I have to admit, growing up we never really thought twice about letting our dogs go off-lead.
Perhaps we were lucky that most of the farmland and footpaths around where we grew up were arable land, so we didn't really have a lot of livestock to think about. There was the odd herd of cows or livery stables where we put the dogs on lead, for obvious reasons, but generally speaking they were let off as soon as we were into open fields and away from the roads.
Today, I'm in several dog walking / dog owner Facebook groups, and it's a pretty regular occurence to see posts about walking etiquette, e.g. where off-lead dogs have been allowed to approach on-lead dogs, or dogs getting out of parks on to the road, or the whole "he's friendly" / "mine isn't" debate.
It's made me think a bit about how we used to walk our dogs.
I'm pretty sure both Tess and Tyler had good recall. I don't remember ever having an issue with them coming back when called, but equally we believed then that a dog needed a good run to be exercised and stimulated properly.
Now of course we know that things like sniffing, chewing and brain games provide just as much stimulation as a good long walk - hence the increase in popularily of sniffer dog courses even for non-working dogs.
Charlie is my mum's current dog, and our "timeshare" dog, in as far as he usually comes to stay with us once a year if she goes on a non-dog-friendly holiday.
When he first arrived in the family, we lived in a "scattered village" which basically means we were surrounded by farmers fields, and there were plenty of sheep for miles around. So, at least with us, Charlie never really went off-lead.
In the fields around our current home, there is far less livestock. So - the day came when I had to be brave and give Charlie the chance off lead. We were two fields away from the roads, on a footpath across some arable land, and I thought ok - we'll try it. I let him off and he ran into the corn.
And then there was silence.
I called him.
And then a splash! There was a brook at the field boundary, and he'd headed straight for the water. He came haring back completely soaked but having a whale of a time.
Whenever I've lead Charlie off lead, it's been when there's plenty of visibility, so I can see anyone approaching from a long way off. He does have a tendency to stalk, and for that reason I'm not happy to let him off around other dogs, because his recall isn't always spot on in those situations. I'd much rather control his interactions as much as possible while he's with us, and of course I want to know he's going to come back!
Would it be different if he was with us full time? Perhaps. Although he does walk around our fields quite often, it's not regularly enough for him to recognise all the local dogs and get used to them.
These days I feel I'm much happier not letting him off lead. Using a long line gives him the best of both worlds - being able to explore further away while I still have control over how far he goes.
For Outdoor Location photo shoots, I completely appreciate why you might not want to let your dog off-lead, particularly if he's like Charlie and his recall may not be 100%.
If you feel this way, I'd recommend bringing along a thin lead that is relatively straightforward to clone out. It's better to take any harnesses off as these tend to be very visible in photos, but of course you can put these back on when we walk between locations.
Want to find out more? Just send me a message and let's talk!