Dear AKC: I am having a problem with my dog that I know (from conversations at the dog park) many others have to deal with. When my dog is let off her leash she bolts! She is an Australian Shepherd so it is quite difficult to get her back. I have been given advice like don't chase her, let her come back to me but this is not always possible i.e. if there is a road near by that she keeps running in and out of. Is there a training technique to help me rid my dog of the urge to bolt once her leash is removed? Please help! I love to take my dog everywhere and wish I could do so without always having to leash her. -- Bolting for Joy
Dear Bolting: I can just envision this bolting behavior. You go to grab the clip on the leash and your dog get all excited, leaning against his collar, knowing exactly what comes next - running, jumping, romping and playing. This is great fun for your dog but you may have inadvertently trained your dog to bolt every time you unleash her. I'm suspecting that she learned this behavior while in the confines of the dog park where once you unleash her she is free to run around. She doesn't know the difference between being let off leash inside the park fence, where she is free to bolt or when you do it in an open area or near a road, where it scares you that she might run into the road and get hurt.
A little behavior modification through a surprise result is what I suggest. First, stuff your pocket with yummy treats. Get yourself a very thin, long lead or strong string or twine and attached it to your dog's collar and the other end to your belt. Then attach the regular leash to the collar. Ask her to sit and then unclip the regular leash and see what happens. She will most likely bolt, but then will be surprised when all of sudden she is stopped by that "invisible leash" that somehow appeared. When she is surprised by the other leash and stopped mid-bolt, immediately call her name and give the "come" command and then give her a yummy treat. Make a big deal out of the fact that she came back. Don't be afraid to use that invisible leash to pull her back to you if she's not 100% on the come command. After several of these "bolting-interrupting" episodes she'll begin to see that bolting doesn't work anymore and that she gets praise and yummy treats from coming back rather than taking off. A word of advice, unless you are in a fenced-in area or enclosed park I wouldn't recommend that you take her off leash for safety and legal reasons. Many places have leash laws to protect the public and if you take her off-leash near roads and other hazards you are running the risk of her getting injured or worse.