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Get Your Dog to Pay Attention Off Leash: Be Unpredictable

Julia Thomson is a contributor to That Mutt. She writes about country living at her blog Home on 129 Acres

One of the things I’m trying to work on with my dog Baxter is getting him to “check in” with me when he’s off leash. This means being more aware of where I am, or even better, coming over to touch base once in a while.

However, I’ve realized that I’m giving him lots of excuses not to check in.

Because we live on a busy road and there are no sidewalks or street lights—and because we have a big property with lots of areas to hike—most of our walks are across the fields.

Every morning, we walk around the perimeter of one of our fields, usually counterclockwise. He knows this, so once he knows which field we’re walking in, off he goes without looking back.

Now, I like an independent dog, but as I’ve shared before Baxter is a little too independent sometimes. As in, he sometimes forgets I exist in favour of following his nose.

Baxter being independent

I stopped walking the other day, just to see how tuned in to me he was. Dude just kept on walkin’… and walkin’ and walkin’. Finally I called his name and turned around and walked the other way. He stopped and took about half a minute to think about what he should do, but eventually he followed me.

We started out again. Once again, Baxter trotted along the edge of the field, out in front of me, full of confidence. Rather than stopping this time, I took a sharp left turn across the field. I didn’t call his name. He looked over his shoulder and saw I wasn’t behind him. He turned left and followed me.

So now I’m trying to be unpredictable.

Instead of our usual routes, I follow the crest of a hill. Cut across the field. Walk in a big X from corner to corner.

Baxter still wants to follow the perimeter of the field—that’s what he’s used to and that’s where the best sniffs are. However, he’s realizing that I’m unpredictable, so he’s watching me more than he used to. If I head off in another direction, he’ll stand still, trying to figure out where he should go next, and eventually… usually… he’ll head in my direction.

I’m trying to walk confidently, not look back, not change my course, not call his name. I want him to realize who’s in charge, and that he has to follow me.

Baxter headed in the right direction

Sometimes I hide, ducking behind a hill or tucking myself behind a tree, just to try to create a bit of a sense of urgency with him. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

He’s not always close to me, but he’s starting to pay more attention to where I am. The battle against Distracted Doggie Syndrome continues.

How do you get your dog to pay attention off leash?

Let us know in the comments!

Get your dog to pay attention off leash

Other posts about Baxter:

How to train your dog to be off leash

How to increase your dog’s focus on walks

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