Opposites Attract: How to Be Magnetic When Walking Off-Leash

Magnetism 101

Think back to elementary school when you played with magnets. Remember how they would attract from opposite poles and repel from matching poles? It’s pretty much like that with dogs. Confidence attracts while insecurity repels. Going towards a dog can repel him and walking away can attract. But, we must be safe, develop a magnetic relationship and of course, dogs do need to be trained.

It is common knowledge that dogs need a certain degree of leadership in order to be safe, happy and well behaved. It is also important that dogs are allowed adequate time to run free to be truly fulfilled. In order to achieve both of these things at the same time it is critical that, from time to time, you go in the opposite direction of your dog or pack of dogs when adventuring off-leash. I say from time to time because there is no exact science as to how often you must do this. I would advise changing directions randomly or anytime your dogs seem to be getting the idea that they are leading the way. They may be ahead of you but they should not be leading you. You can remind them of this by leading from behind. For example: If your dogs take off to the North, you simply head South. As they notice this and come running back to you, just keep on walking. Maybe give a little quiet praise but don't make a big fuss about it. The idea of this exercise is that you are projecting an attitude of leadership and expectation, that this behavior is not only expected, it is inevitable. Your confidence is like a magnet and your dogs are the steel. You are the leader, provider and decision maker so they should be keeping an eye on you rather than the other way around, right? Right!

“This sounds good on paper but I can’t just turn my back on my dogs. That’s dangerous!”

Of course, in reality you do need to keep an eye on your dogs. The trick is that they don’t have to know it. They should think you are just going wherever the heck you want to without any regard for what they are doing. As you turn away you will need to peek discretely over your shoulder to see if they notice your detour. If they fail to notice you can give a quick whistle or vocal cue like "this way" to get their attention but keep on walking, don't actually give a Come command. Keep in mind, this is not an obedience training exercise. This is a deeper, primitive, more natural method of leading your pack through the attraction of opposites.

What If your dog is very independent, does not keep an eye on you and does not respond to cues?

In this case your dog should not be off-leash yet. You can do the exercise above but with your dog on a 50' long line. You may be tempted to go off-leash too soon but please don’t. You should continue until Fido goes for at least one month of following your lead every day without hitting the end of the 50' leash. Only then should you consider ditching the leash. Consistency is the key so unleashing before this has been accomplished will be a major set back and possibly even destroy your off-leash goals. Going off-leash too soon could also put your dog in danger.

Always keep in mind that once you go off-leash you are going on faith because you are giving up any physical control. Dogs have powerful instincts that can easily override their training so it is advisable that you only go off-leash in areas that are hazard-free such as large parks or open areas that are far from city streets. In the early stages its best to stick with open areas that are actually fenced in.

Be safe, have fun and if you find yourself following your dog, do the opposite.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant