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How to Train Your Dog to Go Off-Leash

If there's one thing most pet parents know, it's that their dogs love to explore. However, leashes often restrict dogs from doing this. Many pet parents - especially those with a yard or who love to be outdoors - may strongly desire having a dog that does well off of the leash.

Yet it doesn't come easily and requires a lot of patience and training. 

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Consider these tips if you'd like to train your dog how to handle himself without a leash on:

Before beginning training, all pet parents should be mindful that despite endless hours of training, certain dogs may not take to off-leash training, the Whole Dog Journal advises. As soon as they hear the click, they're sprinting away. Choosing to teach your dog off-leash training is at your own risk - there's no guarantee that he'll always stay by your side. Dog parents must also know that though off-leash training is great, it's not always certain. A variety of distractions, such as other dogs, a loud noise or a squirrel, may cause your dog to not come when called. However, don't let this stop you from off-leash training. This can be a very useful skill that your dog will appreciate when he can roam and explore as he pleases.

Teaching how to come when called
The basic way to teach your dog how to go off-leash is establishing the command "come," Perfect Paws notes. If dogs don't have a good grasp on this command or have already developed a poor association with the term, then training may be difficult. There are a few steps to make sure that you've established this command well.

  1. Make sure he's hungry. This is the first basic step to begin training. A dog who isn't hungry won't respond well to a treat. See how hungry he is by waiving a treat in front of his nose. Be sure to use a good treat, not a boring one. Dogs are more likely to respond to their favorite treat or something with a strong scent than one without.
  2. Put him on a harness and a long leash. Go for a walk and put your dog on a leash that offers a lot of slack. That way, it'll feel like he's off-leash, when really he isn't, Dogmantics notes. Never give your dog a long leash and attach it to his collar. If he begins to lunge at something or runs full-speed ahead, he could injure his neck. Avoid this by using a harness.
  3. Create an association. As your dog begins to walk forward, say "come" and wave a treat before he reaches the end of the leash to pull. Continue doing this until you have your dog at a distance that you like. He'll learn to stay close if he wants a treat. Call him back if he walks too far ahead or begins to wander. Though he may already know the term "come," he's associating the term with walking and staying nearby too.
  4. Reduce the amount of treats. Begin to only give treats when he comes to you immediately and happily without hesitation. He'll begin to learn that his good behavior is rewarded over his bad.


First test off-leash
Once you think your dog has mastered the command "come," it's time to test his recall. Confine your dog to a small area outside. If you've got a fenced-in yard, that's ideal. Otherwise, see if you can use a neighbor's yard or some other enclosed area with minimal distractions. Don't bring him to the dog park yet - he may not be ready. Let him off the leash and see how he reacts. Grab a toy to get him engaged in play. Then, test your command. Ask him to come, using a treat. See how he reacts and if he comes quickly. If he takes a minute to come, don't scold him when he does. He'll associate coming with punishment and will be afraid to go near you. Hopefully he'll come right away. If not, continually reinforce the command so he learns. Always praise him and use a treat for coming. He'll begin to become comfortable with being outside off-leash but be excited by getting a treat.


Second test
After doing this on multiple occasions, it's time to test the big stuff. Bring your dog to any area where dogs are allowed to be off-leash, such as some beaches, dog parks and so on, and test his skills. This is where the risk lies. He may become distracted by another dog and not act as you'd like. But, more likely he'll romp and play with other dogs and come when necessary. If he responds immediately, great! If not, once again, don't scold him or chase him - he'll associate it with a game and continue to act this way. Remain calm, use a treat and ask him to come again in a cheerful voice.

These are just some tips to keep in mind for off-leash training. Use these suggestions to help let your dog roam free.