It matters how you start a thing. This is particularly true when applied to starting a Free Range Dog from puppyhood. People often have a vision of life with their dog- things they would like to do with them and places they would like to go. In the case of the Free Range Dog, we are talking about creating a situation where you can confidently and safely hike with your dog off-leash on trails in the Phoenix, Arizona area. This will require some knowledge and experience on your part and training for both you and your dog.
There are a multitude of options and long-established methods and tools for controlling dogs out there, structured training methods that are considered proven and time honored. To a new dog owner, this may look like the best path to take. Sometimes, however, these methods can lead to uncertainty, confusion and frustration. While many of those old school methods are effective in gaining control over a dog, they don’t tend to create a dog with the spirit to enjoy the outdoors as much as you both would like. In fact, some of those methods can ultimately crush the very things that you are trying to nurture and develop.
It is possible, however, to have a different, more relaxed view of how to introduce your dog to the outside natural world. Yes, you absolutely want a dog that responds to simple commands and that you can recall when he is running off-leash, for your dog’s safety and well-being. But do you also want a dog who is a true hiking companion, sharing the joys of being outdoors with you?
Most puppies start with obedience and structure. The purpose of most of these training interactions focus on controlling your dog and suppressing his free will to make him a good canine citizen at the end of a six-foot leash. Your dog spends his time with you surveying and tracking your expectations of him. His world is governed by the things he is told he can’t do and the ways that he can’t be: “Don’t smell that hole in the ground! Stay away from the brush line! Get off the sofa! Stop digging holes!” These are all, of course, an attempt to keep all concerned free from harm and under control- but at some point, it may come at the expense of your dog.
If your vision and goal is a Free Range Dog to roam the hills with, most of your focus will be to nurture the free will and natural enthusiasm that is innate in all dogs. Those early lessons and exposures, by necessity, include the civilizing skills a young dog needs to live in a human household. But additionally and even more importantly, in my view, you need to embrace the dog nature of your furry little beast to develop and encourage him to grow up into a passionate, bold, nature-savvy, and open country companion.
Here are some important points to keep in mind as you navigate and develop your relationship with your Free Range Dog:
#1 Remember that your dog’s job is to bond with his humans, and for the most part this isn’t done during training sessions. It’s done quietly, during down time. The most important requirement a dog needs is proximity to his humans so he can successfully attach. Your dog needs to live in the house, sit with you on the sofa, join you in the kitchen while cooking, sleep on a bed next to you. In other words, he needs to fully share your life and become an intimate member of your family (or pack!).
#2 It’s not what happens “on-leash” that matters. It’s how your dog responds and connects to you “off-leash” in everyday life that will determine the success of your Free Range Dog partnership.
#3 Remember that your dog assesses the world differently from you. People view the world through their vision. Dogs view the world through scent. This is fundamental. If you are not watching how your dog is using his nose, then you cannot know what is in your dog’s mind. Learn how to observe and understand your dog’s connections to the many scents in his world and how he reacts to them.
For personalized training guidance geared to you and your dog, please go to freerangedogs.com to book an online consultation or in-person training. Learn how you and your dog can enjoy the Free Range Dog lifestyle in the Phoenix, Arizona area: hiking off-leash safely and confidently! I look forward to connecting with you!