When your dog has training to be responsible while off leash, you can do much more interesting things than stand around at the dog park or be constantly untangling yourself from a long line.
Breeds with a history of working with people, like sporting dogs and herding dogs, are more likely to be easy to train to be off leash. Historically independent dogs, like hounds and sled dogs, usually take more training before they are trustworthy. But an individual dog might not have read his breed standard, so try not to worry too much about what your dog should be like, and just train the dog you have.
The simplest way to teach your dog how to be off leash is by just paying him when he checks in with you. Start with your dog in a safe, enclosed area. When your dog looks at you, give a clear cue that a reward is coming, and hand over some really excellent rewards.
- What if my dog doesn’t look at me? You’re in a boring area, and you’ve got great stuff for dogs. He’ll look.
- Why a clear cue? We use “Yes!” to let the dog know he did the right thing and his reward is on the way. Using a clear & consistent marker like this points out to your dog exactly the thing he did that earned the reward, even if it will take a couple seconds for it to get to him
- Why great rewards? Dogs learn much faster when they really care about the rewards at stake. Ten repetitions for $100 each gets a lot better effort than one thousand repetitions for $1 each.
After delivering the reward, release your dog back onto his own time. I use the cue “Go be a dog” because I think it’s clever. After you release your dog, don’t stand there staring at him and talking to him! He’ll think the two of you are still having a conversation. You want him to go away, so he has the opportunity to check back in with you and get another reward.
The most important part of this exercise is that you don’t nag your dog to pay attention. Let your great rewards do the work. From now on, it is your dog’s responsibility to pay attention, and your’s to recognize when he does and reward him for it.