Drake, our yellow Lab, took a flyer yesterday. I had him out for pigeons the morning before. We were set up under a flight path of feral pigeons flying into a food source. I managed to scrape down a few for Drake and Scout to retrieve. He woke up the next morning figuring that he should be able to go get more of those pigeons. He is a willful boy, especially where there are feathers concerned.
When I let him out the door yesterday morning to walk with me and check our lower valley, he was primed. We got to the end of the loop we normally walk and I turned around to head back up the hill to the house. He traveled beyond me a little ways, which is what he normally does to buy more time. We play a game where I wait for him on the uphill road while he lingers a bit before accepting the inevitable and heading back. Only yesterday morning, there was an unexpected addition to our normal morning routine when a covey of quail exploded next to him as he got to the turnaround. The little feathered missiles spread out on the slope above and he turned down the road away from me. The last I saw of him was his rear end disappearing around a tree on the dirt two-track that leads out to the edge of civilization 200 yards distant.
I figured he would turn and follow the quail upslope through the brush and then work his way back to me. I didn’t cue him to return as I watched for him to appear where the quail had settled in. When he didn’t show up, I walked down to where he had disappeared. I walked out the road looking for him, but to no avail. He had vacated the area. He probably figured that since the quail was gone, he should probably go find some of the pigeons.
This is a classic example of a Free Range Dog concern. You turn him loose and he doesn’t come back. Drake is trained and he knows better. But he did it anyways. He is trained to return to a vocal, whistle or electronic collar cue. Minus any of those cues, he still knew his responsibility was to stay with me. To be fair, I didn’t cue him when the quail went uphill because I wanted to watch him work those quail. But the onus was on him to monitor my position and to return to me.
Now, Drake did turn up. Our neighbors down the hill called half an hour later. He had come in to play with their dog, and they leashed him and called the number on his collar.
What Drake did was deliberate and it illustrates a matter of trust. I trusted him to focus on me and be responsible for monitoring my position and return to me. He trusted that he would prefer to do something else. In the Free Range Dog world, this happens.
There is a hierarchy of commands available in this situation. I could’ve used my voice, a whistle cue, or I could’ve touched him with an e-collar. The first two cues are passive as there is no way to enforce the command while using them. Regarding the third option of an e-collar, the primary benefit of using one is that it doesn’t require trust in order to work. An e-collar is reliable even when when your dog is beyond the range of your voice or whistle. You can always rely on an e-collar, even when your dog trusts he would rather be somewhere else.
The limitation of an e-collar, as opposed to your voice or whistle, is that in order for it to work, your dog needs to be wearing it. It wasn’t on Drake yesterday morning. This is like an insurance policy that must be in effect before you can file a claim. The e-collar will work, but it has to be on the dog.
At this point, the relationship between Drake and I is back on stable footing. His breach of trust has been noted by both him and I and we have come to an understanding. And, for the foreseeable future, he can trust that he won’t be exiting the house without wearing his e-collar.
Training and maintaining your dog to be a Free Range Dog takes work and experience, but is well worth the effort. Please check our website and sign up for online consultations or in-person training experiences. I would love to help you develop the confidence and comfort needed to let your dog run off-leash on hiking trails with you. I look forward to connecting with you.