Over the river and through the woods…

Lately I’ve been inspired by all the great agility trainers who recommend letting dogs run off leash every day for general conditioning.  I tend to be an irrational worrier, but I have been able to get over it enough to let both dogs run off leash in the woods ever since Jake’s recall became 98%, which I owe to Susan Garrett’s on-line “Recallers 2.0” course.  ps–The reason I refer to Jake’s recall as being 98% vs. 100% is because I occasionally have to call him twice or even three times if he is “busy” sniffing something at a distance.

So yesterday morning I took Jake and Lil for a long off-leash romp in the woods.  They were both crazy-excited about various scents and were racing full speed ahead before turning around and racing back to me on their own initiatives.

This method of racing back and forth is a style of off-leash running that Lil has done since she was a puppy (her recall has always been trustworthy).  It’s a great game because it involves super fast running but also because Lil likes to stay within visual range and will immediately come running back if she turns around and can’t see me.   Jake is more independent, or perhaps a better way of saying it would be “easily distracted when high on life,” and is not as concerned about keeping me within visual range at all times, which of course makes me nervous!

At one point though, both dogs charged down a hill out of sight.  I could hear the loud rustling of dry leaves as they ran through the forest and suddenly Lil reappeared and ran back to me by herself.  I held onto Lil for a moment to listen for Jake and I could not hear any rustling of leaves, so I knew he wasn’t running further away which made me feel relieved.  But at the same time I had to keep myself from freaking out since I didn’t know exactly where he was.  Rationally, I knew he was close by and had just stopped to sniff something, but it was hard not to worry.   At that point I had two choices. I could either put Lil back on leash and let her lead me to Jake or I could let go of Lil and trust that she would come back when called if necessary.

Lil had been pushing firmly against my hands as I held her so as soon as I let go, she immediately raced back down the hill and quickly returned… with Jake on her heels.  Looking back, I think Lil may have run back down the hill to get Jake.  And later that morning, the thought occurred to me that I may have been back-chaining the behavior to “Go Get Jake”  without even realizing it.

When both dogs are out in the yard, Lil generally comes back first.  I always praise her and give her a couple of low-value treats for coming back on her own but lately I have been asking her “Where’s Jake?” to which she responds by looking out the glass door.  As soon as Jake appears at the door, Lil starts spinning, jumping up, and vocalizing while I say stuff like “There’s Jake. Hi Jake. What a good boy! Jake!”  I then let Jake in and race to the refrigerator and reward both dogs with high-value treats in a very excited manner.  My reason for doing so was to reward Jake for coming back on his own initiative, which he now does every time I let him out.  And it seemed only fair to reward both dogs since Lil had also come back on her own initiative.

So yesterday afternoon as a test, when Lil came back to the house, I sent her out to “Where’s Jake? Go Get Jake” and she ran straight towards him in the yard, then turned and ran back to the house… with Jake on her heels.

This behavior has a significant purpose because I think when Lil races by Jake, it has the potential to break him out of that trance-like state he gets stuck in sometimes.  So I guess I’ll be continuing to train Lil to “Go Get Jake.”