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Meals Under Wheels

Dog In Road

Dear John,

I have a 15-month-old standard poodle. We live on a farm about 500 feet or so from a major highway. Until last week he was very good about staying around the house and horse barn when outside alone. For some reason (I’m assuming the smell) he went to the highway ditch and returned with road kill. I have been working diligently to get him to ‘heel’ when I call (not having a lot of luck-trying the dragging the leash when outside himself and on the trails when we go for our daily walk) We disposed of the original road kill but have caught him back at the road twice since the initial ‘find’. We really want to discourage this behaviour for his safety. J.J. – SWO

Hi J.J.

I remember talking to a farmer once about the wisdom of letting his dog run loose with the highway so close. He said, “Son, my last dog never had a problem with it and he lived until he was 15.” “How many dogs did you have before that?”, I asked. “About 12!”, his wife answered. Any dog, but especially a young dog will only ever have a 4 year old child’s perception of danger. Easily distracted, even the most highly trained dogs need supervision. Like the farmer, someone might luck out and have a dog that prefers to stay close to home. Not something I’d want to risk though.

If you’ve been having him dragging a leash outside and on your hikes, switch to having him drag a lunge line around. A leash is too short. The idea with dragging a lunge line outside or a leash indoors is as any dog will tell you by ignoring the command, “Come!”, “If I can’t be caught, I can’t be taught.” Most of our kids would still be naked if they were as fast as our dogs. You can’t clothe them if you can’t catch them. No dog is going to come to you if it doesn’t believe you can catch him. It’s a pain in the neck, but if you want a dog that comes when called and doesn’t interpret it as, “If you have a minute, would you check your day-timer?”, then you’re going to have to do your time. The length of the line is directly proportional to how fast you feel in the environment you’re in. The idea is to not restrict freedom, but to restrict the dog’s freedom to make mistakes which in your case is ignoring you when you’re thinking, “Come!” and he’s thinking, “Meals Under Wheels.”

If you can get him coming without reservation consistently for a year then you can ditch the lunge line. Yes, I know that’s a long time but if it was easy dogs would come with batteries. I have no problem though with a dog running around a property off lead when supervised if, and that’s a big IF, during training and ever afterwards you have to repeatedly proof the dog around tempting distractions, like other dogs, joggers, bicyclists, wild game.

Very much worth it in my opinion as what good is a dog you have to leave home when you want to go for a hike and that’s where you’re going to be very soon. Just wait until he kicks up a deer in the conservation area. You’ll start thinking twice about bringing him along short of tying him to you right about the second hour of pulling burrs out of your hair and clothes after 3 hours of tracking him down.

– John Wade the Dog Trainer

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