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How to train your dog to walk off-lead

Off-lead confidence is knowing that your dog will stay by your side, recall when needed and generally behave themselves when they’re off-lead. And the feeling you get when they’re happily trotting alongside you, unencumbered by their lead, is amazing. 

But before the lead comes off, you need to train them to stay close to you, come back when called, and ensure they know how to behave around other people, animals and dogs.

So, whether you’ve got a puppy or a dog relearning their off-lead skills, our guide is here to help.

Work on your bond

Before you start any training, you need to make sure you have a strong bond with your dog. When you build your bond with your dog, they naturally want to spend more time around you and are more responsive to your cues and recall. 

But how do you build a bond with your dog? Your bond is built in every interaction you have with your dog. From a great play session to learning new tricks and even feeding their daily meals, your dog appreciates every positive interaction they have with you and feels a stronger bond with you as a result.

But you don’t need to jump into the hard stuff straight away. In fact, before training with a new dog, just spend some quality time and do things they love together – it’ll pay dividends throughout their life.

Get the right kit

Training your dog to walk off-lead is much easier when you’ve got the right kit for the job. So make sure you’re kitted out with the following:

  • A sturdy collar or harness with an identification tag detailing your contact info.
  • A PitPat GPS so you can find them if the unexpected happens and your training goes awry.
  • A long line lead so they can experience some freedom whilst staying safe during exercise.
  • A whistle to use for recall training.
  • A treat bag full of the yummiest PitPat Treats for rewards.

Teach them to stay close

West Highland Terrier walking off-lead in the woods behind their owners and wearing a pink PitPat Dog GPS Tracker

When you’re out and about, and your dog is off-lead, you want them to stay close to you so you can quickly grab them if you need to pop them back on the lead for any reason. Even if they’ve got an excellent recall, you want your dog to be within reach of you in most situations – and certainly not out of sight. 

This doesn’t have to mean that they’re walking precisely to your heel for the whole walk. Whilst undoubtedly impressive, your dog benefits massively from the opportunity to sniff and explore when off-lead, which they can’t do if they’re at your heel for the entire time.

Of course, every dog is different, which means that some dogs will naturally stay close to you for the walk because it makes them feel safe and secure. Other more independent dogs may need more convincing. 

To start teaching them to stay close, you want your dog to know that the area around you is the best place to be. Start by rewarding your dog every time they’re in your vicinity, and regularly stop on your walks to play games with your dog that require them to be close to you. 

Then when they walk ahead and look back at you, reward them for doing so. This will encourage them to check in with you regularly, and you’re teaching your dog that good things happen near you and that you’re the most fun thing in the environment! As your dog learns that you’re much more interesting than everything else, they’ll naturally stay close to you when walking. 

Teach them a strong recall

Recall is one of your dog’s most important cues to learn if they ever spend time off-lead. There are many ways to teach this, and the approach you take and the speed at which they understand it will depend highly on your dog.

Start somewhere safe and familiar when teaching recalls – your back garden or an enclosed private-use dog park are great options. Choose a cue (like ‘come’ or a blow of your whistle) and reward your dog with a super high-value treat every time they return to you. They’ll quickly learn to return to your side each time you call.

Once they return to you in the easiest environment 90% of the time, set it up to a slightly (but not much) more difficult place. This could be an enclosed dog field with no other dogs or a quiet space in the countryside. Use the long line lead to keep them safe from running off if you need to.

Repeat the exercise and keep upping the stakes until your dog can recall in almost any situation.

Learn good off-lead etiquette

When your dog is off-lead, they must be able to behave appropriately, even if they do have fantastic recall, and always stay close to you. Both you and your dog need to be aware of good off-lead etiquette so you don’t disturb others in the area.

Approach other dogs carefully. Don’t let your dog approach other off-lead dogs unless you’re sure that both your dog and the other dog are friendly; check with the owner before you allow your dog to do so. And never let your off-lead dog approach an on-lead dog unless you’ve asked the owner if it’s okay first.

Be aware of other people. Don’t let your dog approach people – children or adults – without their permission, taking particular care around picnics!

Ensure your dog is well-socialised. This means making sure they’re comfortable with joggers, cyclists, children, other dogs and traffic. If they struggle with these, take them for walks in quieter places and use a lead or a muzzle when needed.

Be aware of other animals. Never allow your dog to chase livestock or wild animals. Chasing livestock is a crime and can land you and your dog in big trouble.

Know when the lead is needed. Sometimes it’s best to keep your dog on the lead, such as in very busy areas or where they could easily cause themselves harm.

With consistent training, many dogs can be fantastic off-lead companions. However, even when fully trained, all dogs can have their blips – a squirrel that runs right past their nose or an irresistible smell of another dog in heat. For these moments, PitPat GPS is here to help. If they ever go missing, open the PitPat app, and you can check their location in two taps. Get yours now for just £149 with no ongoing monthly subscription for finding your dog.

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