Tips for training your dog off leash

March 18, 2021

Training your dog to respond to you when they’re off leash can be a frustrating task - here are a few steps to help get your dog to be the perfect off leash companion.

Training your dog to respond to you when they’re off leash can be a frustrating task. It seems like once they’re free, some dogs think you’re no better than chopped liver. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to train a dog off leash and perfect their recall. After all, having your dog under control and responsive when it’s off leash is not only for their safety but the safety of the other people and animals around you. Here are a few steps to help get your dog to be the perfect off leash companion.

Brunette woman wearing floral bathing suit and sun hat on the beach with her grey and brown French Bulldog off leash

  1. Start by finding what your dog is motivated by. Some common rewards are food/treats, toys and affection. A good way to think about it is if you were doing the task. Would go to work at your job if you weren’t getting paid? Probably not. Your dog views doing tricks and training in the same way. Think of the motivator as your dogs paycheck for the work they’re doing.
  2. Decide on a recall word. A recall word should be a short, one syllable word that your dog cannot mistake. Some good recall words are “come”, “here” and “back”. Certain dogs also respond well to sounds like a whistle.
  3. Begin working on recall by using your desired recall word and your dog’s name in your home or yard. This limits distractions like new dogs, smells and animals and allows your dog to only focus on you and your commands. With dogs repetition is key. Use the command and every time they come to you, reward them with their motivator and give them praise. This way your dog will learn that every time they come to you, they will be rewarded with their favourite thing. Therefore, listening to you trumps any other distractions that may be out there. Remember that when using the command, say it in a firm way. You are not asking your dog to recall but telling them. In saying this though, make sure you are not saying their recall word in an angry or aggressive way. As a dog, why would you want to come back to an angry owner? The best way to go is the firm recall of a leader and then lots of praise and happiness when they come back to you.
  4. Once you feel confident in your dog’s recall skills in your own home, you can begin to venture out into public off leash areas. It is recommended to start in a quieter park with few other distractions. For the first few visits, have them on a long lead. Let them venture out and every minute, call them back and reward them. Eventually, you can start working up in time. Recall them every minute and then work up to every 2 minutes and then every 3 minutes and so on. This may take several visits, especially at a park with lots of distractions.
  5. After you get them reliably recalling on lead, you can attempt to let them off in a controlled area. Do not let them venture further than a 6 foot radius around you. As soon as your dog reaches that 6 foot mark, recall and reward them. 
  6. Some additional steps you can take is to train a hold and release word. First train them with a “wait”, “heal” or “hold “ command. When you’ve deduced that there is no threat or that your dog will not bolt off, release them with a command like “ok” or “go”.
  7. During the early stages of recall training, your dog will not be absolutely perfect with its commands. Some owners find using a whistle or horn to recapture their dogs' attention works well. The abrupt noise breaks the dog's focus on a distraction and reminds them of their job to recall.

Going on off leash adventures with your dog can be a blast as well as a great form of exercise. However, without good recall skills off leash time can quickly become dangerous. You want to eventually get to the point where your dog views you as home base and actually comes back to check in periodically throughout their time off leash. Hopefully, these steps will come in handy for your next off leash adventure. The biggest thing to remember is to always recall and reward and you will have your dog coming back to you every time!

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