In a previous post, I discussed testing off-leash readiness with our dogs. As I described in that post, I am working toward off-leash reliability with Romeo, my Vizsla. At that time, he wasn't quite ready for the freedom of off-leash walks.
This past week (May 2011), I have been re-testing his off-leash reliability. I'm happy to say that he is doing much better! While most of our walks are still on the long line, I have been giving him some opportunities to drag the long line behind him without being attached to me.
First, we walk the area to check for bunnies and deer. If there do not appear to be any nearby, I will release the long line from my waist belt and give him some freedom. I do not make a big deal of it. I don't want him to respond any differently, so I make sure I don't act any differently.
While he ventures beyond 20 feet when he's no longer attached to me, this past week he has been keeping track of me. He will often stop and wait for me to catch up when he realizes that he's a ways ahead of me. Sometimes, I will take a turn out of sight or stop and wait behind the scrub oak if he hasn't realized he's moved too far ahead of me. Sometimes he will stop and wait to see if I am catching up. Sometimes he will race back to find me.
One of the things I want to ensure is that being with me is more fun than being without me. Sometimes when he ventures off ahead too far or too quickly, I will start running as fast as I can in the other direction. Romeo can't resist a game of chase. He never wants to miss out on the fun! If I am running away quickly, he might think I am chasing a bunny and he certainly would not want to miss out on that opportunity!
As much as I would like him to always wants to be close to me, the one he keeps track of more than anyone else is his Greyhound “sister”. He loves chasing her and always wants to know what she's doing. Fortunately for me, his Greyhound sister is very attached to me and will not venture far. So she provides a little extra security for me in helping to keep him close. (She, by the way, is always off leash on our walks.)
While Romeo is not ready to be off-leash for our entire walk yet, he is making great progress. At this point, however, all bets are off if a bunny crosses our path!