Dogs and Wildlife - Tips for going Off-leash July 2016

Some of my favourite moments with my dog, Shadow, have been the opportunities to un-clip his leash and watch him run free without restraint. Alternatively, some of my most stressful moments with Shadow have been after he spots a critter and takes off into the bushes in a mad pursuit. While in reality he is only ever gone for a few minutes, when I have no idea where he is and what he is doing, that time without him feels like an eternity.

It can be hard not to take it personally when your dog doesn't automatically want to stay at your side, or when they bolt off ignoring your normally reliable recall cue. Part of my process for dealing with these stressful times has been to remind myself that my dog evolved from wolves and inherited many of their genetic traits. Since wolves have to hunt for their food in order to survive it is only natural that we see an incredibly strong prey drive in a great number of ours dogs. Despite the fact that they are well-fed, it is normal for our dogs to have the instinct to search for, stalk, chase, bite and/or kill* wildlife when the opportunity presents itself. Predation is about getting enough to eat and it is instinctual, it is not the dog being “stubborn” or “bad.”

The good news is that with training and management you can greatly reduce the odds that your dog will chase wildlife when they are off-leash. The bad news is that regardless of how much training you do, you can never 100% guarantee your dog's behaviour. It is wonderful to want your dog to have off-leash freedom, but it is important to remember that it is our job to keep them safe. There will always be risks and you have to decide when those risks are reasonable and when they are not.

Management Around the Home:

Management On Walks:

Above: My dogs, Morvo and Shadow, wearing their collars with tags and bearbells as well high-visability orange vests.


Above: Shadow always has a happy "recall face" because he LOVES coming when called!

*If your dog has a history of killing cats, dogs, farm animals, preserved or endangered animals please use strict management to ensure it never happens again. No amount of training can guarantee a dog who has a history of killing will not do it again. However, please note that a dog who kills an animal due to predatory urges is not at risk of becoming aggressive. Predation is about eating, aggression is about protecting oneself from threats.