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, Seven has no off leash priviledges. She is very well trained and my best agility greyhound, but she is just too much of a hunter and does not keep herself within a reasonable distance. Therefore, she stays on leash.

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.