Many dog parents are a bit scared of giving their pet total freedom of walking without a leash (off lead). And rightly so, since many dogs have a high prey drive and tend to run off in search of a scent they pick up. This can be very dangerous for your pet, especially in areas with heavy traffic. Also, some states have very strict laws about walking dogs without leash. But if you are of the opinion that your four legged friend be given the freedom to go off leash, then it is important not to rush the process. You need to train your baby adequately and make sure that he will not endanger himself. Also, before you train your dog to walk off lead, he needs to know some basic commands like walking at your heel, sitting, staying and coming back when called.
So in this guide, we will study some important dog training tips to help you train your puppy to walk without leash.
Know when your dog is ready to go off lead
As stated before, your puppy can be only let off leash once he can walk at your heel, sit and stay perfectly on command and, most importantly, drop everything and come back to you when you call him. There are some obedient dog breeds that can walk off leash and they are naturally used to heeling and staying by their master’s side. You need not even train these breeds to walk by your side off leash. Some examples of such dog breeds that easily walk off lead are Labrador retrievers, Shetland sheepdogs, flat coated retrievers and vizslas. Some of these dogs are so used to inherently heeling, that they actually keep looking at their master’s face all the time-so much so that it can get embarrassing for the master! In such as case, you might want to lay-off rewarding a bit so that your dog feels encouraged to leave your side and go exploring.
Never train in a crowded area
Needless to say that you must not train your pet to walk off lead in crowded streets or dog parks where there are other dogs, cats, children on skateboard, heavy vehicular traffic and other distractions. Training your puppy to walk off leash is a big decision. If you live near the beach, (relatively a quiet one at that) you can take him there for training purpose. Remove his leash and continue to walk slowly down the beach. Your pet will naturally have fun running off in the surf and occasionally he might find a dead fish or other interesting stuff. But most dogs like to check in with their owners from time to time and yours will too. So when your dog comes close to you and heels, by your side, give him a kibble or a tasty treat. This will get your pet into the habit of checking in with you every now and then. This is the beginner’s training method to teach a pet to walk off leash.
Challenge your pet
Once your dog has learned to walk off leash in distraction free areas and once he has learned the ‘sit, stay, and come when called commands’, then it is time to challenge your dog to some gentle distractions. You can start off in your yard and get him to meet people or other dogs. Start by holding your dog on leash in your yard. Make your friend or family member walk around the outside of your fence. Observe your pet for his reactions. If he starts to pull the lead, quickly pull or tug him back. Repeat this exercise until your dog learns that pulling is not getting him anywhere. Next, try dropping the leash (and eventually even removing the leash altogether) while repeating the distractions. You can also vary the distractions a bit such as rolling some balls, bringing in other people, a bit of traffic and, yes, even other dogs.
Come when called lesson
Once your pet is comfortable with the above distraction based challenge, it is time to call your friends with pets of their own over to play. While the dogs are playing in the yard, call your dog by its name. If your pet comes to you, praise him liberally and offer him a reward. After he has been rewarded, let him go back to playing. Repeat this several times and reward him immediately after he has come to you. Immediately let him go back to his fun. Practice this session several times a day for a few weeks until you are sure your pet has understood the ‘come when called’ command.
Take the ‘come when called’ command training to a park
Now is the next important step to train your puppy off lead. Take your pet to a small park. It is important that the area be slightly bigger than your yard but at the same time, is also fenced and secure, in case you lose control over your pet. If you are unable to find a fenced area, at least choose one that has no vehicular traffic. Allow your dog to play with other dogs or simply sniff around. Now call your dog and ask him to come to you. Immediately reward and praise him when he comes. You can then immediately let him go back to his fun activity. This will reinforce to your pet that coming back to you has dual advantages in that; he gets a reward and he also gets to continue his fun activity.
Know when your dog is ready!
Once you have seen your pet behave properly (and he comes back to you when called even if he is off lead in secure areas), you can take him to areas with even more distractions. The earlier training demonstrates that your pet will come when called and that he is safe to be kept off lead. However, you must never leave your dog unattended when he is unleashed. It is very important for your dog’s well being as well as yours that you know where he is all the time and also what he is up to. Remember: dogs can get into trouble very quickly so you must always keep an eye on your pet. Whether he is chasing squirrels in the yard, or playing with other dogs in the dog park or simply playing with your children, keep an eye out for him at all times.