Many states have laws that make it illegal to walk a dog without a leash -- in place to protect other people and the dog. But responsible owners should teach their dogs how to walk politely beside them without even thinking of running, both on -- and off -- the leash.
Tips for Training Your Dog To Stay When Off Leash
Tip #1 - First and foremost, teach your dog the "stay" command. Place your dog on a leash and walk with him on your left side. Stop walking and ask him to sit -- wait until he does so. Then place your hand in front of his nose and say "stay" in a firm voice. Move a foot or so away from your dog and wait up to 30 seconds; if he stays, reward him with a treat and praise, saying "good stay" several times. If he does move during the waiting time, say "no" in a firm voice and lead him back into place using the leash and say "stay" again. If he insists on moving from his stay spot, you can try communicating your displeasure by saying "no" and immediately leaving the area so he is isolated for about 30 seconds (this is easier done indoors where you can simply leave the room). He'll soon learn that if he disobeys the command, it will cause his best buddy to leave him alone -- which he, no doubt, will want to avoid. Understand that this training will take some time and effort, so be patient! Repeat the exercise until your dog understands "stay" while on a leash. Then move to practicing this exercise off-leash in a fenced-in yard.
Tip #2 - Make sure your dog knows his name and responds to it, as well. Practice this at home when he is in various stages of relaxation or play; call him, and then reward him with a treat or lavish praise when he responds to his name. Repeat this exercise, and add it to the "stay" exercise. This will help your dog associate the command with being directed at him.
Tip #3 - Do not chase your dog at any time during his command training. This can encourage him to run if he is ever off-leash, thinking a game of tag will ensue. Do not scold him for running away during training; instead, praise him when he returns and continue working on the "stay" command.
Tip #4 - Practice with your dog off his leash every day, and even use it as part of his play time. Practice in a quiet atmosphere, such as your backyard, where you are in control of the environment. When your dog can stay and respond to his name easily off-leash, try a fenced-in front yard, then a friend's yard, then a dog park. Each step up will give him additional stimulation that he can learn to shut out and ignore as he learns to remain beside you when he is not restrained.
By Lori Lapierre
ASPCA: Teaching Your Dog To Come When Called
Washington Pennsylvania Shelter: Teaching Your Dog To Come To You
Whole Dog Journal: Building Off-Leash Reliability
Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief & Rescue: Establishing Yourself As Pack Leader
Animal Planet: Common Commands
Cesar's Way: Dog Problem: Dog Runs Away From Us When Off Leash
American Humane Association: Not Coming When Called
Modern Dog Magazine: Training For Off-Leash Walking
About the Author
Lori Lapierre holds a Bachelor of Arts and Science in public relations/communications. For 17 years, she worked for a Fortune 500 company before purchasing a business and starting a family. She is a regular freelancer for "Living Light News," an award-winning national publication. Her past writing experience includes school news reporting, church drama, in-house business articles and a self-published mystery, "Duty Free Murder."