How and when to let your dog off the lead and roam free
Many people envision when getting a dog that they will be able to walk in parks and through woods with their dog off lead. With the dog playfully scampering about but always close by and under control.
Some people also think it is unfair on dogs if they are always on the leash and that they cannot have as much fun if they are not allowed off-leash. This is untrue, as dogs on leashes can still have great fun, but if you do want your dog to roam relatively free when out on walks… How do you know when and how you should start doing it?
How do you know when they are ready to be off-leash
Allowing your dog to be off-leash requires your dog to be well trained. Here are some of the things you should consider before deciding they are ready to be off-leash:
Do they know their name?
When you call your dog's name, regardless of where you are or what your dog is doing, they should stop what they are doing and look at you. They should do this every time and not need you to repeat their name. This should be the first stage in any training program. It will boost your ability to train in general.
How is their recall
Once you've gotten your dog's attention, you should be able to say, "Come!". They should then ignore anything else they are doing, and they should come back to you straight away and do so quickly. Before you consider letting your dog off-leash, you must be able to call him to you swiftly and reliably in any situation.
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Are you confident they will be able to walk to heel off-leash
It's one thing for a dog to know how to heel or walk directly by your side while on a leash, but it's quite another for a dog to resist temptation and stay near to you when they're permitted to leave your side. On or off-leash, there are moments when a dog can wander away to sniff and play, and other times when a dog must stay to heel. There is a big difference between leash walking when you are in the mountains than if you are walking through a town or city.
How reactive is your dog
To allow your dog off lead, you will need to understand how reactive your dog is and if they have any triggers. If your dog is calm around other dogs, other people, traffic, and random animals like cats and rabbits. Then you have a good case for letting your dog off-leash. If they forget all their training as soon as they see a sheep, you should consider further training or be happy having them on a long hands-free leash where they have some freedom but are under constant control.
The best places to start letting your dog off-leash
To begin with, you are best allowing dogs off-leash in places away from built-up areas and traffic. Try to find relatively safe places so that if they do run off, you have time to see them before they potentially get hurt.
Here are some excellent places to start:
An official dog park is probably the safest place to let a dog off lead first. These can have other dogs in them, but you can also find ones where you can hire your paddock or field for extra safety. These are good places to start because they are fenced areas. So, if your dog does try to run off, it won't get far.
Proper trails and public footpaths
You are probably better off trying off-leash training in the countryside rather than the city, as I have mentioned. The best way to do this is to find a walk with a defined trail or path while still somewhat remote. The path or trail helps keep the dog on a relatively defined track; if you are walking on it, the dog will naturally stay close to the way. If they do run off, having a way to find it will make it easier for them to see you again. If you tried off-leash training in moorland, in fells, or mountains, the dog may get disorientated and may get appropriately lost.
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Beaches are good places to start, as they are often wide-open spaces. However, they usually have defined areas, and you are either walking up or down the beach, so if the dog stays on the sand, they should find you again pretty quickly. Make sure it is a safe beach, and they are allowed to be off-leash on it.
Is the breed necessary?
Some breeds are more suited to off-leash life than others; the more trainable a dog breed and personality is, the easier it will be for you to let them off the leash. Species like Border Collies will be pretty easy to train to walk off the leash. However, dogs like Sighthounds with solid prey drives may find it more difficult. No matter how well trained they are, a Sighthound will always instinct to chase a rabbit.
You are always best to err on the side of caution. If you have any doubts about whether your dog is ready for an off-leash walk, you should wait and give them more training. It is always better to be safe rather than sorry.
As with all training, start small and manageable and build things up slowly. Do not just go from leash walking to giving them a 10-mile off-leash mountain hike. Just let them off for a couple of minutes to start with, and put the leash back on. Then slowly build up the time off-leash.
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