a place for ourselves

We are enjoying visiting this field by our house. So far we haven’t met any other dogs here and Bubba has been able to explore off leash. Once we’re in the field I ask him to sit, then I’ll unclip his leash from his harness. He likes to tear around on his own for a couple minutes, enjoying the freedom. After a bit he settles down and will chase and retrieve a stick for a while. Bubba enjoys the chase. He’ll return the stick to me a little more than half the time and I always make him drop it on his own (no pulling it out of his mouth, as much as he wants me to), then I ask him to sit before I’ll throw it again. Usually there’s a treat or two involved in the equation too. He is practicing patience. We work on coming when called, something he’s not very good at. I use the command sparingly and enthusiastically, always with a treat when he complies. After a while we wander down the back side of the hill, around a path through some trees, then back up to the top for a few more tosses of the stick or maybe just a break to lay down and chew on it for a while.

It’s a joy to watch him wandering around freely, following his nose and exploring on his own. The more time Bubba gets off-leash, the more comfortable it becomes for both of us. I always praise and/or treat him when he comes back over to me on his own accord, and with time I’m finding that he stays closer, rather than roaming further away from me. I hope that allowing him to get used to being off-leash in familiar areas will help him be more trustworthy off-leash on hikes, where he runs off too far and too fast. When it’s time to go I start walking back toward home. Bubba follows and listens when I ask him to sit and have his leash reattached. He is learning his boundaries, literal and behavioral, and I’m learning more about his personality and the most effective ways to teach him and reward him.

My concern of course comes back to Bubba’s reaction to other dogs. In that department he is still unpredictable and untrustworthy. A few days ago he met an off-leash doberman pinscher in the field by my work. The dogs sprinted to confront each other in the middle of the field. I could tell by the way the doberman’s owner was running and shouting behind him that he was also “not good with dogs.” This didn’t look like it was going to go well. The dogs actually did alright… sniffing for a few seconds with hackles raised upon first contact. Once the doberman’s owner was able to grab his collar, the dogs became aggressive. It took a moment for me to be able to grab Bubba’s harness but I wasn’t excited about the idea of reaching in there between him and a snarling doberman. They never got down to actual fighting. At heart I don’t believe Bubba wants to fight and I’m glad that’s not what it came to this time.