Training your dog to go for walks without a leash can be an extremely enjoyable experience for both you and your pet. You won’t have to exercise nearly as much vigilance as when you walk on a leash, and your dog will have more freedom to explore and enjoy being outside.
However, training your dog properly to handle being off a leash won’t happen overnight. It takes dedication and patience, and your progress will depend largely on your dog’s ability to learn and obey commands. The following guidelines will help you get started. Be sure to master each guideline before moving to the next one.
1. TEACH YOUR DOG TO “HEEL”
This basic command is the most important one for your dog to learn. It will keep your dog from running away from you and/or into dangerous situations. You should always be able to bring your dog to a complete stop with one word.
2. WALK YOUR DOG ON A LEASH
Before you start walking your dog off-leash, you need to teach it to obey your commands while it’s still on the leash, particularly the “heel” command. The leash is your primary instrument for exerting control over your dog, so don’t dispense with it until there’s no doubt in your dog’s mind who’s in charge. Always keep your dog close to you, walking parallel with it.
3. MOVE ON TO A RETRACTABLE LEAD
Once your dog has demonstrated good behavior while on the leash, switch to a retractable lead. This will allow your dog to travel farther ahead of you to explore, but it will still allow you to maintain control over its behavior.
4. LOCATE ENCLOSED AREAS FOR YOUR DOG TO RUN AROUND
For your dog’s first introduction to walking without a leash, find an enclosed area that they can run and play in. A dog pen at a park would be ideal, but whatever place you choose. Stay near your dog as they move about, so they grow accustomed to your presence.
5. WALK YOUR DOG WITHOUT A LEASH FOR SHORT STRETCHES
Once you’ve mastered all the previous steps, experiment with letting your dog off the leash for short stretches of time. You should do this close to the enclosed area that they’re comfortable playing in. This will give them a sense of familiarity along with their newfound freedom, making the transition to off-leash walking much easier. From here, you can experiment with extending the periods that they’re off-leash. Never walk your dog off-leash near streets or roads, and be sure your dog obeys you instantly when you say “heel”.