Sighthounds on the loose!
 This page contains a few tips written specially for sighthound owners - but applicable for many dog breeds! This article is about letting your sighthound off the leash, something many owners are nervous about and often cheat themselves of the enormous pleasure of seeing them running around free enjoying doing what they love best in the whole world: running fast and pretending they are "wild dogs"!
(I call all dogs "he" as all mine are males!)
Sighthounds just love to run free - of course!
They are quick to learn and only really want to please their owner. They are trustworthy and loyal and often stay near you when you walk with them on the loose, but one must constantly be aware that they can in seconds, be miles away, if they see something to chase after - and if there is something to see - then they will see it!!!
Here is how you treat them and train them for maximum obedience.

The first thing you must have uppermost in your mind:
No matter what "crime" your dog may have committed, how long time he took to come when you called, or how worried and angry you got when you called in vain - you must ALWAYS show true love and a hearty warm greeting (preferably with a small treat or two) when the dog finally does come back to you. You may need to be a good actor/actress for this!
In other words: Your dog MUST be able to be sure of a warm and loving welcome AT ALL TIMES, no matter what he did prior to coming to you. He must learn from his earliest days, that to be by your side is the most pleasurable situation! He must know that you, without fail, are always glad to see him again. He must look forward to being with you again if, as and when he runs off - and he will!
Far too many owners make the fatal mistake of showing their quite natural anger and frustration when their dog has been disobedient or in some way let them down. They also feel the dog should be punished.
But it's impossible to explain to a dog that, whilst he did right here and NOW when he finally came when you called for the 100th time, he did wrong prior to this by delaying coming.
There's just no way you can explain this subtlety to any dog.
Punish him and be angry when he finally does come and next time you can be sure he'll put off the evil moment of rejoining you, perhaps even learn to dread coming, as next time as he knows this will only be unpleasant.
Never reproach a dog for being slow to return - he'll then only be even slower next time!
I have seen many a dog slinking along TRYING to come its angry owners, tail down and hating and scared of the situation and nervous of the scolding or maybe even blows that will ensue. I have seen hunters hit their dog when it was disobedient.
So do not ever fall into the trap of showing your negative emotions. Never punish a dog for finally doing the very thing that you have after all, been trying to get him to do for the last 10 minutes or more!!!

The point to keep in mind is, that the moment when the dog has come to your feet, he has done the right thing! He's done what you wanted! His behavior is at that moment in time is 100% correct.
For this, he must be instantly rewarded.
If you were very annoyed, perhaps even feeling murderous, (!!!) then HIDE YOUR FEELINGS AT ALL COSTS! You can instead, make him sit on command so that he "earns" the treat by being obedient yet again, and then you must immediately give him praise and a tit-bit. In other words: He must be really glad he came to you, no matter what he's done or how you feel about it. This is so vitally important.

By a lake in Denmark
Photo: An Eikica show Greyhound posing beside a Danish lake in winter.
From the first moment you bring your new dog into your home, have some dry puppy food always at the ready in your pocket. (I say puppy food, as the pieces are very small - do NOT use something unhealthy like chocolate, which is poisonous for dogs! Rather use a brand of dog food that you reserve only for treats.)
Call his name in sweet (but commanding) tones and reward with praise and a single piece of the puppy food every time he comes. Do this often - but not so often he gets bored with it! This is the first important step. Takes just 5 minutes to learn!!!

The place where you will walk the dog
The next step is to choose with care the area where you will take the daily walk.
There must not be busy roads too near or too many wild animals. Open areas are best for Sighthounds as they CAN crash into trees - they look back to see what you're doing or if other dogs are chasing behind and at high speed, suddenly - wham!
Take the walk five or six times or more (if it's an older dog who's new to you, then MANY times over 2-3 weeks), whilst keeping the dog on the leash. (Once a day, not 5-6 times a day!) Let him examine the route the whole time.
The idea is that he learn the route thoroughly before getting his freedom. By learning the area, he won't get lost or panic if suddenly he runs off the beaten track. It's best to always take the same route each time.
Always walk at the same time every day.
Wild animals learn quickly and will scram out of it fast, prior to your coming each day - if they have a chance to get to know you! Fix something on to the dog's collars that rings or tinkles and the sound of this will act as a warning to all the wild creatures. A hare only has to be chased after once and it will make quite sure it doesn't happen again if it can recognize the same collar bells ringing! You can whistle, sing and speak unnaturally loudly to the dogs or stamp or clap occasionally - anything that will scare wild animals far away! Believe me, the wild animals soon learn to keep away from your dogs!

I'm of course assuming that you, as I do, have the dogs as pets living in your house together with you. For those of you who have their dogs shut away somewhere the most of the time or permanently, this close bonding between owner and dog is impossible and you may never be able to trust your dog in the same way when, if ever, it runs free. It will no doubt ignore you and make full use of the freedom and refuse to be caught. I know I would do the same, if I was a dog who never went on regular walks!

WARNING: If it's an older dog you've taken over from someone else, who is not used to having his freedom, take an extra long time getting him used to the area where you walk whilst keeping him on the leash, and be sure he has become devoted and faithful to you and comes enthusiastically every time he is called. I'd take several weeks to be on the safe side. I always train my dogs to come to a whistle as well. A soundless whistle carries further, especially for men whose voice is usually isn't as effective as a womans! A whistle can also be used by others, should they walk the dog for you one day - so he's not just used to just one or two particular human voices. And it's more discreet than plain standing hollering, should he disappear and other people are around!

Note: Never underestimate how different you may look to a dog when he sees you from a great distance - and maybe for the first time! Remember that moving objects are easier to spot than stationary, so don't just stand there calling, run to and fro! You can also wave a large white handkerchief. I always do. He will also tend to run to look for you where he last saw you - so don't wander too far away.
Two of my Whippets running free near a lake in Denmark
Two of my Whippets enjoying the cool lake waters on a hot summer morning walk. They hate to get wet and never swim, but "cool paws" can be a pleasure!

When out on the walk, it's important to occasionally call your dog to you and praise, love him and give a treat - and then just let him go again. This way, he'll never know the moment when you plan to "capture" him permanently and put him on the leash. Dogs CAN play up when they sense that the end of a walk is nigh - which is usually all too soon in their opinion! I have never had a sighthound who did this, but the possibility is there.
You can also occasionally walk on for 5 minutes and then release him again. He should get a relaxed attitude to being restrained on the leash - and a relaxed attitude about running free.
Dogs who rarely get the chance, cannot be blamed for playing up and trying to prolong the fun - much to the owners frustration. Such owners often swear: "never again!"
But one should rather take the dog for a daily run, give him time to get used to the situation and enjoy it like it's no more special than his dinner each day. A dog who runs free every day, will always be attentive to his owners wishes - and happy and well balanced in himself. (And a good mover at shows!) He'll find running free no big deal and will always be willing to come to you again. You will get a lot of pleasure from seeing him run around. Sighthounds are simply beautiful in motion and you can see all their muscles flexing!

Don't be deceived by a sighthound. If you get a puppy and start walking short distances every day - this is great and you'll have few problems. But I have heard sad stories of several "beginner" owners of older re-homed or rescued sighthounds who, despite warnings from the breeder, let their newly acquired dog run free straight away - without any of the precautions I mention above.

Sighthounds are easily bored and therefore can appear very docile, quiet and sweet, often moving slowly most of the walk. This is deceptive. A new owner can believe that all is well and go off on a walk in the countryside with the dog off leash. But the docile sighthound can, faster than anyone would dream of, turn suddenly into a bullet shot out of a gun and race off at such a speed that it can in seconds be up to a mile away and perhaps out of earshot!
It will run straight back again just as fast, if dog and owner both love each other and are "bonded together" as they should be. (Even experienced owners can have their heart in their mouths occasionally - but that's all part of the fun of owning such a breed of dog - you get the "adrenaline rush" regularly!!!)
But what happens to the inexperienced, newly placed dog? He panics.
The unknown new situation scares him out of his mind. He's maybe never seen his new owners at such a distance, (perhaps they are dots on the horizon or even out of sight). They are suddenly complete strangers and he becomes afraid of everyone. He runs wildly around and is soon totally lost.
THIS is why you should spend a week or more familiarising him with the walking area BEFORE letting him run free.
If you have several dogs, start the first time by having them on the leash when the new one is set free to run loose. They will act like magnets to ensure he keeps nearby. The first time all dogs are let free, choose a rainy day or a day that is too hot - this puts a damper on all stupid flying around antics, drunk with freedom - they will just want to get home again!!!

If your dog has run off and you have waited a hour calling an whistling, then what do you do? Well, never stop looking and calling and if possible get hold of someone he knows, who can help. Get the police, local dog rescue involved. Put up notices in schools, on trees, notice boards in shopping malls etc. He's out there somewhere dying for you to rescue him.
But all this worry need not happen if you take the precautions explained above.


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