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Whippets weren't given nicknames like "Poor Man's Racehorse" and "Sight Hound" for nothing. These devilishly quick canines are essentially miniature Greyhounds, finding similarities with the racing breed in both its elegant build and composed personality. Whippets are lovable and loving dogs, and their general quietness and compact size make them a great candidate for apartment living.
However, this is a breed that needs to be properly and frequently exercised. And for suburban, rural, and city-dwelling owners alike, this could be an issue. A fenced yard can only entertain a dog for so long, at some point they will need to explore new places to avoid feeling bored or confined. While this is great fun for the both of you when using a leash, the Whippet breed longs to run, and fast, so unless you're an avid runner yourself, you may want to consider off-leash training.
Due to their speed and intense craving to chase, many Whippet owners worry that their pet may never be able to explore or play off-leash. Off-leash training can be a scary process. There's the constant fear that the dog may encounter an unfriendly dog or wild animals, run away and get lost, travel into oncoming traffic, or interact with someone who is afraid of dogs. Unfortunately, there's no way to guarantee the safety of our pets - or others - when we let them roam free.
Of course, there are preventative measures we can take as dog lovers and owners to ensure their safety and our peace of mind. All we can do is be sure that we've trained with and prepared them well enough to make the right choices: to come when called, to sit or stay when commanded, to be properly socialized and therefore understand the difference between a dog that wants to play and a dog that wants to be left alone (this one will save them from getting into fights).
Owning a dog that's comfortable and obedient while off-leash can give you a great feeling of pride. No more embarrassing moments at the dog park where your pet ignores your requests, no more getting tangled up in a leash, and no more having to follow or keep up with your speedy hound. Now you can go to the park, unclip their leash from their harness or collar, post up on a bench, and watch them frolic, carefree and happy.
The off-leash experience for a canine is just as wonderful as yours, giving them time to do what dogs do best: sniff, run, and explore without being restricted.
But not all the responsibility is on the dog, in fact, most of it, if not all, is on you - their guardian and trainer. Your Whippet can't help running after a cat or squirrel or rabbit; to not do so would be rewriting centuries of breeding history. What they can do, however, is be receptive to training, making them more and more obedient with or without a leash.
This compiled list sums up everything that is your responsibility leading up to and during off-leash training:
Recognizing the body movements that lead up to your Whippet making a wild dash will help you to intervene. If you can gain their attention before they notice something of interest, you have a much higher chance of keeping them from running off.Practice the 'sit' and 'stay' commands.
These are key commands for every dog owner, but they become particularly important during off-leash training due to their ability to quickly gain a dog's attention and keep them still.Study off-leash dog and owner etiquette.
Not all animals are meant to be off-leash and not all dog-owners appreciate an off-leash dog being around their leashed dog. If other dogs are in the area who are leashed, they could be dog-reactive. To be considerate of others and to avoid any conflict, immediately recall your Whippet and leash them until the other dog has gone.Become familiar with your local parks' rules.
Some parks have designated off-leash areas, such as dog parks. In some places, an off-leash dog can even be fined if present in areas specifically designated for leashed dogs only.Get your dog microchipped and up to date.
Microchips are easily inserted and not painful for pets. They do not have GPS tracking, but they are more reliable than just tags on a collar and all Humane Societies have the ability to check for microchips, helping them to find a lost dog's owner. There are a number of GPS products available to pet owners, many of them attach to a collar, some can be inserted much like the typical microchip. You should have a piece of paper that was issued when your dog got their microchip that has an I.D. number. Using this I.D. number you can call a number or go online to update your phone number or address. Tags are easily updated by going to a local pet supply chain and purchasing new ones.Purchase a clicker.
Clickers are one the cheapest, most reliable, and most dog-trainer-recommended resources for the modern pet owner. If you've heard the phrase "marking behavior" then you know that when we mark a dog's behavior we are immediately letting them know they just did something we really like to see. Some people use verbal markers, such as "Yes!" or "Good boy!" which can be effective, as well, but clickers give a distinct sound that dogs love to hear and they're very inexpensive and easily attainable when shopping at a local pet supply store or online. A clicker is especially used in off-leash training, because it can be used as a 9-1-1 button for gaining a distracted Whippet's attention.Know what to do if they bolt.
In the event that your dog does dash away, try not to panic. For their benefit and yours: Stay calm and in an excited tone, call their name. If this fails, call their name happily while jogging away from them (dogs, especially Whippets, can't resist a game of chase). As a last resort, open up a treat bag and jiggle it around in the air (try not to rely on this method). When they do return to you, reward them, never punish, even if they didn't listen or come back right away. Punishing them could cause them to avoid you when being called in the future.
And, most importantly, never, never, chase after your sighthound, because they may think it's a game, where they're "it", and it's highly unlikely you'll catch a dog bred for speed.
The Reliable Recall Method
Know the rights and wrongs
Because you own a Whippet and because you want them to be able to enjoy the outdoors off-leash, it's important to know the dos and don'ts of 'The Reliable Recall Method'.
Firstly, when you call for your pet, either by name, or simply calling "Come here!", you should always keep your tone light and happy. Your dog should associate hearing their name with only positive experiences. This means you should never call your dog to come take a bath or call you dog to be locked up in their crate if that's something they hate. Instead, every single time you call them and they come to you, have a treat at the ready to reward them.
Secondly, try not to get frustrated when your Whippet is distracted and not listening. Dogs aren't emotionless robots, they get scared, excited, or distracted just like we do. Try to remind yourself of this if you find yourself getting frustrated, even after they finally, happily run to your side only after being called several times. You want to avoid taking out frustration on your dog as it could cause them to resist coming when called.
Lastly, always keep your off-leash dog with a collar on. This is a preventative measure to them becoming lost. A collar with appropriate and informative tags on it will help them be safely and quickly returned to their loving home.
Choose your command
It sounds simple. And it is: Choose the go-to command you'll use to call your sight-hound to you and then do your best to stick to it. Common commands are: "Come!", "Here!", simply calling their name, or even whistling.
Dogs don't speak our language, but that doesn't mean they aren't intuitive. Recent studies show they have the ability to read facial expressions, concluding that they are clued in on when we're worried, upset, or happy. So if your Whippet runs off - keep your expression and tone of voice happy, even though you may be internally screaming and terrified - and their chances of returning to you are higher.
Adding an exaggerated hand motion will also increase the probability of return in a dog.
Find a safe space to practice
If you haven't already begun off-leash training with a Whippet, then you need to realize it could take a good bit of time and patience. Before stepping out on your favorite trail with your baby boy or sweet girl, you need to practice.
Hopefully, you have a backyard. (If you don't have a fenced in yard, ask to use a friend or family member's, or you can try for a fenced-in dog park during off hours.) Contrary to what you may think, it doesn't need to be very spacious. Really all you're trying to accomplish is gaining your pet's attention and introducing them to the concept of coming when called means getting yummy treats.
The environment doesn't have to be completely distraction-less, so don't worry about things you can't control, like the neighbor's cat slinking around, or the occasional loud car driving by. Instead, treat them as teaching moments that challenge you and your four-pawed friend.
Introduce the clicker
This step's goal is to create a bridge between your pet hearing the clicker and what directly occurs afterwards. At home, have your Whippet sit calmly in front of you, click the clicker and then give them a treat.
Repeat this several times. Then allow them to go back to a toy or curling up on their bed, go about your business as well, waiting about ten minutes. Just be sure your activities are a respectable distance apart and then, without calling them, click the clicker again. If they immediately come to you, with the expectation and promise of a treat, then you've successfully taught that that the click sound means a treat will soon follow.
Practice really does make perfect
No one can deny the value and guaranteed results of hard work and practice. It's no exception for dog training.
Utilizing your safe space, with treats and a clicker in hand, let your Whippet run and play to let a little energy out. After a few minutes, use your chosen recall command. As soon as they give you any kind of attention, whether it's running up to you, or simply stopping what they're doing and looking at you, click the clicker and give them a treat.
If they don't come to you, right away, don't be discouraged. Keep practicing. Keep practice sessions fun and relatively short, so they don't become bored and you don't become frustrated. If you can practice every day (even just for a little bit), then do. Do this for a few weeks or until you feel your Whippet is reliably coming to you when called.
Take it outside
Your pet isn't ready to be off-leash yet. This step is all about testing their knowledge based on your practice sessions. While out for a short jaunt through your neighborhood, lead your stealthy canine friend while on their leash. Treat it as a regular walk, nothing special.
But once they notice something of interest (another dog, a runner, a cat), use your recall command. They may hesitate, and that's okay, too. Wait for them to make the right decision. Avoid repeating yourself however, as this could just teach your pet to ignore you altogether.
Mark and reward any of these behaviors after calling them: If they look at you, even just slightly or quickly, if they stop in their tracks instead of beginning a chase, if they continue to walk ahead but look back at you, if they come halfway to you but then stop and look back at the distraction, if they come all the way to you, but stare off at the distraction, and, especially, if they stop their gaze or pursuit and come to your side.
Go on walks like these as often as you're able to. They can even be just a walk down to your neighborhood coffee shop or just to check the mail, or they can occur on a hiking trail or dog park. Distance and difficultly don't matter, as long as they're getting practice.
Work up to the real deal
After training on-leash in open environments and off-leash in closed environments, it's time to take your Whippet to a designated off-leash area and test them.
Don't become startled if they bolt as soon as your take off their leash. For the teacher, you, it's final exam day, but to them it's "I'm free! I'm free!". Trust that you've done everything in your power to prepare them for this and trust your dog's ability to listen and obey.
To start out, you may feel more comfortable going to parks or trails that are less frequented or other places that aren't near busy roads.
The Name Game Method
Meet in a quiet place
A quiet place could be in your living room or backyard, anywhere that both you and your pet are familiar with and comfortable in that's relatively distraction-free will work wonderfully.
Have a clicker and treats ready
Studies show that clicker training is more effective than training without one. Inexpensive, easy to carry, and efficient, clickers help your dog understand you better, allowing them to be more easily trained.
Treats can be the biggest motivator for most dogs. We recommend using treats during training that they may not usually get, such as bits of bacon or hot dog. You can even bring with you a variety of types, giving them interchangeably to your learning pet, keeping them on their toes.
Introduce the clicker
This is easy. Click the clicker, then immediately following give your at-attention Whippet a treat. Repeat these 10 to 15 times. The goal is getting them to associate the sound of the clicker with rewards.
Wait for disinterest
During the same training session, immediately following step three, wait for your Whippet to become disinterested in you. This could be as simple as them looking in another direction or as significant as beginning to walk away.
Say their name
As soon as you witness them becoming distracted or interested in something else, say their name. If and when they acknowledge the name by walking to you, or simply looking at you, click the clicker, and reward them. The goal of this step is to help them make the connection between their name and its significance. To you, saying your dog's name means you want their attention, to your pet it may just mean getting treats and attention.
Play every day
Believe it or not, this is a form of mental stimulation for your beloved friend. It's a simple game, but they'll love it because it requires them to be fed many, many treats as well as attention from the person they love the most: You. Play this game every day. Keep your clicker and a baggie of treats near you while you lounge on the couch or work at your desk. Occasionally and somewhat randomly, say your Whippet's name and reward them when they come to you. If they don't come to you right away, but simply look in your direction, try to avoid repeating, inside try to say, "Come!" or "Here!". If these don't work, then begin by rewarding a simple head turn and try to work your way up to getting them to come.
The Fun and Games Method
Hide & Seek
Since this method is all about teaching "Come!" in series of fun, doggie-centric games, the first step is to play Hide and Seek with your hound dog. Sounds fun for you too, right? There's one of two ways to initiate this. You can wait until your Whippet leaves the room (perhaps to go check on other members of the household or to get a drink of water from the kitchen) and hide wherever you can find.
You can also enlist the help of a friend, by putting your pet in their crate, running to hide, and calling to your friend to let the dog out.
Say their name or the 'come' command
After waiting a moment or two, call your pet's name. They will follow the sound of your voice, so if you need to switch between calling their name and saying "Here!" or "Come!" do so, do they don't become bored or tune you out.
Reward when found
The fact that Whippets detest being cold and love attention means that when home, it's unlikely they won't want to snuggle up beside or even on your warm lap. This makes them great players in a game of Hide and Seek. Their will to find you will keep this game exciting for the both of you.
When you are found, shower them with affection and treats.
Puppy in the Middle
For another fun recall game, wrangle up some volunteers.
Use a large, open space
It's important that your pet isn't overwhelmed during this exercise, so find a space that's large, open and familiar to them.
Try not to make Puppy in the Middle too hectic or scary by blocking the dog in or shouting. Whether you have just two people or four, spread out in a circle or line shape.
Use the 'come' command or recall
Now that you're all in position, take turns saying "Come!" or the dog's name. Every time they respond correctly to the call (by running up to the person who said it) reward them. Keep the game easy-going, giving a fair amount of a break between each person speaking. If you feel your pet would enjoy a quicker pace, especially with their built-for-speed frame, then work your way up to it.
You can even try tricking the dog by having your friend call them, then yourself calling them before they reach the other person. In a way, this is a distraction training process as well, which will definitely come in handy when your Whippet eventually earns their ability to be off-leash.
By Candice Littleton
Published: 04/23/2018, edited: 01/08/2021