Five Steps to Alleviating Your Off Leash Fears

View from the boat of Rico and Roxy on the shore

Off leash. Off leash in the mountains. Off leash in the mountains hours away from home.

Crazy? Maybe.

While chatting with a friend about our vacation, she couldn’t believe we let Rico and Roxy off leash. In fact, they were off leash romping along the creek shoreline while my boyfriend and I drifted in the canoe, practicing for our big adventure with the dogs.

She asked how you overcome fears about being off leash. Here’s my step-by-step guide.

Step One: Know Thy Animal

Rico covets food. He reminds me every mealtime when he drools so much he sounds like he loses bladder control.

But Rico also has a theme song—Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands on Me.” A simple hug is enough.

Roxy just loves excitement. It’s not so much the hugs or even petting. She’ll come charging at me when I call, but then happily worm around my legs and through my hands. She seems to just want to know she’s a good girl.

What motivates your dog?

Step Two: Lay the Groundwork

I mean, love, love, love. Whole-hearted, 100% focused love. When I give R&R affection, I give them affection. Not affection with a rough hand because I’m still pissed at whomever or whatever.

I believe this undivided attention, or “being the cookie” as some call it, works for curbing door dashing. It helps with successful “come” cues. And it gave me that little extra confidence to let them off leash.

Step Three: Assess Threats versus Stories

Rico and Roxy might see a squirrel and go after it into the woods, towards the road … that’s a story.

A raccoon could come along and they get into a squabble. Then I’ll need to find a vet … story.

Anything and everything in these woods are interesting and they run off exploring and I’ll never see them again …

The drama of a story can be entertaining or debilitating. Either way, it’s distracting from reality.

When I pushed the stories aside and really surveyed the area for viable threats, there were a few but not many. That’s the real value of mindfulness training.

Step Four: Know When to Hold “em

It’s autumn in the woods. I probably won’t detect wildlife before Rico and Roxy. They have better hearing and a better sense of smell. Sure, I stay mindful so that if I see a critter, I don’t just say, “Oh how cute!” but actually regain control of the dogs before they react to it. But to really get a sense for what’s out there, I keep an eye on them.

The second I see Rico or Roxy pause, look stiff, perk their ears up, start sniffing the air … come here, babies!

Step Five: Know When to Fold ‘Em

It would have been lovely to have Rico and Roxy with us at night around the campfire. But in reality, too many noises beyond the light’s reach kept them on alert. So into the house they go while we roast marshmallows.

I would never let Rico and Roxy off leash anywhere without having these basics steps in place. So, be mindful of your dog’s motivations and how you cultivate them, be mindful of what’s actually around you (not just in your head), keep an eye on your dog, and know when it’s just too much. That’s how I overcome my fear about letting my babies off leash.

 

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About Christie Green

A student of martial arts since 1995, a writer since 1999, and an animal-lover for all of time
This entry was posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs, Mindful Dog Training Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Five Steps to Alleviating Your Off Leash Fears

  1. You covered a great topic of high interest to me! Our boy Buzz can be let off leash anywhere, really. His recall is really good, and should he not respond to my verbal cue, out comes his favorite ball, and I guarantee he will be right by my side 😉 He even chooses the ball over treats! His sister Missy on the other hand is extremely food motivated. She doesn’t care too much about toys, so getting her to come back to you is bit more tricky than it is with Buzz. Shaking a treat bag will lure her back to me, and so will behaving in a playful manner. She LOVES to play with her humans 🙂

    • Thank you, Barbara! Sounds like you have a great relationship with Buzz and Missy. It’s good you figured out what to use to reward them beyond food. With Rico, that was super-important because he “balloons” pretty quickly 🙂

  2. Wonderful stuff here. My Ruby will likely never be an off-leash dog. Her prey drive and distraction levels are just too high. Boca, on the other hand, is entirely trustworthy. After just six months with me I don’t think she’d let me out of her sight and she has a brilliant recall. I think running free is one of the greatest joys for a dog – I often lament the fact that Ruby does not get to experience it often.

    • Thank you, Lara! Your comment got me thinking – people usually judge how “good” their dog is or how “good a pet-parent” they are by the number of commands their dogs know. They get embarrassed when their dog does something “bad” or doesn’t obey a command. But you just demonstrated what really makes a successful dog/person relationship. It’s how well you know your dog and your ability to set them up for success. If Ruby isn’t an off-leash kinda gal, that’s totally fine. Safety is more important than running free. By not setting her up for failure and trying to make her an off-leash girl, you win her unconditional love and trust. And isn’t that the foundation of a successful and fulfilling relationship? So thank you for sharing that! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Getting The Control Freak Under Control | Dog and Dojo

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