Years ago, I had a border collie named Judy. I had started training her on sheep, but she hadn’t yet shown interest in them as a working dog. She wanted to race to the corral and run at the horses (a dangerous kind of entertainment) and hang out at the house.
I took her to a stock dog workshop. On the second day there, Judy suddenly crouched down and began to “stalk” the sheep. She had “turned on,” and her hard-wired stock dog behavior kicked in.
At this moment, the teacher walked very purposefully to me and said, “OK. From this day forward, this dog never goes to the stock without you. The sheep aren’t there for her entertainment; they have only to do with you. She’s part of a team.”
The wisdom of these words has stayed with me. Teamwork is about relationship. With relationship comes responsibility, love, trust, hope, fun, freedom and, yes, rules. It’s a conversation. Rules alone can create a robot. A dog might be mentally shut down by not being allowed to express his unique side of your relationship.
Freedom alone can create an out-of-control dog. His behavior sometimes is frustrating and sometimes dangerous. He may be headed for the animal shelter if he doesn’t get help. His freedom needs to be balanced with some rules and leadership.
A frequent comment from our students is, “When I walk my dog out on trails, I turn him loose, and he’s pretty good about sticking around until another dog comes by or he smells something interesting.”
The words of my teacher at Judy’s sheep dog workshop ring in my ears.
Off-leash and on-leash walking has everything to do with relationship, management and learning. It begins in our home by teaching our dog basic skills (sit, come, wait). Integrating these skills into everyday life make these behaviors relevant to him. We take care of his life needs, giving him enough exercise time and play time and settle down time. We teach him that being on his leash is not punishment but an opportunity to go with us to very interesting places.
If we let our dog run around outside alone with nature or with other dogs without our involvement, how can we expect that he’ll suddenly run to us and respond to us in a crisis, or even leave his doggy friends? He’s not part of our team. The bond is not there.
Relationship is like a big rubber band. We stretch out to explore and bounce back to the security and joy of our shared life. There’s mutual pull being exerted on both parties. The beautiful shared walks we dream about have to do with us, as a team. It could be a walk in the park.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She brings great teaching skills and invaluable experience to the Total Teamwork Training group.