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  • Kristen VanNess

Unleashing Freedom: The Art of Off-Leash Dog Training

Hiking with a dog off-leash is one of the best feelings. Your dog can run ahead or linger at a great scent and then race to catch up as he’s exploring his environment. The exercise and enrichment benefits from off-leash hiking are hard to match in other ways.

Dog walking off leash in poppy field

Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, there are restrictions on where dogs can safely or legally be off-leash. In some areas, it is easier to find options; in others, finding locations may be almost impossible unless you have access to private property.

Off-leash time is a privilege and something to work towards. Without having good recall training, it can be dangerous for your dog, others, and the environment.

What You Will Need for Off-Leash Training

This will sound silly - but for off-leash training, we need a leash, a safe fenced area, and your usual rewards of high-value treats or toys. With young puppies, we can often start off leash if we have a safe place. For adult dogs, we need to start on leash so that your dog doesn’t learn to go and find independent fun. We want most of his fun to be with you.

The Best Breeds for Off-Leash Dog Training

You will hear myths about how some breeds can’t be off leash due to their breed history of independence, “prey drive,” or tendency to run. This just isn’t true. There may be some individual dogs that shouldn’t be off leash in unfenced areas due to their history of aggression or chasing wildlife or their level of training.

If you are planning to get a dog for off-leash adventures, you can take steps to increase the probability by getting a breed of dog and personality of dog better matched for your goals. For example, if you live in an area where off-leash time is in a public park, you will want a dog whose parents and grandparents have a history of being appropriate and social with people and dogs. If you are adopting a dog from a rescue, find one with a history of being in different playgroups and excellent social skills.

And if you plan on hiking in rugged terrains, you will want to look at wildlife and environmental challenges and have a dog whose size, coat, and personality matches the environment. Herding and sporting breeds may be more likely to be a good match, but individual character is more important than breed. For example, a dog with a lower interest in wildlife will be easier to have off-leash.

Will My Dog Run Away?

Some dogs who run off will return on their own, especially if the dog has an established “home base.” That said, letting a dog off leash is not responsible if you think your dog may run away. There is evidence that neutering males can reduce roaming. Letting your dog loose to roam is not a responsible choice. He may interfere with wildlife, livestock, and other people or pose a risk to drivers who try to avoid him.

If your dog runs away, do take action to search the area, utilize social media for your area to let others know, and check in with local shelters and vets. has additional resources on finding lost pets.

Puppy Off-Leash Training

It is usually very easy to have puppies be off-leash. When puppies are young, they naturally want to stay close to safety, such as adult dogs or people. Unfortunately, many pet parents mistake a puppy as “well trained” when the reality is it’s a temporary developmental stage.

Around 16 weeks, many puppies will begin to venture further away. If we start training puppies to focus, come when called, and walk with us earlier, it’s easier to build off these skills as puppies grow up and naturally go through stages where they are more likely to wander and explore. Be aware of safety hazards such as environmental disease risks, off-leash dogs, wildlife, and cars. Only have your puppy off-leash in safe areas.

Off Leash Dog Parks

Off-leash dog parks can provide a safe, legal opportunity for some dogs to be off leash. Most are fenced, though some are not. These parks can look very different. In some parts of the country, it’s a small gravel or mulch area with 20+ dogs milling around. In other parts of the country, it may be dozens of acres with walking trails to encourage people and dogs to move around. Some dog parks are private for only approved dogs or even just one family at a time. Other public dog parks can be visited by anyone, regardless of health or how friendly a dog may be.

Off-leash parks with many dogs are not usually a good option for training. If there are many dogs, then treats or toy rewards can be a safety hazard because dogs can guard or get into an altercation over these items.

Fenced off leash dog parks can be a good option for exercise for some families. If you can reserve a time or go when it is not busy, you may be able to use the space for training. There are other factors to weigh when considering a dog park for training, such as injuries, parasites, and disease transmission.

Getting Started

For personalized tips and one-on-one support, book a virtual training session!


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