Yesterday we let Nema run around unleashed in an unfenced open field with plenty of other people and distractions nearby -- a group of adults playing football, bicyclists, walkers, other dogs walking on leash with their owners, and a forest on one side of the field into which she easily could have disappeared.
Nema behaved perfectly. We were with our neighbors and their two dogs, and the three dogs chased each other, chased a tennis ball and chased frisbees. They had so much fun. Even though she initially looked tempted to barge into the football game taking place at the other end of the large field and go after their football, she was satisfied with our tennis ball and frisbees. Even when the other two dogs vanished for a while into the forest to explore, Nema stayed by us, preferring to run after the tennis ball. Even when one of the other dogs barked a couple of times at passing dogs on leashes, Nema ignored all that and just wanted to play ball. Even when we humans stopped throwing the ball and were standing around talking, Nema just wandered around in our vicinity and then lay on the grass to rest.
This was a big step for me because I am admittedly overprotective of my pup and for a long time the thought of letting her run free terrified me. She could get hit by a car, I thought. (This field was not near any roads, which is why I felt it was safe enough to let her off leash in it.) She could run away. (But, she has never given any indication that she would ever stray too far from us. She doesn't like being separated from us.) She could playfully jump on a small kid and knock him over, bringing on a lawsuit from his parents. (This could still happen, I suppose, even though Nema would not intentionally hurt anyone.)
Once, when she was just a few months old, B & I were taking her for a walk around our neighborhood. We were on a street that is separated from a major highway by only a field -- theoretically, a dog could run right onto the freeway. As we were walking, Nema slipped her head out of her collar. She was "naked" in dog terms -- no collar, and therefore no ID should she get lost. I felt my whole body seize up in panic. However, she scampered straight toward me, not away from me and toward the freeway as I feared. Despite the fact that she demonstrated she would run to me and not away from me, I scooped her up and carried her the rest of the way home, while B entreated me to relax and put her back down so she could walk. I just couldn't -- I was so shaken by just the possibility of what could have happened if she had run across the field and onto the highway.
But since then I have realized that I need to relax and trust my dog. We have developed a bond and she is not likely to just take off running into the horizon if I unclip her leash from her collar. So lately I have been experimenting with taking her outside to the sidewalk off leash to go to the bathroom. She has been pretty good during those experiments, except that once she ran into the middle of the street (I had already checked to make sure there were no cars coming before I took off her leash) and then would not come to me when I called her. She just stood there in the street sniffing at something on the ground. So I walked over to her and put her leash back on. But the other times she didn't run into the street -- she stayed on the sidewalk and ran right back to the gate of our drive after she was done going to the bathroom and waited for me to catch up to her and let her in.
So yesterday in the open field was another breakthrough for me. I don't think I'm ready to take her for walks off leash by any means. But at least I can feel secure that I can take her to exercise in the park without worrying too much. I'll still worry a little bit, though :-)
And best of all, I could tell that Nema was having a great time out there in the field. She was exhausted after being out there for over an hour, running and playing. It made me happy to see her having so much fun.