Delder’s Top Tips for walking your dog off the lead

Dogs are designed to investigate the world around them and that’s what they like doing more than anything. If you can trust your dog to behave well off the lead, you can give him enough freedom to enjoy life to the max without getting into trouble. Here are my tips for walking your dog off the lead.

  • Be 100% sure that there is no danger from traffic

  • Never let your dog off lead around livestock

  • Can you trust your dog’s recall? Use a long lead whilst still in training

  • Make sure your dog is calm before you let him off the lead

  • Observe dog walking etiquette

 In an ideal world, your off-lead dog will trot along quite near to you, stopping to investigate different scents or objects, maybe going for a swim or even playing games with you. If you meet another dog, there’ll be no grumbling, no aggression. If you meet other people, there’ll perhaps be a polite greeting but more likely your dog will bumble around while you chat.

Here’s the thing. We don’t live in an ideal world. Not every dog you meet will have great social skills. Not every person is a dog lover. And from time to time your own dog might be tempted to wander too far. If you want your dog to enjoy some off-lead walking, you’re going to have to manage your walks – but still be relaxed. Sounds stressful. Trust me it’s not. 

Start by watching this video of Chester and Buddy on one of our walks.

So what did you notice?

  • The dogs were calm to start with

  • I’m aware of what’s going on around us, but I’m relaxed

  • The dogs focussed on me even though they’re noodling around

  • Nobody strays too far away from the owner

  • Both dogs have an excellent recall

  • If they pick up bits and pieces I don’t want them to have, they’re happy to hand them over 

Starting your walk with a nice calm dog

If your dog is spinning around in the back of the car or pulling on the lead, you know he’s going to head for the horizon as soon as that lead is unclipped. In those circumstances, you’re not going to be able to help him avoid trouble. He’s not focussed on you, he’s not listening and he’s a potential danger to himself and others.

Impulse control is an important part of dog training and it will help you and your dog in any circumstances.

There are lots of exercises you can work on to help your dog control his excitement. It’s important though that they are tailored to your dog’s temperament. If you’d like some ideas, why not book a 1-2-1 session with me so that we can work together.

Can you Trust in your dog’s Recall?

Fido may well respond to his name when you’re at home (especially if you are preparing his dinner) but what happens when you’re out about and a squirrel runs into the path? Or something startles the dog?

Don’t even think about letting your dog off the lead unless you are 100% sure that his recall is reliable. It can be incredibly embarrassing, not to say downright dangerous if your dog won’t come back to you when you need him to.

In the meantime, spend time improving your dog’s recall.

Teach your dog to “drop it”

Some dogs just love to use their mouths to investigate the world. Just like us they have 5 senses and they like to use them. Some dogs just love to use their mouths to investigate objects. What they taste like, the texture and the noise they make when chomped/thrown/nudged etc. That’s great and it’s all enrichment. But from time to time you might want to intervene. For example if they’ve picked up someone else’s toy or they’re eating something unspeakable.

In my doggy life skills class, I teach owners how to encourage their dogs to release whatever is in their mouth and leave it be. It takes practice but in essence we’re swapping the unsuitable object for something the dog wants more – a piece of chicken, another toy or maybe just praise.

It’s a useful skill to have when your dog is off-lead

Encourage regular voluntary check-ins

You might have spotted on the video that Buddy and Chester don’t wander too far from me and that every now again, they stop what they are doing and come and say “hi”. I call that a voluntary check in. I’ve not called them over, but when they do come back there’s always a greeting and usually a treat.

The behaviour was ingrained in them from puppyhood. Puppies naturally want to stay close to their owners and I’ve harnessed that to create a life-long habit. If your dog is no longer in that puppy lifestage, you can still encourage regular check-ins. Just by practicing short-distance recalls every few minutes and rewarding your dog heartily when he or she does come back to you. You’ll be building a habit and the dog will soon pre-empt the cue and check in with you voluntarily to see what goodies you might have for them.

Adapting your walk to circumstances

Going back to my previous career where planning and risk assessments were the norm. OK, you don’t need to do a full written risk assessment before you unclip the lead, but have a quick look around and check that it’s safe to do so.

  • Away from traffic – even parked cars might start moving

  • Are there any other dogs in the area? Your dog might be friendly but not all other dogs want to be greeted.

  • Where are the roads?

  • Are you walking where there might be livestock. NEVER let your dog off the lead if there’s even the slightest possibility of any farm animals being nearby….even if they’re out of sight. Farmers are rarely sympathetic if dogs are loose around their animals. Plus an angry cow can do a lot of damage to a dog or a dog owner. 

Dog walking etiquette

We humans have unspoken rules about what is and isn’t acceptable in polite society. It’s the same in the canine world. If you have children you’ll know that teaching manners is all part of parenting. The same applies if you are a dog parent. It’s all part of what dog trainers call socialisation.

When walking your dog, always put your dog on a lead when you see another dog. Then check that it’s OK for your dog to greet others – some dogs just don’t like being approached.

The same applies to children, cyclists, horses and any other creatures you may meet. When your dog is on a lead you can guide him or her away from potential problems. Remember that even though you think your dog is OK, you have no control over how the other dog/horse/child/cyclist will react.

If your dog is reactive towards others, put the lead on and guide your pup away from the perceived danger. Distract him or her with treats and reward calm behaviour.

Reactivity towards other dogs doesn’t usually improve if you ignore it. Working with an experienced trainer though will teach you how to help your dog build up resilience.

Problems walking your dog off lead?

An off-lead walk is a great way to get to know your dog better. And there is no doubt in my mind that it enriches the owner’s life as much as the dog’s. However, if your dog has “issues” with recall, strangers, other dogs, bicycles, horse-riders, cats, birds or anything that you might encounter on the way, walking can become a worry.

As a dog trainer, I meet various concerns on a daily basis. Some are quickly rectified, for others, I can help the owner find tools to help manage the situation while we work on the root cause together. I admire anyone asks for help so that they can relax and enjoy walking their dog off the lead.

If you and your dog don’t enjoy off lead walking as much as you want to, call me. Together we can find a solution

Contact Adam

Improving your dog’s recall

Doggy lifeskills classes – prepare your dog for fabulous off-lead walks

Stuart Reed