There's no trick to maintaining your dog's behavior even when he isn't wearing a leash. If you have a dog that takes off as soon as you remove the leash you're using it wrong! Recently I was in a conversation where someone was inquiring the best way to go about off leash training. Everyone except me said “tab on the pinch collar”. I was the only one who said “long line”. It's just what makes the most sense to me.
 A tab is a short line, usually between eight and twelve inches long, attached to the dog's collar instead of a longer leash. They're just long enough to have something you can easily grab your dog by. They're incredibly handy and I'll venture out to say that I use one nearly every day I train. My dogs are already reliable off leash though. To get to that point there are several things I need before I will ever trust a dog off leash.

  •  Reliable recall in the face of ANY DISTRACTIONS. Squirrels, cats, cars, leaves, people, barking dogs, you get the picture. I need to be able to call my dog no matter what distraction is in his face. What about that one time a dog walker comes out of no where and their dog starts lunging at the end of the leash toward your dog? That's the type of thing you need to train for or else you might be paying one or two serious vet bills because YOU are the one who is going to be held responsible for not having control of your dog.
  • Constant general awareness of you. This is one that most people don't think about often. To me it's essential. I don't mean that your dog has to be staring at your face 24/7, or that they stick by your side like a Siamese twin. What I mean is that they won't wander off two miles away while they're exploring. They have to 'check in' with you enough that they stay within a reasonable distance. The actual distance is subject to where you are (dog park, public park, walking in the neighborhood).
  • An emergency down, also in the face of ANY distractions. Eventually there is going to be some time where your dog is loose but it's going to be dangerous to call him back. For instance, your dog might be wandering across a street and there are cars coming. You need to be able to down him until it's safe to go pick him up. This means downing at a distance, staying there, while distracted.
 Each of these things has to be a choice that the dog makes. You can't force him to do any of these off leash. So what good does an eight inch leash do you while he's still learning these skills? To enforce him you'll have to catch him, correct him (because you're using a pinch collar to reinforce these skills), which in the long run usually ends in chasing your dog around because he knows he's going to get slammed when you finally do reach him.

Being off leash is dangerous. There are no two ways about it; it doesn't matter how well trained your dog is. Off leash training is a constant battle of reminding your dog that YOU are more fun that everything else in the world (exploring, running, sniffing, chasing, ect). You are never done off leash training, but a proper foundation sure does make the rest of the maintaining a whole lot easier. It can't be done with threats of corrections. It HAS to be your dog's decision. Grab a long line, let it go, and teach your dog to be with you, to recall, to e-down. When you can go outside with your dog and never have to use that long line, that's when you're ready to go off leash.

 Relax, hands by your side, and let that leash go!!!
 


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