Zola was a terror when we walked her in our neighborhood. Her goal was simple – get away and chase rabbits. Putting her on a gentle leader ended all of that. Now we could have very civilized walks around the block. At the same time we couldn’t help but wonder, if under different circumstances, could we ever walk Zola off-leash.
Hypothesis – Zola will ultimately hang with us, or very close by, when off-leash and not in our neighborhood.
We think that this is true because most places aren’t overly infested with rabbits, and rabbits are the thing that turns her into a freak.
Experiment #1 – Let Zola out our front door (no leash attached)
We conducted this experiment accidentally when the little boy next door opened our front door and let Zola out. She flew down our front steps, out of our front yard and into our neighbors back yard, out of their yard and across the street, through the front yards of several houses and then into the backyard of a house that leads to an open space. We stood in our driveway cursing, hoping that she would return. She did not. It wasn’t until the father of the kid who let her out of our front door cornered Zola that he was able to drag her home.
Experiment #2 – Let Zola off-leash at a 17 acre doggy park
Glendale Open Space Trail is an off-leash dog park that feels so big and hilly, you can’t just stand in one place and watch your dog run. People end up hiking around and through the park on a handful of trails. This was another accidental experiment. We thought we were pulling up to a trailhead and planned to keep Zola on a leash. When we realized that this place was actually a dog park, we took a deep breath and decided to see what would happen if we removed her leash.
She ran. She ran and ran and ran, but then she returned. We noticed a couple of things – she didn’t really go that far away. Sometimes we couldn’t see her for a few seconds but she would always reappear. We discovered something else that was much more exciting. She would come to us when we called, sometimes she would come over to us without us calling. This was a breakthrough event. We replaced a few of our neighborhood walks each week with trips to this park and practiced letting her go.
Experiment #3 – Let Zola off-leash on a country road that leads to a trail that climbs up to a glacial lake
We went on a fantastic hike up to Chihuahua Lake. This hike was a favorite recommended in our battered edition of Canine Colorado (an excellent book that tells you were to go in Colorado to hike, run, ski, bike and climb with your dog). We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, so we took the chance and let Zola off-leash right from the start. She ran and ran, zig-zagging through the woods, reappearing and then disappearing. We called her and she ran away. We waited and she returned to us.
Ultimately we hiked with her off-leash for over six hours that day. She chased pikas and birds and butterflies. She disappeared in the willows and then reappeared ahead of us. She came when we called her (most of the time), and hung close to us the whole time.
Zola does very well off-leash in wide open settings, away from the over-population of bunnies. Does she come to us right away every time that we call her? Not every time, not yet; however, having her off-leash in settings where she can’t run out into traffic gives us the opportunity to practice. Does she run far, far away? Not really. Often she runs out of sight, especially when she first is let loose. We suspect that not chasing her helps, but we also know that she likes being with us. More often than not she is keeping her eye on us, hanging close by, or running back to make certain that we aren’t the ones getting into trouble.