Tip #11: Off Leash Training
As every dog owner knows, deciding when to let your dog off the leash for the first time is an agonising decision. You have to be confident that he will behave, and return to you when you call.
There is always that nagging doubt in the back of your mind. Let him off leash and he might run off after some small animal like a squirrel, or rabbit. Or, he could get territorial, and attack someone else’s innocent canine pet.
If you currently do not trust your dog enough to let him roam free, then you and he will benefit from these off leash training tips.
Is Your Dog Ready To Be Let Off Leash
There is no ideal age or time for your dog to start learning how to behave off the leash. It depends more on his maturity. Some active breeds like Greyhounds can never be trusted off leash in any area that is not fully enclosed. Other breeds like Golden Retrievers often take to walking off leash very quickly.
To decide if your dog is ready, ask yourself this question; is your dog a good listener? If you tell your dog to “sit” or “come” with the leash on, does he hear what you say and instantly comply?
Your dog must be able to obey all your commands before you can consider letting him off the leash. If he will not obey you with the leash on, you cannot expect him to obey you with the leash off.
Another question to ask yourself is, if your dog is socialised enough? Can you be sure he will not run in fear, or attack at first sight, whenever he meets another dog? Do you trust him enough, not to try to jump up on everyone he passes, and not to chase joggers?
Any dog that will not listen, or is anti-social, cannot be let off the leash in a public area without more basic training.
Find A Good Area To Train
Once you are sure that your dog is ready to be let of leash, you need to find a safe place where you can begin his training.
It is best that you start your dogs’ training in an enclosed area where he will be safe. You do not want to risk loosing him if the first thing he does when you take the leash off is bolt.
Find somewhere to train that is completely enclosed. Your back yard is ideal if it is secure. Otherwise, somewhere like a tennis court or a baseball field.
Off Leash Training Starts On The Leash
You may think this strange, but the best way to start training your dog how to behave off the leash is to first train him on the leash.
Attach a retractable lead to your dogs collar. Then gradually allow him to venture further and further away from you. If he starts to misbehave, reduce the distance he is allowed to wander so you are always in control.
Once your dog is a reasonable distance away, call his name and use a command like “come” to call him back to you. If he does not return immediately, use the retractable lead to encourage him. When he bounds back, reward him with plenty of praise, and a treat to enforce his good behaviour.
Repeat this training a number of times. Soon you will have your dog coming back to you on your command every time.
Allowing Your Dog Off Leash
Once your dog comes to you every time with the retractable lead on, you can start training him with the lead off.
Whenever you take the leash off your dog, have him sit, and focus his attention firmly on you. Take off his leash, and keep your dog in the sitting position for a few seconds. Then give him the “release” command and let him wander a short distance away from you.
Then say his name and use the “come” command as you did when training him with the retractable leash on. When your dog comes back to you, have him sit. Get him to focus his attention on you and put his leash back on. He has been very good, so give him lots of praise and a treat.
Repeat this training for a few days, or even weeks. Each time let your dog wander a little further before recalling him. Once you are confident that your dog will return to you whenever you call, you can move onto the final part of his off leash training.
Take your dog for a walk on the leash in an exposed area. Ideally, this will be somewhere near to the enclosed place where you have been training your dog until now.
Let your dog off the leash in the same way as before and allow him to roam for a short while. Then call him back and put the leash on again. Do not forget to reward him with lots of praise and treats.
Over the next few days and weeks, increase the time you allow your dog off leash to slowly build up his and your confidence. When you are ready, start to walk whilst he is roaming nearby.
Whilst walking, regularly call him to you, and then let him roam again. He will soon start to regularly look around to see where you are, and follow you. Once you are sure he will always follow, you can gradually call him to you less often.
Develop A Reliable Recall
As you and your dogs confidence grows, I recommend you develop a reliable recall that your dog can hear at distance. You need this in case he should wander too far away to hear your calls.
The best way to recall your dog in an emergency is by using a whistle. Teach your dog that whenever you blow it, he is going to get some fantastic treat when he comes to you.
You want your dog to respond immediately he hears the sound. It is therefore important that you do not use it to often. Also, make sure the treat is something extra special that he only gets when he is exceptionally good.
Dog Off Leash Training Takeaways
- Your dog must be able to obey your commands, before you can ever consider letting him off the leash.
- Start your dogs’ training in an enclosed area where he will be safe.
- Attach a retractable lead to your dogs collar. Then gradually allow him to venture further and further away.
- Whenever you take the leash off your dog have him sit and focus his attention firmly on you.
- Develop a reliable recall that your dog can hear at distance.
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