Most dogs enjoy the chance to play freely. But before you take your dog off their leash, you must consider the location, situation, and your dog as an individual. Here are important elements to consider before letting your dog off-leash.
Breed and Safety Considerations
Evaluate your pet’s temperament and level of training to determine when and how it is appropriate to let them off-leash. You’ll also want to consider your dog’s breed and the temperament and behavior typical of that breed. For example, Terriers and Sighthounds naturally have a high drive to chase and hunt, which can make them unreliable if off-leash in areas where they may see or smell small prey animals.
Similarly, smells can easily distract many hounds, which can result in an unreliable recall off-leash. Also, learn to channel and control your dog’s prey drive on walks. Even the best-trained dogs might still behave unexpectedly. Permitting your dog off-leash can increase that your dog could escape, become spooked, startled, or distracted, or get injured or lost.
Is Your Dog Ready To Be Off-Leash?
An off-leash dog should ideally come when called, no matter the distraction. Similarly, a dog who is allowed on an off-leash trail or area ideally wouldn’t approach people or other dogs without being given permission to do so, though such behavior would be expected in a dog-friendly space like a dog park. Your dog might just want to play, but it’s equally natural for dogs to be selective, wary, and uncomfortable when approached by strange dogs.
Start with teaching your dog to come in an area of low distraction. Once your dog understands the recall cue at home, slowly build up to practicing this cue in more distracting environments while your dog is still on-leash; then consider transitioning to having your dog drag a leash and/or wear a long line. Avoid punishing your dog if they are slow to come when off-leash.
As you remove your dog’s leash, praise and treat them for staying near you. When your dog is off-leash, you want to have a high rate of reinforcement, meaning you are praising and treating your dog frequently for engagement with you and recalling. To keep the recall cue strong, obeying you needs to be more valuable to your dog than the environment they have access to. After treating your dog, release them back to play off-leash; this allows them to build trust and engagement with you.
Using a Long Line
An alternative to letting your dog off-leash is to use a long-line leash. Made from materials like nylon and biothane, long lines can range in length from 10 to 50 feet. These leashes allow your dog to have an off-leash experience while also giving you an extra bit of safety in case your pet acts unexpectedly.
Attach a long line to a well-fitted back-clip harness to prevent your dog from pulling and straining their neck. When using a long line, make sure you are in an open area where your dog will have plenty of space to run and play. Also be sure to check local ordinances, as some locations do not permit leashes longer than six feet.
Places Where a Dog Can Be Off-Leash
Places that you can allow your dog to be off-leash include:
- A securely-fenced yard
- A public park, beach, or other area where it’s clearly posted that dogs are allowed to be off-leash.
- Fenced dog parks
Places Where Your Dog Should Be On-Leash
Locations where dogs should be on-leash include:
- While walking on city streets and sidewalks
- In parks outside of off-leash areas or hours
- In your unfenced yard
- When visiting state and national parks
- While hiking on trails and on beaches (unless signs explicitly indicating otherwise are posted)
When to Put Your Dog on Leash
Consider temporarily reattaching the leash when your dog is visiting new and distracting environments, if they are no longer coming when called, or if they ever have a fight with another dog.
Take as much time with your dog on foundation skills like recall. In fact, you may decide playing off-leash outside of fenced areas isn’t the right choice for your dog; there are plenty of ways to provide your pet with freedom and enrichment with a leash attached.