After many years of being increasingly frustrated by the off leash dog problem we have in our town, I decided to try to do something to help. So that is why I am starting the Call Your Dog Project. The goal is to help educate people and make our community safer and more welcoming for all people, children, pets and wildlife. This is just the start. Stay tuned for additional material on a new website as well as educational materials for all in the dog community to share.
The Call Your Dog Project
Colorado is one of the best places to own a dog. With trails and open space around practically every corner, it provides ample places to enjoy nature with your furry friend. We just want to make sure everyone is able to do so happily and safely. We have an ever growing problem of out of control off leash dogs on trails, at parks, and in neighborhoods. Off leash dogs cause real stress and fear for many people, children, and dogs. The Call Your Dog project is dedicated to help inform people why it is important to control and/or leash your dog in the presence of other people and dogs in areas where off leash dogs are legally prohibited. We also hope to offer basic resources to help people train their dogs so that everyone can enjoy our parks and open spaces safely.
Why your off leash dog should not approach a person uninvited
- Many people have had bad experiences with strange dogs approaching them, and this can make them anything from nervous to terrified.
- People are allergic to dogs. If my friend’s son gets licked by a dog he breaks out in hives and has to take medicine. He is frequently being approached by off leash dogs at the park whose owner are yelling “don’t worry my dog is friendly”. When what they should be doing is simply controlling their dog.
- There are people in the world that don’t like dogs. As the ultimate dog lover I find this difficult to wrap my brain around, but they deserve to enjoy nature without being forced to interact with a dog.
- Many dogs jump on new people. This can be dangerous if the person is on unsteady ground or ice. This is also a nuisance if your dog has dirty feet. It allows your dog to practice this annoying habit, making harder to eradicate.
- If the person is running or riding a bicycle, the fast movement can elicit what we refer to as prey drive, a.k.a. predatory drift in a dog. This is when a dog chases, and can even nip or bite a person that they never normally would. The quick movement brings out a primal urge that some dogs have not yet learned to control. This can be extremely dangerous for the person on the receiving end.
Why your off leash dog should not approach another dog uninvited
- Not every dog is comfortable with a strange dog approaching them while they are on a leash. Many dogs feel vulnerable when they are leashed and the other dog is not.
- Many dogs have had bad experiences with other dogs, having been bullied, bitten, or attacked. Being approached by an unknown dog may be scary and even terrifying for some, even if your dog is friendly.
- Many dogs have not had proper early socialization, due to the fact that they may be rescue dogs. They may not understand or care that your dog is friendly. Many of these dogs are in training to help them learn how to socialize appropriately in a venue that is safe and controlled. Allow these dogs to enjoy nature and feel safe around dogs by controlling your dog.
- Dogs may have injuries or illnesses that make them defensive when a strange dog approaches them. It’s a good idea to give these dogs some space.
- There are many dogs who are trained not to approach other dogs. This is often because they are service dogs or are working dogs of some kind. Your dog approaching them can un-do their hard work and training.
Trail and Park Manners
- When you see a person or dog approaching, call your dog immediately and leash him/her. If your dog can walk at your side off leash without greeting strangers, this is an appropriate choice as well. If you cannot call your dog reliably from distraction see Training Tips.
- If a person asks to greet your dog or says something along the lines of, “My dog is friendly, can he say ‘Hi’?”, then go ahead and allow your dog to greet the person or dog or both.
- If a person shows no interest in greeting, just politely walk on by. Allow the person and/or other dog enough space that they feel comfortable. If your dog pulls on the leash, or barks and/or lunges when passing by while on leash, see Training Tips.
- If the person, child, or dog shows interest in greeting your dog but seems shy or afraid, ask your dog to sit or lay down and allow them to approach your dog. This puts many people and dogs at ease. If your dog cannot sit calmly while a person or dog approaches, see Training Tips.
- If you want your dog to freely greet other dogs at will, go to designated off leash dog parks. This is where your dog will get to meet lots of other like-minded dogs and people. You can research off leash areas in and around Colorado Springs at https://coloradosprings.gov/dogparks, www.wolf-ranch.com/dogpark, www.trailsandopenspaces.org/?portfolio=fox-run-dog-park, www.douglas.co.us/dcoutdoors/dog-off-leash-areas/
Coming When Called
- Teach your dog that coming when called is the BEST thing in the world! Practice the skill 15-30 times a day, out on walks, in your yard, and in your house.
- Reward your dog with VERY high interest food rewards such as chicken, roast beef, dried salmon, or liver. Make sure your dog comes to you before you make the food reward visible. If you show him the treat first, you will always have to do that. Use a reward once he comes to you, not a bribe to get him to come to you.
- Make sure you use a word to call your dog that you will be careful with. If you say, “Fido Come” dozens of times a day without thinking about it and without rewarding your dog, you are diluting the command. You want to choose a word that you will only use for when you want your dog to come to you and get a reward. I like the words “Here,” “Quick,” “Hurry,” or “Check in.” Pick a word and train it, making sure your tone sounds the same every time.
- Never do something that your dog finds negative after calling your dog with your special word. If you call your dog and put him in the kennel or bring the dog inside when he’s rather be out, it won’t take the dog long to learn that it’s not a very good idea to come when you call. If you need to bring the dog inside or into his kennel, use a different word or phrase.
- Practice calling your dog randomly when he is not expecting it.
- Make sure you practice catching the dog and leashing him as a part of coming when called. Call the dog, catch the dog or leash the dog, feed the dog, then let the dog go play again. The more you practice this, the more the dog will think that coming when called is just a fun break in the action to get a snack.
- Use a long line (30-foot leash) when training around distractions or in areas that may not be safe to have your dog off leash. Be very careful when using a long line, both people and dogs can get hurt if they are not used properly, and get the help of a trainer if needed.
- If this process is not going a smoothly as you’d like, get the help of a professional. Many trainers offer classes on this specific skill and can help you communicate most effectively with your furry friend.
Sit While People and Dogs Approach
- Start teaching this skill without people and dogs present. Can your dog hold a sit position for several minutes with no distractions around? If not, teach she that if she is sitting you just keep feeding her delicious treats. If she gets up, the treats stop and you ask her to sit again. Make sure to use a release word to let the dog know when she is done sitting and can get up. A unique word works best. Most trainers use words like “Free,” “Break,” or “Release.” Choose a word and stick with it so you don’t confuse your dog. Work up to a three-minute sit with minimal distractions.
- Once your dog can consistently hold a sitting position for several minutes with no distractions, you’re ready to slowly start to increase distractions. Practice sits for random periods of time in your driveway, then at the park, then at the trail head, then in front of the grocery store or pet store. If your dog gets overly excited and distracted, it just shows you that she needs a bit more practice with the same distractions, but at a greater distance. This is a skill that most dogs need to practice a lot before they master it, so keep at it.
- The goal of this exercise is that your dog can sit while people and dogs approach and pass by. This is the art of not greeting. If people or dogs want to say “H”” while you are working on this, just make sure to tell your dog that it’s ok to greet. The words I use are “Go Say Hi.”
- When practicing this on trails, make sure to be prepared with plenty of treats. You want your dog to be excited to sit with you as dogs or people pass because you are feeding her plenty of delicious treats. The more distractible your dog, the better your treats may need to be.
- Training classes are a great way for your dog to practice not greeting. Find a good trainer who trains for trail manners and or general manners in public.
- Teach your dog how to walk politely on leash first with no distractions. Practicing in your backyard or a quiet corner of the park is often best when starting out.
- When your dog is walking politely at your side, feed him treats while you walk. Try not to stop when you treat; otherwise you will teach your dog to stop when he wants a treat.
- Feed the dog where you want him to walk. If you treat at your side, he will walk at your side. If you treat in front of you, he will want to walk in front of you.
- When your dog pulls at the leash, STOP walking and point to where you want the dog to walk. When the dog returns to the correct spot at your side, then start walking immediately. If you are slow to respond, you may confuse the dog about what he is supposed to do.
- Make sure to stop walking at the beginning of the pull. If you let the dog pull for several steps and then stop, you will confuse the dog. It is hard for dogs to understand that they can pull a little but not a lot. It is best to just teach them to not pull at all.
- Once your dog understands what he is supposed to do on leash, then it’s time to add distractions. Start training around other dogs, people, and even critters.
- Use training equipment if your dog pulls a lot. No-pull harnesses and head halters can be effective tools. More corrective equipment can be effective as well, but should be used with the help of a trainer.
- If you are not having success, seek out the help of a trainer.
Now, with all of your great new training tools, go out and explore Colorado with your canine friend in a truly friendly and responsible way.