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To keep your pup safe while off leash, you must teach reliable recall. Here’s how.
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Here in Colorado, people love going on adventures with their dogs. And adventures with dogs typically involve them running around off leash. Like many states, we have off-leash areas and trails, with the general expectation that pups will listen when called, not just run around and wreak havoc on everyone and everything. But how do you get to that point? It may be hard to imagine that your dog, who gets distracted by every little thing on just a walk, will ever be able to go on an off-leash hike. But it’s easier than you think!
It’s not a good idea to just turn your dog loose on the trail and see what happens. Besides being potentially dangerous should she stumble across something like a wild animal or even a road, your pup isn’t going to learn to listen to you by not listening to you. So practice at home first.
Start training your dog to come when called by teaching her to look at you when you say her name. Call her name, and when she looks, be happy and reward her with a treat or a toy.
Next play hide and seek in the house. Hide and call your dog, and when she comes toward you, be happy and reward her. Continue being happy and excited until she gets all the way to you. You want to reward your pup for coming all the way to you, not part of the way.
Once your dog reliably comes when called (at least eight times out of 10), then move to the yard. If your pup does not come when called, do not keep calling her name. Say it once or twice, and then go closer to your dog. Wave a treat under her nose, and then have her follow you for a few steps so she still is coming with you.
Once your dog is reliably coming when called at home and in the yard, move to the long line (it’s like a leash, but generally 20 to 50 feet long). A good place to start with the long line is your front yard, or you can go to a local park. Start with a quieter section of the park with less distractions. And do the same thing you’ve been doing — let your pup go a few feet away, and then call her name. If she looks at you, start getting excited and happy, which will encourage her to keep coming. If she ignores you, do not drag her to you with the long line, but use the long line to inch yourself closer to her. You want your dog to make the choice to come to you, not be forced to come because you are pulling her toward you.
Once your dog has mastered a low distraction environment at the park (again, at least eight times out of 10), bump up the distractions.
Now your dog should be ready for off leash on the trail! Even though my pup are reliably trained to come when called and have earned their off-leash privileges, I always take special treats with me. We only use these treats on the trail, and I call my dogs back to me every so often just to remind them to stay close and to reward them for listening.
Always take your leash just in case, and if you are in a particularly busy area with lots of people and dogs, it’s polite to keep your pup on leash, even if it’s an off-leash area (unless your dog is really disciplined and stays by your side).
Top photo: Woman hiking with dog by Shutterstock.
Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at abbiemood.com and lifediscoveryproject.com. Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.
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