Having the ability to walk with your dog unleashed at your side is probably one of the more fulfilling aspects of dog ownership. To maintain this freedom requires enforcement of the commands and sometimes reverting back to the leash. It is not based on the breed of dog but rather the level of obedience and respect your dog has.
Being on the same page with your dog is crucial before you even think about allowing him the freedom to roam leash free. Your dog has freewill which means that no matter how obedient he may decide to pursue freedom and run from you. This decision may be more prevalent in dogs whose instincts encourage chasing a scent or the desire to run, but even these breeds can be trained to be off leash.
For this reason it is important when teaching a dog to be off leash to consider the safety of the dog, other dogs/people, and even yourself as possibly jeopardizing the process through irresponsible activity.
Practicing off leash exercises in your yard and in public is like singing in the shower and singing in public. Remember this and try to work your dog in populated areas to emphasize obedience with distractions being present.
Before starting any off-leash training, evaluate your dog.
- Is your dog mentally mature? Some dogs are still mentally immature at two or even three years of age.
- How are your dog’s basic and intermediate obedience skills? Your dog should know all the basic obedience commands well and do them reliably.
- Can you control your dog off the leash? Your dog should be responding to commands in your home without a leash or dragline. Some dogs when let off leash will simply run away. Other dogs will chase a tennis ball or cat right into the street.
- Is your dog socialized enough that the dog will not be fearful of or aggressive towards other people and dogs? Unsocialized and skittish dogs will often bolt if something frightens them.
If your answers to the above questions have been positive, that’s excellent. However, it is important to remember that no dog is perfect. Every dog makes mistakes and unfortunate events can occur. You must be willing to risk the safety of the public, the safety of your dog, and the security of your finances (paying your own dog’s or someone else’s medical or veterinary bill, facing a lawsuit, etc).
If the dog is not ready for off leash training or if you are unwilling to take the risk then only let your dog off leash in areas where the above mentioned risks do not exist. A fenced-in dog park is ideal. Tennis courts are usually completely enclosed. Your dog may not come when called but at least you can just go and get him or her when it’s time to leave. If your own yard is not large enough, find a friend or neighbor with a yard where their dog and yours can get together to run and play. Use a long leash on outings to give your dog some freedom but still allow you to maintain control.
Train, practice, and be patient. Obedient, trustworthy dogs are a product of a lot of dedication and commitment.