Beyond the Basics: Training Your Dog to Walk Off-leash

Living in the country we do a lot of wooded trails and rarely traveled by vehicle dirt road walking.  So the ability to have the dogs walk off-leash is wonderful for us.  No leashes getting tangled in the brush as their noses lead them off the trail.  No going different directions around obstacles.  It really makes it nice for both the dogs, and us humans.

But just like teaching your dog to stay in the yard off lead, there’s always the risk that even the best trained dogs will go rogue.  Chasing after a small animal, or following an interesting scent trail.  So walking off-leash is not for every dog.  Not even all of ours are trusted to walk off-leash.  The Jack Russell Terriers and mixes are only allowed off-leash in the yard.  Although they all have good recall, they are high prey-drive dogs, and a squirrel or chipmunk is much more interesting than Mama.

Is Your Dog Ready to Walk Off-leash

If you know your dog well, you’ll know whether or not he/she is a candidate for off-leash walking.  A well socialized, confident dog is the best candidate for off-leash walking and hiking.

If you don’t know your dog well, then off-leash walking is not for you yet.  Take the time to get to know your dog well.  Work on basic dog training commands.  Bond with your dog, before you even think about unleashing him.

Once your dog starts listening well.  Looking to you for direction.  And sticking close by without wandering fare from you.  And you trust your dog to come when called. Then you might just be ready to go off lead.

Ready for Off-leash Walking

Even if you think your dog is ready to go off-leash, practice up and make sure his Recall, and Emergency Recall is excellent.  Remember to have high-value treats handy.

A long training leash is a great investment.  If you’ve already trained your dog to stay in the yard, you probably already have one.

And you’ll want to start practicing off-leash walking in a secure area.  A securely fenced in dog park, during non-peak hours is a good place to start.  One that your dog hasn’t been to before is great.

Once in your secure location, attached the long training leash, and let it drag on the ground, while you practice walking around.  Only pick up the leash when you see a distraction that might cause your dog to take off.

Once you’ve picked up the leash, for any distraction, practice loose leash walking for a few minutes until the distraction has passed.  Then drop the leash and try again.

Do the same whenever you have to Recall him.  Make him aware that there are consequences for not paying attention.

Reward him often for staying with you.  Recall him if he gets too far away.  And practice often. And in many different secure locations, if possible.

Don’t Rush to Off-leash Until you Trust him

Don’t take your pooch out into the woods and let him off-leash until you trust him enough to obey you.  Even if he’s on the scent of a deer, or chasing a squirrel.

It’s also a good idea to make sure your dog has his identification tags on too.  Just in case. Taking a current photo isn’t a bad idea either.

With time, patience and practice, lots and lots of controlled practice, and the right temperament, you too can have your dog off-leash on walking and hiking adventures.

Header Image Credit: Ken Bosma

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