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Dogs romping, playing, running free. Wild dogs uninhibited by leash or fence. Off leash training can help you and your dog achieve this! Equally exhilarating is that moment when I call and they turn in tandem, racing each other back to me.

After eight years, I am still in awe when my dogs respond with such instant enthusiasm. But rather because these two dogs are not the easygoing, stick-with-you type of dogs that make off-leash reliability a given. They are more like the kind of dog you might see running away down the beach with a person in hot pursuit. You know the type. Perhaps you even share your life with one.

If you do have a dog whose off-leash skills leave something to be desired, the tips in this article may help you gain the reliability you want, so both you and your dog can enjoy more freedom. Off Leash Risks I need to start with a word of caution: There is no way to guarantee the safety of your dog off leash.

I would like to think that if we trained hard enough, or long enough, or with the right methods, that we could overcome all of the risks, that our dogs really could be completely reliable and safe.

But the fact is that when dogs are off leash in an unsecured area, there will always be a chance that their instincts or desires will lead them into the path of danger. In addition, our environment is often unpredictable.

When dogs are off leash, there is the chance of a sudden bang, an unexpected animal, or something else that may frighten or harm our dogs. So why train for off-leash skills? Why not keep our animals on leash or in a safely secured area at all times? As hard as we may try to contain our dogs, the day may come when a gate is left open and our dogs are off leash unexpectedly.

And, besides, dogs love to run, romp, and explore. Time spent off leash gives our dogs physical and mental exercise, keeping them healthy and happy. While percent reliability may not be possible, the risks associated with a dog being off leash will be greatly minimized through a combination of training and management. For your dog to learn to respond when off leash, start by training without the aid of a leash whenever possible. This may seem obvious.

But many of us spend weeks in dog classes working on sit, stay, down, and come with our dogs on a six-foot leash. This is partly due to the fact that people often and inadvertently use physical cues such as a slight pressure on the leash to help the dog know what they want.

When the dog and handler lose that added signal, their communication falls apart. Start at home, in your kitchen or living room. When your dog can easily and happily move through a repertoire of off-leash skills in your home, move your training to the backyard. When he is an expert in the backyard, move to the fenced front yard, then to a fenced park.

As your dog becomes more and more reliable working off leash, he will find it easier to respond to you even in new environments. How has she done this?

She simply incorporates big rewards for good behavior into everyday life. Incorporating off-leash training into daily activities can help you and your dog prepare for off-leash adventures. Your dog will learn to respond to you everywhere, all of the time.

Simply offer big rewards for good behavior when you and your dog play, walk, feed, or just hang out. Think about the types of play and activity your dog finds most engaging. Does your dog enjoy playing with other dogs? Chasing Frisbees? Tug games? Sniffing the ground in search of gophers? Dinner time? Incorporate off-leash training into each of these activities.

For a dog that loves playing with other dogs, you can use dog play as a reward for a fabulous recall or a great down. If your dog loves sniffing the ground and exploring, you can teach him searching games described below.

If your dog loves to eat more than anything, have him work for his dinner. Turning your recall practice into fun and games helps both you and your dog enjoy the training. Back and forth recall game. For this game, you will need another person. Call your dog between the two of you. Each time your dog comes, give a great big happy reward silly play, jumping up and down, great food treat, play ball, etc.

Hide and seek. Have your dog stay in one spot. Go into another room and hide. When your dog finds you, give a great big happy reward. Repeat 3 to 10 times, and stop while your dog is really engaged. Once your dog knows this game, you can initiate a game of it unexpectedly. Dinner time recalls. Have your dog sit or down and stay while you prepare his dinner.

Continue to have your dog stay while you take the dinner into another room. Call your dog to you; dinner is his reward. Call your dog to you. When your dog comes, get down on the ground and play, play, play for at least three solid minutes. Ball between the legs. A dog who is appropriately rewarded for his efforts will quickly learn to listen and respond off leash. Make his rewards match the difficulty of the exercise. In other words, make his response worthwhile! Dog biscuit? Or squirrel chase?

Squirrel chase? Instead, always make the rewards for off-leash behaviors interesting, exciting, and most importantly, unpredictable. I find it helpful to list all of the things my dog likes — from favorite food and toys, to freedom and doggy play — and rank them in order with his favorites at the top of the list. For one of my dogs, a tennis ball easily tops all other rewards. For the other, chicken chunks and chasing small animals not a reward I choose to use compete for the number one spot.

Freedom, or the chance to run and romp like wild dogs, is probably next on both of their lists. Mix up his favorites, varying which one you give him for which behavior. When you keep your dog guessing, he will stay engaged, giving you an edge in a stimulating environment like a dog park or beach. For example, when I call my dog to me, she may get a romping game of ball, a chunk of fresh chicken, or a dog treat followed by a release to go off and play again.

For an especially difficult recall, she may even get them all. Instead, go get your dog or wait until he is ready to come to you on his own. Then release your dog to play again. Work on your timing. At these times, you can increase your chances of success by calling him at the moment he can most easily disengage from his other activity. For example, if your dog is greeting another dog, wait for the moment when you can see they are about to turn away from each other, then call your dog.

Go get him instead. Always and this is a golden rule act or behave as if your dog is the most wonderful being in the world when he comes to you — no matter what he was doing before he came. Some people might think coming when called should top the list for building off-leash reliability.

Coming when called, or the recall, is indeed the backbone of off-leash skills. A dog that will come immediately in almost any situation is safest off leash. When your dog gets to you, Click! Instead of feeding the treat from your hand, toss it a short distance away. Tossing the treat moves your dog away from you, so he will have to move toward you again for the next Click! Wait for your dog to come back to you after eating the treat. When he gets to you, Click!

When he is consistently coming to you for the Click! The secret to building a reliable recall is to teach your dog to come when called in a low distraction environment like your living room and then very gradually train him to respond in the face of increasing distractions. Increase the distractions slowly enough so that your dog can handle it. Consistently and repeatedly reward successful recalls while avoiding situations where your dog may not come when called.

The biggest mistake most of us make when training a recall is expecting our dogs to automatically be able to come in difficult situations from the get-go. When teaching the recall, plan frequent practice times.

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Off Leash Training: Building Reliability

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