Whether you’ve got a new dog or puppy, as an owner you will be naturally apprehensive about taking them off the lead for the first time. Depending on the breed and temperament, they might be boisterous, or even very nervous when around other dogs, people and loud noises, so it’s best to adopt a tactical strategy to ease them into being let off the lead.
Below we have laid out a six-step strategy for familiarising your dog with being off the lead, and behaving at the same time. As well as being training for the dog, this is also building the trust between owner and pet, so eventually you should have no problem in letting them off the lead on a walk.
Start off in an empty, quiet enclosed area
To begin with, let your dog off the lead in a small enclosed area that is quiet and empty. Preferably this will be a back garden that they are already familiar with, but it could also be a friend or relative’s garden, or even a small enclosed space in a park that’s empty and relatively quiet. This will help them start to get used to being off the lead on their own.
Practice recall in this space
While they are off the lead in this enclosed space, practice calling your dog’s name and getting them to come back to you. This will be difficult at first, as they will be very distracted by the smells and noises around them, but you must persevere. Try using treats to coax them back to you and even better, practice getting them to sit so once they are with you they are attentive and still.
Take them on plenty of walks with loud noises and other dogs
Next, make sure you take your dog on plenty of walks on the lead, to get them used to other people, other dogs and loud noises such as traffic. Chances are they will be very distracted, but consistently try to use their name and get them to pay attention to you with treats and commands such as sit.
Try letting them off in an enclosed area with other dogs
Once they are used to being let off on their own, it’s time to let them off in a secure enclosure, but this time with other dogs. There are many instances of dog training facilities having secure areas for dogs to play in, or you could even let your dog off with friends’ dogs in your own back garden. Most of all, it’s important that they get used to socialising with other dogs while off the lead.
Practice recall in the enclosed area with other dogs
This is a difficult, but important step, as your dog needs to learn that they can play freely with other dogs off the lead, but when you call them they need to come back. Use treats to practice recall as much as possible and eventually they will listen to the sound of your voice. If they are too distracted playing at first, let them tire themselves out a bit and try again.
Try letting them off on a walk
Once your dog is reacting to your voice, and is fine with basic commands and recall, it’s time to let them off the lead. If you’re still apprehensive, try letting them off on a walk which is particularly enclosed at first. It could be a fenced off footpath or even an enclosed wooded area where they can’t run into any danger. If in doubt, put them on the lead immediately and try again once you feel like you’re in a closed off area again. Enough practice and you will have them off the lead all the time.
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