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Freedom Through Off-Leash Dog Training

James Livingood has been a dog sitter for several years. He has written numerous articles and a book about the topic because he loves dogs.

Dog without leash

Dog without leash

Why Off-Leash Dog Training Is Essential

Let’s imagine the following scenario: You share your life with a four-year-old Cocker Spaniel. He’s your best friend, and he’s so well-mannered you take him everywhere. You bought him a leash when he was still a puppy, but you stopped using it after a few months. There was no need for it, since Fluffy always walked right beside you.

Your daily routine included two walks around the neighborhood but, on a particular day, you felt like taking Fluffy to the dog park. You are casually walking and Fluffy is trotting next to you like he always does. Suddenly, a car’s tire burst. The sound is very loud and scares Fluffy. He immediately starts running and goes straight to the road. Unfortunately, Fluffy ends up being hit by a passing car.

Quite sad, isn’t it? Sadly, this happens all the time. Generally speaking, dogs shouldn’t be allowed to roam freely without a leash. Unfortunately, their actions can be quite unpredictable. Dogs can easily be scared by a loud, sudden noise, and most of them will start fleeing. The previous scenario would have ended quite differently if Fluffy was wearing a leash, however, what if Fluffy loved to run? Couldn’t he be given some freedom from time to time? The answer is yes, but it will depend on numerous factors.

Dogs socializing in fenced area

Dogs socializing in fenced area

Keys to Off-Leash Training

Dogs can walk freely without a leash. Here's how:

Safe Running Space

First, you need to choose a safe, car-free, fenced area. This will guarantee your dog won’t run away and disappear. It will also prevent accidents, like the one previously described, from happening.

Work on Socialization

Second, your dog must be fairly sociable with other animals and strangers; if he isn’t, you have two choices: make sure he’s wearing a muzzle or choose an isolated area.

Verify Training

Third, you need to have some control over your dog’s behavior. If your dog ignores you when you call him, if you tell him to sit and he chooses to sniff a piece of grass instead, basic obedience training should be a priority. Do you really want to see your dog disappearing into the horizon, ignoring you as you call him for the hundredth time? I don’t think you do! Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this dramatic.

Off-leash training will give you (and your dog) the right to fully enjoy the benefits of freedom. Like any other training, it should be done in a positive way using reward-based training methods. It won’t happen overnight. The training process may take some time, depending on the dog’s own learning rhythm. A talented, efficient trainer will also make sure the dog’s behavior is somewhat predictable before removing the leash. What should the dog be taught? Basic off-leash training should include a solid “sit-stay," “down-stay,” and "come" when called.

Dog being told to sit

Dog being told to sit

Teaching the Dog to Sit and Stay

Sit-stay is a fairly simple behavior to teach. The first step is to teach the dog to sit, and you can use luring do to so. Luring is a training technique in which you lure the dog into the desired position by using a piece of food.

  1. Start by grabbing a treat and placing your hand in front of your dog’s nose.
  2. Slowly move it backwards and upwards; he will follow your hand with his nose which will make him sit.
  3. As soon as his rear end touches the ground, click and offer him the treat.

In case you’re not familiar with the clicker, it’s an object that allows you to mark the desired behavior. Remove the food lure as quickly as possible and use your hand as a non-verbal cue. You can start adding the verbal cue such as “sit!” once the dog has learned the final behavior. The second step is to teach him to hold his position. Ask your dog to sit. When he does, withhold the click for a couple of seconds. Click and reward him. Increase the duration gradually and make sure to add a few distractions later. Once he’s reliably doing the “sit-stay,” you can add the verbal cue.

Dogs being told to lay down

Dogs being told to lay down

Teaching the Dog to Lie Down and Stay

Do you remember what luring is? I hope you do, because you’ll be using it again. Here's how to teach your dog to lie down.

  1. Grab a piece of food and place your hand in front of his nose.
  2. Start moving it downwards and frontwards.
  3. The moment his elbows touch the ground, click and offer him the treat.
  4. If he doesn’t follow your hand, you can keep it on the ground and wait until he does.

Once again, try to remove the food lure as soon as you can! Be patient, some dogs may need more time than others and there’s nothing wrong with that. Once he’s lying down on cue, you may proceed to the next part of the training plan and teach him to hold the position.

Dog coming back when called

Dog coming back when called

Teaching the Dog to Come When Called

This is one of the most important things your dog will ever learn in his life. It’s quite simple to teach, but it requires consistency. If you call your dog and he starts walking towards you, make sure he knows you’re happy! Offer him loads of treats, pet him, give him a belly rub and let him know he’s a good boy.

You have to be more interesting than a dead squirrel! Don’t call him just before leaving the dog park. If you do so, you’ll be effectively teaching him NOT to come when called. Don’t call him if you’re going to punish him for taking too long. You can bet he’ll make you wait longer the next time. The key is repetition, repetition, repetition! If you call your dog and he decides to ignore you, start running in the opposite direction. Don’t chase after your dog. He’ll probably think you’re just playing with him! Keep practicing and make sure you call him several times a day randomly.