Preparing Your Dog To Go Off-Leash

In a perfect world, you would never call your dog and have him not come!

Many of you may dream of the day you can take your dogs out into the world and let them off-leash. While enjoying your dogs' company off-leash is a great notion, it comes at price; that price being your time and effort to set them up for success.

Before unhooking the leash and allowing them ultimate freedom, you must make sure that they will be reliable off-leash. What do I mean by this? Well, in short, you must feel confident that your dogs will listen to you when you have no means to control them (come when called, leave or drop items when you tell them to, etc.). It's a big world out there and you need to keep your dog safe.  Just as you wouldn't give your nine year old child an 11:00 curfew, you wouldn't give your dog, who has not been properly trained and prepared, all the freedom in the world if he hasn't proven he can handle it.

Can it be done? Absolutely! Can it be done overnight? Absolutely not!

So here are the steps to getting your dog ready for off-leash. 
 

  • First off, make sure your dog is properly trained in Sit, Down, Stay, Heel and most importantly, Come while on his 6 foot leash. Be really sure that he understands both verbal queues and hand signals for each command. When he is off-leash, in some cases he may not be able to hear you while in other cases, he may not be able to see you. For these reasons, it is good that your dog respond to both hand signals and voice commands.
  • The next step is to move off your 6 foot leash and onto your long line. I like to use a 50 foot leash to really allow some freedom while still holding onto that control. What you're looking for is to have your dog respond to your commands quickly, consistently and without leash corrections. When your 50 foot long line is simply there "just in case" and you find no reason to use it to reinforce your commands, then you're ready to take the next step. This could take weeks or months depending on the dog.
  • The next step would be to remove your dog's 50 foot line in a large fenced-in area which allows you some control while managing your dog off-leash. Use this as another opportunity to test your dog. Have him acknowledge you when you call his name and obey commands from a distance....most importantly, Come. Do this several times in a session within this fenced-in environment. If you really want to test  to see if you're ready to unhook the clip without fences,  give him commands when he's nice and distracted.
  • Finally, there is going to come a time when you're going to have to go-for-it. Be sure to read my article on Building a Reliable Recall to make sure you're up to the challenge. Choose your environment to go off-leash wisely and always be aware of local leash laws. 

While preparing your dog to go off-leash, remember to keep the training fun and exciting. If you do, what you'll notice is your dog will willingly check in with you when off-leash without being asked to. This is a sign that he is keeping one eye on you while you keep one eye on him. When he checks in without being asked, praise him well for it because it is awesome behavior for him to offer!

Be safe! 

--Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2013

Related Article:

How to Be Magnetic When Walking Off-Leash