Off-leash training makes a huge difference especially during unforeseen circumstances such as the event in which your dog manages to detach himself from the leash. There will be no fences, toys, food and dogs to attract your dog back to you – only yourself. This can lead to many unfortunate situations and is best to enforce off-leash training before these situations occur. In the wild, trust is one of the biggest factors that account for the formation and stability within a pack. This is why dogs are always found in packs in the wild and no member will ever stray away. However, this behaviour is not commonly seen when dogs are brought into our homes. Going back to the basics of how a dog behaves in the wild allows us to replicate a desirable schedule that serves the needs of our dog and suits us at the same time.
Always remember that a well-trained dog does not equal to a well-behaved dog. The frequent misconception between the two is what leads many to believe that it is impossible to guarantee the safety of your dog-off leash. I can boldly claim that I have done off-leashed walks for dogs with zero incidents, that is, if you are willing to invest time and effort into it. A well-trained dog listens to commands well, but may be excited and react to triggers. A well-behaved dog understands boundaries, such as not straying away from you. Dogs do not tell each other to sit, heel, come or hold a leash. Being well-behaved is enforced in the wild while being well-trained is enforced in homes.
What you can do
1. Solve behavioural issues
The state of a well-behaved dog should be desired. This is done by identifying what stimulus distracts your dog. Eliminating the possibility of your dog dashing away due to fear, aggression or excitement of a stimulus is crucial as it is impossible to maintain controlled conditions in an unfenced environment. Click here to address fearfulness.
Exercise – the fundamental aspect of bonding and establishing your role as a leader to be followed. Exercising isn’t a basic walk or playing a game of fetch. A proper exercise involves releasing pent-up energy WITH structure. Exercising an excited dog will reduce the energy expenditure during training, allowing you to gain better control and attention. Exercising a skittish or fearful dog will reduce the alertness of triggers if coupled with training. After an adequate exercise session, your dog’s walking pace should be slow and regular. This is when you can better imprint walking with a relaxed leash to achieve a well-behaved dog.
Boundaries are a form of control used to prevent your dog from making impulsive choices. Enforcing boundaries is a good habit that allows your dog to walk calmly with you without any corrections. Boundaries are also crucial in preventing your dog from ingesting any items on the ground which may be harmful if ingested. Refer to the article on stealing food by clicking here. There are a few ways this can be achieved.
Firstly, exercise your dog until he is calm and follows you steadily. Reward him only when pulling is not observed. Do not give any form of attention or reward when pulling is seen. Practice this on a leash a few times. Include recalls to ensure that he can come to you when called by referring to the “come’ command as mentioned below. After about 10 walks without any pulling observed, you can slowly progress to using a longer leash or a dragline. After everything is smooth, you may decide to practice in an enclosed dog run before progressing to parks. This may take many weeks and months for improvements to be seen.
Secondly, use a training leash to correct your dog when he pulls. This is the fastest method for visible results and should work instantaneously if done correctly. The use of physical corrections is observed in wild dogs till this very date and is hence a form of communication they are familiar with. Always seek the guidance of an experienced dog behaviourist before trying this method.
4. “Come” command
Teaching your dog the “come” command is important to quickly divert your dog’s attention to you on top of a commanded action. This command should not be overly used to get your dog to follow you, or used to suppress behavioural issues.
For new dogs:
Start in a location of little distractions
Get your dog to sit
Hold the treat in your hand, preventing him from eating it.
Place it near the nose to engage your dog’s attention and draw it close to you, with the motion horizontally parallel to the ground. Couple this action with the word “come”.
Repeat steps 2 to 4 till your dog gets the cue to move forward when called.
If your dog comes to you before you command him to do so, avoid giving any form of affection and start from step 2 again.
For dogs that understand the command
Slowly randomise the provision of treats and progress to use affection or rubs as an alternative form of reward.
Work with the “come” command on the leash in a variety of outdoor situations with multiple distractions.
Take a walk around the house and command “come” for no particular reason. Repeat this exercise frequently and reward heavily when he does so. Your dog will soon learn to associate to come only when you say so, which reinforces real-life situations instead of coming only during sessions when there are treats. This enforces consistent and reliable recalls in the event your dog gets loose outdoors.
Work on your timing
If your dog is distracted with a stimulus such as another dog, do not expect him to just leave the distraction and come to you when called. Instead, he should not pay attention and approach the stimulus in the first place. Always remember, prevention rather than intervention.
As mentioned previously, excessive commands will confuse your dog during the training process. “Heel” involves an unrealistic process as your dog is constantly unrelaxed and trying to be exactly at your side. This is an aspect of a well-trained dog and not a well-behaved dog. A dog is unable to keep up that high focus to be directly beside you throughout a walk. Furthermore, this concentration may be lost when he sees a trigger for behavioural issues and no treat big or small will prevent this. Hence, we should never suppress the behavioural issue but enforce the understood rule of following you.
If you are walking your dog off-leash and he spots a trigger, he will lunge forward out of impulsiveness rather than rationalise. Most probably fumbling for a treat to use as a focus divergent takes more time than your dog’s decision of displaying a behavioural issue such as lunging. Thus, following the steps as mentioned above will structure the use of treats appropriately.
Avoid repeating the “come” command
Being impactful using single word commands is key. Wait for a moment and call him again in a confident and firm tone. This allows you to place great emphasis on your commands to bring your message across.
This is done by showing your dog the treat to get him to come. Instead, only give the treat after he comes to you. As such, he is rewarded for coming to you and avoids dependency of treats.
Asking your dog to “stay” before “come”
Excessive obedience is confusing to your dog. Asking him to do so is unrealistic as your dog is already a distance away and his attention is not on you when outdoors, which is different when asked to “stay” and “come” indoors. Instead, follow the method of calling your dog during random occasions as mentioned previously.
Avoid encouraging your dog when he comes to you automatically
This is because encouraging your dog to be constantly next to you may encourage separation anxiety as training progresses. The creation of a behavioural issue should be avoided at all costs, especially when training is carried out.
Do note that readers should consult an experienced dog behaviourist before attempting to unleash their dogs in public. This article serves as a general guide for dog owners when reacting to their dog coming off the leash and in no way promoting unnecessary off-leashing activities. Xavian and pack will not be liable should any dogs escape as a result of this article.