“When Can I Let My Pup Off Leash?”

Exploring the woods...

Exploring the woods…

What could be more delightful to watch and in keeping with a dog’s nature than to see him racing around an open space or haring thither and yon on the track of some invisible prey in the woods? Conjures up great pictures, doesn’t it?
But is it safe to let your pup run off-leash?
Here on the Sunshine Coast, BC there are lots of woodsy trails well-utilized by dogs and their owners. Besides the woods, there are many beaches where it is common practice to have dogs run off-leash. Is that legal? Can’t say, but it seems to be accepted by most.
Today I’m off to look after an old Bulldog who prefers car rides to walks and a young Pointer X who has tons of energy. Thinking about how to ensure the young one gets enough exercise, I asked a friend who also sometimes cares for these two, about the wisdom of taking Melvin to the beach to run off-leash.
“I never allow other people’s dogs off-leash,” she replied.
“For the most part, unless I know the dog really well and know the area, neither do I.”
That answered that.
Whether it’s your own pup or someone else’s, the cardinal rule (in my book) for allowing a dog off-leash, is the recall. If your dog comes to you when you call, 95-98% of the time, you have a greater safety factor than if he comes to you “when he wants to”. You will still need to be aware of the environment because a 2% margin of not coming when called could spell end of life if the area where your pup is off-leash borders a busy highway, grazing pastures, or deer-filled woods.
The Recall or Coming When Called
This training plus leash walking are probably the two most difficult things to train your pup.
Consistency, persistence and practise, practise, practise are the keys.
– Start training ‘come’ in the house when pup is a mere 8-9 weeks old. Start from a distance of 2-3 feet away from pup.
– Gradually increase the distance.
– Play hide and seek from room to room
– Practise ‘come’ using a long line in your yard. If your yard is fenced, the long line is optional.
-Play ‘come’ and ‘go to’ outside in your yard using a long line if your yard is unfenced
– When you move outside and ask pup to ‘come’, shorten the distance again…100’s of distractions outside.
GRADUALLY increase the distance.
ALWAYS reward pup for coming with something super good. You must become the most important thing in his world 100% of the time.

"What a clever girl! Good girl, Pepper!"

“What a clever girl! Good girl, Pepper!”

When you first venture into the woods or to the beach, use the long line (for safety) and call pup to you every 30 seconds or so. Your first venture into the big world should be short and controlled.
This part is where we, the humans, often fail.
“My pup knows to ‘come’ when called. I can let him off-leash now.”
Until you have successfully practised the recall in a variety of locations, you have no reliability, no proven track record.
There are very few one-trial learnings in this world… not for us; not for creatures.
After six months or more of constant practise and reward, your pup’s recall reliability will be improving. Still… proceed with caution.
In new territory, call your pup to ‘come’ often and from short distances. This is where the super-duper treat (Consider your pup’s currency…what’s his favourite thing? A game of tug, throwing the ball, a piece of deli turkey, a squeaky toy?) for compliance is useful.
You want your pup to enjoy freedom from restraint. I want that for you too.
I also want you to have your pup for years and years of companionship and fun.
PLEASE take the necessary time to make sure your pup’s recall is SOLID before you allow him the privilege of running off-leash.

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