iStock_000034854986_LargeFor owners who love to run, jog, hike, and enjoy outdoor activities, allowing their dog to walk off-leash makes good sense. These activities keep your energetic dog moving while also providing opportunities for sniffing, exploring, and running free.

However, off-leash roaming is a big responsibility for any dog owner. Training and practice must be provided to ensure the safety of the dog and other humans and animals.

An Off-Leash Word to the Wise

There are two important questions to ask before em-BARK-ing on off-leash training:

  • How well do I know my dog?
  • Am I willing to take the risk?

Many dog breeds can be a handful when it comes to being off-leash because they are instinctually predatory or have been bred to chase prey. It is equally true that off-leash handling presents more risks, even if your dog is skilled in obedience commands and has been socialized.

So the caveat lies in knowing what the challenges are before you begin. We highly recommend making sure your dog is vaccinated, parasite-free, and is microchipped.

Training Tips for Off-Leash Excursions

Assuming your dog has had some basic obedience and socialization training, you will want to acclimate your pooch by starting in a safe, fenced-in area such as your backyard or a familiar park.

From here, you can implement the following training tips, gradually increasing the time off-leash and exposure to new environments as you gain confidence.

  • Begin with basic commands like “come,” “stay,” and “leave it,” making sure your pet is responsive.
  • Practice keeping your dog’s attention by unclipping the leash and using the “sit” command followed by a “click” with the clicker and verbal praise (you can also use small treats, but avoid relying on them).
  • Increase the time you unclip your dog’s leash and keep focus by circling the perimeter of the yard or park together (make sure your pet pays attention to you).
  • Gradually add a favorite toy or playmate to the mix, allowing your dog to roam free for 5-10 minutes and then calling him or back to you. If there’s no response, you may need to continue practicing reward-based commands.
  • Incorporate commands and rewards into daily activities and at random intervals, such as during a meal, bath time, or other routine activities. The goal is to reinforce responsiveness to you.
  • At this point, you may wish to introduce new distractions, such as a dog park or an unfamiliar (yet enclosed) area. You can also practice at home by putting a new toy on the floor, allowing your pet to investigate and calling him or her back to you.
  • Once your dog has exhibited responsiveness to your recall command (even when tempted by distractions), you can practice in a new environment, such as an open meadow or other area with which you are familiar.

Remember to maintain control of your dog when training off-leash in a park. Never allow your dog to chase, bully, or become an annoyance.

It’s also important to be aware of wildlife dangers when your dog is off-leash – from venomous snakes to coyotes, be aware of the risks and know your surroundings.

For more information on training or to schedule an appointment, please contact the team at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital.