How Do I Train My Dog to Walk Off-Leash?
Have you ever seen a dog faithfully walking by her owner’s side—with no leash in sigh—and wished you could train your pup to do that? It may be possible! Here’s what you need to know about training your dog to walk off-leash.
- A 10- to 20-foot leash
- A head collar or harness (depending on your dog’s behavior)
A Step-by-Step Guide to Get You Started
1. Begin early.
The earlier you start to train your dog off-leash, the easier it will be. Many training programs encourage you to train your puppy without a leash, making the transition to walking by your side smoother.
2. Get the right equipment.
If your dog already walks on a leash but doesn’t have the best leash behavior, get a head collar or harness. When your dog doesn’t pull on the leash at all, she may be ready to advance to off-leash training.
3. Get silly!
Playtime is the perfect opportunity to start training your dog off-leash. While you’re fooling around, reward her with treats for following your commands. Start in a comfortable area, such as your backyard, and leashed her to start.
4. Create boundaries.
If you prefer your dog to walk on your right or left, reward her when she does so.
5. Create stellar on-leash behavior.
Walk around your yard, watching your dog’s behavior. If she wanders off, say a command she knows to come to, like, “Come” or, “Let’s go,” and slap your thigh. Reward her when she returns to your side quickly.
If she doesn’t return, stop walking, and apply gentle leash pressure. Release it when she comes to you.
As she becomes more comfortable, transition to a shorter leash. Reward less for correct behavior. Practice running, walking, and jogging to ensure she stays by your side.
Head out on neighborhood walks to practice your commands, even with the distractions of neighbors and other animals. Reward your pup for returning to your side.
Allow her to have “sniff breaks” because she’ll be curious about the world and have to use the bathroom, of course! Just make sure she returns to your side when called.
6. Create off-leash opportunities.
Find a safe space to practice your pup’s stellar on-leash behavior in an off-leash environment, like your backyard. Then transition to a dog park, where there are more distractions.
Training varies from dog to dog, so follow a guide that works for you and your pup. How long this training takes depends on your dog; go at her pace! Adjust your training methods appropriately to ensure she doesn’t wander off, get lost, or pick fights with other dogs.
Bonus Tactics for Walking Your Dog Off-Leash
- Make sure she understands “emergency commands.” If you say “sit,” she should sit immediately. If you use a recall word, she should return to your side right away. Reward her, but don’t go further in training until she understands this.
- Distance-control is part of ensuring your dog doesn’t wander off. If she walks more than 10 yards away off-leash, turn around and walk the other way.
If you find your pup doesn’t mind you or even pay attention, hide. This works best on puppies, as they will panic a little and attempt to find you. You may not want to do this if your dog is easily distracted or runs off regularly.
Some Dogs Train More Easily Than Others
The first step to understanding if you can train your dog off-leash is knowing if her breed easily grasps this exercise. Some breeds are much better at walking off-leash, but it depends on the individual dog in the end.
Labrador retrievers have been trained for years and over generations to retrieve. Reliable and obedient, they return to your side. Golden retrievers are similar.
Australian shepherds are a hyper bunch, meaning walking off-leash could be the perfect exercise for them without wearing their owners out.
Doberman pinschers are “Velcro dogs,” even if they do have a higher prey drive than others. Early training is essential for them.
Shetland sheepdogs are also “Velcro” pups. On-leash or off, at home or outside, they’re rarely far from their owners.
A few other breeds that do particularly well training off-leash are vizslas, German shepherds, and border collies.
Don’t see your dog’s breed here, or have a mix? Don’t worry! That doesn’t mean she can’t learn. It depends on her personality and how she takes to training.
Know the Law of the Land When You Walk Off-Leash
One of the most important aspects of training your dog to walk off-leash is understanding the rules wherever you are. The state of Texas doesn’t have official leash laws, but it’s not uncommon for specific cities and towns pass their own rules. In Houston, for example, it’s illegal to walk your dog without a leash.
Laws vary from place to place, and there are sometimes exceptions.
Okay at the Dog Park
One of the most common places dogs are allowed off-leash is the dog park. Before you unclip, ensure you’re at an official dog park; not all qualify!
Okay on Your Property
In general, your pup is also allowed to be off-leash in your yard, as long as the yard is fenced and not accessible to the public.
Okay on the Trail
Hiking trails are another great place to walk your dog off-leash. Just like laws in public spaces, the rules for these places vary. Check them out before you and your best friend head off for a hike.
Remember: If you’re planning to travel with your dog, check the local laws before you unclip her leash. Walking off-leash where you’re not allowed can result in a fine. In Katy it’s $500 for each offense.
Understand the Risks
No matter how well you train your dog to walk off-leash, accidents can happen, even if you’ve followed every guideline and suggestion. The environment can be unpredictable, your dog could become startled, or another dog could start a fight with yours. To minimize the risks, proper training is vital.
Before attempting to walk off-leash, be sure your dog understands basic commands, like, “sit,” “stay,” and “come.”
For the safety of your dog and the animals and people around you, never walk your dog off-leash unless you are positive she is ready, well-trained, and follows your commands immediately. And don’t feel bad if your pup doesn’t seem to get the hang of off-leash walking! A stroll at the end of a leash can be just as rewarding.
If your dog is exhibiting behavior problems that make it difficult to walk her—on- or off-leash, give us a call! We offer behavior counseling for both dogs and cats.