Eden’s off-leash “birthday party”

On Saturday, Eden’s first birthday, my family took the dogs (and Dublin) to Fisher Farm, this wonderful nature preserve near my parents’ house. We wanted to wear the dogs out and let them practice their off-leash recall, so we brought long drag lines for our girls and a little bag of tiny pepperoni and treats for reinforcement.

Dogs at Fisher Farm

I didn’t have my camera with me, so unfortunately, I don’t have any great photos of this wonderful afternoon. But these were the highlights:

Playing in the River

Dublin, being mostly lab, is a natural water dog. Our dogs aren’t, as far as we can tell. On Friday, at my grandparents’ house, Eden jumped in the lake when we called to her and quickly panicked. I’m glad we were there to help her get out, because she did not like being fully submerged in the water and unable to stand.

Dogs at Fisher Farm

But there’s a little river that runs through Fisher Farm, and we thought the girls would like that. We were right! They both had a blast splashing in the water and running through it. My dad was able to snap a few blurry phone pics:

Dogs at Fisher Farm

Dogs at Fisher Farm

Dogs at Fisher Farm

Dogs at Fisher Farm

(You get the idea, right? They had SO much fun.)

And, if you’re interested, there’s even a tiny video of the girls running in the river.

Off-Leash Recall Practice

Watching them romp in the river was wonderful, but I think our adventures in off-leash recall were the most heartening to me.

Dublin, as I’ve mentioned, has the most perfect recall I’ve ever seen in a dog; my dad can call her back from chasing a squirrel or approaching another dog. She’ll stop on a dime for him. Our girls? Not so much.

So, to practice, I had a bag of treats, and we had both girls on drag lines during our hike through the woods and in the fields. We’d practice letting them get ahead of us and then calling them back, at varying distances, and rewarding them warmly with praise and treats. They all quickly caught on to this gambit, and soon, all three dogs would come running to us whenever we called. I was so pleased.

Pyrrha is still an absent-minded wanderer at heart. I don’t think she’ll ever be fully reliable off-leash. I’m also the only person that she really wants to come to, which can naturally be a hazard if I’m not around and she escapes. But I was especially pleased with Eden’s performance. Of all three dogs, even Dublin, Eden was the one who wanted to check in the most. If she got out of sight from the humans, she was always the first to turn around and come back to us, even without being called. Her natural disposition toward people is evident here.

I hope we’ll continue to make the time to practice this in a safe place. It made my heart happy to see how joyful and relaxed both girls were off leash. Pyrrha especially is such a different dog. Having to wear a leash makes her so tense.

Curious to hear from you: What’s your dog’s recall style? Is he or she a wanderer? Or does he or she stick close by you all the time?

Pyrrha Chases a Deer

Toward the end of our hike, a female deer suddenly shot of out of the brush near the field, and Pyrrha was off like a shot. I mean, she was GONE after that deer. My natural hunter (Dublin and Eden were not at all interested). I panicked a little, and Dad and I started to run after her. The grass was very tall, and the woods she ran into were deep, and she was completely out of sight.

But… a few minutes later: Pyrrha comes running back up to us, exhilarated and breathless. Such excitement on her face! No deer meat for dinner, but I was very proud of her for returning to us, without much frantic encouragement or freaking out on my part. She was on deer alert for the rest of the hike.

All in all, it was a perfect afternoon, and an ideal dog birthday party.

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13 thoughts on “Eden’s off-leash “birthday party”

  1. Off leash recall practice is so tricky. You need to practice it, but unless you know you have a decent recall, it’s hard to find a good place to test it. I am never really comfortable with Silas off leash, because his fear of unexpected objects/people is so heavily weighted toward “get it before it gets me.” Although when I do let him off, he seems to do okay.

  2. I am just about to post about our nonexistent recall…

    What a lovely adventure your girls had! It’s hard to fault them the thrill of the chase. My first dog Lasya and her BFF, my mom’s dog, Scout, had the most wonderful times rabbit-hunting together on my folks’ property.

  3. Shelby does the same thing at herding with her sheep, and I worry every single time, even though it’s fenced in. It’s 60 acres and a lot of it I can’t see and I’m always worried if there’s a break in the fence or she hops over or or or, and every time she comes back – I did well, right mom? With this doofy grin. Looks like a great way to spend a doggy birthday!

  4. Great pictures, they look so happy! Kaya & Norman are off leash every day so their recall is pretty spot on. I started the way you did with lots of treats and praise until it became second nature. I also practiced with toy throws at home to call them off distractions. And I’ve always praised for checking in.

    Kaya’s recall really did a turning point when I got her into fetch. I guess she saw me as a whole lot more super awesome when I became “the ball thrower lady.” Norman is still a stop and sniff the roses kind of guy so I’m always working on his enthusiasm for recall. But the key is that neither of them run off. They dip on and off the trail during our whole hike but they always know where I am. And I can call them away from other dogs if I need to. I think that’s the most important thing:)

  5. Oh lady, I have a TON of recall games you can play to help build *drive* for a recall. I might need to write a whole post on this.

    First, in the house and yard you can play the “I’ve got something better” game — you take a kibble or a low value treat and something your dog really likes (liver? chicken? something GOOD). You throw the kibble or low value goodie a few feet away and tell them to “get it” – as soon as they’re done eating it, call them to you and treat with the awesome treat. This starts to build the idea of whatever they’re doing, when you call you have something better (there’s also a more advanced version of this game, which makes it MUCH harder, but thats the basic version).

    Then there’s the chase game. Most dogs like to chase you when you run. So: in the backyard practice letting them go sniff (or throwing a treat out to make them go pay attention to something else) and then running away from them. They chase you. When they “catch you” you throw a party.

    The idea with both games is to get a FAST recall first — before adding distance or distractions. You want your dog to come to you at a full out run as soon as you call them. 🙂

    Playing 5-10 mins a day (practicing 5-10 recalls/day) builds a surprisingly strong foundation in just a few weeks. Happy to share some other games if you’re interested.

  6. We really need to work on Lola’s recall! She is great 90% of the time (does GREAT in obedience and at the dog park even), but if it’s too high of a distraction (flyball) or she’s playing “keep the ball away” – forget it. This has been a struggle! So that’s the next thing we’re working on. But like you were mentioning, I think some dogs will just inherently have better recalls than others…I guess that’s the way it goes.

  7. Küster loves swimming and he took to it early on. He learned before he was a year old and loves to have the chance to jump in. Bunny is more of a wader. Flattery will wade in and lay down, but she’s not one to try swimming in water deeper than she is tall. I’ve only ever seen Morgan wade and I’m not sure if she’d ever want to do more than that.

    Küster’s recall is good — as long as you have his currency. If you want him to come back to you, you’d better have a tennis ball!

  8. Max goes off leash when moving from the recliner to the love seat. AS to all that wilderness, he doesn’t see the point. Frou-frou dogs just don’t get the great outdoors.

  9. Sounds like a wonderful day. And it looks like you had the area to yourself.

    It’s interesting to see how different Pyrrha and Eden were off leash. So many people think that breed rules. But dogs are so different from each other.

    Honey is much like Eden. She regularly checks in with me when we’re walking off leash. Of course, I reinforce it heavily by carrying liverwurst and rewarding her when she checks in. Or by hiding behind a tree and asking her to find me.

  10. That sounds like so much fun. Recall practice is a vital exercise indeed; I have found that it takes a long time to build it up with some dogs. And with dogs who have a strong prey drive, I think it’s uncertain whether recall will EVER be 100%…or that is certainly the impression I have of my Fozzie 🙂

  11. Sounds like a terrific birthday party to me. And good for you for practicing recall. I’m glad Pyrrha didn’t get into any trouble chasing that deer, and secretly, I’m happy for her that she got to have that moment of joy taking off after it! What a joy it is to have two dogs!! Happy birthday, Eden!

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