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Off leash woes.

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Hi! I'm new here, so if this topic's been covered somewhere else already and I missed it, I apologize.


My dog is a border collie/german shepherd mix named Zeke. He likes to run and I want to be able to let him do that, but unfortunately there are no dog parks in the county I live in. Visiting my parents, I took him to a dog park in their town and he absolutely loved to be able to run around, especially with the other dogs. He came back to me every now and then, but not always when I called for him. The problem is that the few rare times he does get to run around free, he is very uninterested in me until he's had his lion's share of running and running and running. Then, panting and smiling, he comes and finds me, wanting pets. I'm hoping to work with him and be able to take him on bike rides to really tire him out, because he definitely needs that kind of exercise, but I would really prefer to have the option of taking him out with a tennis ball and playing fetch for a while. The fact that there are no fenced areas for the public to use where I live is a problem. (There are secluded areas, though, so I wouldn't be letting him off leash on a neighborhood street or anything.) I can't let him off leash now because I don't trust that he would come back or stay close enough to be safe.


The thing about training him is that he isn't very toy/food motivated at all. When we're in the house, he's very motivated by attention and always comes when called. I call him my shadow because he follows me around and will always be where I am, and when I'm in the bathroom he'll be waiting outside the door. Outside off leash, he cares very little about being pet and more about running and exploring and playing, and all of his shadow-isms disappear out the window. I did have him bolt out the door once (which was my stupid mistake). He ran to the other side of the big round-about street, and when he stopped long enough to do his business I managed to catch his attention and make myself very alluring by jumping around and calling him and running away. He came running to me, with much praise in return of course, but it was a scary experience to see him run away like that.


I'm planning on enrolling in obedience classes to get some hands-on help with that and to fine-tune his commands, but I'm interested in hearing people's stories about their dogs and how you progressed to trusting them off-leash, if you got that far. Are there just some dogs that can never be off-leash in an unfenced area period? If so, does Zeke sound like that kind of dog? Is there a trick to getting a dog to be an all-situations shadow, or is that only in genetics?

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Hi and welcome!


How old is Zeke? From what you wrote it doesn't sound to me like he'll never be a good outside "shadow", but he's not there yet and you are right not to trust him in unfenced areas.


Hopefully others can give you better advice but I would start off in some sort of yard or something where he can be off leash, and work on making YOU seem like the greatest thing ever! Wrestling games, chasing games, "creative" fetch, trick-training, or whatever he likes, do that - but randomly. Be fun but a bit unpredictable. I'd focus on something like this for a while. The goal would be to get Zeke thinking, "she is so fun. I need to watch her, you never know what she's going to do next!"


It's easier to be a human shadow indoors because not much goes on there. Work your way up to seeming like the most fun thing outdoors too.


Also, go to unfenced places and use a very long line (maybe 50 ft) and work on recall. We've had many threads on teaching recalls with a long line, maybe browse around to get a range of ideas. Off leash, I also really like a down or stop that's foolproof too.


When you finally graduate to trying an off-leash trail or something, be very aware of his stimulation level, and try to proactively keep things under control and him close. Keep moving to keep him interested in staying with you. For more safety, you could have him drag a short line too. More than anything, if he starts spinning out of control or you even suspect he is, just leash him for a while. Remember, the leash is not a punishment! The leash is how he gets to go cool places with YOU. And through the process, don't allow him to start learning to run away - if he never gets to do it by the time you take off the leash hopefully it will no longer be an option in his mind.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm starting to work on DH's dog with this a bit. He's not very responsive at all on a walk where he's offleash (which is every walk). Everything is more interesting than the person and DH has to yell at him to even get his attention to stop him from running up to random dogs and people. He knows what a clicker is and is very responsive to treats and clicker training. I've started very simple...I call his name and when he turns his head to acknowledge that he heard me, I click (and then he comes to me for his treat). I'm pretty much starting with rewarding him for a response to his name to try and get him more aware of me and where I am and that I am worth listening to. I'm going to see if I can get him to respond to me better than he responds to DH because I hate it when he's yelling at the dog because it sounds so bad. DH's problem is that he doesn't want to put the effort of training the dog and he doesn't want to have him on a leash because he pulls and its "no fun for the dog" to walk on a leash. Sigh...

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I agree with the long lead - get a harness so the lead drags off the butt. Have knots in the lead so you can step on it. If you try to grab with your hands wear leather gloves. Bring a whistle - 2 toots - dog's head turns - you jump up and down like an idiot that the dog has achieved the best thing possible. Praise, hug, whatever - make it a very positive experience. I have taught my dogs ( a big 3 - not a lot but it works) - to sit whenever they see a car, person or bike. Everytime we go out - if any of the above appear - they sit. At the beginning they could be sitting every 2 minutes traffic depending. Always make them sit - no exceptions. Reward with what works for your dog - I know that you said they are not food motivated - but maybe up the anty - hotdogs, chicken etc. Having this quick sit makes you more relaxed.


I next thing may sound a little bizarre - but it works for me. Expect the dog to stay with you. I am the nut that calls to my dog - bye bye baby boy - I'm leaving you - that always brings his head out of a chipmonk hole and running after me. Of course I would never leave him. Of course I only do this in an environment where I know they are safe. I have also hidden behind a tree so the dog really runs for me- when they find me they get a big reward playing hide go seek. This has taught my dogs when hiking that they need to look up and check my position relative to them. Border Collies want to please and want to anticipate - sometime I think they are smarter than little kids.


My final two cents - please have a really good "leave it" command before even thinking of gettting on a bike with your dog. Otherwise there is a good chance that you can be pulled over and break something. Rabbits, cats, squirrals, other dogs would all have to be pretty much non existant to your dog to safely ride with him. I have seen to many people hurt because their dog tries to run off.


Your response when your dog ran off was perfect. Call your dogs name, clap your hands like a cheerleader, run for home yelling "I am going to win! I am going to win!" I would bet that the majority of the time the dog will participate in the race. Now he is chasing you, not you chasing him. Now when I am out with the dogs and they are only walking slowly to the house - I use this to hurry them up. They hate for me to win, usually pass me on the steps.


BC need exercise - using age duration appropriate exercise helps bring better obedience. You might need to run around on leash to wear him out a little before you start to let him drag his leash next to you. Safe enviroment very important - not near a busy road. Good luck

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  • 3 weeks later...

I had a puppy that not only ignored recall but would run away from me when I tried to catch him and turn it into a chasing game.


Using a combination of an 8 meter line and treats worked for me.


1. Let him run around.

2. Recall.

3. Tug lightly once if ignored (but do not haul dog in like big game fish).

4. Praise, treat and repeat.


For me it took about 1 month.


My dog is now 11 months old and has a pretty reliable recall.

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