Freedom to freelance or no freedom at all – or something in between?
They so want to be able to carry on giving Luna freedom. This is what they want to resolve in contacting me: ‘Unreliable recall in distracting situations’.
‘Distracting situations’ are exactly when recall is most needed. Coming when she feels like it isn’t really recall at all.
Luna is a fox red Labrador. She is now five and they have had her for a year. Very likely her previous owners couldn’t cope with high drive and her desire for freedom.
Luna has landed on her feet.
Luna loves to chase a ball – particularly into the river.
She runs off. She freelances!
What are the ‘distracting situations’?
If she sees a horse in the distance, she may not come back when called. It’s the same with squirrels, deer and other animals. She lunges if she sees a cat when on lead.
When she runs off, she does always come back – eventually. The fear is what she may be doing meanwhile.
Freedom versus under control
This brings conflict for her owners, just as it does to many dog owners judging by posts on social media. They know how Luna loves to run off-lead and do her own thing. They feel she should be able to do this.
However, because they may not catch her in time they are allowing her to do what she wants. Walks can be a bit of nightmare. Aware of the risks, they constantly worry about what may happen but still allow her freedom.
A scared horse may throw its rider or a chased deer may lead Luna onto a busy road. The price of freedom could come dear.
People with dogs on lead for a very good reason don’t welcome a bouncy Labrador jumping over their dog or themselves. If the dog has reactivity problems and is being worked with, this can set them back badly.
For the couple to enjoy walks with their freedom loving Luna, they will need to rein things back for a while and gain some control.
A long line and a whistle
They should work on recall with Luna on a harness and a long line unless they are somewhere that they know is enclosed. She can still swim and they can work on her recall without fear of her ignoring them.
They will reduce the excitement of ball play – the way that they keep her with them. Maybe without so much being fired up, she will learn to enjoy exploring and sniffing and not only being madly active.
They can save the beloved ball as an incentive and reward for coming back to them.
Calling ‘come’ is, to Luna, optional. She simply freelances and comes back when she feels like it. She is used to the taste of freedom.
I suggest that they now introduce a whistle, something different.
The whistle alone isn’t enough. They need to thoroughly prepare it first and then not over-use it. Coming to the whistle needs to trigger something really special in the way of fun or food. The ball, perhaps?
With work, Luna should regain some controlled freedom in time and walks should be a lot more relaxed for her humans.