We all dream of taking our dogs for long, relaxing walks right? And in that dream, our dogs are typically off-leash, trotting happily by our sides or returning to heel as soon as we call their names at the dog park.
Off-leash walking is an incredibly vital and rewarding skill to teach any dog. It means your pup can have more freedom and experience greater exercise whilst out on walks, and it can also provide greater security when trained correctly. Not only that, off-leash walking training helps to build a stronger bond between you both and inspire confidence in your canine companion too.
However, off-leash walking doesn’t happen overnight and training this skill requires a lot of dedication and patience. Which is why in this guide we offer top tips on how to train your dog for off-leash walking.
Ready? Let’s go.
Does your dog have basic obedience training? If not, you need to start with mastering these skills before training your dog in off-leash walking.
For example, your dog should know the following commands:
Why do you need these commands? Because they’ll be essential when training your dog for off-leash walking. It also shows your dog is able to successfully listen and respond to your cues and commands.
Before completely transitioning to off-leash walking, use a long line. A long line is a training tool that gives your dog increased freedom (as opposed to a shorter standard lead) whilst still offering you control over your dog’s movements.
Start by attaching the long line to your dog's harness and allow them to get a feel for the limitations of the long line distance. Once your dog is comfortable with the long line, start practising recalls and other obedience commands, rewarding your dog with each successful execution of a command.
This will help your dog to respond to commands, even when they’re not physically “right next” to you.
When training off-leash walking, it’s vital you choose the best location possible.
Criteria for the “best” locations include places that are:
Here’s a rundown of Australia’s best off-leash dog parks - ideal if they’re close to where you live!
Recall is one of the most important commands when training your dog for off-leash walking. We’re not exaggerating…this skill could be the difference between life and death for your pooch.
Start by practising recalls on the long line and gradually increase the distance. Remember to be consistent with the word or sound you use to recall your dog.
We’d recommend a short, easy to say word like “come” or “here”, or a high-pitched whistle. Avoid simply relying on your dog’s name as this can cause confusion with other commands.
Once your dog is comfortable with recalls, start practising them off-leash. In this training phase, it is important to reward your dog with high-value treats and heaps of praise every time they come when called.
Once your dog appears to be getting the hang of recall and walking to heel commands when on a long line, the next step is to begin increasing the distance and time they spend off-leash.
For example, start by unclipping your dog and walking a short distance. Then reclip your dog.
Repeat this exercise, gradually increasing the time your dog is unclipped. This will help your dog to build confidence and allow them to become comfortable with off-leash walking.
As we’ve suggested in the tips above, positive reinforcement is essential for successfully training your dog for off-leash walking. Use yummy high-value treats, lots of over-the-top praise, and bundles of affection to reward your dog every time they make a choice or execute an action you consider “correct” or “right.”
This will help to reinforce good behaviour and encourage your dog to continue following commands, which is crucial when they’re off-leash.
Long training sessions won’t necessarily result in your dog learning off-leash walking any quicker. In fact, it can mentally exhaust your dog and they can ultimately lose interest in the training session.
Training sessions should be kept short and fun for both you and your dog. Dogs have limited attention spans, so try to keep training sessions under 15 minutes at a time.
This will help to keep your dog engaged and prevent them from getting bored or overly fatigued.
It goes without saying that training a dog for off-leash walking takes dedication, time and patience. It is important to be understanding of your dog’s personal training pace and not to rush the process, or get frustrated with the speed of their training.
Every dog is different, and some may take longer to learn than others.
Consistency is key. It is important to keep practising until your dog is totally secure with off-leash walking, and that you’re confident they can do it whilst consistently responding to recall commands.
Training your dog for off-leash walking is one of the most rewarding skills you can teach your pup. However, it does require patience, consistency and heaps of positive reinforcement.
We’d recommend you start with basic obedience training and gradually introduce your dog to the idea of off-leash walking by initially using a long line.
Likewise, remember to:
We know that successfully training off-leash walking doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. Which is why we’d highly suggest checking out our signature 4Pooch harnesses and multi-function leads for the ideal accessories to train your pooch safely & securely…until you’re both ready to take the next step and unclip the lead!
We also offer a range of treats and training accessories, useful to keep close by for cementing positive reinforcement and to increase the effectiveness of your training. Happy off-leash walking, pup pals!