What to Do if Your Dog Gets Loose

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Bentley got loose.  This was due to pure stupidity on my part.  I broke the cardinal rule of training a dog.

NEVER SET YOUR DOG UP FOR FAILURE!

It was the first nice day in awhile, so I decided to take Bentley for a run.  My mom keeps suggesting that when I do this, I leave Bentley off-leash because she is sure he’ll just follow me.  I know better.  But the suggestion kept running through my head.  Who doesn’t want a dog that’s so well trained and loyal that he follows you around?  Thing is, you actually have to TRAIN your dog to do this.  It doesn’t just happen magically.  The path I was running on runs along a highway, behind people’s houses, so it’s got chain-link fence on both sides.  So at one point during the run, I dropped the leash to see if Bentley would stay with me.

Didn’t take long for him to take off.  And I knew we were approaching a street.  He would run off ahead of me, stop, turn, wait for me to get close, then take off again.  So I got his attention, and turned around and ran away from him.  Didn’t take him long to blow past me, but this time he stopped long enough for me to step on the leash and we continued our run.  Toward the end of the run, I decided to try it again.  I get onto this path at the local elementary school.  There’s an opening behind the school, and one at the far end of the baseball field.  I made the huge mistake of *hoping* Bentley wouldn’t go through the opening at the field and would follow me to where we started behind the school.  SO. STUPID.

'Running Dog' photo (c) 2009, Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz) - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Naturally he went through the hole at the field.  At first, I kept running, slowly, calling to him, hoping he would see that I was going away from him and come after me.  No such luck.  He knew he was free.  He was zooming around like a rocket.  I knew I had ZERO hope of catching him, so I ran on to the back of the school.  Two seconds later, Bentley came running up.  He had been running through the woods.  It had rained, then snowed, then the snow had melted, so he was absolutely covered in mud. And somehow, he had lost his leash.  His collar was still on, but the leash was nowhere to be found.  I had no idea how I was going to get him home.  Oh yeah, my dog is friendly, enjoys jumping up on people, and it was election day, so people were going in and out of the school to vote.  I was mortified.  Bentley was having the time of his furry little life.

I realized I couldn’t catch him.  He knew that if I caught him his freedom would be over, and chasing him would just make it into a game.  I didn’t want that.  So I decided to just go home.  Bentley sort of followed me.  Mostly he saw me moving off and again ran to keep ahead of me.  He stopped to say hi to some dogs fenced in someone’s yard that were snarling and making a ruckus because they saw another dog.  He wandered in and out of yards.  He went up to people’s doors only to scurry off as I passed.  He almost was hit by a car which made me feel even more stupid, idiotic and embarrassed about the whole ordeal.  I nearly got my dog killed for my stupidity.

In the end, I was able to run into the open garage and he thankfully followed me in.  At which point he got a thorough bath for his troubles.

Worn out after his adventure

Moral of the story:

DON’T SET YOUR DOG UP FOR FAILURE! Also, don’t chase your dog. He thinks it’s a game and will have lots of fun trying to keep away from you. He’s also probably a lot faster than you and has more energy/stamina. Instead, turn the game around and run AWAY from the dog. Now he’s it, and he’ll come running to catch you. At which point you can hopefully get a hold of his leash or collar!

tl;dr: Bentley escaped. I got him back by running away from him.

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No, It’s Not Okay.

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Bentley on the bed where he's not supposed to be

Bentley on the bed where he's not supposed to be

 

As evidenced in a few of my videos, while Bentley is very smart to pick up on “tricks”, he’s still got a ways to go in learning good doggy manners.  We’re working on it though!  But one of the things that drives me crazy is when I try to instill in him good behaviors, and other people contradict me.  For example, I’ll be walking him, and we’ll see a person on the sidewalk, and he’ll jump up all excitedly.  I tell him “no” and “off” and try to get him to sit and behave.  But because he’s a smaller dog (and downright adorable if I do say so myself) people are often “oh, it’s okay!”

 

Um, no, it is NOT okay.  I’m the dog’s owner.  I don’t want the dog exhibiting this behavior, thus this behavior is not okay.  And it’s not okay for you to be undermining all the hard work I’m putting into training him by actively encouraging him to engage in behaviors I clearly am trying to dissuade.

 

Please, if you see someone trying to get their dog to do/not do something, don’t tell them “oh, it’s okay!” and go ahead and let the dog do whatever.  It’s not your dog, not your choice on what it can or cannot do.  You might think you’re being “nice” but you’re just sending an inconsistent message and confusing the dog, not to mention frustrating the owner.

Leave It – Redux

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So I mentioned in an earlier post how I’ve started coupling correction with positive reinforcement when training Bentley.  This has lead to him understanding and learning much faster what I want from him, and I feel this has led to much lower frustration on both our parts.  Previously I was trying to teach him the Leave It! command.  We got to the point where he would stop licking and pawing at my hand and look up at me, but any sign of a treat and he would go for it.  Using this new technique though, we’ve achieved much better results!  I can now put the treat down in front of Bentley and remove my hand without him lunging for it.

Positive Training vs. Corrections

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So I have been trying a new tactic with Bentley lately.  Previously, I was trying to use ONLY positive reinforcement with him for training.  This works brilliantly for teaching commands and tricks such as “sit” and “go crate“.  But it doesn’t work quite as well with general behaviors such as getting him to stop jumping or to be gentle when taking a treat.  So I have started using corrections with Bentley.  Out in the wild, wolves don’t learn everything by positive reinforcement.  They are corrected, first by their mother, then by litter mates, and then others in the pack.  You cross a line, you get a correction. Life goes on and the pup learns not to do that again.

So I’ve started working on using some corrections with Bentley.  They are sharp, but not harsh. It is very interesting to see the reaction. He is VERY surprised at being corrected, as I don’t think his previous owners ever did. He also doesn’t quite like it. He tries to fight back. But it is absolutely amazing the difference in him when I don’t back down.  You will recall I previously tried to teach him the “leave it” command.  It was kind of working, but he would still jump and lunge at any treat.  Using correction, I was able to within 5 minutes get him to lay down and I could put a treat on the floor and he would not go for it.  I can also now walk him with a loose leash about 80% of the time.  (Still working on ignoring neighborhood dogs, cats and squirrels)

The corrections I’m using are either a snap of the leash or a quick jab/poke in the side of the neck. They are sharp and startling to the dog, but they don’t hurt him at all.

Now, I’m not giving up on the positive training methods for teaching him his commands.  But for a well-balanced dog, you need a mix of both types.