Dog Blog #18 – Taking Margot off the Lead…

This week it has all been about the lead which has certainly been an adventure of sorts. The questions we have been asking ourselves are things like: Should we let Margot run free yet? When is the best time to take her off the lead? Have we left it too late? Will she come back or will she use the opportunity to get as far away from us as possible?

It’s a scary time when you must let your young charges develop their independence as I know from my dealings with children both in teaching and with our own daughter. You only want the best for them and you cross your fingers in the hope that they will remain safe. It’s not that different when you are dealing with a puppy. And there are plenty of people out there willing to share their opinions too. When you are still a very new dog owner, and you have never done any of this before, it’s hard to know whether you are doing the right thing at the right time or not. But you have to start somewhere…

Inside looking out

Margot enjoys spending time in the garden (continuing to chew on my roses) and if she isn’t outside in it, she will pass quite a few minutes watching the world go by through the glass. Or at least the various birds flying overhead, the robin family sat on the branches of one of the trees near the back fence and the buzzards roosting in the trees down by the river.

Walking in the rain

I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts about not wishing to have a fairweather dog given the unpredictable weather we experience in the UK – it’s fair to say that Margot still doesn’t like going out in the rain very much although she looks ever so sweet when she is all wet and the fur on her head goes all fluffy. She has been in luck for the last few weeks as it has been very dry (albeit cold with an Arctic wind) and on the occasion in the pictures, the sudden shower took us both by surprise!

Long line issues

Last weekend we went back to the forest with the long line and the intention of practising Margot’s recall. P is very good at managing all 10 metres of the lead although there is definitely a knack to letting it out and gathering it up again in big loops, especially when our pup weaves around a large pine! J is the expert: P was instructed to ensure that Margot felt no backward tug whatsoever (giving her the feeling of not actually being restrained) and when the line was fully extended, she must shout out the command to ‘Come’. It worked well. We were on our way.

Playing off the lead

A short way into this training walk we bumped into a lady with two dogs. Not unexpectedly, we stopped to share pleasantries. Margot being Margot was up on her back two legs straining at the leash to get closer to the other dogs, which is when the lady asked us what she was like off the lead. I know she was only trying to be supportive, but her stern words about how we should have done this already made me feel like we had done something wrong.

As I tried to explain that we were new dog owners and really worried that our puppy would run off, the lady suggested that we give Margot the chance to run around with her two. She assured us that her dogs would remain close and Margot would therefore stay with them. Knowing that our pup always just wants to play with any person or dog she comes into contact with, I felt certain that she would have a ball. There was instant chasing and positive socialisation between them all. When another dog walker arrived in the distance, the lady we had met blew on a whistle twice and her two dogs sat at her feet instantly. That was another aspect of training she recommended – and one J is keen to use too. Even though I did feel as though initially I had been told off, she definitely meant well and it was a new adventure for us all.

Walking in the Forest

On Sunday we went back to the forest armed once again with the long line but also a bit of confidence from the previous day. Our local area seems to be packed full of lovely dog owners, most of whom are keen to share their wisdom and their experience with clearly very keen but green beginners.

Here we met the friendliest lady with her husband out walking their three dogs. Once again we explored our concerns about taking Margot off the lead and our interactions in a different part of the forest the day before. Her view was that if we left it too long, Margot would feel overly confident and more inclined to explore a bit further afield. And if we always had our puppy restrained on a lead, when we ever did take her off it, she might enjoy the sense of freedom that bit too much and decide to be less inclined to go back on it again. But her best piece of advice: ‘Sausage and cheese.’ Those high value treats worth coming back for.

The advantages of dogs being allowed off a lead is that they can run around without any restrictions, as well as it being more fun and exciting for them. They can move at their own natural pace, become more aware of the natural surroundings and the extra exercise is therefore beneficial to their physical and mental health. It all makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t make it any less scary.

But do you know what, after this second conversation in two days, we decided to all take metaphorical deep breaths and give it a go. Margot has been pretty good at her recall on the long line up to this point. With a clear plan to call her back if we saw other dogs in the distance and not let her run off too far ahead, we all did really well. And another bonus: we bumped into the same people a second time and they were delighted to see that they had helped us!

It is interesting how this lead business can be quite a hot topic though. I was on a discussion forum where the majority of people were in agreement that we had done the right thing. ‘Two words – love and faith. If they love you, have faith they will come back. Very scary the first time but soon you will wonder what you worried about.’ ‘Having had a few dogs it is still a leap of faith the first time off the lead but they do stay close and come back when called. Enjoy your puppy.’

However, one post stated how lucky we were that she came back given the number of foxes and deer in the forest and that so many dogs go missing in there. ‘I would not advise having a dog off a lead in any forest unless the recall training is top notch.’ Food for thought indeed.

Back on the lead

Back on the lead by the side of the road and Margot had not forgotten how to walk at heel. There’s definitely a time and a place for different situations lead-wise.

Margot asleep

Margot says…

I have enjoyed a bit more freedom to run about recently. My favourite bit has been chasing the other dogs when I’m let off the lead. Being friendly is in my nature. I can’t help it. It doesn’t matter if they are puppies like me or old grumps. I do get a bit scared when they bark though. Probably serves me right, but it is still exciting socialising with others.

Being in the forest with all that space is brilliant. I hope we go back there again soon.

Next week… more recall training!

Feel free to comment, share and spread the word.

4 responses to “Dog Blog #18 – Taking Margot off the Lead…”

  1. Margot is so gorgeous! I love her sweet expression when she looks at you with your camera in the last photo! It seems as if all of you have grown loads in confidence, it’s so great she comes back to you off the lead. A huge result, you must all be very proud of her and yourselves for persevering with her training! Must be confusing with lots of different opinions though, good that you are basing decisions on Margot and relating to how she is in different scenarios. Have a lovely weekend walking in the forest again!


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