How to Give your Dog Freedom Responsibly

If you’ve read my post 5 Tips for More Enjoyable Leash Walks, you will know that I am not a huge fan of the retractable leash. Many people use retractable leashes to give their dog’s more freedom than a standard 6’ leash allows, so I want to present my alternative – the long line. I was given a bright orange biothane, 25’ long line by my mother, an expert buyer of dog things, who routinely gifts them to me when she’s acquired too much. As I started using it for “adventure walks”, where the intention is for the dog to get to roam and sniff further out, I started thinking about the advantages of a long line over a retractable leash, and wanted to share those ideas, as well as what to look for in a great long line. I now refer to my bright orange leash as my “adventure line”, because I think it has advantages over other long lines I’ve used for the purpose of adventuring.

With a long line, the dog can stop and sniff, and you can walk 25 more feet before they have to finish up and run to catch up with you! This makes for lots of great sniff time!

Using a long line will not be as easy as a retractable leash, but once you develop some skill it will not be difficult. You will need to stay present with your dog on your walks, which is something we could all use a little more of. It is not a one-handed activity, where you can talk on the phone, or scroll through Facebook while you walk. I would suggest that these aren’t ever good activities while walking the dog, regardless of whether your equipment makes it more convenient to do so. Paying attention to what our dogs are doing is so important to preventing bad behavior before it happens, keeping the dog out of trouble, and everyone else in the area safe. The goal with a long line is to pay out as much line as your dog needs at any given time, and reel it back in when you need to limit the dog’s freedom.

We are approaching another dog, so I reel in most of the line so that she can’t approach the other dog. Mia is very friendly, but we always respect that the other dog might not want to greet on their walk.

A long line is much sturdier than a retractable leash, not relying on any mechanics, which means it is less likely to cause accident or injury. Retractable leashes, if dropped accidentally, often scare dogs as they bounce along behind the dog, and can make a scared dog much more difficult to catch. This doesn’t happen with a long line, at worst the dog gets tangled around something, and then you can catch them! In an area where you can allow your dog to run free, you can use a long line to teach off-leash skills by dropping the line and allowing them to get further away from you without giving them complete freedom before they are ready.

I really appreciate the bright orange of my adventure line because of its visibility to myself and people around me. A retractable leash line can be almost invisible, which leaves other walkers to wonder if they are approaching an off-leash dog. It can be unnerving to pass by a dog who is 20’ away from a person which appears they are off-leash, especially if you are walking a dog, or riding a bike. A brightly colored leash is very apparent to passersby, even if the dog is not directly next to you.

With the long line, Mia can move at a faster pace than me…until she finds something new to sniff!

Material of the long line can be an important consideration, and may be variable depending on your needs and preferences. My mom gave me the adventure line because she thought it was too heavy, and prefers a lighter line. It is made of ½” thick biothane, and has a pretty sizable clip attached. Biothane is a synthetic leather which is very easily cleanable, and doesn’t gather dirt, or retain water. It is a great option for adventuring situations where the dog might get wet. It is available in a variety of widths and thicknesses, and customizable in length. I also use long lines made with paracord (width dependent on the size of dog), but I don’t find them as comfortable in my hands, so I prefer to use those for teaching a dog off leash skills in a wide open space, rather than an adventure walk where we are mainly on a trail. These also gather more dirt, and retain water, so they aren’t always a great choice in wetter conditions. Many commercially available long lines are made of nylon or cotton, which can be uncomfortable to hold. Cotton lines will retain a lot of water, which makes them heavy, and get dirty easily. Find a long line that fits your needs and preferences so it is more enjoyable for you in addition to your dog.

I hope that you will explore the use of a long line instead of a retractable leash for your adventure walks. You will find that your dog has more freedom, you have better control of your dog, and others around you can see that easily, which will lead to more comfortable walks for everyone!

We are so lucky to have such a beautiful place to walk, which is Riverbend Ponds Natural Area. We always stay on leash because we don’t want to disturb the wildlife that make this place their home!


Three Lists that Will Improve Your Relationship with Your Dog

Around Christmas time we spend a lot of time thinking about lists. Wish lists, grocery lists, packing lists, to do lists, the list goes on! Here are three lists you can make that will help you improve your relationship with your canine companion, and start to change any behaviors that frustrate you.

List #1 –My Favorite Things

Make a list of all your favorite things about your dog, and display it where you will see it regularly. This list is the one you will look at when you are feeling frustrated by your dog’s behavior. You can include anything you want, anything that will make you smile, even when you are evaluating the damage to your lawn along your fence-line.

List #2 – My Dog’s Favorite Things

This is a list of everything that is important to your dog. Try to be specific, especially when it comes to food and toys, so write “cheese” instead of “treats”. This will become your master list of reinforcers, meaning these are the things that you can use to improve or alter behavior in your dog. Some reinforcers are straightforward to use, like a treat, whereas others may require some creativity, like squirrels!

Pirate’s favorite reinforcers were definitely toys!

List #3 – What Do We Know?

Your last list is all the skills/cues/behaviors your dog knows. This list has several uses, it helps you keep track of what you have taught the dog (especially useful in multi-dog households!), it’s a great reminder of how awesome your dog is, and we can use it to help us solve behavior problems. When you start feeling frustrated with a dog’s behavior, think about what you want the dog to do instead of the problem behavior. Is it on that list? If so, you just solved your problem, and if not, you now know what you need to train!

We all feel a little frustrated with our dogs’ behavior at times, but these three lists will help you to move past that frustration and start finding a solution.

5 Tips for More Enjoyable Leash Walks

Dogs love to go on walks, and we love to walk them, but things don’t always go as planned. Here are some tips to make your leash walks more pleasant for everyone!

Gracie and her owner learning to have more enjoyable leash walks. It takes consistent practice!

  1. Use proper equipment – If your dog is a dedicated puller, use a front clip harness or head halter instead of a regular collar. Good equipment will help give you a little more control, but it is not a replacement for consistent training.
  2. Retractable leashes teach dogs to pull – These leashes operate by the dog creating tension, resulting in more leash length, so the dog learns that pulling is the way to get further. To give your dog more freedom, use a long line, and focus on teaching your dog to keep slack in the line.
  3. Don’t let your dog pull you where he wants to go –  Pulling on the leash gets reinforced by the dog getting where he wants to go. When he starts to pull forward, turn around and walk in the opposite direction to send a clear message to the dog that pulling will not get him what he wants.
  4. Be respectful of other people and dogs walking –  Not every dog wants to meet your dog, and either does every person you come across. Be sure to ask permission BEFORE your dog approaches another dog or person, and be respectful if they say no, and give their dog plenty of space from yours.
  5. Keep on leash greetings short –  If you do have your dog greet another dog on leash, keep the interaction very brief (3-5 seconds). Any longer than that, and one of the dogs might decide they are uncomfortable, which could cause growling or snapping at the other dog.

If you are struggling with your dog’s leash manners, contact a professional dog trainer for help. Visit the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers “Find a Trainer” directory to find a qualified trainer in your area.

5 Tips to Reducing Conflict with your Dog

Why do we want to reduce conflict? Because dogs and humans have evolved together for tens of thousands of years to work together, not to be at odds with one another. They are our partners and friends, not our adversaries. Here are some suggestions on how to reduce the conflict you may experience with your dog:

  1. Focus on what you do want your dog to do, rather than what you don’t want them to do. If you are always focused on what the dog is doing wrong, you will find yourself frustrated and more likely to increase conflict in your relationship. Think about what you want the dog to do instead, and then focus on training the behavior you want.
  2. Learn as much as you can about dog behavior. Many things that create conflict between dogs and humans are really a misunderstanding of what constitutes normal dog behavior. Frustrated that your dog pulls on leash? Your dog is probably frustrated that you walk so slowly! Dogs don’t pull on leash to drive us crazy, they pull because they naturally walk faster than us, and they are very keyed in to the environments where we walk them.
  3. Set reasonable expectations for your dog. We tend to have this idea in our minds of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, the ever-faithful companion that does whatever we ask. This isn’t the reality for most of the dog population, yet many times we still hold dogs to this standard. Dogs are individuals, and depending on their genetic makeup, their early life history, and their current environment, they all vary in their abilities to handle a given situation. Be sure your expectations are reasonable when dealing with your dog.
  4. Learn about how dogs learn. Dogs will always do what works for them. If a behavior is being reinforced, intentionally or not, they will continue to do it. This applies to sitting for a treat, stealing roast beef off the counter, or pawing for attention. If a behavior has been punished, whether it be going in the crate after coming when called, or being asked to do one too many repetitions of a difficult task, you will see less of that behavior. We don’t get to decide what dogs find reinforcing or punishing, so if the consequence doesn’t mean anything to the dog, it won’t be effective in changing behavior.
  5. Recognize that you are the only one in this relationship that can make a conscious effort to reduce conflict between you and your dog. Your dog is simply reacting to her environment, and the consequences she receives for her actions. If you have brought conflict to the table, it’s your job to remove it!

If you are experiencing persistent conflict with your dog, consult a professional trainer who will help you resolve those issues. We share our lives with dogs to enjoy them, not to be at odds with them. Reduce the conflict with your dog, and I can assure you that you and your dog will reap the benefits!

Loose Dog! Tips for catching an out of control dog

I was standing at a Nose Work trial in the heart of Denver, outside of South High School when I heard someone yell out “Loose Dog!” My many years in the dog industry, attending dog shows, working at doggie daycares and grooming salons, caused me to jump into action, ready to help. I’ve caught many strange dogs in my life, including a rambunctious Shepherd at a Search and Rescue practice who came barreling into me at full speed, and instead of backing away to protect my own body as many others did, I let her run full force into my open legs, closing them quickly around her body and bringing an end to her interruption of the training day. On more than one occasion, I have raced out the door of a dog business where a dog escaped their owner in the parking lot. When I lived on a corner lot in a busy neighborhood, I caught many a stray dog who came up to investigate my dogs through the fence. On this day, when I turned to see the loose dog at the Nose Work trial, I had that sinking feeling that I’ve had too many times in my life with dogs, “Oh s***! My dog is loose!”

Some dogs, like this Gordon Setter, are bred to run all day. It is very important to teach them to come when called!

I’ll admit that Fawkes, my 5-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, looked beautiful galloping across the front lawn of South High School. I immediately cursed myself for not spending more time working on his emergency recall. As an intact male of an independently minded hound breed, he requires an immense amount of work to build his desire to come when called, especially when the stakes are high. Like the cobbler’s kid growing up without shoes, Fawkes the dog trainer’s kid has received an inadequate amount of training in coming when called. I generally manage this by keeping him on leash or on a long-line at all times, but there’s this pesky little saying that management always fails…

While I could write an entire blog on recall problems, and the training solutions for such problems, this one is about what you should do if that training hasn’t been established (or it’s a dog you don’t know), or if the training you have done is presently failing. As with many things in dog training, as with life, the answer is “It Depends”. Your reaction will change based on the environment around you, what you know about the dog, how many people you can mobilize, and what you have at your disposal (food, toys, leash, etc.).

Based on my experience in catching loose dogs, here is my best advice:

  • Do not chase the dog! This can have many effects, none of them desirable. If the dog is scared, you are just adding to the scary experience. If the dog is having a great time being loose, they may interpret your running after them as joining in on the fun. Some loose dogs will stay within a certain distance of their owner, and running after them will only expand their range.
  • If you have a bag of treats, it’s worth a try to shake them to get the dog’s attention. Not all dogs will buy this, or even care, but enough dogs will react to it that you should give it a shot.
  • Run away from the dog. This will incite the chase reaction, and you can get the dog moving toward you. If the dog starts chasing you, run to the safest location you possibly can.
  • Do not reach for the dog! If you manage to get the dog coming toward you, avoid the temptation to try to grab the dog. A scared dog will only become more scared, and a clever dog enjoying a jaunt will only work harder to avoid being caught.
  • Fall down. Yep, that’s right, fall to the ground – the more dramatic the better! This is how I caught Fawkes at the Nose Work trial. It does two things – it creates some concern in the dog, especially if it’s your own dog. Humans matter very much to dogs, even independent hound dogs. Second, it makes you very non-threatening to the dog. The dog knows that you can’t run after them, and sometimes that’s just enough to convince them you are safe.
  • Move slowly in securing the dog. If you have food, scatter it on the ground for the dog to eat while you quietly get ahold of them. Once Fawkes came toward me after I fell down, I scattered treats all over the ground, and waited for him to start to eat them before reaching out to secure him. He was enjoying his freedom, but his concern about my falling, and consequently treats raining down on him convinced him that I was worth sticking around in that moment.

Every dog is an individual, and no one method will work for every dog. Try to think about the dog’s motivation in making your plan, and be ready to try something else as soon as one plan fails. Even if it’s an unknown dog, it’s body language can tell you if it is running scared, or having the time of its life. Focus on drawing the dog toward you and building trust by offering food and not reaching toward it quickly. It’s worth taking the time to build that moment of trust in order to secure the dog safely!