Most dog owners have the dream of getting their dog off leash while having the ability to maintain safety and control. While each dog and owner is different, and different locations present varying challenges, for most dogs off leash control can be reality if you adhere to some basic do's and dont's.
- Start with a solid, on leash, foundation with obedience commands like sit, down, come, and stay. Owners frequently remove the leash for too early so they are unable to reinforce good behavior and prevent bad behavior. Ironically a key to good off leash control is lots of time on leash!
- Vary rewards! From treats to toys, play to tummy rubs, a quick jog to verbal praise keep your dog engaged by switching it up.
- Mean what you say and say what you mean! For all dog training, including off leash work, following through with action is key. If you have asked your dog to do something, calmly and firmly follow through with having them do it! If you're not in a position to enforce a command, don't give it in the first place.
- Always think safety first. Traffic, other loose dogs, children, and other environmental factors can quickly challenge your dog's training. Carefully observe your environment and remember it's always better to be safe than sorry.
- Be flexible in your dog's training. Just because something worked for a family member's dog or your previous dog doesn't mean it's right for your current dog. The truth is each dog is different and what motivates one dog may not motivate another. If you are stuck, that's when it's time to seek out a qualified dog trainer.
- Offer praise and reward frequently. No dog in their right mind would consistently come to their owner if the only thing come means is that they have to leave the dog park, get in trouble, or have something taken from them. Remember to look at things from your dog's point of view. Come should be an enjoyable experience and a non optional one.
- Use a long leash! These are excellent tools for having your dog practicing getting farther away from you while you still have the ability to maintain control.
- Never play "catch me if you can." Many dogs learn that playing an escape game is a lot of fun and being chased is exhilarating. This can come back to haunt you later when you want your dog to come to you. Instead play games the entice your dog to come to you and show them that's it's rewarding ans positive to be next to you.
- Avoid correcting your dog in any way if they come to you. If your dog just chewed up your couch and you told them to come and they did, you can't punish them! (At that point you'd be correcting them for coming because they have already forgotten the joy of ripping up the furniture).
- Don't rush into heavy distractions! Set your dog up for success by spending time working on off leash control in a low distraction environment and building slowly as you gain trust.
- Try not to beg your dog...you can encourage them to do what you ask and make it enjoyable to do so, but in the end a come command is not optional.
- Never hold a grudge. Mistakes are a part of training and no one is perfect, including your dog. If your dog blows off a command or suddenly has "selective hearing" get them quickly into the position you asked and then immediately try it again. When they finally get it right, have a praise party!
With a solid foundation in obedience training, and consistent, frequent training you too can enjoy having an off leash dog.