8 tips for off leash dog walking and hiking
Perhaps you have thought about walking with your dog off-leash but are scared to because your dog can sometimes be unpredictable in public.
To successfully train your dog to be obedient at all times, you must be consistent with your commands and expectations, and be very patient yourself.
It is important not to underestimate the training time and relationship required to have a well-behaved dog in public without a leash. We’ve put together some tips to help cope with challenges that you may encounter when dog walking dogs off-leash:
1. Mind restricted areas
Before taking your dog for an off-leash walking exercise, make sure you have prior knowledge of trails and parks where on-leash or off-leash dog walking is restricted. Failure to have prior knowledge of trails could result in dangerous situations and/or fines.
2. Reward good off-leash behavior
Develop good habits by rewarding your dog with extra special treats for all good off-leash behaviors exhibited during the walk or hike. Use progressions in training starting with small distances between you and your dog, growing to larger distances with bigger rewards when they respond to your commands.
To influence your dog’s decision to listen to your command or call in emergency situations, they must associate the command with a reward.
For instance, your dog which is ahead of you along a trail during an off-leash dog walking exercise, suddenly sees another oncoming dog and prepares to engage in a fight, if you call out to you dog to back off and come back to you, your dog will easily obey your command if they have experienced a reward for obeying this command many times previously. Your dog will associate he reward of a nice treat as a far better experience than engaging in a dog fight, though only possible if you have already established the habit of rewarding every good off-leash behavior exhibited by the dog.
3. Keep an eye on your dog
This is straightforward and self-explanatory. However, for the purpose of clarification, it simply means that you don’t take your eyes off your dog during an off-leash dog walking exercise. It is important to be watchful of your dog at all times, not letting them stray out of your eye-line, and calling them back to put on leash should you ever need a break. Always call out to you dog when it begins to wander too far, or off path to set boundaries.
4. Acknowledge the limits of your dog
No matter how brave, smart or intelligent your dog is, you should always remember there is a limit to things your dog can do and experiences it can cope with.
For instance, your dog may find it difficult resisting the urge of chasing a prey like squirrels, and by engaging in such chase, your dog could unknowingly run into an oncoming vehicle, a snake, or something else that puts their life at risk. By acknowledging the limits of your dog, you will be able to know things that can stimulate it into action, and consequently be able to predict where and when your dog might have to cope with a challenge and prepare. Should your dog scare at the sound of a gunshot, thunder, etc. we advise you to have your dog’s leash on it in anticipation of any of such sounds to prevent your dog from running blindly.
5. Carry your dog leash along during an off-leash walk with your dog
It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
There is always the possibility of an emergency situation occurring while on an off-leash dog walking exercise with your dog. To this end, it is advisable you carry along with your dog’s leash, whether or not you are on an off-leash dog walking exercise with the dog. So, whenever you come up to an area that you don’t think is safe for your dog or is too crowded, all you simply have to do is take control of the dog’s movement by having its leash on.
6. Your dog’s daily activities should include off-leash training
There are no better ways to have your dog become a well-behaved dog in public without a leash than by daily training. It is during these off-leash training sessions that your dog learns how to respond or you’re your commands in public. As we already mentioned, rewarding all good behavior with a treat is a key way to achieve this purpose or goal.
7. Establish a reliable recall
Pick a call and stick to it! Before you think of any off-leash adventure with your dog, it is paramount the dog comes to you submissively whenever you call it, even in the midst of diversions. What word do you use? What is the tone of your voice when used? Consistency is key with all commands, especially in inconsistent settings like a new hike. You should also consider secondary commands that may be useful in a situation where you require your dog to sit aside a trail so people or other dogs could pass.
8. Practice, practice, practice the recall – and add diversions too!
Having established the recall to use for your dog – go, stop, come back – the next step will be to practice the recall in a secured area before venturing for an off-leash dog walking exercise with your dog on public trails. This can be achieved by throwing an object, say a toy, and sending them to go fetch it. However instead of retrieving, once the dog is halfway to where the toy landed, you can call it back using one of the recall commands, like saying come back. Upon obeying the command and returning to you, you should reward the behavior with a nice treat to reinforce the behavior.
As positive reinforcement and consistency are so important in training, make sure to include what commands you like to use in your Spot pup profile. On our mission to make dog ownership accessible for all, we will use the treats, commands, routes, etc. instructed by you when we walk your Spot!