We are not dog trainers, but we feel we have a responsibility to educate people about off-leash tips and tricks as we do have our pet off-leash in some circumstances.
Before we dive into anything that we have done, we want to state: do not take your dog off-leash without fantastic recall.
Letting your dog off-leash without proper training is disrespectful and dangerous to:
Your dog- imagine your dog runs off and you lose them. Or they run into a dangerous situation that can result in their injury like into the street, into an unfriendly dog, or even they may get distracted and ingest something poisonous.
Other dogs- not all dogs and their owners want to greet your dog. Please be respectful of owner training and their space. If you are both okay with approaching, then and only then, should your dog be meeting their dog. Do not put other dogs in jeopardy.
Other people- believe it or not, there are people who don’t like dogs! not only that, but there are many leash laws in place to help people and you could be fined for breaking these rules.
Animals & wildlife- off-leash is amazing but dogs have a prey drive. They can easily harm other animals. On top of that, if they go running everywhere, they can destroy plants, cause erosion, among other things while not controlled. You want to be able to recall them without them causing harm to anything.
I really like this letter; it sums up a lot of detail about what it feels like to walk a dog that is not particularly dog friendly or even just one that is uncertain. Be respectful of the, you don’t want either animal hurt. I mention this, because of our background with Chase and his fears and anxieties around other dogs. You can read more about that here.
However, we love having Chase off-leash. He is runs freely and leaves each experience happier than before. We want to continue this & want to allow him to experience all that the world has to offer… and that comes with a lot of training! That and continually accessing the situation for potential risks & avoiding them.
If you do desire to have your dog off-leash in controlled environments, here are a few things that we did to help with recall and safety.
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Practice the commands over and over again so that your dog never has to question what they need to do in a certain situation. They will become such muscle memory and their success in these commands only come with repetition.
Everything that is practice should be introduced in a low-stimuli environment, on-leash. As your dog gets more and more comfortable, introduce more distractions and rewarding them whenever they listen. This praise should be constant with desired behaviors. As you both become more comfortable, increase the challenge of the environment while always prioritizing safety!
Never train off-leash around heavy traffic (whether automotive or pedestrians)
Do not push the limits of your dog to a point that they are not comfortable
A trainer: Train the dog you have. No manual, online-form, or prerecorded YouTube video* replaces the knowledge of a trainer for the dog in front of you. These are things that work for Chase & I but may not work for you moving forward. I’ve dog-sat over 20 dogs, all with very different temperaments. Some of these techniques would not work with other dogs and a trainer will help work with your dog, the one you have and love, not the one on the YouTube video that you found 10 minutes ago. *However, these are great tools once you figure out what you need… we use them as reminders!
Loose leash walk
A reliable recall
Tendencies Dogs Have to Disobey:
This will be something you will know about your specific dog and if there is a situation in which they will be tested, always obey their limits and prioritize safety over a few minutes of fun.
Reactive Dogs- whether this is aggression or hyper-activity, this behavior can cause dogfights that you would then have no control over
Loud Noises- fireworks, thunder, etc. could cause your dog to bolt out of fear, and it will be much harder to coax them back
Chasing Behavior- either small animals (squirrels, rabbits) or large objects (cars, large animals) could cause a problem where you might lose the dog and they travel a far distance. Other larger objects could cause direct harm to the dog or even cause an accident.
Wandering- some dogs love exploring off-leash so much that they just might be so distracted that they don’t listen. Find a way to be the best thing in the area.
Leash: please, even if your dog is going to be off-leash when you get there, bring your leash. You may need it, for whatever reason, and it would be better to have it than wish you brought something.
Martingale Collar: especially in on-leash environments, this collar is great for directing Chase on where he needs to be. His on-leash work is constantly in progress (like everything else) and we have a specific position that we want to walk in. This collar allows him to understand and gets gentle reminders when he gets distracted.
Long lead: it allows us to continually work on the basic commands that we need for Chase to follow. Most importantly for us has been the command ‘here.’ We practice it over & over so he doesn’t fail, and we can work with him in all scenarios.
E-Collar: I know for many people, this is controversial, but it is the greatest tool we have for Chase to communicate with him, especially at more of a distance. We want him to run, we want him to explore, but we always want him checking in and focused on us first.