For some time now I’ve been giving Beanie & Biggles a bit of off-lead time during our beach runs; it’s pretty much the only place they get offlead these days that doesn’t have some kind of fence around it!
It started last year when I switched to doing rapid-fire interval training for part of the run. Both of them got so into the rhythm of the intervals that one day I decided to unclip their leads briefly to see whether they’d stay with me. They didn’t. Well not exactly. They went off on a mad chase for 150m or so, then turned round and legged it straight back to me, for which they were duly rewarded. In the past they’d just have sprinted way off into the distance, leaving me nervously watching as their bums turned into specs on the horizon (then vanished altogether), so this was a huge improvement. I sent them off for two more high-speed chases, and when these also completed without any major excursions I clipped their leads back on and rewarded them one more time. Over the next few weeks we had more of these little adhoc bursts of freedom and gradually I came up with a set of rules that so far have been successful every time:
- Choose a time for the the run when the tide is fairly low and and there’s a good wide beach
- Don’t release them until they’ve got into the rhythm of the run and already burned off some of their excess energy. Coincidentally this also means that we’re further up the beach, safely away from picnics and most walkers, so there are fewer distractions
- Always come armed with pieces of chicken. Give them a small taste of chicken prior to release, reward every return to base, and reward even more heavily once they’re back on lead.
- Keep running while they’re off-lead and keep the off-lead period short. They’re getting a good long run anyway, so the off-lead section is just the icing on the cake.
- Make sure there’s still a period of exciting running (intervals) following the off-lead bit.
The two of them became so used to the beach routine that eventually I felt confident enough to give them the taste of freedom during a plain old walk. Susan was not entirely keen, but I talked her into it, and one day last week we gave it a go..
Seconds after release.. Are those cheeky bottoms about to disappear for an undetermined period?
Nope – they’ve turned..
Return to base in progress!
And they’re back for their first pit-stop. Break out the chicken!
Susan used the “Go play” command to send them off for several more run-abouts, and each one went very smoothly, thanks mostly to Beanie. It was as though she had a timer running in her head that went off whenever she’d been away too long, causing her to pull a 180 and head back to base for a reward. Occasionally Biggles tried to tempt her into a Beagles-only adventure but she resisted.
Biggles hangs back, trying to lure Beanie down the path to Naughtyville…
..to no avail. When it’s time for chicken, it’s TIME FOR CHICKEN!
And of course when Beanie was back with us getting the tasty stuff, Biggles didn’t hold out for long! The two of them were only off-leash for a few minutes but they had a great time together and never went much more than 100m from us. That’s the kind of behavior we’ve always wanted! Nevertheless I intend to reserve these sessions almost exclusively for runs for the time being. Why? Food alone has never been enough to stop Beanie & Biggles from going off on their own adventures; I’m convinced it was the excitement and anticipation of the intervals that helped to build the “short burst and return” behavior – the food just reinforced it.
On a completely different note, I was just contacted by the team behind the “Backyard Oil” show on the Discovery Channel in the US. They wanted to use some of my old photos of Beagle Racing for the upcoming show on Tuesday 28th. They chose a a few shots, including a sweet one of the Biggly Boy. Of course I gave them permission, but quite what Beagle racing in Scotland has to do with modern oil prospectors in Kentucky, I have no idea! The show isn’t on the UK incarnation of Discovery yet, but I should be able to view it over the internet in due course.