Thursday, April 15, 2010

Off The Leash

Katie, hand me your leash!

So far I have avoided the subject of greyhounds off leash. It is quite obvious from my pictures and writings that my greyhounds are often unleashed. It has sort of been a don't ask, don't tell subject, but some readers do ask about it privately.

As you know, if you have adopted a greyhound, that all the ex-racing greyhound adoption manuals, books, websites, FAQs, meet & greet attendees, screening & placement coordinators, the adoption contract, and dedicated greyhound adopters will tell you that you are never to unleash your greyhound in an unfenced area. "Get a Labrador Retriever if you want to take your dog off leash" they say. What do I think about this rule? At the risk of causing an uproar, I think it is silly. There are so many factors to consider.... the trainer, the dog, and the area, but not the breed.

The truth is that most people should keep their dogs (regardless of breed) on leash. Most people do not allocate the time necessary to train, reinforce, proof against distractions, and practice recalls. Most dogs are simply not conditioned and trained well enough to deal with distractions one encounters outside the home and backyard.

I consider it extremely bad manners to have a dog off leash that you cannot stop from approaching people or other dogs. The unleashed dog may be the friendliest dog in the world, but it does not make someone afraid of dogs feel any better as the unleashed dog ignores all commands and continues to approach. The same goes for someone walking a dog aggressive dog on leash. That person is trying to be responsible, but they are unable to control their dog's attack if an unleashed dog comes into their space. A person with an unfriendly dog has every right to walk their dog on leash and should be able to do so without an off leash dog approaching.

Unfortunately, a lot of people give unfriendly dogs freedom from the leash too. The neighbor dog I pepper sprayed had no business being off leash. My husband's greyhounds have all had marks left on them from the Weimaraners that are completely out of control and out of sight of their owner most of the time at the place they all visit. An unleashed dog should never put someone at risk or interfere with some one's enjoyment of the same area. I could rant all day about this, so I won't. Let us get back to the factors that matter...... the trainer, the dog, and the location (not the breed stereotype).

Try as they may, some dog lovers just plain suck at dog training. Their timing is off. They forget to reinforce or they have no authority. Dog training is not a recipe you follow exactly to ensure a perfectly trained dog. The combination of ingredients is different each time. Some things take longer and each dog responds differently. The trainer has to have a good feel for when the dog is ready for the next step or when to take a step back. There are just so many factors to consider.
Katie, please don't run away! Ha!

And recalls (coming when called) are not trained off leash! You train them on leash, on long lines, and in fenced areas! Your dog should not be taken off the leash until you are certain of the outcome.

It also depends on the dog's personality, drive, and motivation. When I adopt, I choose greyhounds that I think will be easy to train because some dogs can be very difficult. A breed such as the greyhound will contain more individuals that are harder to train than individuals from the working or herding dog groups. If you are looking for an off leash companion, you are more likely to be successful if you choose a dog from a breed that tends to have a high percentage of easy to train individuals.

Locations and areas available to you are also a factor. I am blessed to have access to a variety of areas for exposing the dogs to different environments and for training. I strive to take my dogs somewhere away from the house everyday. I want them to lose interest in the environment and to find me and my rewards to be the most interesting thing on the planet. "You have to be able to compete with the world for your dog's attention and win." If you cannot, your dog needs to be on leash.

There are also certain areas I do not consider safe or suitable. I would never allow one of my dogs off leash in my front yard if she might harm my neighbor's cat or cross the street after a squirrel (which most of my greyhounds will and therefore wear leashes from the front door to the van). At age 11, Katie (pictured in my front yard) is extremely reliable and she was focused and working in these photos. She can work with cat and squirrel distractions even though she is not cat safe.

And your dog has to "earn it"! Off leash freedom is not a right. It is a privilege and it has to be earned, respected, and valued. For example, Riley did great this winter and earned her wings as she was extremely responsive and focused. However, this spring she has lost the privilege simply because she ignored me twice which is completely unacceptable in all scenarios. I think animals must be crawling out of their holes because Riley is obviously very distracted again and in need of more training.

So there you have it. My name is Jennifer and I take some of my dogs (greyhounds) off leash. If you do the same, please make sure you are responsible and that your dogs (regardless of breed.... even greyhounds) are well trained. If not, please do us a favor and keep them on leash.

36 comments:

Sandy ~~~ said...

Amen and double amen. I cannot take my Greyhound Creel off leash because of the environment and his/my lack of training for far. I hate it that everyone else "out in the country" thinks dogs have the "right" to run free and create havoc. I want to ride my bike and get the neat-o attachment you showed us .... but NO, too many loose dogs. Grumble, grumble.

Christine said...

Thanks for this post. I was hoping this was the case for some greyhounds. Completely agree with you about crazy dogs (of all breeds) running free. We have a few of those in our area and it's really a nuisance.

houndstooth said...

I agree with all that you've said! Even my little old lady (at 14 1/2 now) lost her privileges this week. I suspect that her hearing is going, so she may not earn it back. Few people do the work that it really takes for that magic to happen!

Aragon greyhounds said...

Good post.
Greyhounds can be off leash with the right owner and in the right area. Have had greyhounds for 27 years and have had them hiking and at times biking off leash for as long.

jcp said...

Heh.. Love it.
I think its a good to promote the rule of keeping greys on leash in that it keeps dogs safer. New adopters (like myself just over 6 months ago) often don't truly have an appreciation of what a force prey drive can be. The transformation between couch potato and hunter is instant and complete. I think this is true of almost any dog, but with greys the speed at which things can happen is hard to deal with. As you say, given training, time and socialization anything is possible. It just isn't the kind of thing you experiment with, it is the kind of thing you train for in controlled settings.
Good article.

Jess said...

my girls are not off leash dogs! LOL Sunshine *might* be easily trainable if we ever get her crazy fears under control. But Rainy is not put on this earth to please us or do silly tricks! Brat!

I just wish all dog owners were more responsible. How did the pepper spray work out on the neighbors dog? I carry some for humans and loose dogs but never had to use it yet

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Thanks everyone. Sounds like my post was received in the spirit I intended. I always feel the need to explain myself for some reason when I'm posting incriminating photos :-). So now I at least have a post I can refer folks to.

Jess, pepper spray worked AWESOME! Strongly recommend and I don't walk without it now. I posted it about it too.
http://neversaynevergreyhounds.blogspot.com/2010/01/pepper-spray.html

Life With Dogs said...

If you are able to hold their attention and do not have any doubt about it, who am I to tell you you're wrong? I can't do it with Nigel, but you're not me. :)

Katie said...

To me, it's all about know thy dog. I can take the Border Collie places off leash, let him swim and romp and play ball. He's very handler focused, his recall is reliable, and I'm careful about where I let him run.

The bullies on the other hand? No way. Not ever. Too much prey drive, and when it kicks in, they're deaf to me. So they don't get any more freedom than what a longline or a flexi will provide, and that's fine. We have plenty of fun anyway.

Michelle said...

Well said Jen!

Karen said...

Rock on. Your post is absolutely sensible. I will continue to keep my grey pup on leash because I can't compete with NYC's distractions--skateboarders, garbagemen, squirrels. He's well-behaved and prudently follows his comments, but I'm not sure he'll comply 100% of the time. We have a wonderful time on-leash though.

PS - love reading your blog and seeing the pics you post. Keep up all of your hard work!!

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Karen, I wouldn't compete with NYC distractions either! :-) Thanks for the postive feedback.

Wild Dingo said...

LOL! I recently did a similar post about this with my Siberian. http://www.wilddingo.com/2010/03/23/total-recall/

in the post I explained how she "failed" at the end. Because it was a humor post, I didn't say that she indeed went back to on-leash and I worked it some more. I take her off again and the moment I do not see a recall, out comes the leash. I'm also way more diligent about keeping both dogs within a 20-40 foot radius than I was in that post.

I didn't know Greyhounds had a recall problem! then again, i didn't know it about sibes either. I've been in training with them for two years (my other is a GSD mix) and though my sibe receives acolades for her obedience work on the field, (believe me the trainer is floored every week by her off-leash obedience), it wasn't perfect "in the real world!"

I won't take my dogs off leash "in town" or "in a suburb" due to the many cats/distractions/cars. but i will take them off in parks or forest walks. I still really worry about my sibe's recall. Though she is a friendly dog, it is wrong not to have control if it upsets or bothers another person, dog, cat, wild life. As long as she keeps recalling to me, she keeps her wings. The GSD mix? he never gets far enough away from me in the first place. I couldn't hide on him if i tried. No complaints about that!

It's interesting what you say about aggressive dogs "On leash" and that people shouldn't be walking them -- as my GSD mix was considered a naughty dog. When i first had him, loose leash dogs with no recall would infuriate me because i was trying to dessensitize him and expose him to everything. Yet one thing I came away with in training was "my dogs = my problem, other dogs = someone else's problem" that it doesn't matter if Godzilla was 10 feet behind us, if I tell them to heel, they'd better well listen to me and heel. I still get frustrated with an unknown loose dog with no recall approaching us at speed while my dogs are leashed. you can't help but panic a little. but i try my best to keep walking away and hope the other dog loses interest. if it's too late and the dog is in our face, my rule of thumb is to drop my GSD's leash (because he's better behaved under no leash pressure) and to keep my sibe on leash and walk away (she's not naughty, just too distracted to stay with me by the loose dog). My GSD will not let me leave him and he hates fighting and has proven to me over and over that he will avoid it when provoked. so in my mind, that is my escape route. i think having an "out" for every imaginable situation is a good idea.

meanwhile, i have to remember the bear spray for my walks. there are a few loose dogs in my hood, 1 a very aggressive GSD who can open his gate just to chase and attack us. I would LOOOOVE to spay him if he attacks again. It scared the hell out of the 3 of us one day.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

I just made a quick edit to clarify that a person with an unfriendly dog has every right to walk their dog on leash and should be able to do so without an off leash dog approaching. Wild Dingo, you have every right to walk you "naughty GSD" and without interference from others. Thanks for visiting.

Susan McKeon said...

A bit of a late addition to the comments already made Jen (blame it on my uni studies!) but hurrah for another voice of sanity in the 'greyhounds should never be let off lead' debate.

I've worked hard with all my 3 greyhounds and they're all different and like you - it's knowing the individual dog, having a safe environment and putting in the training.

It never ceases to amaze me the amount of people who let their dogs go off lead, with absolutely zero recall and it's so great to see you continually bust the myths that surround greyhounds.

Thanks again for a great post - hope you don't mind but I'm going to share it on FB!

Susan n hounds x

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Thanks, Susan!

Toni said...

Lovely to see some common sense! I have two Greyhounds - one a very succesful ex-racer, high prey drive, who suffered with terrible fear aggression towards other dogs when she came to us. The other a cruelty rescue with socialisation issues. Our sharp girl goes offlead now (after 5 years work) with her muzzle on. She loves playing with other dogs and her recall is currently great. Our friendly goofy boy still needs a practice but adores his food so I have high hopes! So many people are amazed to see our girl off lead and I'm always so proud of her glorious recall. I'm thrilled to see and hear of others busting the myths about these lovely dogs. Keep up the good work!

skyguy said...

Of our 8 seniors who adopted us in the last 6 years, three "earned" leashless walks & duty time. Schemp loved walking in the woods next to the road we use and would almost panic if he couldn't see us, Divy only wanted to be within three feet of us unless he was doing his duty and Hilly at 13 loved the freedom always staying close. None of them ever paid attention to animals we came across. Cassie, Ruby, Athena & Chandler get/got distracted VERY easy. Our newest, Dugan might be leashless soon but it'll take more time and testing. Thanks for your thoughts!

Jay said...

I bite my tongue quite often in 'greyhound' company because it's such an unpopular view, but I do agree with you.

Of the six greyhounds we've had, three have been regular, daily, off leash dogs. One was a holy terror with a high prey drive, so she was most definitely not a candidate (and though with training she was improving enormously, we only had her five months before losing her to cancer). One was in the process of learning and doing well when we adopted number six who proved to be a real handful and is needing a LOT of work. I doubt he'll ever be trustworthy outside a fenced area, and he was nine when we adopted him so it's more difficult, especially since he was a bundle of nerves who dealt with the world with a mixture of nervous yelps and growls when startled .. which was often. We've had to go very gently with him. :(

Anonymous said...

Thank you for another opinion on greyhounds off leash. I do not currently own one, but I have loved them for years and plan on adopting one before the year is out. I was always a bit confused about the off leash stuff because I had always read that greys were bred as coursing hounds, and the owners would need to get them to come back eventually right? Means they must be at least partially trainable. I'm hoping a whistle modification of clicker training will be successful in working with my future hound/s.

~Angelique~ said...

Jenn, thanks for your opinion. I like you, believe that there are off leash dogs, and dogs that should never be trusted off leash regardless of breed. Currently I have a pack of 4, a Grey, a Beagle, a Weimar and a Mix. The Mix has the best recall, followed by the Grey who has an almost perfect/instant recall, the Weimar who will sniff a second or two before coming (yet always comes) and finally my Beagle who is 0 reliable off leash. That said, I do not walk my grey or my Weimar off leash in the city simply because there are too many factors i can not control. In traffic free environments, away from hiways only the Beagle has to stay on leash. I agree, 70% dog temperment, 30% time invested in training. It doesn't matter how much you train, some dogs will never be reliable. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it. It's great to hear a "fresh" view on the topic coming from this side of the ocean. In Europe, for example, trained greyhounds are not surrounded by the taboo of "on leash at all time" dogs.

Tall Blonde said...

Hi,
Looks like most of the posts are years old, and I hope someone can help answer my question. I adopted a greyhound about a month ago. the adoption agency said I needed to take him to the dog park and let him run. I have several nearby. I take him in the "big dog" park only. Sometimes owners will bring their medium size or little dogs into the park. I noticed that he will focus on these animals and chase them. When they are around I have to keep him on a leash, as I'm afraid he will hurt one of them. I want to let him run, but when I do, he'll chase another dog, but then he doesn't know what to do when he catches up to it. If it's a big dog, he'll try and sniff, if it's a little or medium dog, it looks like he's trying to grab it. He's never growling or aggressive, but I"m so afraid he will hurt them. Will I ever be able to let him off a leash in a dog park without worry? What kind of training will it take for him to not chase little or fast animals anymore?

Tall Blonde said...

Hi,
Looks like most of the posts are years old, and I hope someone can help answer my question. I adopted a greyhound about a month ago. the adoption agency said I needed to take him to the dog park and let him run. I have several nearby. I take him in the "big dog" park only. Sometimes owners will bring their medium size or little dogs into the park. I noticed that he will focus on these animals and chase them. When they are around I have to keep him on a leash, as I'm afraid he will hurt one of them. I want to let him run, but when I do, he'll chase another dog, but then he doesn't know what to do when he catches up to it. If it's a big dog, he'll try and sniff, if it's a little or medium dog, it looks like he's trying to grab it. He's never growling or aggressive, but I"m so afraid he will hurt them. Will I ever be able to let him off a leash in a dog park without worry? What kind of training will it take for him to not chase little or fast animals anymore?

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Hi Tall Blond,

You are smart to be concerned and careful. I am not a fan of dog parks at all. I would try to find a ball field you can sneak on to for a few minutes a couple of times a week. But you might warn the small dog owner as they come in and ask that they give you a few more minutes.

But without knowing you or your dog, I just can't say if you can train him through this or not. I would teach recalls far from this situation on leash using something like canned dog food as my reward. Then I would work on calling him from other dogs again while on leash for something like canned dog food. Then try it at the dog park off leash when there is only one dog there. But he has to find your reward to be extremely rewarding and worth calling off another dog. If he is more prey driven than food driven you may not have a lot of success. There are also a lot of holes in what I just told you so it just depends on how good you are as a trainer also.

And FYI, he does not appear "aggressive" because he is prey driven. They don't growl and show teeth at rabbits. They just catch them and that how he is treating the small dogs.

Jo said...

This is a very interesting post. We are a greyhound family in Reno, NV, and our Dude, Poncho, loves hiking. I would love to let him off leash one day, but we know the time is not right. I am going to check out your recall training posts. We have had him about a year and a half - he was 5 when he came off the track, and we were able to get him to come to us (exuberantly!) at the dog park this past summer. However, it is not a natural instinct, and he definitely exhibits selective hearing tendencies. So, we continue to work on it.

Francesco Protasi said...

Hi, Thanks for the post. I have two greyhounds. When I see other people who ask about greyhounds and ask if I take mine off lead, I always tell them that one should not allow a grey off lead. My response is more of a blanket response, more of a better safe than sorry response. It is my take that in brief conversation people generally hear what they want and if I were to say 'it depends on the hound, the trainer and the training' the listener will hear "sure".

I do believe that it is possible to train a hound to be off lead but as you said never 100%. How far from 100% the reliability is highly variable and for me not worth the risk. as you also pointed out, many people just do not spend the time and energy required to teach recall. This is true for any dog of course but I think that other breeds require less actual time to train. I have also a Lagotto Romagnolo. Very easy to train, very eager to please. She requires far less work for recall. If I have treats in my pocket that is all that is needed. :-)

So while I agree with you 100% here, i think there is a good reason for the 'never let a greyhound off lead' statement.

Stormtheswift said...

Hi,
My advice to Tall Blond is to consider one of those soft cloth muzzles to use when the small dogs are around. When I first got my ex racer she picked up and tossed a small dog that belonged to a friend. I bought a muzzle and placed it on her when we returned to that off leash area and within a very short time she learned to not use her mouth. I carried it in the car for years and used it initially in new off leash areas with small dogs. We never had a second dog-tossing event.

I'm new to this blog and am loving it!

Anonymous said...

We have a 6 year old male who was a fabulous racer who is off lead all the time- We have a big space where we play near my office- I of course always pay attention to him but I let him run and do his business - I have been able to get him to know that he has to pay attention if he hears my hands clap- I spend all sorts of time with him - Take him to the beach and let him run - I have friends with Greys who never can do what I do -It depends on the dog

Tiffany Dryburgh said...

Wonderful, sensible post! I'm so grateful to hear people who feel the same as I do! My beautiful greyhound Buddy has next to no prey drive and is a dream off leash. Sadly, in the state of Victoria in Australia where we live it is actually illegal to have a greyhound off leash in public spaces whether they are fenced or not. They can only legally be let off leash on fenced, private property. Stupid. I've seen plenty of non-greyhounds off leash who should not be while my stands around politely doing nothing but I'm the one breaking the law! As far as I'm concerned it's all about knowing your dog and yourself not about individual breeds. Thank you again!

Heather said...

In your post you say you choose greyhounds that you think will be easy to train. I am planning to adopt a greyhound in the very near future and was wondering what it is that indicates to you that a greyhound might be easy to train. Any advice on choosing a dog would be greatly appreciated!

And thank you for writing this post. I had a GSD that was very agressive toward other dogs and it would make me so angry to encounter an off leash dog whose owner had absolutely no control over them. Often times they would get mad at ME for my (on leash) dog's reaction to their out of control dog getting in his face. Grrrrrrr...

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Hi Heather, I like extreme food motivation.

S. Sabrina Olsavska said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What does extreme food motivation look like?

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Like in this video for example, this is Seven when I first got her. Probably the first time she ever came to this field. One of the few times out in the real world and completely untrained. Yet I think you can see how ramped up she is for food. There are moments of distraction but she pretty much keeps coming back in for the food and is pretty excited about it. But its basically a dog that will eat anything, anywhere, at anytime with lots of excitement. Seven eats during unpleasant vet procedures. That is extreme food motivation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOvzAUUvnsc#t=19

Iana said...

I'm going to be the 1% here and disagree. I think every trainer thinks they have good recall, until they don't. Dogs aren't robots, you can't put money in the slot and get a Coke every time. I think you can do a lot to proof a dog's recall but no one can account for every situation. Maybe one squirrel is not a problem, but what about a herd of them? A herd of them dragging a piece of Mcdonald's hamburger after them? (Laugh if you like, but crows routinely drop fast food (chicken is favorite) off my roof and into my yard, which my dog then finds...) And these dogs run very, very fast. I could never catch my dog in full flight, so even if he had 99.9% recall, I have a 100% incapability to run 45 miles an hour.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Iana, you are missing a big component... location. Where I choose to trust my greyhounds off leash is where I could care less if they chase squirrels. I don't put them in an unsafe area where I am completely dependent upon a recall.