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Advice on whether I'll ever be able to let my dog off the lead.

(22 Posts)
Joso Sat 08-Mar-14 20:41:48

Hello expert doggy people. I have a very affectionate, loveable rescue Jack Russell, around three years old. Ever since we've had him he's been reactive on the lead towards other dogs. I have worked with a behaviourist and have spent the last two years (since we've had him) practising positive reinforcement while we've been out on walks. So every time we see a dog, he gets a treat. This has had varying degrees of success ranging from good to awful and everything in between. As a result of this reactivity I always keep him on a lead as I'm not sure how he would be towards other dogs if I let him off. Other dog owners are often suggesting that I should let him off the lead as he could possibly be completely different if I do. However I'm not convinced/confident enough this is a good idea because (and I'm gonna repeat myself now) I'm not sure how he'd be with other dogs. I should also mention that we do sometime manage to walk with dogs with people I know - he generally barks a lot, lunges etc and then settles right down enough to just continue the walk. Anyway I guess what I'm asking is, how do you ever know how your dog will be off lead if you don't try? Any advice or opinions gratefully received. Thank you. (I have visions of him scampering around with his poochy pals and having the time of his life!) (sorry for long rambly post!)

threestepsforward Sat 08-Mar-14 23:59:13

Hi Joso,
I just saw your post. Is there anyone you know with a placid dog who you might be able to let him off with and test the water?

If you did it somewhere contained like in a garden or a fenced area, then it would be fairly easy to get control of the situation if it didn't work out well.

It sounds like he might be fine, but I can understand your nervousness to try. What did your behaviorist say?

This is only my suggestion, and I am by no means an expert! But if it were me, I think that's what I would try, as long as I knew it would be a quick job to get him back on the lead if it didn't work out. And obviously continue to apply the 'treat' rule if it's something you've been using generally...

I definitely wouldn't involve toys as that would probably be a disaster!

Also, consider that he might just be fine with some types of dog and not with others. (Although I guess with a jack russell the majority are going to look larger lol) My dog loved dogs his size and smaller, and was okay with large dogs, but when they were large and bouncy he went on the lead immediately as he didn't seem to be able to read whether they were being playful or aggressive.

And you could always contact a trainer, who might be able to help you with testing out group situations off the lead?

Good luck anyway, sure it will work out well smile

Joso Sun 09-Mar-14 08:12:44

Thanks threesteps, Yes I do know some placid dogs and I do think that your idea about trying out in a garden sounds completely sensible. I just need to get up the courage to try that out. To be honest I only ever think of the negative but as you say it would be quite easy to get hold of the situation if anything bad happened, and I hadn 't really thought of it in those terms before. I also think that like your dog, my little pooch does find the big bouncey super playful ones a little hard to read. And yes maybe general acceptance that he's never going to be okay with all dogs but that he can learn to have fun with some may be the way forward. My behaviourist (and I haven't been there for a long time) was happy to try off lead after I had done some muzzle training which I started but admittedly didn't ever really nail. So that has never happened. Thanks so much for your suggestions threesteps - much appreciated.

Floralnomad Sun 09-Mar-14 09:30:11

I have a Patterdale x and he sounds very similar to your dog on his lead ,he particularly dislikes golden retrievers yet some dogs he ignores completely . Off lead he likes to play ball and he just ignores other dogs ,if they come near him he will have the odd sniff but he never plays or runs about with them . He is 4 in June and has been off lead since 7/8 months ( was a rescue pup so slightly delayed) and the only incidents we have had was when he has needed saving because a particularly persistent dog has pinned him ( once a lab and then a Basset ) on both occasions there was lots of growling but nobody was bitten and as neither were of his instigation I don't worry about it . The only time he had a 'friend' to play in the garden it was manic and a lot of rough play which I'd rather not encourage so I don't think trying it in a garden would be the best thing. You could try an older dog training group where they allow them off lead as a starting point . If he were mine I'd just put a longline on and head for a not too busy enclosed park with a few balls .

Owllady Sun 09-Mar-14 15:49:54

It's not the end of the world if he is never allowed off lead, if that is what you are worrying about? I get a bit sick of other dog owners giving you their opinion when it's none of their sodding business.
I agree to trying in an enclosed place smile

Floralnomad Sun 09-Mar-14 16:09:55

I agree owllady ,my mums JRTx borders never go off lead in public because the girl is a danger to dogs and indeed humans ,that said she has a huge garden that looks like a park compared to the size of her dog . It is a shame though to not at least try as it does enhance a dogs life IMO .

Joso Sun 09-Mar-14 17:18:06

Thanks so much for you replies. It's great to have another perspective. Owllady, it's always good to hear that it's not the end of the world if a dog doesn't go off the lead. I guess I'm just wondering whether I'm missing a trick and everything would be totally fine. There is an enclosed field near where I live where lots of people take their dogs to play off lead. I work from home so I could take him there at a quiet time during the day. Of course I have no control over which dogs are there ie whether they're particularly bouncy, placid or whatever, which makes me a bit nervous.'s a tricky one. Maybe I just need to bite the bullet...

Owllady Sun 09-Mar-14 18:25:04

If it's enclosed and he has good recall its worth a try isn't it? smile

Joso Sun 09-Mar-14 23:01:28

So I just have any extra question please. Would any of you say, that it doesn't necessarily follow, that a dog who is reactive to other dogs on the lead is automatically the same way off lead?

feetlikeahobbit Sun 09-Mar-14 23:06:02

My dog has a very different attitude on lead to off lead.

She's far more reactive on lead. She just likes to be left alone doesn't mind a sniff and a wag but hates dogs who charge over at 100 mph and knock into her, never bitten but had got very vocal.

threestepsforward Sun 09-Mar-14 23:43:13

I feel like a vampire at the moment, only appearing at night!

I'd say some dogs can definitely behave differently on and off the lead. I think I'm right in saying, experts?, that dogs are generally more defensive on the lead than they are off?

I know my boy was definitely more relaxed with meeting dogs when off the lead...

I still think it's worth a try and like owllady said, if it doesn't work out, then he'll have to stay on the lead, and it's not the end of the world smile

I defo think it's worth exploring how he is off the lead though before you make the decision.

Will you let us know how it works out?

Good luck!

Floralnomad Sun 09-Mar-14 23:46:58

As I said in my earlier post mine is similar to yours on lead but off lead just ignores other dogs in favour of playing ball ,he will sniff politely if approached but then gets back to his game ,the only time we have had issues is if other dogs persist in pestering him and then he may get a bit vocal in telling them to leave him alone .

threestepsforward Sun 09-Mar-14 23:56:00

Floral the only time my dog reached his limit is when they persistently humped him!
Males, females, all sorts - poor Fred, he was apparently very attractive to all!

IrregularCommentary Mon 10-Mar-14 00:41:53

My boxer cross was a rescue and has taken lots of work to get him behaving properly outside with other dogs. I agree that a dog's behaviour on and off lead can be completely different so reactive on lead doesn't necessarily mean you'll always have a problem off (though it may take practise!)

Have you considered buying a 20ft training lead? They're great for giving the dog the freedom to feel like it's off lead and can get out of situations etc, and just learn how to behave when its the one making the decisions. However, you do have peace of mind knowing you have hold of them if necessary.

I walk my boxer on one of these all the time now and he's a different dog to when he was on a shorter lead. I often drop it now so he is free, but with a 20ft range, I can catch him fairly easily if need be!

Good luck :-)

nuttymutty1 Mon 10-Mar-14 08:04:01

Whoo be really really careful here.

A lead reactive dog may not be reactive off lead. However to just go and see in an enclosed space is just asking for trouble.

What harm can it do? Dogs can get bittern your dog could be over threshold and cause him to be much much worse.

The only way to attempt this is with a behaviourist present and NOT in an enclosed space. If your dog is reactive on lead it is the restricion of the lead and the feeling that he cannot escape that is making him feel bad so in a garden etc he will feel the same.

Continue with the muzzle training, go with the behaviourist to a very large area and have your dog on a long line. Have the other dog parralllel walk together at a distance so no reaction then if the behaviourist thinks body language is ok then put your dog on a line line and continue to walk at a big distance from each other.

Another point yo mentioned that you are treating when you see another dog - this must be done under threshold so you need to be far enough away from the other dogs to have no reaction in your dog when you treat.

Good luck

Booboostoo Mon 10-Mar-14 09:48:39

I agree completely with nuttymutty1. This is not something you want to experiment with on your own. Ask your behaviourist or regular trainer to help you. He/she will chose a dog that's suitable for trying this out with, keep both dogs on long lines with handlers who know how to use them and what to do in case of a fight and introduce the dogs slowly paying a lot of attention to body language.

Joso Mon 10-Mar-14 10:16:25

Oooh okay Nutty and Booboo I hear what you're saying. Interesting. I'm thinking this is all pointing towards going back to the behaviourist (who is great btw!) Am thinking I'll start the muzzle training again actually. And I'm going to go and buy one of those extra long lines. Thanks for all your replies.

Booboostoo Mon 10-Mar-14 11:52:54

Do you do any regular training? Working the dog in an environment with other dogs may help with de-sensitisation, although you would need to let the trainer know in advance that your dog is dog reactive and it would depend on how quickly he would settle in the class.

Joso Mon 10-Mar-14 21:35:16

Hi Booboo, yes I have done dog training classes in the past. They were great and I think he definitely got something out of them. I haven't been for a while purely purely due to constant family stuff (!) However I have been encouraged by this thread and think I'll make an effort to go back.

Booboostoo Tue 11-Mar-14 07:13:29

If he doesn't disrupt the dog classes by constant barking then I think it would really help if you could find the time to keep going. It's not so much about what you train, in many cases it doesn't really matter what behaviours you teach, it's more about the training itself. Being close to other dogs but still having to concentrate on you will help him enormously and the more he sees you as the person who gives out treats for good behaviour the more likely he will be to focus on you in stressful situations when you are lead walking and strange dogs come up.

Also if you find that he is OK is some situations but not others try to identify what makes the difference and replicate it. For example, if you have a local park full of dogs try doing your training a few streets away where he can hear the dogs and not see them. If he can concentrate there, move a bit closer. Gradually move a bit closer until one day you might be able to stand in the middle of a field full of strange dogs and you can still keep his attention on the training.

Booboostoo Tue 11-Mar-14 07:15:55

Oh sorry, forgot to say. You behaviourist has probably mentioned this but if he/she hasn't it's worth a try. When you meet other dogs try behaviours that get his attention back to you. So as soon as you spot a dog in the distance (ideally find an out of the way space) and get him to turn around, look at you and do some sits and downs with his back to the dog. If you can catch him before he focuses on the other dog it's much better. If he already becomes fixated and won't listen to your voice, try a high value treat (liver, cheese, sausage) in front of his nose and use that to lure him to look at you, then reward.

Joso Tue 11-Mar-14 11:12:41

Booboo thanks so much. Yes the training with other dogs really helps actually. It takes place in a park which someone seems to work. Most of the time is spent doing kind of fun stuff which is good cos I think it teaches him to learn that he can have fun round other dogs. Also all the dogs in the class are on lead so I don't have the stress that one is going to bound towards him. I sometimes think that just purely walking along on a lead becomes a situation where he's just walking along waiting to see other dogs. I think he's better in a wide open space to be honest. And yes I'm aware that getting him to do other stuff when we see a dog is good however I haven't been doing it. ( many things to remember!) Ironically the wide open spaces seem better but I'm always aware that's exactly the type of place where off-lead dogs may come charging up to him, although I guess at least you can see them coming from a distance. Hmmm I'm pretty resigned to the fact he aint never gonna be perfect but am just gonna have to manage him the best I can. Just so you know it's not all doom and gloom, he's just perfect round the house, chilled out, easy going and a proper little pal. x

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