Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash
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Thread: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

  1. #1
    Member FirstTimeDoggie's Avatar
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    Unhappy Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    Yesterday I had one of the hands down scariest experiences of dog ownership. My boyfriend and I have a great 9 month old mix. He's our first puppy and we've had him for 5 months. He's a very high energy dog who always wants to run. We live in an apartment and we've found that exercising him to the degree that he needs can be difficult without fenced areas. When we first got him we used to take him to the dog park, but I heard many horror stories and after a dog was attacked there we stopped going back. Luckily, we have a very quiet neighborhood with a large school in it. The school has huge grounds and there is an unspoken agreement with the neighborhood folk that after school hours dog owners with friendly dogs will let theirs off leash back there. The dogs and owners are all people we know and trust and so we've been very thankful for the space! Although it's not fully fenced, the fields are huge and very far removed from the street. I was very wary to let him off leash at first, but we tried it a few times and he was great! I bring high value treats with me and Danzig is very food motivated and receptive to recall and commands - not always right away but most of the time. We got more and more confident with his skills and for the past 2 months or so we've taking him off leash at the school every evening. Sometimes there are other dogs around, sometimes we just play fetch. Even though Danzig is inquisitive, he never adventures past our eyesight and always checks in with us every few minutes.

    Yesterday evening Danzig and I were playing back there. We were very far back into the fields, a whole football field between us and the edge of the school. We ran around and played fetch for about 30 min and just as I was thinking about wrapping it up we heard a dog barking angrily from the distance. Mind you, we hear dogs barking all the time. He's even seen deer and such and not gone after them. I have no idea why but Danzig just BOOKED IT. He flew across the field as I yelled for him, paused momentarily to look back at me, and then just disappeared into the darkness. By the time I got to where I had seen him last, he was gone. I think my heart sank right out of my body. There's a strip of woods after the school and I figured he must be in there, took out my flashlight, and called and called. The sun had gone down and he's a little black dog. I couldn't see a thing. After about 15 minutes of calling I was convinced I'd never see him again. When I emerged from the woods at the end of the strip and approached my building, there he was! Standing at the back gate with his ears perked up, waiting for me. When I got to him he was VERY happy to see me. I can't even describe the relief of seeing him.

    After this experience I just can't justify letting him off back there anymore and I feel terrible. He's a 9 month old puppy, why did I ever think it was a good idea?! Without this option I'm not sure how to let him run free! There are tennis courts at the school where he would be safe but they're small and he gets bored.

    When I told my boyfriend and best friend they both said, "I hope you screamed at him for running away!" And I didn't! I was in such shock and so happy to see him that I didn't scold him at all and I feel dumb. How would you guys have handled it?

    Also, I know this sounds totally childish but I'm mad at him! I'm not treating him like I am, of course. But it kind of hurts my feelings that he wouldn't come back to me when I was calling and calling for him. He obviously knew I was worried and was calling for him!
    Last edited by FirstTimeDoggie; 01-04-2017 at 06:22 AM.
    Danzig 3/25/16

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  3. #2
    Senior Member cookieface's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    What a scary experience! Glad he's safe. I get being mad...well, maybe hurt is how I would describe my feelings in that situation. It's normal, but good for you for not treating him differently. He was just seizing the moment and has no idea the potential danger or affect his actions had on you. He certainly didn't run off because he doesn't care about you.

    How would you guys have handled it?
    I would have rewarded him like a king for returning and then made plans for 1) improving recall and 2) other ways to exercise until I was more confident in his recall. Scolding him is unlikely to help and may possibly make him less likely to return in the future - think about it, would go back if you new you would be scolded (or worse)?

    The tennis courts could be a good alternative to the more open spaces. Play some fetch or flirt pole, do some recall drills, mix in some training games, work his mind and his body... That should tire him out. There are some excellent resources on recall available; many seem to focus on making being around you the best.thing.ever. so think about how you can make that happen. Also, think about how you can gradually increase distractions while still ensuring success.

    Susan Garrett has an online class called Recallers that includes games and training exercises to improve recall. Last year she offered FreeCallers - a short version of the class (just the first few exercises) for free. You might keep an eye on her web site to see if she offers it again.

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    Member FirstTimeDoggie's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    Thanks for the advice Cookieface! I'll definitely be doing training and fetch in the tennis courts until I feel more comfortable with his recall. I'll look unto that website too!

    A worry I have is that even with tons of training letting him off in that area won't be safe. I have no clue what spooked him into running like that. It definitely didn't look playful, but he wasn't really scared either because his tail was not between his legs when he was running. And it seems like he ran right to the apartment gate and wanted to go inside, which is very odd because he loves the school and hates going home. I'm at a loss as to what caused him to act like that. I'm worried that even if his recall gets to 100% that if he got spooked again, he would bolt anyways.

    Does anyone have experience with letting their dogs off leash in the open? How did you get to a point where you were comfortable with it? Or do you think that it's never a good idea no matter how trained the dog? I guess I was lulled into a false sense of security about it because Danzig has always been very dependable and all the other dogs play nicely in the fields without incident.
    Last edited by FirstTimeDoggie; 01-04-2017 at 08:38 AM.
    Danzig 3/25/16

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    Senior Member Lillith's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    Adolescent dogs are known for blowing off recalls in order to go do their own thing. It seems no matter how well they responded to a recall as a younger pup, the teenagers just pretend they don't know what that means. Keep him leashed or in a fenced area until this phase has passed.

    Generally, scolding them for running off doesn't work because by the time they are near enough to scold they are coming back, so you are basically scolding them for coming back to you. It's normal to be mad at him or hurt that he didn't listen, but you must realize he's a bratty adolescent dog who's brain probably fell out of his head.

    First, keep him on a leash if not in a safe fenced area. Never allow him the opportunity to run off and not respond to recall. Honestly, I would not let him off leash until he's past 2 years old, and then only after he's displayed an ability to respond to recall EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. around numerous distractions. You are letting him off leash in an unfenced area, and although a football field seems long to a person it is nothing to a speedy dog. Way too easy to reach the street and get hit by a car. If you want to do that and you want your dog to remain alive, then you need to train for a recall that is responded to the FIRST TIME and EVERY SINGLE TIME. It is achievable, but maturity has almost as much to do with it as training! And some dogs are just never that trustworthy.

    In the meantime, you can still go to that park, but try putting him in a harness on a long drag line so if he gets a wild hair you can grab it. I did that for months with my dog before we had a fence, and it worked fine. You have to watch the line to make sure you don't step on it or get tangled in it, but its better than your dog running off. The tennis courts would be fine too, if you play a structured game to wear out his mind and body like cookieface suggested.

    Does anyone have experience with letting their dogs off leash in the open? How did you get to a point where you were comfortable with it? Or do you think that it's never a good idea no matter how trained the dog? I guess I was lulled into a false sense of security about it because Danzig has always been very dependable and all the other dogs play nicely in the fields without incident.
    I do let Ralphie off leash at my parent's farm. There is more than a mile from the nearest busy road. He has a natural orbit of about 50 ft, and he always keeps me in sight. I think you really need to know your dog in order to let them off leash in a more urban setting. I would not let him off leash where he could see another dog or person across the street even though he has not failed a recall from long distances at the farm. I would certainly not let an adolescent off leash so close to trouble.
    Last edited by Lillith; 01-04-2017 at 01:10 PM.

  7. #5
    Senior Member taquitos's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    Welcome to the teenage phase!

    I definitely second a harness with a long line for now. I'd also look into actively practicing recalls. One of my favorite ways to practice recalls is the way they teach it to you in flyball. You basically have someone hold the dog back. You can tease your dog with a toy he wants until he's lunging/trying to break free. Once you have him riled up, run away and scream his name as you drag the toy behind you. He'll come bolting towards you and you can reward him with a game of tug. Works well with food too! Eventually you can hide the toy/food instead of teasing them with it.

    I would also go somewhere fenced, and reward heavily for checking in on you. When your dog loses focus, you can go "hide" and wait until the dog finds you, and then reward them heavily for doing this.

    Definitely don't scold when he comes back!

  8. #6
    Senior Member NaimaandMe's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    I'm so sorry that happened! It sounds as if you've been doing so well with Danzig. My first thought was--"Yeah--9 months old" (I remembered that he's the same age as my Naima). In my experience, it's always been the Dreaded Age. Naima, who has always been remarkably well-behaved in general, has been kind of losing her mind in the last few weeks. Classic adolescent stuff: suddenly having selective hearing, challenging me and sometimes ignoring commands she's always done really easily, and being Destructo-Doggie whenever possible (MUCH worse now than when I got her at 4 months old and she was still teething a little!).

    It all seems to happen very suddenly, and you shouldn't kick yourself for thinking it would be OK to have Danzig off-leash. I'm optimistic that this period will end just as suddenly, or at least taper off in the next 3-6 months. Until then, I just assume that I can't predict anything Naima might do, and act accordingly.

    And it's great that you didn't yell at Danzig, as others have said. He wouldn't have understood how much of a scare he gave you, no matter how much he loves you and knows you love him. I'm glad you found him soon (although I'm sure it felt like forever) and that he was all right.

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    Member FirstTimeDoggie's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    Thanks for all the responses guys! I've been wondering at what age we'd hit the teenage stage and now I guess I know! You're all right, it's not safe to let him off until he's past 2. It's just tough because us romping around together in the field has been the best part of both of our days. But, nothing is worth his safety so I just need to give it time.

    Lillith you're so right about the space seeming large but being small for a fast dog. He flew across that field in a matter of seconds. It was scary and also impressive.

    I have a 30ft lead and I should utilize it more but the last few times we tried he just thought it was a toy and spent the entire time attacking the leash and getting tangled in it! I will try again.
    Danzig 3/25/16

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    Member FirstTimeDoggie's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    A question about training a teenager - Naima you mentioned selective hearing and ignoring commands that the younger pup would do fine. I'm absolutely noticing Danzig doing that. Last week on his walk he ate a brownie on his walk - ignoring both 'leave it' and 'drop it' which we've worked really hard on and he's done great with in the past. Obviously brownies are pretty tempting so I get it. How should I respond to Danzig when he blatantly ignores a command I know he knows? Should I say "No!" or "Bad dog!" or just ignore him? Usually if I ignore him he honestly doesn't notice I'm ignoring him.
    Danzig 3/25/16

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    Senior Member cookieface's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    Saying "No" or "Bad dog" isn't really going to help the situation. If you need to do something for safety reasons (e.g., removing the brownie from his mouth), do it. Then, away from the immediate situation, I'd start working on the cue he missed - begin with easy set ups so he has success, then gradually increase difficulty. So for "leave it" you might start by leaving a so-so toy then kibble and increase difficulty so that he can leave a favorite toy or super tempting food item. Work outside, too, starting with low level distractions and gradually increasing to more tempting items. Set up items in your yard or driveway, then move to the tennis courts, even your street / sidewalk if that's possible.

    A wise forum member shared this bit of advice for working through situations as you described,

    Quote Originally Posted by trainingjunkie View Post
    I personally don't believe that dogs "blow us off." I don't think that believing that they intentionally try to hurt our feelings is helpful. Here's what I believe instead:
    1.) Dogs are over-faced by stress/environment/distractions. They can't work because their mind gets lost in these things.
    2.) Reinforcement gets too low. Either the rewards aren't good enough or aren't given often enough.
    3.) The dogs goes not understand the task. He/she isn't sure what he/she needs to do to succeed.
    4.) Dogs don't feel good. They hurt or are confused/stressed/scared.

    If my dogs start struggling, I take a step backwards. I make sure they really understand what I am asking for. I make sure that the environment is comfortable. I make sure they aren't feeling sick or sore. And I make sure that I am asking them to work for something they really value. When I do these things, I find that my dogs stop "blowing me off." I try very hard to not take my dogs' behavior personally. Instead, I try to look at their behavior as providing me valuable information about what I need to do to enhance my training time. It helps a lot to keep my mindset oriented in that direction.

  12. #10
    Senior Member cookieface's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    This article popped up on my FB feed yesterday: http://www.easy-dogs.net/home/blog/t...rehberger.html

    I can't vouch that the biology is 100% accurate, but it makes sense.

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    Senior Member elrohwen's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    That's the worst feeling :-(

    Not sure if it will make you feel any better, but I've had similar experiences with both of my dogs at 8-9 months (though we weren't near roads or anything). Most adolescents regress a lot in recall around this age. My older dog regressed and kind of stayed regressed, and I ended up using an ecollar on him. My younger dog, however, grew up a bit and her recall is really good again.

    I'd recommend getting a long line and work hard on recall, and try to exercise him that way. Or find some place that is fully fenced in so you don't have to worry.

    As far as ignoring known commands - saying "no" isn't going to help. And ignoring it (depending on what it is) isn't going to help if he's self-reinforcing. Honestly I would wait it out. He ignores a leave it? Have him on leash or hold the food up where he can't quite reach, and wait for him to figure it out. Then reward. Basically, give him time to remember what it is, help him out a bit if possible, and reward the good choice. And try to limit his ability to make bad choices as much as possible.
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    Senior Member NaimaandMe's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    Quote Originally Posted by FirstTimeDoggie View Post
    A question about training a teenager - Naima you mentioned selective hearing and ignoring commands that the younger pup would do fine. I'm absolutely noticing Danzig doing that. Last week on his walk he ate a brownie on his walk - ignoring both 'leave it' and 'drop it' which we've worked really hard on and he's done great with in the past. Obviously brownies are pretty tempting so I get it. How should I respond to Danzig when he blatantly ignores a command I know he knows? Should I say "No!" or "Bad dog!" or just ignore him? Usually if I ignore him he honestly doesn't notice I'm ignoring him.
    Pfftt... Brownies (although from what I understand chocolate can make dogs really sick). Try getting a roadkill lizard out of your puppy's mouth! Kind of sushi for dogs, I guess...

    I don't have any advice that's better than cookieface's--we're still working on it. However, I have been very successful lately with having Naima "drop it" once she's picked up something like a stick (the roadkill is a little more challenging, because, well, yum...) while we're walking. I just pull out a particularly tasty treat, show it to her, and cheerfully say "drop it" (sometimes it takes a few times) and start to walk on. I'm amazed how often it works.

    My problem with "Leave it" on walks is usually that she's spotted something and gotten it into her mouth before I've ever seen it.

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    Senior Member crysania's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    I don't 100% trust my younger dog off leash. He's easily distracted by THINGS. Squirrels, birds, anything he can chase. And he likes to explore. He's getting BETTER but I'm not sure he'll ever be the rock my older dog is (who was off leash 4 weeks after we adopted her and has never ever run away from us because she's amazing). So when I go someplace where I can't have him off leash, I put him on a long line. I have a 50-foot line and a 20-foot one depending on what I want to do with him. At my mother-in-law's, he drags the 50 foot line when playing in the yard. At first I held onto the end just in case, but now he just drags it and I'm still able to snag the line if needed. I've taken him out hiking in places where other people aren't and allowed him to drag the 20 foot line (with LOTS of recall practicing -- calling him back, huge reward, and release to more fun!).

    They even make 100-foot leashes so if you want to hang onto him and still give him a long distance to chase a ball or explore, consider that as an option too!

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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    Were you standing face to face with me I'd read you the riot act for letting a puppy run off leash, then admonish you for even thinking of punishment when the dog returned by himself. As it is I'll leave it as is. It's a lot easier to get chewed out than to lose a dog. Someone already explained what to do when the dog returned above. I see people with weak recalls every week in classes trying to do off leash. Every time the dog breaks the command it sets your training back.

    A young puppy is way too young and inexperienced to run off leash. My own dog is 4 1/4 years old and will only be off leash in the training ring.

    The long line is your friend. I'd get or make a thirty foot light weight line and practice recalls. As noted above off leash only comes when you have a perfect recall under all kinds of distractions. High value treats work great to reward recalls. Make it fun for your dog to come to you and be around you. I like to do a recall when my dog is sniffing something interesting. You might try incorporating a whistle with your recall command. I use voice, whistle, hand signals and flashlight. She responds every time and gets high value treats and lots of praise when out in the fields. I use a 120 foot leash too.

    One thing to be aware of when using a harness and long line. Wear a glove on one hand so if he takes off you can slow him down easily. The important thing is that if he turns and faces you and the leash is tight, all it takes is a quick shake and he is free. To prevent this I made a short 6" connector link to attach the harness to a flat nylon collar. This way if the dog shakes the harness it will get tangled with the collar link and give you time to put slack in the line.

    Anyway, I'm very glad "your dog came back and that you asked for help. And by the way, showing your dog that you were glad to see him, lots of hugs and praise were the right things to do, no matter how you felt inside. A huge step toward good dog training.

    You might want to look at this collar. I have one and their customer support is five star.
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    Senior Member Kyllobernese's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    I live in an area where there are lots of places to let my dogs run off-leash. They are taken out off-leash from the time they are puppies and I have never had any of them, even dogs which I have gotten that were older, just take off and run away. Right from the start they are recalled often, lots of treats and they race each other to get back first. We have an off-leash walking trail around a Lake nearby but everyone who uses it respects the other people and dogs and we all put our dogs on leash when we meet another dog, pass them and turn our dogs loose again. There is a road that runs alongside part of the trail but there is enough bush between the road and trail that the dogs never go out onto the road, they stay with us on the trail or run down to the Lake. I know in an area with lots of traffic, you could not do this so I am lucky to live in an area where it is safe to do this.

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    Senior Member hanksimon's Avatar
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    Re: Puppy Sprinted Away When Off Leash

    I'm going to go counter with most folks, and they're going to slap me around for ....

    Sixteen years ago, I was where you are. But, from previous dogs, I had learned that most dogs don't just go running away, then tend to run towards something. In my case, my dog would run towards other animals (to chase them), or other dogs (to play), or people (to say Hello). And, when the excitement of the greeting etc. was over, he'd look around and seem to be upset that I hadn't followed ... then he'd return to look for me. We learned this when a friend allowed my dog to follow him as he was going home. After a few moments, my dog got anxious and started searching for me.

    So, when my dog ran off, I didn't panic as much, although I was concerned ... b/c "this time I might be wrong." When he returned or I found him. I would walk him around the perimeter of the field [on leash, if needed ... but rarely needed.], and then take him back into the area that he should be running, to re-enforce the play area.

    Suggestions:
    1. As everyone said, work on Recall, but always assume that you never have 100% recall [Unless you're Susan Garrett].
    2. Don't walk the dog off-leash after dark.
    3. Learn the 'triggers' that encourage him to run away, and anticipate them. In my case, squirrels are a stronger attraction than me. With practice, I could recall from people and dogs ... but never squirrels.
    4. Try thinking of everything as a distraction, and slowly teach him to come [ or leave it ] by being a bigger distraction. If you see a distraction you may want to put him on leash ... or you may just want to teach him to Sit, and then release him if the distraction is OK, or leash him otherwise.

    5. And, in contradiction to advice given - and they're gonna git me for it, and hit me with a newspaper - Continue to walk the dog in the field off leash but only when you can see him and when you can be vigilant about distraction. When you see him 'alert' you must be ready to cue him to sit before he gets too excited to hear ... it's a painful learning experience for you. Ditto with brownies - once he's eaten the brownie, you have to remove it if "drop it" doesn't work. "Leave it" has to be enforced when he first notices the brownie ... not a second later when he's happily running off with it, after eating half of it.

    Finally, my current young 2yo dog is still not off leash safe. Just yesterday, he ran a quarter mile away tracking a friend that had just left the open field that we play in. I was told that he searched for me, after he found his friend. My response was ... nothing. Except, now I'm more vigilant when he gets excited. I was worried that I was wrong, but he followed his training ... except I hadn't trained him "Don't run off!" ;-) So, I need to work on that, also....

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