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27 July 2021

Off leash training: a complete guide

Easy off leash training techniques to make the life of the dog and the guardian easier.

Having your dog on the proper off leash training can make a world of difference in emergency situations. However, teaching your dog the correct code of conduct when off the leash is not going to be a walk in the park. It will require a lot of patience and regular practice. Trust me, your efforts will pay off.

Most untrained dogs would run when they are free from the leash. Once a dog has been trained on proper off-leash training, next time he or she goes off leash, he or she will stay close and respond to the verbal cues of the guardians. This training can come in very handy in conditions of high traffic or to prevent road accidents. Therefore, off leash training is an imperative part of the dog training process.



What is off leash training for dogs?

Off leash training is the process of training your dog to walk or hike without having the leash attached to them. Off leash training needs a different set of skills to be imparted to the dog which is separate from the training provided to the dog when he or she is in a fenced region or yard.

Off leash training for your dog is imperative if you plan to go on hikes with your dog and you want him or her to be able to roam free and enjoy herself or himself.

Which dogs can be trained to go off leash?

There is no specific breed of dogs who do well off leash. It all depends on the temperament of your dog. Certain characteristics which may help you understand if your dog is the right candidate for off leash training are:

  • Responsive to training
  • No history of running off or dashing away from you
  • Tends to stay next to you when sees something tempting and worth chasing like a squirrel.
  • Socializes well with other dogs and strangers.
However, if your dog has a regular tendency of barking at strangers, chasing squirrels, or has ignored your previous attempts at training, he or she is not meant for off leash training.

Are there specific dog breeds which do better at off leash training compared to others? 

Since every dog is different even if they belong to the same breed, there is no way to tell which breed is best for off leash training. However, if you are planning to get a puppy who can go on hikes with you and are in the research stage, there are a few things you can focus on.

The breeds which are hunters with a strong pet drive may present as a challenge in training like Siberian Husky, Shiba Inus, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Redbone Coonhounds etc. It is not that it is impossible to train dogs of this breed. It is just that training such breed dogs might present a challenge.

Even though sporting breeds have been observed to have a high prey drive, they have also been observed to be easily trained like Spaniels and Retrievers.

Keeping these points in mind, a few dog breeds which might make excellent off leash companions are:

  • Golden retriever
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Border Collies
  • German shorthair pointers.

The basics of off leash training

Teaching off leash commands to dogs is not an easy process. However, how well your dog behaves off leash is the true testament to the level of training the dog has received.

It will require time, patience and dedication on your part to help your dog achieve success in off leash training. In the following sections, I will walk you through the primary elements of the dog off leash training process.

First master all commands while on leash

The primary step in the off leash training process is cementing the bond you have with your dog. A strong understanding of basic commands like sit, stay, come is also very essential.

If the pup is not following basic commands when on leash, chances are he or she won’t listen to your commands even when off leash. Therefore, the first thing you must focus on is that your pup knows and follows all the basic commands when on leash.

Therefore, start with training your pup the basic commands when on the leash. Only when you are confident that your pup will follow your commands every time on leash, then you can progress to the next stage of training.


Basic command training

To train your dog in basic commands, you can either enroll your pup in a basic obedience course or teach the commands yourself. If you do decide to go for a puppy obedience course, there might be few advantages. These courses follow a group environment. Thus, your dog will be exposed to following commands in presence of other dogs, people and a very distracting environment.

All along the basic training course, you should also focus on reinforcing the commands outside the classroom. Choose random times of the day to check your pup’s recall and obedience. At least fifteen minutes of practice should be eminent outside the class. You can use treats and praises to reward the good behavior in your pup. Once you notice that your dog is doing very well on following basic commands and instructions, you can now do the practice during your dogs walks while on leash.

When you go on walks, give random commands to your dog during the walk. This will train your dog to expect commands even outside the home environment. Once your dog is proficient in following commands any time of the day and at any place, you are ready to take your dog to the next stage, off leash training.

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Start off leash training in a controlled region.

A dog's ability to respond to command develops over time. When you train your dog, they not only understand what they should do to get treats from you, they also understand which behavior is acceptable and which is not.

Overtime, dogs learn to judge the mood of the guardian and act accordingly. Their brain also gets programmed to respond to commands automatically when they hear them.

In order to start off leash training, you must be 100% sure that your dog is following the basic commands in a consistent and reliable manner. Even if you are sure about your dog's consistency in following verbal cues and commands, you must test out your conclusion in a controlled environment first before conducting the test at places where there might be other people, dogs or traffic present.

Put your dog on a harness or leash and take him to the backyard. Now take him off leash and ask him to stay. Move away a little. Ask your dog to stay. If your dog follows the command and stays, continue with other commands like sit, come, bow etc.

If you notice that your dog is getting distracted, go back a step and start again. Make your dog confident in following the commands when on leash. Then come back to this step. Under no circumstance should you proceed, if you notice that your pup is having difficulty in following instructions or your commands.

If you feel that your pup is comfortable being off leash indoors and in the backyard, you can proceed to follow off leash training in other controlled environments as well. Run the complete training routines in different control environments. If your dog is on the right track regarding training, he or she will have no problems following all the commands which they have been trained to follow when on leash.

During the off leash training process, it is very helpful to have your dog in the harness or the collar and keep the leash handy or close by. This is done so that in case there is an issue, you can put the leash on your pup and bring him or her back under control.

Once you are absolutely sure that your pup is following commands off leash in different control scenarios, it is time to proceed to the next step, the training for reliable recall.

Reliable recall training

Recall is the most important command for a dog to be well versed in when it comes to being off leash. Recall means, when the guardian calls, the dog runs back to the guardian without any kind of hesitation. Most owners prefer to use the command ‘come’ to call their dogs back.

Even though this command seems fairly easy to use, it can be pretty difficult to master. Proficiency in following simple commands requires a lot of patience, dedication and consistency on the part of the guardian.

When you are teaching your dog recall, start small. Just like the above steps, work in a controlled environment. Ask your dog to stay at one place. Move a few feet away and ask your dog to come. When your dog follows, reward the good behavior with a treat.

Offering the treat may look like a small gesture to you. However for your dog, the treat would reinforce that going back to the guardian is the right thing to do when called. Make sure that the command does not convey multiple meanings. This will only confuse your dog. Never use the ‘come’ commands to signify anything negative in nature like the end of a play date etc. This will paint the command in a negative light and the dog might not feel inclined to follow.

You know you have achieved the desired result when you say come and your dog leaves everything and comes to you in an instant.

As you notice your dog gaining proficiency in responding to the commands, you will also notice that your pup starts to block out other distractions in the surroundings.

As and when you notice improvements in your pup, increase the challenge by standing a little further away, introduce new distractions or any other stuff which may compromise your dog’s responsiveness towards the commands.

My dog is not responding to the commands!

The primary command which the dog must be well versed in is the recall command. You cannot proceed with off leash training if your dog is not completely attuned to the recall command.

A few reasons why your dog might not respond to recall are:-

The dog does not have a grasp of what is being asked of him:

This situation mostly arises when guardians opt to use a complex command phrase instead of using a single command word. This is also observed a lot of times with new dog guardians. Some guardians would say, ‘come here boy!’ or ‘come quick!’. Such phrases are confusing for the dog. Therefore he may choose to not respond at all.

Another scenario is when different commands are used at different times for the same action. The guardian may call the dog once by saying, ‘come’ and next time by saying, ‘come here’. Use of different commands confuses the dog and might be the reason behind the non responsiveness of the dog.

If you are facing any of the above situations, the best approach is to take a step back and focus on using only a single command like ‘come’. If the command is clear but the dog is still not responding, then there might be another reason behind the lack of response.

Your dog is not interested in following the command

Most dog guardians feel that it is a daunting task to get the dog to respond when he or she is clearly not interested. However, there is a very simple solution to this problem. Simply introduce a higher value treat than the ones you have been using so far and will notice a renewed interest of your dog in the activity.

I have faced this issue with Delta. He hates dog food or dog treats. No matter how expensive the treat or how flavored it is, he just won’t eat it. This made it very difficult to teach him new commands as there was no motivation. However, the one thing he absolutely loves is chicken, cooked not raw. So I made homemade treats for him by frying chicken in organic coconut oil. Now he is highly motivated and engaged in all activities.

If your pup is not appreciative of chicken, but that’s what he is given as reinforcement, he may stop responding to the commands completely. However, if you use a toy or a treat which your dog absolutely loves, he or she would be much more inclined towards following the instructions.

When the dog is comfortable following the commands, he or she should follow it even when no treats are offered. The commands following behavior must get ingrained as a part of your dog’s personality. It should be instinctual and your dog should respond without thinking. You may not always be armed with treats. Hence, following commands should be second nature to your dog and will serve as an important foundation for the off leash training.

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Your dog is nervous to return

A recall command must never lead to punishment of the dog. Whenever they follow commands, they must be rewarded. If a dog is being punished or scolded for not following the commands or not responding in the way the guardian wants, he or she will grow fearful of the training. This will also have a negative effect on the dog's willingness to follow the command.

Always use positive reinforcements for the training process. This will not only keep your dog interested, it will also force a stronger bond between you and your pup.

If despite all these tactics, your dog is not responding to your commands, it might be time to enlist the help of a professional dog trainer. A professional trainer will help you identify the problem and provide you with an effective solution.


Safety commands for off leash dog training

Safety commands can save your dog in a life threatening situation. The primary safety commands which your dog must be aware of are, ‘down’, ‘off’, ‘leave it’ etc.

When the pup is off leash or even in case you use a long leash length, it may be hard for you to reach your dog in time and save him in an emergency situation. This is where the safety commands can help.

If your dog decides to pick a fight with another aggressive dog or if your dog eats something that may be poisonous, ‘leave it!’ might just save your dog in time and save you a ton of money, heartache and headache.

In case your dog is about to climb something where he might get hurt, an ‘off’ command will keep him from proceeding to climb any further.

Therefore knowing the safety commands can help your dog save himself when off leash.

Off leash training program:

Now that you are aware of what comprises the foundation of a good off leash dog training, it is time that you start to build on the off leash training program.

Time:

Keep a time separate from your schedule everyday for off leash training. Remember, off leash training will take time for your dog to master. Do not try to rush the process. Just focus on daily practice sessions.

Keep the training sessions short:

During the start, keep the off leash training sessions short. Five to ten minutes is enough during the initial stages. During this time, your focus is to show your dog that rewards come when he or she pays attention to you and responds to the commands. Eventually when your dog's confidence increases, you can increase the duration of the off leash dog training.

Patience:

I cannot emphasize enough on this point. Patience is the key to achieving success in off leash training. Never get frustrated if your dog does not seem to understand what you want. Be patient and repeat the commands. Correct your dog gently. If it seems that the pup may have forgotten a command, teach him again. Over time your dog will achieve success in mastering the correct response to the commands. and off leash dog training will become a breeze.

Consistency:

Never mix commands or instructions of off leash dog training. This is the easiest way to undermine all your hard work and training. Always remember to keep your commands consistent on as well as off leash. The schedule of the off leash dog training must also be consistent. Train your pup at the same time everyday. If you decide to take a break for a week or a month and then observe that your dog is not interested in following your commands, this would not be your dog’s fault. The fault in this case will be yours.

Be ready to stop:

Train your dog till the time when he or she is actively engaged. If he or she shows symptoms of not being interested anymore, stop the off leash dog training. Do not give any reward. Do not get irritated at your dog either. Just calmly take him or her back home.

Positive rewards:

Treats, pats on the back, words of encouragement are the primary tools in training a dog to success. Use these abundantly and you will do great.

Now that your dog knows and responds to the commands, it is time to take the off leash training to different environments before you generalize the training for hikes or trails.

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Double check your dog’s ID tags

Before you embark on leaving your dog off leash, make sure that his ID tags are firmly attached and he or she is microchipped. You can also use personalized collars for this purpose.

Start going off leash in the dog park

The purpose of going off leash in the dog park is so that your pup is comfortable following your instructions even in environments where there are too many distractions. Look for the largest park closely and put more distance between you and your dog. Continue to offer treats when desired behavior is exhibited by your pup.

Practice in busy regions to get your dog well versed in the practice of recall.

Start going off leash in trails:


When you take your dog off leash for the first time on a hike or train, keep the walk duration and distance short. Remember to keep practicing the commands on your hike. As and when your dog starts to display more and more confidence, extend the duration and length of the hike.

Conclusion:

Now that you know how to build your dog’s confidence in off leash training, it is time to get to work. Remember to not push your dog beyond his or her limits. Provide him or her lots of praise, treats and positive reinforcements. The more positive the experience is for your dog, the faster her or she will learn and develop confidence.

Never scold or punish your dog for not displaying the expected behavior. Go back one step and restart the training process. Stop the training if your dog does not seem interested. Do the off leash dog training during the day, during walks and finally at random places so that your dog’s mind becomes sharper and he or she learns to expect a command and follow it whenever and wherever needed.

Is your dog proficient in off leash training? What are your secrets in training your dog to be the best version of himself or herself? Mention it in the comments so that others may also be aware of your methods.

If you have any stories or anecdotes you wish to share with the world, feel free to contact me on my social media channels. If you have any queries you can reach out to me on my social media channels or leave a comment in the comment section.

See you in my next blog post
Shruti


Frequently asked questions:


What is off leash training?
Off leash training is the process of training your dog to hike or walk without being clipped to the leash. Off leash dog training is different from normal obedience training and involves much higher levels of obedience on part of the dog

At what age should I start off leash training for my dog?
Best time to start your dog on off leash training is once he or she has mastered all basic obedience commands.

Which breeds are good for off leash training?
Any dog of any breed can be trained in off leash dog training. However, a few breeds are easier to train like:

  • Golden retriever
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Border Collies
  • German shorthair pointers

Can I do off leash training for my dog or will I need a trainer?
You can do off leash dog training yourself or you can employ the help of a trainer. However, it is strictly up to you

My dog doesn't listen to commands. What should I do?

There might be several reasons why your dog is not listening to your commands like:

  • Using different version of the command every time.
  • Not using a treat of a high enough value

Try to use high value treats and keep the commands consistent every time you train your dog. This will prevent your dog from not listing to you during the process of off leash dog training.

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