Who is More Rewarding? A Lesson on Letting Your Dog Run Free
I have been fielding and dealing with the same but different versions of the same question for years!
A person’s dog is either let off leash, or gets off leash and then refuses to listen when called.
This is pretty normal if you haven’t trained for it.
The real problem happens when this one event becomes a habit and the dog learns that being away from you and not listening is soooooo much more fun than being with you; and he learns that you have basically no control at all over him, his choices or his behaviors when he is a certain distance away or off of his leash!
What it comes down to is who or what is more fun or rewarding for your dog…. Are you the most rewarding thing in his life, or is running the neighborhood off leash more rewarding?
Are you the most rewarding thing, or are the kids next store more fun?
Are you the most fun thing to your dog, or is chasing the squirrels more fun to your dog?
Breaking it Down From Your Dog’s Perspective
He runs out the front door and gets loose.
While you are running through the neighborhood chasing him, yelling at him, possibly cussing at him he realizes how angry you are and resolves not to allow you to catch him.
He doesn’t want to get in trouble and he doesn’t realize that at some point he will have to come home or you will end up catching him (he can’t rationalize like a person can).
So he avoids you at all cost.
And, while he is out avoiding you and running too fast for you to catch him… he is having the BEST TIME OF HIS LIFE!!!
If he were a kid, he’d come home and say that was the best time and best day ever!!!
He gets to sniff what he wants, chase things, be chased, elude you, visit with neighbors, visit with neighbor dogs, pounce cats and explore!
I mean really what could be better for a dog??
He learns that life away from you, rummaging through leaves and playing in the woods, or chasing squirrels, or digging or playing with other dogs is WAY more fun than anything you can or do offer him.
Getting away from you and being alone and left to his own devices is the BEST TIME EVER!
The More You Yell at Him the More You Are Conditioning Him NOT TO LISTEN
He learns that when he is off leash you have no control and he learns to ignore you and your commands, meaning they have less and less meaning to him.
If you yell COME dozens of times, he hears you, and yet he does nothing and he gets use to ignoring you and eventually the command “COME” means nothing or has the opposite meaning “keep running”.
And, once you condition a behavior or a command to mean a certain thing (even if it takes on a meaning you didn’t want), it is very difficult to change or “re-condition” it.
So What Do You Do to Keep This From Happening or Fix It?
Fixing a behavior takes about 1,000 times more work than avoiding it! So before you allow your dog to run off leash without obedience remember that! Re-conditioning and changing a bad behavior is much, much harder, it is like breaking a smoking habit… frustrating and sometimes it seems impossible.
A good friend of mine says he trains for off leash obedience “By never letting his dog off leash” which I think is a very wise answer (he is full of little insights).
At first you think, well how does that work for off leash training, then you realize that it makes total sense because you are never allowing your dog to run off or make bad decisions.
If the dog doesn’t know he can run through the woods and chase squirrels or run around unleashed with no control and you are working obedience training with him (this doesn’t work if you don’t have obedience control in the first place the dog has to be use to taking command and listening to you). Otherwise he is simply use to you having absolutely no control of him and he is also use to ignoring you.
But if you take a well-trained, well-behaved dog off leash, his instinct is to stay with you… not to run off into the woods and see what he can find. His mind has been conditioned that all good things and rewards come from you, not from his environment.
Basic through advanced dog obedience training really is the key to nipping bad behavior in the bud.
If you don’t have 95% control over your dog all the time, he doesn’t deserve to be off leash in the first place!
You have to teach your dog through thorough obedience training that YOU are the most rewarding thing in his life, if you allow him to figure out that chasing bunnies is more fun you are doing yourself and your dog a disservice.
Don’t allow your dog off leash unless you have almost total control (95% all of the time) remember no one has 100% obedience 😉
Train your dog to respect the doors of your home and your car. Teach your dog to stay inside your home when doors are open and not to charge through.
Use a long line to work on off leash obedience in case an emergency ever happens. For more on off leash obedience training click here.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.