Recall around wildlife
My dogs and I had a "coyote incident" a few weeks ago and I'm at a loss as to where to go from here to keep them safe. For background, we (6yr old GSD and 1yr old Jack Russell mix) hike roughly 25 miles a week, off leash. We live in major coyote territory, and sometimes mountain lion territory. I thought my GSD had absolute perfect recall... until "the incident".
We were heading up a hill when a coyote appeared over the crest, not far away from us. I called my dogs to come. They both came. I bent to put my Jack Russell mix on a leash (she's a cheeky one) and made the tremendous mistake of not putting my GSD on a leash. He's seen coyotes probably a dozen times before with no misbehavior, and he's shy in general so he always sticks near me at first when a new dog approaches. Then the coyote started trotting towards us, which is extremely unusual in my experience with them. I reacted by taking a step forward and yelling "HEY!" at it so it would run off. I realize now that my GSD took that to mean "fight's on", and while the coyote ran as planned... my dog was in hot pursuit of him. He chased him full speed for about 10 to 15 seconds before he finally listened to me telling him to come. He may be twice the size of a coyote, but he'd be outnumbered if they ambushed him. I'm terrified he'll do this again now that he's experienced it once.
I take full responsibility for his initial reaction to chase it, I fully believe he was reacting to my body language and I should have leashed him. But I'm very unhappy that he didn't pull off the second I asked him to. I immediately bought a couple long lines for my dogs with the intent of going "back to basics" and working on recall. But we've been doing this for a few weeks now and they've come every single time I've asked. I brought my GSD to an area we hike with loads of squirrels he loves to chase, and waited until he was focused on one to recall him... he listened every time. So I'm frustrated feeling like I can't work on the actual problem unless I simply keep them on leash until we encounter more coyotes.
Am I being too tough on them, should I just chalk it up to my own bad body language and continue on as normal? Are there any training scenarios I can set up to practice recall that might challenge them more like that real situation? Or am I crazy to want to keep them off leash? It's such a huge part of our life and the joy they get from that freedom is extremely important to me, but the general consensus when I search for solutions online is that the only solution is to leash them always. I'd love to hear any input on how to work on this!
Edit: I've also considered practicing recall the instant we see other off-leash dogs on our hikes. However... my GSD was attacked at 6 months old, and we've worked harder than I can even express over the years at getting him over his fear of other dogs. He's now at the point that he can pass, interact, and sometimes even play with other off-leash dogs on our hikes with minimal anxiety (yay!). But only if I continue on as if nothing is happening... for some reason, getting his focus on me just assigns more meaning to the interaction and causes him to backtrack. So I'm hesitant to give him any excuse to assign more meaning to the presence of other dogs.
Last edited by pongo; 10-29-2018 at 10:33 PM.