This July, my family and I headed to northern Wisconsin. Bayfield is a wonderful location to visit; there are few crowds, lots of dog-friendly accommodations and beaches and the beauty of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands to enjoy. For the last several years, my family has rented a house on the shore, deep in the woods, with no neighbors visible in either direction. I tell you all of this because it was also the place that my dog, a 15-month old lab named Tucker, was granted a huge privilege. He was allowed to be outdoors off leash.
There were several things I had to be sure were in place before the leash was snapped off.
First of all, the environment needed to be safe for him. Second, I wanted to be sure that he would not cause any other people or dogs any distress by running up to them. Given our remote location with no people, dogs or cars in sight, I felt sure that he couldn’t get in trouble as long as he was being supervised. Finally, I needed to feel confident that if I called him, he would come back, no matter what. To test this, I first let him explore on a long line so that if his recall was not strong enough to overcome chipmunks or any other amazing northwoods distraction, I could safely find that out. Luckily, he passed this test with flying colors.
There are several factors that I believe led to Tucker being able to be successful off leash.
Breed – Labs are breed to work cooperatively with humans. Their job is to sit with the hunter in a boat or blind until sent to go retrieve a bird. This propensity, in contrast to other breeds such as terriers, which are meant to go and hunt independently, results in a dog that is more likely to stick close.
Temperament – When choosing a puppy, I set out to find one that loved to be around people more than just about anything else. For more about my thought process when I picked Tucker, click here.
Bond – Since we brought Tucker home at nine weeks of age, I have worked hard at being the source of all good things for him – food, games, snuggles, walks and treats come from me. I want his interactions with me to be fun and positive so that choosing to stick close is a no-brainer. I saw this in action as we walked down a trail in the woods. Tucker would trot ahead looking at the birds or catching the scent of a chipmunk, but when he got 10 or 20 yards ahead, he would stop and wait for me to catch up. Got to make sure you don’t lose the one who throws the balls and fills the kongs!
Training – From the time he was a pup, the one behavior I have been truly religious about is recall. We practice several times a day in many different circumstances and in every case, make it a really good thing for him to come to me when called.
I can’t express what a joy it was to have a dog that could have the freedom to be outside exploring in the woods and splashing at the beach without being leashed all the time.
It takes a special combination of a safe place and a trusted bond with your dog, but it is a huge payoff for all of the hard work you and your dog put into training.