Off Leash Obedience Mysteries, Solved!

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I have had several requests as of late to write an article on off leash dog obedience. Almost everyone that has a dog aspires to off leash dog obedience at some point in time.  But there are essential steps to getting there and ways to make sure it is effective and fun!

Off Leash Essentials

  • The first thing to remember is that off leash obedience is ADVANCED obedience.  The rituals that you must follow in dog obedience are first basic obedience, then intermediate obedience and finally advanced obedience.
  • Preparing for advanced obedience means your dog is listening to you at the end of a long line (a leash that is 25 or 50 feet long).  Long lines (not flexi leashes) are a great way to test your obedience skills and still give you the ability to be in control of his behavior and limit his ability to run.
  • Off leash obedience is definitely an advanced stage of dog obedience, and in order to get there successfully your dog must be listening to you on leash both inside and out of the house at least 90% of the time.  I believe he must also listen to you off leash around the house over 90% of the time.
  • If your dog is not at this level, go back and work on your basic and intermediate skills.  There is no shame in having to back up and revisit your obedience skills.  Even the most advanced trainers and dogs will have to regress in their training at different points.  My goal is always 90% before I take another step forward.
  • Next you must find several safe places to train.

Most dogs, when first unsnapped from their leash will bolt and frolic, in the area and the only way to ensure your pet’s safety is to make sure that the area is safe and

A Long Line can be a Marvelous Tool

fenced.

I recommend a fenced baseball field, a tennis court, an empty off leash dog park, or even a friend’s fenced yard.

Be aware of off leash dog laws and only use spaces where it is legal to unleash your dog!

The first thing I do is unhook my dog and let him enjoy a bit of freedom.  Essentially I want to see if he is comfortable being away from me and how far his comfort limit takes him.  Some dogs will run as far and fast as they can, but others will dart and wander within 10-30 yards while constantly keeping an eye on you to make sure you don’t leave him.

I, of course, want a dog that cares where I am and does not want to wander too far away from me.  As long as the area is safe, I can wander or run in the opposite direction and see if he cares.  It is a dismal sign if he doesn’t pay any attention to your actions and it will make your training much more difficult.

If he comes back to me, within a 6 foot area I will praise him, click him and reward him for making a good decision.  I want him to be comfortable coming back to me and knowing that I won’t over react, get angry, force him back on his leash or punish him in any way.

Next, once he has had several minutes of frolicking and leaping about and he seems a bit bored it is time to test my level of obedience so I casually call him over.  Casual meaning, it is not a strict obedience command “COME” it is more lenient “Come On” or “Come Here”.

If he willingly comes to you click and treat; lavishly praise him and jackpot him for a tough decision that he made correctly!  Realize that it takes a lot of trust in you to risk his losing his freedom by coming back to you.  That is why it is essential for you NOT to leash him when he comes to you.  Allow him to continue playing off his leash.

If he does not come after 2 requests, it is time to reorient your plan for obedience and back up a few levels.  Do NOT continue to call him or you will weaken the command and his respect and commitment to you.  Wait until you can go and get him, or he chooses to come to you, this is another reason for picking a safe place, so if you lose control he is still safe.

If he is willingly listening it will be time for you to move on during the next training session.  Your first session is just to determine what your dog does with what he deems true freedom and your inability to control him.

The first step in your first true off leash session is to begin dropping the leash.  I must reiterate, if your dog pulls on the leash and is not good at listening, he is not ready for off leash obedience!

Begin obedience as you normally would with your dog on a leash.  As long as your dog is listening to you and having a good time training you can drop the leash and let him drag it behind you.  If he begins to get distracted, you may step on or reach down and grab the leash at anytime.

It is normal for him to get distracted at first when he realizes you no longer hold the leash.  Provided you are still training in a safe environment there is no need to worry if he bolts or doesn’t listen; this simply means he is not ready to move forward.

Continue to work with him for several sessions dropping the leash and picking it up as needed.  This dropping and picking it up when he doesn’t listen lets him know that ultimately you are still in charge even if he feels no pressure from you on the leash.  He must learn to listen to you and pay attention to your body.

Once you have successfully completed this step and you rarely if ever need to pick up the leash because of his unruliness you are ready to go to the next step.

Next is to unsnap the leash.  Some dogs let their hearing take over their brains and when they hear the leash unsnap they are ready to dart away.  Don’t judge!  Ever since they were puppies the unsnapping of the leash has meant they were “off duty”; it just usually happens in the confines of your home where it is not only okay but also expected for him to dash off.

Now it is time to teach him that even if you unsnap you want him to listen to your commands.  I often hook two leashes up for this critical moment.  One leash I tie to my belt loop or hook around my leash, so if he tries to run away, he will quickly realize I am always in control!  You may also hook a long line up with your regular leash and let it drag behind you as you train; if he tries to run when you unsnap you can step on his long line to regain control.

They even make leashes out of fishing line and a light weight wooden handle (invisible leash) in case you are worried your dog can SEE the leash or feel it hang from his

Invisible Leashes

collar. I NEVER recommend an electric or shock collar for training.  Shock collars ruin trust and scare dogs and even if it makes your dog listen, I believe you will see problems in the future and the ultimate avoidance of you and future commands.  Aggressive painful techniques are never the answer and can ruin a good dog!

If you have to make use of the “hidden or invisible leash” often, then it is time to back up and polish your routine by dropping the leash and improving your obedience.

If your dog is excelling still, it is time to continue on the road to off leash heeling!

What is the Most Important Thing to Remember While Off Leash Heeling?

  • Motivation, praise, toys, treats and fun are the only tools you are left with; you are no longer physically in control!
  • You will probably have to back up a few times and use a leash occasionally, this is normal and to be expected!

If you have done your job, your dog will willingly chose to stay by your side and listen to your commands.  If you have not…you will need to back up in your training and add more fun, games and positive reinforcement before you are finally ready to reap the rewards of off leash training!

There are 43 Comments

  1. Laura says:

    This is great! I can’t wait to get Kyra to the point of this training, it sounds so wonderful! Thanks so much for this, you are the best!

    [Reply]

    Carol Gustafson Reply:

    This article brought back loving memories of my 110 lb. German Shepherd, Vikings Silver Mark.
    My husband’s brother drove down from Utah to give us Mark, who had been misidentified as
    “a vicious attack dog” and had been condemned to death by a complaint to Animal Control
    from a man in the neighborhood who had been installing a 3 ft. post for a sign on his front lawn. Mark & his owner were walking past, and Mark, still a puppy, but large, went trotting up, wagging his tail, expecting the kind, sing-songy words he usually got, to greet the man, who immediately panicked, lifted the post up over his head, and brought it down,knocking Mark off his feet. Mark, of course, rebounded and began a leap up toward the man, but by this time his owner was there and sternly commanded, “Mark! Down!” while catching his chain collar in his hand and pulling him back to the sidewalk. The man was not touched, but filed a report claiming the dog had initiated the attack on his property, and wanted that dog put down for the safety of others in the neighborhood.
    Thus we, my husband & I and our two little girls ages 2 and 5, became the proud and loving owners of a gorgeous, good natured silver German Shepherd, who readily made friends with women & children, but only tolerated my husband and his brother as the men in his life.
    He lived in our huge backyard, surrounded by an 8′ fence and padlocked gates. While the fence was being installed, we had to chain him to the house, and there was a cat that used to torment him by prancing up and down the top of completed part of the fence meowing, “Nanner, Nanner, I’m free and you aren’t!”. It drove Mark nuts. One day the fence was completed, Mark was unchained to enjoy his big backyard, and the cat showed up for its
    usual teasing session at the top of the fence–Mark was there in flash. Just as I passed our
    screen slider door, the surprised, horrified cat lost its balance and toppled off right into Mark’s powerful, waiting jaws, and I yelled out the slider door across about 50 ft.of yard, “MARK! DROP IT!” and he immediately looked over at me, opened his mouth and dropped it as if it had suddenly become ghastily yucky. Now THAT’S obedience plus! I did not scold or punish
    him. I walked out to see if I could help that cat, and said to Mark, “Poor kitty…” , but it was too late–either Mark’s teeth had penetrated a vital blood vessel, or the cat fell because it had a heart attack when it saw Mark was free at last.

    Mark and our family lived a happy and uneventful life for 10 years together until he died of
    large stomach tumor. That was 27 years ago, and I still miss him and our late night walks
    around the neighborhood together–with him heeling happily on his leash beside me.

    [Reply]

    Brenda Magers Reply:

    In the year of 1990 my daughter decided she wanted a german shepard and looked at 100’s of puppies. None passed. She said she would know when she saw the right one. One day she followed an ad in the newspaper for one puppy left, a silver and black female. That was the one! She named her Molly. Molly grew to be a beautiful dog but had hip problems. She was so smart and we enjoyed her as if she was a family member. One fall day in 1995 she run across the road after our horse that sneaked out of the fenced pasture. My daughter got a bucket of corn and started toward the road and that’s when Molly turned to met her and a fast car hit her as she was crossing the road. The speed limit was 40 and the car was making at least 60. Molly was killed instantly. My daughter (age 25)lay down in the road hugging and talking to Molly but it was too late. That was one of the most tearful days ever. We buried Molly in the back yard with her own monument. I still miss her and have tearful moments thinking how she was taken from us. I later began rescuing dogs and now have 8. I just had Molly’s mate Lucky age 23 put down. My dogs are my therapy! I took care of my parents for 17 years and now caring for my aunt. I’ve survived 2 silent killer cancers. I think God is looking down on me and telling me he likes what I’m doing.

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    Nancy Reply:

    why in the world would you publish that horrible cat story?

    [Reply]

  2. Debbie Koop says:

    It sounds like Gunner is ready to move up a step or two from #1 but needs more repeat, like you say. He does always check to my whereabouts especially out on trails. Never more than 25′ or so. “unsnapping” never thought of that! I Don’t use leash out riding horses but he’s “there.” Always listens and comes. With more of these kindergarten ideas should help. The dog park will be a whole different ball game. Maybe it will help if we go work alone and return for more fun a few times. Patience is a Virtue. Good tips, thanks!

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  3. MrEl says:

    My dog will stay by my side and after a while he will attempt to move up a foot or two until he thinks he is free from me. If I continue to say “stay with me” he will stay next to me….if we go for a couple mile walk, then I don’t have to worry, he will stay with me. If I call him and he is smelling something, I might have to say NOW and he will come…I need to get him to be 100

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    Minette Reply:

    then you need to mean it when you say it the first time 😉 like a child he is waiting until you really mean it and give him the SECOND command! Drop the second command and teach him you mean it the first time…or use the second command (stay with me and NOW) as your actual command 😉

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  4. hill robinson says:

    great info it is what i have been looking for thank you hill cesar an jade

    [Reply]

  5. Stephen McDonald says:

    Duffy is working well on off leash training. But after awhile he gets bored and won’t respond to treats and goes “smelling” around the yard. The long leash helps stop him as I step on it. it takes a few times but he gets focused again

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    speed up, slow down, add a few turns and some quick downs and he should be less bored and more focused on you. The problems is we people are boring ha ha and we need to step up our pace and our requirements to entertain the minds of our dogs! 🙂

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  6. Irene says:

    I really look forward to reading your e mail, they are brilliant and very sensible as usual.Deezel is just 12 weeks old, and hard work at this moment, but I know I will get him there eventually and am looking forward to that day. We dont have any dog parks here, in N.Ireland which is a shame, but we will manage. Thank you soo much for the information. It has changed our lives for the better. Keep up the good work, many thanks.

    [Reply]

  7. Carol Gustafson says:

    I submitted a reply today, 8/30/11, RE:”Off Leash Obedience”, with my true story about my silver German Shepherd, Mark, how we came to own him, and his problem with a cat tormenting him, etc., and for my trouble, I received an insulting
    reply from you,

    “Duplicate comment detected, it looks as though you’ve already said that.”

    I have NEVER written down that story to you or anybody else at any other time, and the details in that true story couldn’t have been written by anybody else but me.

    I wish I had not taken the time to relate it to you–I am very angry to be accused of dishonestly submitting a story already told–you and your “detecting” system are seriously flawed and I will never bother to reply to anything you write again.

    Carol Gustafson

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Carol,

    I am sorry! Our message system requires me to moderate comments because a lot of people try to post spam or use language that children should not read.

    My guess is the reply was hit twice and I just now came in to moderate. I am sorry. I of course posted your comment and I am sorry that you received the automatic reply.

    I always enjoy reading stories and comments left by people.

    [Reply]

  8. barbara baca says:

    Thank you for the helpful information. It will be awhile before Mila and I will be able to walk off leash. But while she is on her property which is 2 acres she keeps her eyes and ears on me. All I have to do is blow my whistle and she comes running to my side. Thanks again Barbara & Mila

    [Reply]

  9. david nott says:

    while walking my 1-year Boxer, Jack, on a chain leash in the fields a walker appeared in the brush at ten yards. Jack’s attack was so violent he pulled me off my feet into the mud (I’m 83) I held on to the leash and finally got him by the collar and wrestled with him as the stranger walked off without a second glance, petrifed either by Jack or the vision of a mud-splattered ancient going two rounds all-in with a 80lb dog. On two occasions when he has got away he rushed the stranger. They stood stockstill, he jumped them, sniffed them but never bit and pronto accepted a pat on the head.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I wouldn’t risk Jack off leash! And, I would recommend a good strong leather leash, so much nicer on your hands! Work on that obedience and get him to ignore strangers for the safety for you both!

    [Reply]

    Diana Navon Reply:

    Leather is wrong. My tree dogs and our family are vegetarians and we don’t use animal products. If we love animals let’s stop buying their dead bodies. There are good leashes that are not made of real animal skin.

    [Reply]

  10. rebeca says:

    i am a new dog owner. i adopted Billy almost one yr ago from the SPCA.
    He’s a german shepard chow and very smart! we’ve completed the CGC trng and i want to work on therpy dog trng.
    i am going to have to reread this article cause i believe it is about trng me, just as much as it is about trng Billy.
    He’s very sweet, sometimes a little rough and he’s always testing me! just like a little kid.
    thank you for a most informative article

    Rebeca

    [Reply]

  11. Susanne says:

    A very interesting article. I am the very happy owner of a female Siberian Husky. Usually siberians should not be let loose most websites state… not so here! Freja will dash off and away when allowed after being let loose, then come zooming back joyfully for a snack when called, seldom do I have to call several times. I got her from a musher breeder who when puppies are 6 weeks old starts letting them loose in woodland around his house – unfenced. He calls whistling and rewards them when they come back to him – initially following their mother. This man has 26 siberians who he can all let off the leads-when called they come dashing in to him from all corners of the woods like an implosion…….He has been breading for about 30 years and has wonderful dogs !All very gentle noble individuals with excellent social skills who get on so well together, it is a joy to see.

    [Reply]

  12. Donna says:

    Is there any way I can stop my puppy from jumping up on me. I am full of bruises and bites marks from this I know he is just greeting me but it is very uncomfortable. Can you give me a few tips please???

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Check this out http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/dog-fly-air-greatest-ease/

    [Reply]

  13. Marie says:

    Very useful article. My dog Charley is quite good off lead, UNLESS another dog comes by where he then is too distracted to listen to me; other dogs are just so much more interesting. Should I go back some steps, eg on a long lead. Also, after a recall ‘failure’ is it better to put back on lead, or try again off lead? Any tips?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Yes, back up a few steps and be REWARDING! You have to be more exciting than the other dogs (which I know is hard). Once he remembers how FUN you are start training where you know there will be ONE dog…when he is successful with that add more dogs to the equation!

    [Reply]

  14. Vincent Eklund says:

    Very informative

    [Reply]

  15. Doreen says:

    Thank you for all your advice on training. I find it very helpful for my
    9 mo.old puppy named Coco.

    Keep up the good work.

    Doreen.

    [Reply]

  16. Maryjane Ferrera says:

    Hi Chet, I am really excited about trying this newe step, my dog keeps an eye om me everytime I let her off the leash to play with her friends where she was raised and even if she doesn’t come as soon as I call her, the minute I am out of her sight, she comes running. I am really excirted about refining this training. Thanks so much for offering it. I will let you know inm a few days how she makes out. Thanks again
    Maryjane Ferrera

    [Reply]

  17. Catherine & Magic says:

    EXCELENT ADVISE!!!!
    Long lead.long leash. I went to a local hardware store and bought a 100 foot piece of plastic rope/twine and a simple hook.It works great and cost $3 bucks. I have a bluehealer and chiwahwa mix,and his personality is 95% bluehealer. He,Magic LOVES to herd runners, children and moving cars..OH not to forget he will go for the knees or ankles. I stareted with several obiedient training styles and he is well behaved on leash but not off. At first I thought it was cute Magic being a puppy and all. But I discovered he started to have some bad habits.After Magics third trainer, she showed me the long leash/lead.WHAT a huge improvement in his behavior,still working with him on a daily basis.I thought he was on his way to being a more obiedient dog,untill he chased a little boy running on the beach with his boogie board and Magic wanted in on the fun and nipped the little boy in the butt.I said nip not bite. But it was tramatic for the little boy. His parents were totally cool,since they had 3 dogs . BUT BACK TO BASICS with Magic :)Pulled out all the good advise you have given me over the months,also cudos for the other trainers………….Pulled out the lead, went to North Island and had a GREAT DAY at the beach :)woof woof

    [Reply]

  18. CYNTHIA GONZALEZ says:

    my dog is almost 2 and does great off teh leash, only problem is if another dog comes into the area. otherwise its a great walk.

    [Reply]

  19. audie birch says:

    I wonder if males are more difficult to train to “come” off lead than are famale.
    we have always had females of variuous breeds and have never had a greatproblem. This boy of mine is greased lightening and flies through the crack in a door, house or car/. Hedoesn’t go far once around the house and he’s back 3feet from me. At my age, 76, I’m not quick enough to catch him and he plays with me until he decides the game isover. I have never scolded, only priasedand loved him when I get my hands on him again. He’s a perfect little gentleman ona leash. Travels with us and I couldn’t ask for better behaviour – except when he slips his leash — then it is a big game to him which he enjoys and I don’t. In the past I’ve had females(many) with rarely a problem that simpley needed a little more training. Any suggestions for this determined boy/ I will try your suggestionggestion for 2 leashes. Thank so much. Audie

    [Reply]

  20. Karleen says:

    Hi Minette – I posted a comment a few days ago on this page but it isn’t here. I’m not sure if you thought it was spam or what. I just commented that I thought your information on off leash training was very good and that I wish more people would read it before trying to train their dogs off leash. So many people get impatient and try to advance their dogs before they’re really ready and I am glad you stressed the importance of making sure your dog is solid at each level of training before advancing. I really enjoy reading your blog and appreciate all of your information. I’m a dog lover and am certainly not trying to spam your site. I also love the picture at the top of the Belgian Malinois. She looks just like my Georgie, who I had the privilege of sharing my life with for 14 years. I like to imagine her running along a beach somewhere over the rainbow bridge.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    🙂 I hope it didn’t spam, maybe it just took me a day or so to get in here 🙂

    I have 2 Mals and a Dutchie so I know how wonderful they are 🙂 Thank you for your comments and for reading my blog!

    [Reply]

    Karleen Reply:

    I think sometimes comments go to spam for strange reasons if you use something like Akismet – sometimes they get spammed, sometimes not. Anyway, I’ll keep posting comments because your blog is one of the few I try to stay up on. You give a lot of good advice for positive training methods. And yes, Mals rock!! 🙂

    [Reply]

  21. Brian says:

    Minette,

    I wanted to let you know that this Blog is one of the more useful sites out there, as you provide great stories and illustrations backed up with helpful tips on how to succeed. I have a 5 year Golden retriever and he is such a goof ball. He loves to go for walks and frolic about while he meets new friends along the way. When we first got him we knew that he was going to be quite a handful as he loves to play “do his own thing”. Max is a very smart dog because he know all of the basic obedience commands (when he chooses to listen), and figures a lot of things out along the way. We even taught him how to give us a “high-five and shake” for fun. One item we are still trying to master is the off leash training. What you said in the article is very much true; once we let him off the leash Max thinks it is time to bolt and away from us and heads in the opposite direction. It seems he has some difficulty with the loose leash walk as he tends to do more pulling than walking by my side. I don’t think it is an issue of being smart enough, I think it tends to be more of an issue with choosing to follow the commands once given to him. Do you have a suggestions that we might try so we can be more successful when attempting the off leash training.

    Thank you
    Brian

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Thanks Brain for the kudos!

    You need to back up in your training, he should be perfect at walking with you on leash before you attempt off leash!

    Your problem is letting him “choose to listen” by allowing this you are telling him it is okay to listen sometimes but not all of the time. If he doesn’t listen to you when life is boring, how can you expect him to listen when there are other FUN people or dogs around!

    You need to teach him to listen to you all of the time by giving him ONE command and then helping him to comply. http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/times-pushover-repeating-dog-training-commands/

    Once you have achieved this most of the time then add a long line so that you are in control and then work through the steps in this article.

    You just need to back up and make him listen 😉 You want to go from basic math to trigonometry!

    [Reply]

  22. Jennifer Noble says:

    My Mini Foxy Angel (now 4) who we got as a 6week old constantly chases her tail (which admittedly has a white tip on the end) and licks her feet and us excessivley. This drives us nuts – what can we do

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    This can be an obsessive compulsive behavior, I would first take her to the vet to have her feet checked for allergies or other causes and the rest of her checked out too and see what they recommend!

    [Reply]

  23. Larry Bovee says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to try and help. I have been making a game out of Jessie coming in when called. She loves to play ball and she loves to play tug with old socks. Yesterday I called her to come in, when she looked at me I was tossing her ball in the air. She came running, I let her into the house, gave her a treat, then took her back out to play ball. That seemed to work great..Thanks again, Larry..

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Excellent!! Good for you!! If she thinks come=fun she will be more likely to do it 😉

    [Reply]

  24. Jim says:

    I have an 8 year old labradoodle that weighs about 85 pounds.
    I walk her every day and part of that walk is always off leash.
    Even though we have been doing this for several years I often need to retrain it by the use of positive reinforcement. I would never think of going for a walk with out dog treats and / or a ball in my pocket.
    when my dog follows my command AND DOESN,T CHASE THE SQUIRREL OR STRAY TO SAY HELLO TO ANOTHER DOG NEAR BY, i ALWAYS REWARD HER BY GIVING HER VERBAL PRAISE AND AN EDIBLE TREAT. I always carry a leash and when I approach adults with another dog or small children I place my dog on a leash out of respect to others. I find many people are frightened by seeing a large dog off-lease even if the dog is completely friendly.

    In response to being placed on a leash, my dog goes into her “Please Pet Me” act. She wags her whole body and wags her tail continuously while whining and walking towards the small children. When she sits on my command the adults and children always come over to pet her.
    People seem less afraid of a large dog when they demonstrate self good leash manners.

    [Reply]

  25. suter says:

    hello i have a 9 mounths old husky sibirie i learn him to get off lash but when he see other dogs he just running i am afraid to let him out even behind my house starts the desert no cars no peole but i dont want he run me away . hes first owner never walked with him ,he the husky knows only the house back yard by hes old owner , i have laika only 2 mounths now and he walk with me in the city not that best ,always will push forwarts .
    what will i do ? i let him out of lash in the desert ??
    please if u can respont me

    [Reply]

  26. suter says:

    my husky is 9 mounths old, and till yetserday i dint let him out of leash, yesterday evening i was out with him and on leashh, so on my home way i was stopping to have a phone call on my handy, i was choced when i saw that the leash was falling to ground , i dont not how but my husky was free of leash, he was moving away from me about 20 meters ,and i was thinking thats it he run . i called him laika come , and to my big surprise he turns arround looked at me and coming street away on my side and sit , to day i was letting him out of leash and after 2 calls he comes back to me . i am happy and laika to then now she can run free in open fields , thank you so mutch for your articles i learned , alot and have to leran mutch more

    [Reply]

  27. Bill Carter says:

    My dog Bucket is a black mouth cur and does great on leash,however off leash he bolts and I have to round him up in the truck. Once I catch up to him I swing the door open and he jumps right in,he loves to ride.I hear that cur,s are somewhat headstrong and stubborn so back to basics. Thanks for the info I think it will help.

    [Reply]

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