My whole life, balance has been a recurring theme. And in dog handling, it's no different.
Green grass and rolling hills. Tons of places for dogs to safely run. It's what I envisioned when Mr. Wild Dingo proposed moving to Switzerland.
Yet the first few months here, I never let either dog off-leash for fear of the strict Swiss dog laws. In reading Swiss dog laws, it appears any form of compulsion is not allowed, yet strict control of your dog is expected. And I struggled to find an appropriately "legal" way to have complete control while letting them get the exercise they truly need.
I recently found this lovely trail (The Trout Trail) very close to our house where tons of people walk their dogs off-leash. I'm almost afraid after writing this post that it will come back and bite me in the ass the next time I'm out there and we're off leash. Because as we know, Loki and Juno are not perfectly behaved around livestock just yet, but we're working on that.
The other day I saw a chocolate Labrador on the busy farm trails where we bike and walk the dogs. The lab had an e-collar on. And I was never so happy to see that. I stopped and spoke with the woman. Yes, e-collars are prohibited here, but apparently, most farm owners would prefer you control your dog as well as allow them to run and exercise in a safe environment. What I understood (and I could be totally wrong, my French is still so poor) is that they aren't as adverse to seeing an e-collar used in the country but she wouldn't use it in the town.
I know e-collars are a controversial tool in dog training. But to me, it seems like for the person who's disciplined enough to learn how to use them properly and is consistent with or without the e-collar, that it's a good life insurance policy for a dog who enjoys being off-leash. I'm so sick of the morons who claim "animal abuse" with e-collars and work to get them banned when in fact it could be the very thing that saves a dog's life. Just the other day I read an article about a man who beat his dog with a leash. I wonder when the "animal rights activists" will start a ban on leashes?
Like any other tool, leash included, you need to put in the time to learn how to use it appropriately and fairly. If I hear or read one more time from some imbecile claiming that the e-collar is like putting your hand in a live socket, I'll be forced to plug that person's finger into a live socket myself. I have actually been on the receiving end of live AC power when a plug blew up in my hand (check it out) a few years ago, and believe me, I'd happily take the strongest stimulation from an e-collar any day over that.
To me, it's all about finding balance for exercising your dog safely and with control.
Loki has been helping me herd Juno when she gets too far away from us. The other day, Juno was walking in the river while Loki and I were on the trail above her. It got to a point where it was too deep, yet there was no way out as the embankments were too steep to climb. So I sent Loki to get her. He ran back to the bridge pictured above, down into the river, then herded her up the embankment behind her and then passed her to lead her over the bridge and back to me on the other side. It was beautiful. He's herded her many times for me. And it cracks me up that he even understands exactly what I want him to do because every time I send him, he responds.
Unfortunately for Juno, his herding style involves a lot of "neck corrections" and sometimes he goes a bit far and keeps giving her corrections even when she's back with me. He listens and stops when I tell him. Frankly the more I let both dogs off leash, the more I learn about them. It fascinates me when Loki knows Juno is too far away and when she's not.
As usual, Loki above, is checking on me to make sure I'm close by. He is always checking to make sure everyone in his pack is together.
He's even herded me a few times on the bike when I get going a bit too fast, he'll make a huge, safe arc around the front of my bike, that forces me to safely slow down without slamming on the brakes, then he'll fall into a slower pace on my right side. Twice he's done it and I finally realized it was his way of "herding me" to his pace because he couldn't keep going at a full run. As much as I joke about Loki's brains, I know deep down he's quite intelligent and the more I can read him in a natural way (off-leash for example), the more I can trust him. I can tell he enjoys his job of keeping the pack together.
Just when I thought I was the only "fool" in the world who let her husky off-leash, we ran into these two on the trail.
Notice the white husky is off leash and the "shepherd" mixed dog is on-leash. WTF?
Loki was smitten with this nice floofy lady snowball.
And engaged in a few flirtatious zoomies with her.
Juno, on the other paw, was all "talk to the jodhpurs Snowball."
I've also noticed Loki's even been much happier since many of our walks (not all) are off-leash and involve a lot of running, whether on a hike or on the bike. He's calmer and actually more obedient than ever. The exercise is a huge stress relief for him and we all know he can use as much stress relief as possible. He can get so happy, he forgets about his dainty feet getting wet and jumps into the river with Juno for drink.
Or he climbs the embankment and zoomies himself silly while Juno and I roll our eyes.
It seems like we found a nice balance to safely exercise off-leash. I just hope neither one of them screws it up for us!