How do you teach one dog, or even a pack of dogs, to run free without hunting deer, running to other dogs or people? According to Tom Andres from Germany, consistency is key.
If you search for «Freerunning sleddogs» on YouTube, some of the videos you can see shows Tom and his pack.
– It’s a hard way to bring all the pack to this point, but you get a really big benefit out of it.
Freerunning is an important part of the summer training for his dogs, before competition season. Tom has competed at the highest level in sprint and middle distance for several years.
Don’t have too many dogs
One of the secrets of how to walk with a pack of freerunning dogs, and still maintain control, is not to have too many.
– If you have 20 or 30 dogs you never have the chance or the possibility to teach the dogs in the same way. The group has to be small because you are only as strong as your weakest dog. If you have a dog who is not listening, then you have not one dog who is running away; you have five or six, and you stay there with the other six.
A way of living
For Tom, having dogs running free is very important. For him, it is a way of living. The training starts very early.
– We start to teach the dogs to listen and pay attention to us at 8 weeks of age. By 12 weeks they learn to heel. We use a line in the beginning. When the puppy is running free we also use a long line, so that it is possible for us to be in control. That is one reason why we have the success we have.
Consistency is important
Most important is consistency. You have to be consistent. Every single day.
– If you give your dog one finger one day, he will want a second one the next day. A dog is like a small child. He always wants to know his limits and always tries to cross this border. Sometimes it is like in a company. You get blind to your work. Sometimes you need somebody from outside to say «since when was your dog allowed to do this?”
How to deal with dogs fighting
Tom does not accept dogs fighting in his group.
– The dynamic in the group can be very dangerous for a single individual if they learn how to fight. If there is a weak member of the pack, they could try to kill that dog. When you have freerunning dogs they need to get along, no matter what. Even if two have a bad relationship and you’re playing with a ball, it should not be a problem if these two get to the ball at the same time.
If you want to know more about how Tom deals with this, he explains in detail in Non-stop dogwear’s podcast «Unleashed».
Meeting reactive dogs
In one of the videos of freerunning sleddogs, you see Tom’s mentor, Heini Winter, biking with a big pack of dogs in the city. They meet a person with a barking dog, but none of Winter’s dogs react. A dream scenario for many dog owners!
– If I have one dog who reacts when we meet a small barking dog, it could be dangerous, as more dogs might join in the fight. This can not happen, therefore I give my dogs some direction when we meet others. It is enough to use a straw or a small stick to extend my arm and point them to the other side of my bicycle, for instance. They have to pass the barking dog being on the opposite side.
Tom passes people, especially kids, in the same way. He does not want to put his dogs in a situation where they might not succeed.
– Always look for your surroundings and be prepared to turn around or move to the side, because we are the crazy guys. People are not used to someone having a big pack of freerunning dogs, and they might be scared. You have to go a step back when you meet others, for example, a horse. Even If the rider says, “my horse is used to dogs,” – yeah, perhaps to one or two. But this is too many. So I turn around and go, or the horse rider turns around and goes.
Pass challenges slowly
When facing a difficult obstacle many tend to pass fast.
– They think it’s the best way, but it is completely different. Go slow and under control. If you go fast, the dogs feel like “Ah, he’s afraid of something”. Your adrenaline is going up. Instead, show them you have control, and you have more control when going slow.
What to do if your dog fails?
Check out the podcast episode with Tom Andres to find out!