Quick Decisions with Off-Leash Dogs

High Speed Decision Making With An Off Leash Dog

Let me tell you about Nico, the pit mix, who I almost lost on a field trip. It scared the bejeezus out of me!

We were fostering him here at Train Walk Poop. We all loved this dog, but it turns out he hated cats. Here’s how I found that out:

So there I was in an empty field, devoid of people or other dogs, providing the perfect environment for a leash-drop. As part of our off-leash training program, we practice with a 15-30 foot leash in open fields as a safety measure. Nico was ready for this step… or so I thought.

Luck was not on my side that day. A feral cat darted across the field mere seconds after I dropped the leash. Nico bolted after it, tether and all.

I froze. Visions of confessing to my team and the CAWS foster group that I’d lost Nico swirled in my head. Luckily, the cat escaped through a bush, and with the assistance of an ecollar, I managed to retrieve Nico safely.

Would you have reprimanded or scolded Nico at any point during this stressful moment? 

Most people would and I completely understand why. It’s a natural response and it seems like the logical thing to do.

I’m here to tell you though, praise is the way to go in these situations. The ecollar helped me get his attention, but then I used my best “happy voice” to bring him back towards me. I told him what a good boy he was as soon as he looked at me to encourage him in and thankfully it worked!

That was the hardest decision he probably ever made in his life. He was probably thinking, “let the cat go?!!! Are you crazy?!!!”. 

Nico was STOKED to be chasing that cat, but he made the right decision and earned himself loads of praise, pets, and treats.

Using your happy voice ALWAYS helps when calling a dog, especially if they are off leash. If you sound upset it makes it hard for them to make the right choice.

One of the biggest things that often confuse people with regards to dog training is when to reward your dog and when to reprimand…

Most dog training courses will tell you that positive dog training is the best technique to utilize, and I agree. We always try to use games and rewards when training dogs here at Train Walk Poop. However, there are some instances when you do have to reprimand your dog.

Reprimanding your dog should not happen often, it should be used as the backup option whenever possible.

You should only reprimand your dog if you catch them in the act of doing something wrong. Otherwise, your dog will not realize what they did. The reprimand used should be a quick, sharp “no”.

Your tone should be stern, but remember to be short and quick. If you overuse this, your words will end up being ignored by your dog.

Remember to be patient because your dog is living in the moment, and doing what they feel is in their best interest. Even though your dog may do things that are not in their best interest, it’s our job to show them a better way.

Remember: your dog doesn’t do naughty things to upset you, they do them because it’s what has worked for them in the past. They are getting some sort of emotional payoff for acting this way or they wouldn’t keep doing it. 

It’s not always obvious what the payoff is for the dog but there is always something rewarding about the bad habit. One of our trainers will be able to help you diagnose it and use it to your advantage!

A common example is, if your dog is begging for food even though you never feed them from the table. That is a habit that is hard wired into most dogs. It’s a behavior that has served dog-kind well over the last few thousand years! 

So instead of reprimanding your dog for begging, let’s turn it into a game where they get paid in tasty food for not begging during dog boarding and training in Salt Lake City. We have a fun exercise that every human and dog in your house will love! Your dog will quickly realize that letting you eat in peace is the greatest idea they have ever had!

With tons of rewards and the occasional reprimand your dog will enjoy the training process and develop the good habits you can’t wait for them to learn.

Your friend with the treat-filled pockets,

Ryan Gwilliam

P.S. When you’re ready to take the next step, all you need to do is:

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