BY LYNN PACIFICO | Startled by a dog-versus-dog commotion, I saw a large black fluff run past me without an owner. I ran after it, about to grab it, when the owner nonchalantly appeared. Not saying anything then, I will here. If an unleashed dog isn’t under voice control, it can cost it its life. If an off-leash dog approaches an aggressive, leashed dog, it is unfair to the owner of the leashed dog and dangerous for both dogs and owners. Also, some people are fearful, making it inconsiderate to allow an untrained dog off-leash in a crowded city.
While Daisy Rosebud was being curbed, she saw a buddy. In her excitement, she leapt sideways into the street. She was about to take another leap, putting her into oncoming traffic. One “Daisy, stay!” and she froze. Voice control kept her from getting run over.
Harry, friendly, intelligent and obedience trained, had great “recall.” I unleashed him at the bottom of Charles Lane. Just then, we both noticed a cat at the top of the lane. A “Harry, stay” command allowed me to leash him before he took off. Even with well-trained dogs, you can’t count on anything 100 percent; so my dogs are now always leashed here, since it’s easy for a tragedy to occur in a flash with this amount of traffic.
The first day I got Harry, who was wild from being kept on a short rope, we went to JJ Walker Field with treats and a friend. My friend took Harry to the opposite corner from me. I called, “Harry, come!” Harry took off like a bolt of lightning, running his heart out till he got to me. I gave him a treat, petted him and told him what a good dog he was. Then a friend called Harry from the opposite corner of the field. Harry ran to him and was rewarded. We did this six times to begin Harry’s voice control. From then on, whenever I called Harry, he immediately ran to me.
In a healthy leader/follower relationship, there are clearly defined boundaries. Through repetition, a dog knows what is expected and how to behave. Dogs find security in this. Basic obedience training needs consistency and earned trust.
The top photo illustrates three pups responding to their owner’s voice. They had been playing with leashes on but nobody holding the leashes. Their expressions and abrupt turning to see what their leader wanted demonstrate owner voice control.
The owner or owners of these dogs earned their love and respect because they took their responsibility seriously and trained their dogs. Yet, they let their dogs run illegally. Why would an obviously responsible citizen do that?
It’s because of the frustration that so many Downtown dog owners live with on a daily basis, since there are no off-leash areas here, like there are all over the city. Dog owners lost the use of JJ Walker’s multi-use field, which was our off-leash area. Having no legal area to practice training creates training and recreation obstacles for the largest active single user group of parks — dog owners.
Despite the lack of dog owner recreation areas still imposed upon us by our politicians and community board, we still must train our dogs. For instance, even though using a leash more than 6 feet long is illegal, and I cannot recommend it, I use a 30-foot leash for obedience practice at unbusy times in the Hudson River park.
With new dogs or fostered dogs, I often hire trainers/consultants to keep me abreast of innovations as products and training hacks evolve. It is best to keep training sessions short for regular enrichment activities, using positive techniques and high-value treats. If frustration comes up during training, then stop since one short burst of anger can wipe out months of training and you can’t take it back.
I cannot overemphasize the benefits of voice control since it makes life with a dog safer and easier, and responsible owners with well-behaved dogs are often welcome socially. I hope that our community helps us find adequate, safe recreation areas to support us in being responsible dog owners. When Harry passed, I received more than 60 letters of condolence and vases of flowers appeared at my door. He was a great partner and canine good citizen.
Pacifico is a fourth-generation Villager who loves dogs, nature and New York City.