Giving your dog the freedom to run off leash and go to off-leash dog outings is the ultimate goal. But when is the right time to let them off leash? How do you know your dog will be safe? That’s a question many pet parents as well as dog businesses struggle with.
It can be tempting to let your dog run free as soon as they seem confident and comfortable around other people and animals. However, it is essential to make sure your dog is truly ready before allowing them off leash in public.
Here’s our tips to getting your dog ready for off-leash dog outings and activities.
First and foremost, your dog will need a solid foundation of basic training. This requires dogs to not only know commands such as “sit,” “leave-it,” or “stay” but be able to perform basic commands around distractions like cars, other dogs, crowds, etc. We recommend starting with a day training program like Foundational Obedience or similar. Additionally, it helps if your pup has been socialized with other dogs so they know how to properly interact with their canine pals. Practicing training at home also helps build trust between you and your dog – making obedience more likely when off leash.
Once all the basics are covered, start re-enforcing and practicing recall. It helps if your dog has had previous recall classes or training because they will know what to expect. As you work with your dog, you will strengthen your rapport and trust, so they will eventually be able to recall to you under any circumstance.
When teaching any command, you start in an environment with low distractions (like at home), and once mastered, increase the difficulty by moving to areas of greater distraction. For recall, you will want to buy a long lead (around 25 feet) and practice outside in parks, eventually graduating to a fenced in dog park where your dog has lots of distractions and is off leash. Do not increase distraction until your dog has mastered the command in easier situations. Think of it as a child learning to read. The first books are often repetitive and simple and eventually lead to more advanced chapter books over time.
Timing is Everything
Dog training is all about timing. Mark the behavior and then reward. You do this because humans are really slow at giving the treats. Your dog needs to know which behavior you are reinforcing, and by the time you’ve pulled out the treat, you’re rewarding something else or nothing at all. Find a word you like to mark behavior such as “Good” or “Yes” or use a clicker. Then give the treat. Also reward progress. If your dog comes most of the way the first few times, mark the progress and reward with treat.
Do not reward non compliance and do not repeat yourself. For example, if your dog does not motion toward you at all or seems to be ignoring your request. Then you respond with something like “Uh Oh” and turn away from your dog. Wait 30 seconds and start again. Don’t repeat the command back to back because then the repeating becomes part of the trained behavior where your dog may only respond on the 3rd attempt.
High Value Treats
Always start with high value treats because your dog is smart. You are asking them to chose between the activity they are currently doing and the reward. So they will ask themselves, is it worth their time and effort to come to you? For kibble? Probably not. But meatballs, hotdogs, cheese, might be worth it.
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The biggest issue people have with recall is that their dog associates their name and the word “come” with something negative. For example, you call their name and say “come here” at the dog park, they come to you, but then you leave the dog park. Now your dog knows that when you say their name and they come to you at the dog park, they are leaving. So again, they are smart. They may decide they don’t want to leave the dog park and ignore you.
If you need to leave the dog park or stopping your dog from doing something naughty like eating furniture, avoid using their name and go to them. Don’t call them to you. Remember, the more your dog associated their name with something positive, the more willing and likely they’ll come to you.
Taking the time to properly train and prepare your pup before letting them off leash will ensure that both of you have a positive experience. Start by teaching basic commands, practice on a long lead together in safe environments, then slowly work up towards more open spaces until both of you are comfortable enough without any distractions around.
With patience and consistency everyone will be happy – especially your furry friend! They will thank you for it later! Happy exploring!
Post last updated on February 28, 2023