Myth: If you let your dog free off leash in the park, “they´ll figure it out”.
Running, playing or fetching around an off leash dog area in an ¨out of control state of mind¨ DOES NOT get your dog tired, it gets your dog restless and crazier. The more your pup practices this kind of activity the worse he/she will get.
This is when I get this kind of questions: ¨I take my dog to run every day for 3 hours and she never gets tired. HELP!! I don’t know what else to do!!!!¨
I like to think of “Off Leah Park Time” as a sport or a game. If there´s no rules there´s no game, it´s chaos. Imagine a playground of toddlers without parents, meaning without rules or boundaries. As a parent myself I know how that´s gonna to turn out. Lots of crying, fighting, pushing, yelling:´¨it´s mine!! no it´s mine!!.¨ NOOOT pretty!! I´ll guarantee you that your kid is not going to get tired, is going to get restless and stressed. And get ready for a lot of ¨tantrums¨ back home and/or destructive behavior. The same happens with dogs.
An off leash dog Park (not enclosed area) or a dog Run (enclosed area) is not the woods. What I mean is that a park is not the wilderness where animals, in this case dogs, will figure out their own structure and rules.
Dogs that go to parks are constantly changing, so it makes it very difficult for them to figure out any kind of structure. When they actually do figure out something it takes just one new dog to challenge that structure to create chaos. And this is why we can’t leave it up to them.
A Park is created by humans and with a lot of human rules. So your pup still has to listen to you. The reason why is because you are the human. You know the rules and your pup needs you in order to respect those rules. A little note here: your job is not to control other people´s dogs, your job is to control your dog no matter what other people´s dogs do. And this can be challenging.
¨Going to the park¨ usually creates a lot of excitement for dogs.( Note: excitement is not happiness. Excitement is excitement and happinees is happiness). If you can’t´tell the difference, that´s fine, that´s why I´ve created this Blog. Click here to learn about state of mind in dogs and how important it is. The point here is that excitement without limits or rules turns into “out of control” behavior and this is when we get into trouble. Wether is humping, playing too rough, excessive barking, fixations, aggression, being protective of a ball, barking to new people …. you name it. It´s all a result of not setting boundaries and rules from the very beginning.
A dog run, park or any off leash experience does not mean take the leash off your dog and see what happens. Even if your pup is well socialized and has a good temperament, off leash should not mean ¨do whatever you want¨. Because they will, and you´ll probably won’t like it. There should still be structure, boundaries and rules. Your pup should still have to listen to you, What I mean by this is that you can still have control of your dog even off leash. The question is How? There are several steps that will help you to achieve this:
1. How you get to the park.
If you are walking to the park make sure you are in control of the walk. Your pup should be walking with no tension on the leash (not pulling, stopping or dragging) and at your side or behind you. If your dog is already pulling the leash in front of you or not listening to you while getting to the park, don´t expect him/her to listen to you after you take the leash off.
Remember that the walk starts inside your house when you put the leash on not when you are already outside (Click here to read blog about how to walk your pup). If you are driving to the park obviously this doesn’´t apply.
2. How you enter the park and when to take the leash off.
Your dog should enter the Park in a controlled or calm state of mind and you should take the leash off when they are not pulling. Not while they are trying to get rid of you to ¨see you later¨. If you do that acknowledge that you are sending a torpedo to the battlefield.
3. Move around so he/she follows you.
It´s a good idea, if the area is big enough, to change locations from one place to another versus staying stationary. This keeps your pup focused on what you are doing and following you instead of forgetting about your existence.
4. Set up limits and boundaries while your pup is playing or interacting with other animals, including humans.
There are a lot of different things you can do to achieve this: You can ask your go to come to you for a break and let him/her go back again to play. You can block or stop your pup when there´s too much excitement or things are about to get out of control. You can put your pup on leash for a while until he/she calms down a bit. These are just some suggestions, but there´s many different things you can do depending on the situation or unwanted behavior.
Every dog is different and every situation is different. There are no set up rules written on stone for this. It´s up to your awareness and your communication skills with your pup to create and keep harmony in your environment.
© Gabriel Riesco, NYC 2017