How to train your dog to walk off the leash
Training your dog to walk off the leash can be a very rewarding venture for both you and your animal. The extra freedom given to your dog will allow them to get more exercise and experience a wider variety of sensory stimuli. As an owner you will feel less ‘tied down' by your dog, and will thereby be able to feel more relaxed when out with them.
This article has been written as a list of steps that you should go through in order to successfully discipline your dog to walk off the leash. Carry out each step fully and do not skip steps. If your dog responds badly to a step, work a bit more on the previous one. It is also important to use your discretion when using instructions such as these, as not all dogs will respond the same way. After all, failure to carry out instructions properly may lead to your pet's life being put at stake.
A great book for dog owners struggling with animals that 'pull'. I recommend that if your dog pulls you tackle this first, rather than using off-the-leash walking as an alternative.
I've always been a fan of the 'For Dummies' series, and this book is no exception. Easy to follow, a must-have reference!
Step 1: Walk your dog on the leash
This may seem rather obvious, but do train your dog to walk on the leash before trying anything more daring. Walking your dog with a leash familiarises them with the concept of discipline, which will carry over into further training. While fully under your control, allow them to become comfortable around other dogs, animals and anything else you can think of that may startle them. Doing this decreases the likelihood that they will bolt out of fear* when they are off the leash, so really concentrate and put a lot of effort into this aspect of their training. Finally, teach your dog to heel under any circumstances. You ideally want them to be able to walk exactly parallel to you; however, the key requirement here is that they always return to within a few feet of you when called.
Step 2: Switch to a long, retractable lead
If you haven't already invested in one, get your hands on a retractable lead. I believe the original was designed by a company called ‘Flexi' (many variations now exist), and they look like this:
Gradually allow your dog to venture further and further away from you while using a lead like this, while always maintaining complete control and cutting the distance down if they are unruly. Remember to reinforce their knowledge of the ‘heel' command. This process will help both you and your dog become more confident with being further apart from each other while out.
Step 3: Let them off in an enclosed area
Without your dog, scout out a good enclosed area. It's worth spending the time to try to find a truly ‘enclosed' plot of land - no exits apart from gates - for the first few times you try this with your animal. Children's play-parks are often great for this, though go at night so as not to cause a disturbance. You should initially keep your dog right by your side, but allow them the freedom to wander as they become more familiar with their new independence. Furthermore, it is essential that you continue to train your dog to heel.
Step 4: Start walking them without the leash for short stretches
This is the final step. Start letting your dog off in exposed areas for short stretches. Try to do this near (or straight out of) one of the enclosed areas in which you have been training them, in order to ease the transition. Increase the stretch as your dog becomes more experienced, until they are able to walk off the leash for a slightly longer distance than that which you intend to take them on a regular basis. Again, the animal must still - without question - be able to heal when called.
- Don't take your dog on pavements or anywhere near the road: I have had a few really close calls myself because of straying too close to cars, so learn from my mistakes and stay well away from them.
- Don't rush the process: This is your dog's welfare we're talking about, here. Take a considerable amount of time on each step. The whole process (not including training your dog to walk on the leash) should take at least 6 months.
- Always pay attention!!: Keep your eye on the animal at all times. Consciously make an effort to remind yourself that you should be doing this.
- Try not to go at night: Reduced visibility makes walks at night a definite risk. Saying that, don't use this as an excuse!
- Enjoy walks!: This is perhaps the most important advice I can give. Maintain your concentration and stay focused on your dog, but try to enjoy the experience. Play with your pet, chase them, whatever you like.
That's all, folks; I sincerely hope you've managed to take something away from this article. If you are going to follow these steps, remember to remain vigilant and try and have a good time. Good luck!