When Can My Dog Be Off Leash?

When Can My Dog Be Off Leash?

By Michele L. Meyer

When is it time to let your dog off leash?  In the house?  In the yard?  At the dog park?  In the great outdoors?  The answer is…probably not as soon as you may think.  That is because it is a common training mistake to give dogs too much freedom too soon.  When this happens, dogs quickly learn they don’t have to listen when they are off leash.  The fastest way to get your dog reliably trained off leash is to not let them off leash until they are ready.  More tips on this in the link below. 

Your dog should have a rock-solid recall before being off leash, especially outside in an unfenced area.  A recall is your dog coming back to you on a cue such as “come”.  Rock solid means they come to you the instant you call them without even a second delay.  They do not hesitate, they do not think about it, they do not sniff the grass a little longer before responding.  You say “come” and their body whips around quickly, running to you with speed and excitement. 

This happens when your dog’s recall is a conditioned response which means their body goes on automatic when they hear the cue.  It’s like how we can drive home and sometimes not remember the drive.  How did we make it home if we weren’t thinking about every turn?  That’s our bodies’ conditioned response. 

A great way to achieve this conditioned response with your dog’s recall is to teach them that coming to you is the most fabulous thing in the world.  That can be done using a variety of high value rewards but rewards are different than bribes…and keep in mind that food is not the only bribe.  A bribe is when our dogs know what the reward is before they choose to do the behavior.  Bribes are unreliable and will not achieve the conditioned response we want with recalls.  We go over this in a lot more detail in our training programs

Also, be careful not to teach your dog that “come” is the end of fun.  For example, “come” means you have to come in from the yard and stay inside.  Although we of course use this cue in that situation, it’s best to teach your dog something fun is going to happen when they come in.  Another great practice is to recall your dog from the yard, reward them, and let them go back out.  Do this often so that you are not teaching your dog that “come” is the end of fun.

Another quick tip for achieving a reliable recall is to never chase your dog…even when you are playing with them.  Allowing them to chase you can be beneficial if it does not end in problematic behaviors like jumping and mouthing.  This is because it can teach them it’s fun to run with you and to follow you.  However, chasing them just teaches them it’s fun to run away from you which is counterproductive to having a reliable recall.  There is a lot more that can be done to achieve a rock-solid recall and we cover all of it in our training programs.  

It’s also important to assess your dog’s overall training before deciding whether to let them off leash.  Basic training is ensuring your dog will listen in your home and on a six foot leash outside.  Intermediate training is teaching your dog to listen around bigger distractions and at further distances by using long training leads.*  Advanced training is off leash with high distractions such as at a dog park or in the great outdoors.  It’s important to take your dog through all levels of training successfully before considering off leashing your dog.  Taking your dog off leash when they have not even completed basic training is like taking a child from second grade and putting them right into senior year of college. 

*DANGER:  Long training leads can be dangerous when not used properly.  We go over proper usage and safety tips in our training programs.

For help with achieving a rock-solid recall or preparing your dog to be off leash, just get in touch with us today and tell us about your dog.

For more tips relating to this article, see this blog:  Five Quick and Easy Dog Training Tips