!!
You have no idea how the person or dog that your dog is running up to greet is going to react. You don't know what their issues are, how confident their dog is, how they feel about dogs generally, if they are reactive, have ever bitten, need space, are in training, injured, or just plain don't want anything to do with your dog. FOR THAT VERY REASON, if you do not have absolute voice control or physical control over your dog, IT DOES NOT BELONG OFF LEASH!! Period. No excuses. If you cannot be certain that your dog will come right back to you, it should not be running off ahead of you and able to go run up to approach other dogs, people, kids, squirrels, etc. Why? Because you don't know how the other dog will react. Your dog's friendly crazy antics may be seen as an absolute threat to Rudy or some other passing dog who is on leash, or walking calmly by their person. And guess what, when that dog reacts negatively, it just may trigger something in your dog that you have never seen before!
I can't tell you how many times Rudy has been exactly at my side where he belongs, doing exactly what I am asking of him, whether off leash with his ecollar or on a leash, and suddenly, someone's dog comes charging at us - full steam, crazy excited and overly exubertant. Ususally that dog's person is running right behind them saying, "It's okay, she's friendly" or "Here, Fido, here!! Here, heel, come, sit, stay" or whatever else they are saying that their dog is completely ignoring becasue they clearly are more interested in what they have seen than in what their person is doing or saying! I really don't care how friendly your dog is because if it comes running at Rudy with any amount of energy, leash or no leash, Rudy is most likely not going to take it very well. I can have the best of intentions and Rudy can be trying his hardest not to react, but if your dog charges his Rudy's face, and I can't get between them fast enough - Rudy will react. Period. Sometimes it is just a show of force with barking and growling, but sometimes it is more.
The problem is - Rudy is the one that will end up getting corrected when really it isn't his fault at all. If you cannot command your dog to come back to you, despite all the distractions you might encounter, then your dog is not ready to be off leash, running up ahead of you. And that is all there is to it.
I am sick and tired of hearing that your dog is friendly as it runs at me with you yelling at it, and poor Rudy stands there trying to decide what I want him to do when I am not even sure. If your dog doesn't have a rock solid recall, doesn't listen when distracted, and isn't close enough to you to leash at a moment's notice - then your dog is a big fat nuisance! Stop denying the lack of training and lack of control over your dog - it is only going to end up putting your dog and you in a bad situation. And guess what, if my dog is at my side, and especially if my dog is on a leash, and your dog runs at him, clearly not under your control, I will hold you 100% completely responsible for the outcome of the situation, and in almost all cases, so will the law. Do not put yourself or your dog in that situation. Do not set your dog up for failure. Do not take those kind of chances. Just because you know your dog, and think you know how he will react when he approaches a person or another dog does not mean you can predict the outcome. If I am waiving you off, and telling you to retrieve yoru dog, and your dog is completely ignoring you - then your dog is not properly trained and sooner or later, you and your dog are going to get into trouble.
Every one of these encounters creates a difficult situation for the people and dogs involved. It may have a negative impact on the dog being trained who is trying so hard to make good choices. I hope Rudy will eventually get to the point that when one of these dogs runs up to him - he knows exactly what to do, which is to not engage them and not become andrenalized. But for now, all I can do is make sure that Rudy is constantly under my immediate control and the idiot owner with the off leash dog who is completely ignoring them is close enough to step in if I need them to.
It is your responsibility as a dog owner to give everyone else and everyone else's dog the respect and space they deserve while you are out walking your dog.