In Colorado dog owners love nothing more than getting out into nature with their dogs. it’s a great way to get exercise for both dog and owner. Dog owners also need to be able call their dog off from chasing wildlife. Dogs chasing wildlife is not only illegal, it’s dangerous for everyone. Wild animals cannot afford the calories, stress and dangers from a high-speed chase. Dogs that don’t have a reliable recall get lost in the mountains nearly every week. Dog owners need to come to terms with the fact that they are bringing their dogs into the homes of wildlife and that native animals deserve respect and protection. Dogs deserve protection too, even though sometimes that means protecting them from their own strong impulse to chase. Below you’ll find suggestion from the Colorado Division of Wildlife on what you can do to ensure your dog stays nearby on hikes.
- Understand that off-leash work is equivalent to a graduate degree. You cannot expect your high-school level dog to suddenly become a PhD when you unhook its leash on a tempting mountain trail. Getting that PhD requires education and tons of recall practice in your home, yard and elsewhere.
- Accept that dogs are like us in this important way: they seek to avoid pain and gain pleasure. If you punish your dog for returning to you, why should he do it again? If you motivate your dog (think delicious meat or cheese training treats-dry dog biscuits are boring and insufficient) to stay close to you, you are well ahead of the game.
- One way to motivate your dog to stay close by is to “leak chicken.” This means you go outside with your dog (on a loose leash at first) and you don’t talk to her but you quickly bend down and—oops—drop pieces of chicken every few steps. Try this for five days in your backyard and watch how “sticky” your dog becomes.
- We say in dog training: “you get what you reinforce.” I encourage (beg, actually) owners to reinforce EVERY TIME your dog visually “checks in” with you on a walk. They look back at you and when they do: jack pot! Reward with smiling, petting, and some of that chicken you haven’t yet leaked. This is the beginning of a reliable recall.
- Put bear bells on your dog, even if you aren’t concerned about a bear being in the area. It alerts wildlife to your dog’s presence and it gives you an indication of where your dog is. Don’t allow those bells to get out of hearing.