In my recent blog posts about Tater’s Ruff Love adventures, we’ve had some questions about when should dogs be let off leash. The first thing I’m doing with Tater is transitioning off lead near the end of a walk. I’ve got a video to show what that looks like.
We’re backchaining success, and I’m taking the leash off when we are close to home. Many of you will recognize that I’m using the release cue “search” when I throw the cookie away from me.
The “search” cue is a permissions cue to let our dog know he can chase down a cookie and then come back to engage with us. It helps our dog with clarity on when it’s okay for him to look for food on the ground and when it’s not. If your dog does not know the “search” cue, introduce it by saying “search” and then tossing the cookie. You can read more about the uses on my post on Balance Breaks.
Using “search” when Tater is off lead allows me to see what choice he makes. Now, he could have easily run to the pond to look at frogs… because he loves looking at frogs. But, he made the choice to come back to Reinforcement Zone, showing me that he has value for walking near me. We’ll continue setting Tater up for success and reinforcement for great choices.
I have five criteria for when a dog should be allowed off leash.
- In a secure and safe fenced area or the safety of your own fenced back yard.
- No livestock or wildlife at risk.
- No other dogs off leash in that area.
- If there are other dogs; you know all the dogs, and everyone gets along.
- You have an amazing recall off anything, including dogs or wildlife.
The underlying factor in the list of five is that the environment is safe. Many of these elements might be met on the highway, but that is not safe.
Have you tried backchaining to transition your dog to being off leash? Let me know in the comments!
Today I am grateful for your questions and notes here in the comments on my blog that help with planning on what to share for upcoming posts, video chats and free training series.
My 8 month old mixed breed Nancy had amazing recall but she got into running off through the corn fields/ scenting etc. she is a very high energy dog. So I’ve out her back on the long line to try break this behaviour. I tried her off again recently as she was listening on the line but she went straight off through the corn fields. The lure of it all is so big for her. How do I crack this please? I’ve tried thinking A-B-C but I can’t work it out whilst still being able to walk her off lead.
What is backchaining?
Lynne B that is my huskies life mantra lol. ‘Don’t Wanna, Don’t Hafta!’
Needless to say neither will ever be off leash anywhere but a tall fenced-in area.
Working on this with Daisy…. started when she was choosing to walk loose leash next to me consistently….which lead to laying the leash across her back – easy to grab quickly if needed – works for tall dogs. She already knows heel & side (opposite of heel), and “wit wit”. And has a great “sit”. And she knows that when a car comes, she has to heel behind me to my left side, then “side” back to my right. Sometimes i ask for a sit after the heel, sometimes a wait, sometimes we just walk. It’s a fun game when i just have her. Verbal fun on & off leash.
Thank you for this one. Needed to be reinforced that I AM doing good with New BC. She is Rehome, all the history I know is she killed chickens. Proper killing or herding to death not sure. Have had her 2 and half weeks. Walk out on long line. Have no where to work safe fenced. So this will be a long haul. My other dog is a really good recall dog. Wish the old man was still here to teach her!! Hope New Dog will learn from her. She learnt her New Name in two days. I have games I do. I dont really get back chaining but understand choices. Have done the treat throwing all over and come for treats from day one and the BC rescue centre also did it. She is quick. Can do touch, shake a paw, walk up and down the tippy plank, paws up on any crazy thing I ask. Can do quick down which is a game. She did sit already. Easy to handle all over. Someone somewhere did good basic skills with this little dog. Gave her the chance to come and do training and live with me. Have had some In the past that would not walk on lead or even register that human was there.
Great idea! Because M’Ocean is a big huge potentially scary looking German Shepherd dog I have been keeping him on a long line if I have any doubt at all, because if we ran into another dog in the woods he would likely visit, but he really needs to long walks, so I’ve been doing what you’re suggesting here which is to have them on the leash or long line we’re going out but on the way back home there’s a certain place where I feel like all those elements that you said are true there’s not gonna be any dogs he will come away from wildlife and I let him off and he goes off leash all the way to the gate take me to my fields. I hadn’t been thinking of it as back chaining, That makes lots of sense! He just turned three.
I have loved every minute of watching you train Tater and I am so thankful for him that you became involved
Loving all your advice and help,thank you so much for your inspiration and time x
Love thehelpful videos and tips; thank you. One question, though, what made you decide Tater was ready to start coming off the lead again?
Well, Sue, I don’t really “know” all I can do is make an educated guess and hope that I’m correct based on the 5 criteria stated in this blog post AND knowing all of the work I’ve been putting him on our Recaller games to make me more reinforcing to pay attention than the distractions around us.
It is super important to notice though, that I only took Tater-Salad off-leash for the last part of our 3 km walk… the part leading up to the house. It is a path where there is rarely wildlife at that time of day and an area he has had a history of checking in rather than checking out. So there is still a risk of failure, but I’d take the $100 bet…that I’d bet $100 he WILL make the best choices at that time of day in that environment….setting him up for success.
Thank you so much for the posts. It really helps! My older 6 year old dog works well off lead around our yard which is not fenced. I have worked on “wait” at the end of the road when I cross alone to get the mail and he does really well, with the possible exception of a stray bicyclist. He responds to stay and wait equally. The younger 1 1/2 year old goes out dragging his leash so that I can get him under control. They both have good recalls (drop what you’re doing and come now). The younger one can be off leash when we are heading up the drive to the house reliably. I have just gradually allowed him to walk along with the older dog off lead. Seems to be working. When they trapped a possum under a bench in the back yard the other night, I put both leashes on them and took them to the house without incident. (I didn’t know that possums growled, but this one did!)
I was happy to see you use the Search cue while out walking. I have also been using that cue for our FCR who has a stubborn streak when out walking. She will start sniffing pee-mail and then will just decide to take a rest, flat out (haha little joke for a FCR). I have a hard time getting her going again, so will use the Search cue to some success. I have also just purchased some replaceable squeakers and have one in my pocket to squeak, with a treat (sort of like clicker training). She really has responded to it on our first walk. So our biggest issue is her reason for stubbornness. Without high value treats and Search I would be at a loss. Thank you for this valuable tool.
Hi Mary thanks for your comment, two things I’d like to point out.
First up, it is important when trying to help our dogs to be successful that we only make training decisions based on what we know for sure. So that is what we can observe. You can observe your girl stopping, then when she won’t get going we can observe your behaviour of either telling her “search” and giving her a cookie or squeaking a squeaking.
That is what we know for sure.
When we use descriptors such as “stubborn” or “blowing me off” or any other emotional response we think our dog is thinking we often end up making poor training decisions, decisions based on what we think rather than what we see.
Next up we always need to remember that all behaviour is lawful, that is all animals, all dogs and all breeds of dogs follow the same laws. It follows the A-B-C format.
Antecedent – Behaviour – Consequence
Antecedent: There is a prompt to a dog’s behaviour (this could be a cue from us or a distraction, possibly a trigger).
Behaviour: There is a response from the dog to that antecdent…what we can describe them doing.
Consequence: Is what happens immediately after the dog’s choice …is it something that encourages the dog to want to make a similar choice in the future or make a different one.
So in the example in the video above, Tater was sniffing the ground…possibly he dropped part of his cookie there or just found something good to sniff the “why” he was sniffing is something only Tater knows for sure so I can not say “he thinks a dog peed here” or “he thinks I dropped two cookies here”…all I can do is describe what I observe in terms of A-B-C
The “A” antecedent of Tater being off-leash away from me and me walking away growing a large distance between us which lead to his choice of…
B= The Behaviour he chose was to run to catch up to me. Notice I didn’t call him or lure him with a cookie* More on that later.
C= The consequence of Tater choosing to leave the sniffing and catch up to me (without a prompt) was that he was praised and rewarded with a cookie.
**Now, if I had called Tater when he was sniffing rather than waiting and evaluating his choice I would have created a new set of A-B-Cs. So his choice when the distance between us on a walk got larger would have created this A-B-C:
A=something good to smell and Susan getting further away.
B= Ignore what Susan is doing and continue to do what you want to do ie sniff
C = Susan calls YOU, making it easy for you to continue sniffing anytime you want because the reward will be coming to you regardless if you pay attention to her on walks or not.
Now let’s look at the example you described with your girl;
A = The antecedent possibly was the trigger of her being tired, or maybe just the presentation of a big field to roll in or possibly a history of reinforcement of what happens when she lays down in big fields. Without knowing for sure the history I’m just giving some possibilities.
B = The behaviour from the dog was that she laid down and stretched out without showing motivation to move.
C = The consequence in the example, you have presented the consequence you giving the “search” word followed by a food reward.
So can you see one reasonable reason why she is now doing what she is doing? Possibly it is a history of reinforcement for something she may have done the first time because she was tired or just acting goofy.
How to change it?
You just need to change the A-B-Cs as I did for Tater…but I caution you to think small…split this down into small, achievable accomplishments for your girl. Possibly start with a walk that begins at the 5 steps from your house and ends with a big party at your house. Then build from there.
I hope that helps!
My girl is VERY food driven .. will be working this one with her.
You are truly amazing. Everything so “easy” in your hands, much about common sense, consistency and sticking at it. Allowing access to your Home Schooling has really helped when attending our behaviourist had to stop. So BIG thank you.
Prey drive is beating us less with one of my rescues and safe off leash is possible.
However I have much bigger challenge with number two rescue and would value advice. In the 15 months we have had him he has made tremendous progress but loud noises remain a real issue resulting in him going into fear and running away from it. In a secure field we hire it isn’t a problem and he doesn’t really notice the gun fire near by or the tractor. But at home if a loud motorbike goes passed or he hears a noisy truck in the road he runs for his safe place. I am fearful of letting him run free when we walk out in the fields and forest in case he bolts in fear. Do you have any suggestions of how we may increase his confidence ? Thank you again.
Hi Rosie, you are doing great. For the loud noises, Susan has a video blog post on “3 Strategies for Detonating Your Dog’s Fireworks Fear” and the tips are good for noise in general. Here’s the link for you:
My dog will stop on a dime and come back, from quite a distance away, but only when she feels like it. She bores easily, so I only practice “Stop!” 2-3 times per walk. There is no question she knows what I mean, but she certainly doesn’t listen if she doesn’t feel like it. She’s also not a “foody”, and her tug toy isn’t very interesting outside of the yard. We’ve been practicing the Hot Zone game, but I’m hoping for more ideas? PS Thank you very much for the Home Schooling during this pandemic!
Don’t remember which program it’s in (might be Recallers.com) but Susan Garrett has a lesson called “Don’t Wanna, Don’t Hafta!” about the problem you’re describing. Also check out It’s Yer Choice games.
I’m loving your new everyday obedience style blog posts. Also love seeing more of Tater.