Top Training Tips To Help Master Off-Leash Dog Training

If you’re planning a getaway and decide to take the dog along with you, you may want to invest some time into training your dog off-leash.

Off-leash dog training can make walking your dog an enjoyable experience. Your dog is free to roam and explore, and you don’t have to worry about getting tangled up in its lead or being pulled when it’s too excited.

Although it can be time-consuming, off-leash dog training ensures your dog’s safety and the safety of those around it in places where it could easily get lost or distracted. 

In this guide, we’ve pulled together our top tips for both on-leash, off-leash and dog recall training so you can be confident enough to give your dog some freedom on your next big adventure!

Table of contents:

Why should I give my dog off-leash training?

How to train my dog to walk on a leash

How to teach a dog recall

How to train a dog off-leash

Can all dogs be trained off-leash?

Why should I give my dog off-leash training?

Jack Russells playing with a ball

There are so many reasons why training your dog off-leash is beneficial to its health and wellbeing. 

From an exercise perspective, your dog will have more freedom to roam, run free and burn off excess energy in a more fun and less restrictive way. It will gain confidence from its decision-making and learn from its natural interactions with other dogs and its environment. It’ll also cover more ground by constantly checking in with you before running off to explore again. 

Whilst there are many benefits to off-leash roaming, it’s important to trust your dog enough to know that it’ll come back to you, so before any off-leash training takes place, it’s always advisable to spend time working on your dog’s on-leash training and recall.

Here are the basic points you should consider before you think about unclipping your dog’s leash:

Your dog needs a reliable recall

If you give your dog extra freedom in a new place, you’ll need to be 100% sure it’ll come back to you every time, even if it’s chasing a squirrel or another dog. 

It’s always worth teaching some other commands, such as “leave” and “drop”, in case it’s attracted to or picks up something unpleasant, and you should reward it for checking in with you, so it always stays in sight.

It should be fully vaccinated and flea and tick treated

Ensuring that your dog is fully vaccinated and protected against parasites helps to keep it safe in unfamiliar environments. 

You’re protecting it from potentially life-threatening diseases such as Lyme disease and parvovirus that could result in a painful time for your pup.

Your dog should have up to date ID information

Even dogs with reliable recalls can roam, so if your dog gets lost, it’s important that it is microchipped and has an updated ID tag. That way, whoever finds your dog can safely return it to you, should it get lost.

Neutered, spayed or easily recalled

Dogs tend to follow their instincts, so they could put other dogs at risk if they aren’t neutered or spayed. Off-leash dogs that are fully intact need a perfect recall, where they always see you as the most important thing, above all other distractions.

Your dog should be kept on a lead if there are leash laws in place

Dogs should only be allowed off-leash if the area you are roaming allows them to be, even if they are the most perfectly behaved dogs. Leash laws are there to be followed, and you should always respect them or risk incurring a fine.

That the environment is safe for them to roam

Both busy city and spacious countryside walks come with risks to your dog. Always assess the situation and make sure it’s safe to release your dog before letting it roam off-leash.

How to train my dog to walk on a leash

Jack Russell walking on a leash

It’s important to improve your dog’s on-leash training before training it to walk calmly and correctly off its leash. 

The first thing to understand and address is pulling on the leash.

Pulling is a learned behaviour that can easily be corrected with time, patience and praise. Your puppy or dog has learned that by pulling, it can get to its destination faster, and by allowing it to do so, you become part of its game! 

To correct this behaviour, start by training your dog in a space with little or no distractions so that you become its primary focus. 

Here are our top tips for mastering on-leash training:

1. Start training with a long training leash

  • Use a training leash clipped to your dog’s harness or collar to start your leash training.
  • Hold the leash in your left hand and some treats in your right, and, using the treats, lure your dog around to your right-hand side (it should end up standing, facing the same way as you). 
  • Use high-value treats to keep your dog interested and fully focused.
  • Your leash should be held loosely with your left hand. You can cross it over your body or hold it the opposite way, if you prefer, with the dog on the left and the leash to the right. Use this as your starting position, treating your dog for good behaviour. 
  • If your dog starts to move away, use a second treat to lure it back to its starting position before rewarding it again, reinforcing its good behaviour. 
Chihuahua waiting by his ownder

2. Establish a command

Let your dog sniff the treats in your right hand in its starting position. Lift your hand towards your shoulder, then using a clear command such as “heel”, “close”, or “with me”, take a step forward and reward your dog for coming with you. 

Repeat this, but add in a second step forward and then reward your dog using the same command. Whilst training, always use the same commands to avoid confusing your dog.

If your dog starts to roam or pull away, simply stand still and use its treats to lure it back into the starting position. Resist the temptation to pull on the lead to move your dog, as it’s important to let it decide for itself.

3. Keep practising your on-leash training

Keep practising the first two steps, increasing the distance you walk each time. Always aim for success and praise by stopping to treat your dog whilst it’s walking by your side. 

Once your dog has mastered this technique indoors, practice the same steps outside, slowly introducing more and more distractions. 

As long as you’re consistent with your training, your dog will be walking calmly in no time! Remember, a calm dog is a happy dog, so if it gets excited and starts to pull again, stand still and once it’s relaxed, lure it back into its starting position. 

If your dog doesn’t respond to training, practise again in a place with little distractions to build its confidence. Patience, praise and fun short sessions are key to your success!

How to teach a dog recall

Dog in stay position

Now your dog has mastered its on-lead etiquette! However, it’s really important to teach it some other basic obedience commands before beginning its off-leash training. 

A good, strong, reliable recall is essential to your off-leash training and will help keep your dog and others around it safe. 

Stay, combined with a recall cue, are the commands that will form the basis of your off-leash training. They can be taught side-by-side, but make sure your commands and actions are clear to avoid confusing your dog. 

Here are some quick tips on perfecting your stay and recall training:

  • Be prepared! Use a long leash and bring super-interesting, high-value treats to keep your dog focused on you. When it comes to recalling, you need to be more interesting than everything else around your dog.
  • Always reward your dog and praise it for coming to you – even if it takes a long time! 
  • Reward your dog when they come to ‘check in’ with you, even if you haven’t called them, as it’s important to acknowledge this excellent behaviour.
  • Practice building up distractions gradually, which will help your dog improve its focus on you.

Stay and dog recall training 

Jack Russell sits and looks at owner
  • Use a long training lead for dog recall training and work in an area with little distractions. Start by commanding your dog to sit, then take a step away from it, hold your hand up and use your “stay” command. If it stays, return to it and reward it with a treat. 
  • Gradually extend your distance, repeating the step over and over. If your dog leaves its spot, it may be that you’ve increased the distance far too soon. Put it back in the starting position and work at a distance it’s comfortable with.
  • Once it begins to master the technique, add distractions such as toys or movement to see if it can keep its focus on you.
  • When you’re happy that your dog will stay at a reasonable distance, you can then start to train its recall cue.
  • Repeat the steps by telling your dog to stay. When you take a few steps away from it, call it to you, using a clear command such as its name followed by “come” or “here”. 
  • Always reward your dog and give it lots of praise for coming to you. If you find your dog gets distracted, reduce the distance and try again.
  • Remember to keep your training sessions short and fun for the best results.
  • When your dog is coming back to you confidently, introduce more distractions by training nearer other dogs at the park or in an open space. Keep using your training lead whilst you build up your confidence.

How to train a dog off-leash

So now you’ve mastered the essentials, it’s time to train your dog off-leash.

It’s important to start small in a low-risk environment with little to no distractions. As soon as you remove the leash, you need to ensure that your dog will be in a safe environment where it can’t harm itself or others.

Start indoors or in an enclosed area such as a fenced yard with enough room to roam but without any risk of running away. 

In the same way you practised your “stay” and “recall” commands, start by making your dog sit and stay, walk away and then call it to you. If it gets distracted, decrease the distance and recall it with lots of energy, using high-value treats.

Introduce toys and controlled distractions. Then when you’re even more confident in your dog’s recall, add more real-life distractions.

As you move your dog’s recall training into the real world, choose places that are safe with boundaries, away from roads, people and other dogs. 

It may seem like a slow process, but by making recall fun and rewarding, your dog will always want to come back to you, regardless of the situation!

What to do if your dog makes a break for it:

Even if your dog has perfected his recall, there’s always a chance that he might run off!

Some dogs find it hard to resist a new smell or something to chase, but it’s important to stay calm in those situations and fight the urge to shout at your dog.

Can all dogs be trained off-leash?

Afgan hound running through fields

Before letting your dog off-leash anywhere in the real world, it’s important to consider a few things to protect them and others from harm.

  1. Your dog should be even-tempered, show no signs of aggression towards other dogs, people or wild animals and have a perfect recall before you let it explore any new surroundings.
  2. Respect other dogs and their owners, particularly if their dog is on a lead, as they may be fearful of other dogs or prone to aggression.
  3. If you’re visiting a new area, always respect the leash laws. The main thing to remember is to apply common sense to any situation by keeping your dog on its leash in crowded spaces or if its body language suggests it is fearful, unsure or ready to chase the nearest squirrel!

If your dog is struggling to master its recall or is prone to running off, it’s safer to keep it on a lead. In this case, invest in a long training line and use your adventures to practice further recall training whilst exploring new spaces.

By being considerate of your dog and mindful of others and your surroundings, your next getaway could be full of lots of fun exploring for you and your dog!

Shop accessories at MyPet

Ahead of your next UK getaway, shop our full range of dog accessories at MyPet to find all of the essentials needed for success with on and off-leash dog training and dog coats and accessories built for braving the elements.

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