Sirius Training, Serious Fun!
Sirius Training, Serious Fun!

Together as one…

Running in the woods!

There is nothing I love more than the sound of the wind whipping past my ears (even when it’s only 25 degrees F), snow landing on my eyelashes, the sound of hard snow crunching under my boots, the cold/hot feeling I get while hiking as snow lands on my cheeks, and listening to the huffing and snorting of my dogs as they race through the woods.

There is something special about a nearly silent hour long off leash hike through the woods.  I know I’ve written about this before (pre-blog days), but it never fails to make me feel amazing, as a dog handler, to have these experiences.  No constant jabbering, no shouting cues or directions, no constant recalling, and no controlling the dogs’ experience.  Think about it, we as humans are frequently barking out orders and controlling most aspects of the dogs’ lives–when they eat, when they potty, where they go for a walk, what they get to do on the weekends, etc.  It feels so great to allow them control and feels even better that I can trust them with that resource without any hesitation.

This is my branch... if I chew it everyone will know it is MY branch!

When we hike together, I really feel so much closer to them than during other walks.  We are all walking together, giving directions, taking directions…. almost completely without words.  I trust the dogs not to get too far….and if they do, for them to come back and check in and they trust me not to dash off randomly.  It is such a relaxing feeling to just be with the dogs, alone, in the quiet woods surrounded by nothing but trees, and for them to explore unabated (and chew as Shayne loves to do).  To be communicating so subtly and so effortlessly, it’s really so amazing.

It is like a great ballet… so much is communicated with movement that words are superfluous.  I follow them until the path deviates from their course and as I follow the path, I am eventually followed by the thundering sound of two wild-dogs tearing through the woods after me…no need to recall them, no need to control what they do…. they can sniff or run or dig wherever they were and come back to me at their leisure.

In this human world, which places many restrictions on dogs (and their handlers), it’s a beautiful thing to be able to provide this level of freedom.  It’s taken quite a lot of work, especially with Rio, to get to this point, but now that we have arrived, I couldn’t imagine having it any other way.

One of the things,  I think, that has absolutely helped us on this journey is the relationship we’ve created by competing in k9 disc, training, and learning agility.  My pups have learned to focus on me very closely–on or off leash, they’ve learned to work with me as a team, they are used to being off-leash while working, and I’d like to think they see me as valuable (ie. a giant pez dispenser).  All of these things benefit me in having them off-leash while NOT working.  The pups do not focus on me while we hike but they absolutely check in regularly… although not their focus, I’m not forgotten and am more than a “blip” on their radar.

One of the problems many people encounter with having dogs off-leash reliably is that, for the dog, being off-leash is a novelty.  The only time they are allowed off-leash is in fenced areas where they can (and are encouraged to) run off and completely ignore their handler the whole time or they are simply never off-leash–so you can bet when they finally taste freedom they are going to take full advantage of it.  People have to set their dogs up for success and part of that is teaching the dog how to simply be off-leash together.

It can take quite a bit of work (and not just recall work) to get there, but once you are there, it’s such an amazing place.

4 Comments
  1. A gorgeous post. It truly is wonderful being out in the woods exploring. It’s like you each get to be your own person (or dog). Very peaceful. But it does take a lot to get there and many people aren’t willing to put in the time, which is sad because even your basic obedience training can start to build that focused relationship. I’ve worked with Delta since day 1. Ever since she was a pup I tried to never have her on leash outside the apartment complex and in the field we had right next door. Always doing play recalls where I tell her to come, she comes, then I let her go explore again. Those really help. I want to write a blog about how people always say ‘when we go to the dog park, it’s like their training goes out the window.’ Because it doesn’t for me, and it shouldn’t for everyone else. That’s a lame excuse. Nice post!

    • It really is so great!

      If people set their pups up for knowing how to exist off-leash from the beginning, I think it would be so much easier. I mean, not a week after i got Rio we were training and he was dragging a leash at a park… he was just 4.5months old and we were working off-leash in an unfenced park. It took a while longer with Rio before I would take him into the woods off-leash because he IS part sighthound…. but he’s been working and playing off leash for a long time building up to our off-leash hikes.

      It bugs me at the dog park that people have two contradictory expectations… 1. the dog to just run away and play with other dogs …. pay not attention to the handler (don’t bug the handler, play with the dogs!) AND 2. Listen to the handler when in the park…. rather contradictory eh?

  2. Beautiful post!
    Hiking in the woods is the only time I let Tibby off leash (also in the fenced in backyard or in a class). We practice recalls during our hikes, but I know if Tibby saw another person or car she would run to them. I’m very careful about when I let her off leash even in the woods, if there is the chance that another person is also hiking Tibby stays on the leash.
    I will probably always have to be vigilant with her, even in the backyard, because she can climb, she loves people, cars and silver objects and she is smart (sometimes smarter than me).

    • Catalina, being vigilant is not a bad thing for sure! It’s definitely good to know your dog …. you know when you need to be more alert and what to be more alert for.

      Tibby looks to be pretty young still (glancing at your blog quickly–she is WICKED cute!)… she may get there one day! They may not be super often but it still must feel great having those times offleash! Thanks for checking out the blog!

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