Most dogs love to run without a leash but letting your dog have this level of freedom comes with risks. They could get into a dangerous situation or could cause a nuisance to other people. Their adventures could lead them far away from you and they may get lost or even stolen. It is best to only allow your dog to exercise without a leash in an enclosed area. Even then, they need to be trained correctly. Here we set out how to train your dog to walk off leash so that you can exercise safely.
Basic Puppy Training
Off leash training for a pup must begin with basic commands. This is the way in which you gain control of your puppy – which is vital for their safety and for yours. You will be teaching your dog to stay close to you whilst they are running free or at least come back to you as soon as you call. This is called reliable recall.
There are various training methods to teach your pup good behavior. Most owners start dog training by teaching a pup to sit and move on to walking on a leash, ‘stay’, ‘drop it’ and then work towards a reliable recall.
Leash Obedience Training
To teach your dog, it is better to use a shorter training session but repeat it frequently. To teach leash walking, check out the wide range of high quality leashes with all the features you need. If you have more than one dog, you can invest in multi dog leashes to keep all of your pooches under control. You can even teach your dog to run alongside your bicycle using a dog bike leash.
The principle for all of these is the same. Your dog learns to keep their eyes on you and focus on what you are doing, no matter what the distractions.
Once you have taught your dog to walk on a leash, you can start to practice recall. You can do this by using a longer leash and gradually allowing your dog to get further away from you. A retractable dog leash is ideal for this stage of off leash training. Use a command to call your dog to return, and when your dog responds, reward them with a tasty treat.
Eventually, you can try this off leash but in an enclosed area such as your garden or yard. Call your dog and reward them when they return. Try to make the training session fun and interesting. Your dog’s body language will tell you if they are getting bored!
When you train a dog, you should only use reinforcement training by rewarding good behavior. A tasty dog treat will be the best positive reinforcement as far as your dog is concerned. Never punish bad behavior because your pup will not understand what they have done wrong.
Benefits of off Leash Training Sessions
It can be very useful to have an adult dog that can be let off the leash when you are in a dog park or other area. Teaching your dog to come back to you is a useful way to keep them safe. If you are not able to use a leash for some reason, you will still have them under control.
When you are jogging, for example, it is useful to have your dog running alongside you without a leash. However, if this is not possible, you could use a hands-free dog leash as an alternative.
When a dog is off the leash, they are able to play in a way that they cannot do when they are by your side. They love to play freely with other dogs and to fetch balls and sticks that you have thrown for them. These skills are essential if you want your dog to compete in agility trials.
Dogs that get to explore off the leash, tend to develop more confidence because they have the chance to use their problem solving skills and learn how to interact politely with other dogs and humans. They have the opportunity to sniff and explore where other dogs have been and this provides plenty of stimulation.
Perhaps the main advantage is that your dog gets to cover more miles than you do! As they run back and forth chasing balls and sticks, they wear themselves out and cover more distance than you do! This allows them to burn off plenty of energy before heading home for a nap. You may even be able to sit down on a park bench and watch them have fun with their pooch pals.
Risks of off Leash Exercise
Once you decide to let your dog wander without a leash, there will inevitably be risks. It is important that you understand what can happen when a dog has this level of freedom.
Breaking Leash Laws
The first problem is that you may be breaking the law. Some areas have leash laws that forbid you from allowing your dog to wander with no leash unless you are in a designated dog park. Check this out before unleashing your pooch in any location as the fines can be considerable.
Prey Drive Off Leash
Is your pooch one of the breeds with a high prey drive? If so, small mammals and other similar distractions may be a real problem for you! Squirrels, rabbits and even cats could prove to be an irresistible temptation for your pooch. As they give chase, they could end up a large distance away from you. Terriers, greyhounds and spaniels can bolt from your side when they see a small, fast moving creature. However, some dogs will also chase joggers and even cars!
Dogs are viewed as highly desirable (and portable) property and sadly the rates of dog theft are increasing. Pedigree breeds and popular cross breeds cost a lot of money. Dog thieves either sell them immediately or use female dogs to intensively breed. Some owners have even received ransom demands.
Aggression to Other Dogs or Humans
Unfortunately, some dogs use their freedom to be aggressive towards other dogs or to humans. This is a problem that you will need to tackle with an animal behavior expert and you may need to talk to your vet. If the behavior cannot be resolved, you will not be able to let your dog off the leash in any public areas.
Find out how to Socialize An Aggressive Dog.
Bolting in Fear
Even those dogs that are very good at walking off the leash can become very frightened by sudden noises such as fireworks or thunder. This can cause them to run a long way from their owner and retrieving them can be difficult. If your pooch is very nervous, you may decide that it is too risky to let them off the lead unless you are in an enclosed area.
Preparing for Walking Off the Leash
Before you let your pup off the leash, make sure that they have a dog collar with a tag that contains all your contact details. You may also want to get them microchipped in case the collar is accidentally removed.
When your dog is found, they can be taken to a vet or rescue center that has a scanner. Make sure that your details held by the microchip company are up to date.
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More about Dog off Leash Training
Once you know how to train a dog off leash, it is not the end of the story. Your dog must learn that there is value in them staying close to you. Teach your dog to constantly check where you are instead of you having to go looking for them. For this training, you can use treats and praise and you may want to use a dog training clicker.
Once you have done this in a quiet area, try it somewhere that has a lot of distractions.
Off leash dog walking is simply not possible if your dog has not been taught the emergency recall command. This is a vital step to train a dog off leash. The ‘look’ command is also very valuable. When you command your dog to look at you, they should do so, no matter what else is going on.
Take Away Message for Training Your Dog off Leash
Running around with no leash is great fun for dogs. However, they must be trained to stay near you or, at least, to come back as soon as you call, whatever the distractions. You can teach your canine companion voice control from a young age, re-enforced with a food treat. This makes no leash time safer for you both. Training will then move on to recall and the ‘look’ command so that your dog’s attention is always on you and not on other distractions. A tasty treat and plenty of praise is always the best approach. Never punish your dog. This will make them even less likely to return to you in the future.
Don’t forget that your four-legged companion must wear a collar whenever they are out in public – even if they are on a leash. The collar should contain a tag with your up-to-date contact details. You could also get them micro-chipped just to make sure.
- Teach your dog to walk on a loose leash | Animal Humane Society – Animal Humane Society
- Liz Donovan, How to Teach a Puppy to Walk on a Leash – AKC