Which is Best for Dogs, Off-lead or On-Lead?

Dog Walking Off-Lead is Healthier for Dogs.

An increasing number of local authorities are bringing in restrictions on dogs being walked off-lead in public parks or on beaches. Leaving aside the unfortunate propensity of councils to over-react to incidents and introduce ‘knee-jerk’ legislation, a lot of the blame can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of that small minority of dog owners who spoil it for the rest of us by having no control over their dogs.  Packleaders, professional dog walker service in Stevenage & Knebworth says: each and every dog owner should ensure their dog has good ‘recall’ and comes to them when instructed to do so. If your dog doesn’t have good recall, then it should probably be walked on-lead in public parks not off-lead. Clearly, the only loser in this scenario is your dog, so as caring dog owners we should all be making a big effort to ensure our dogs are trained to come when called.

Dogs cover more ground when walked off-lead and get to explore more, they meet more other dogs and owners, thus improving their social skills and receive more mental stimulation when walked off-lead. I would go as far as to say that high energy dogs cannot be exercised sufficiently when only walked on-lead. If you take a look at the video of Gunner, a young Pointer we used to walk, he would run that like for the sheer pleasure of running for up to 20 minutes and we were taking him out twice a day. To cover that amount of ground on-lead, you’d need to be walking 10 miles a day or more!

So, how do you go about training a dog to have good recall? Firstly, you start as early as possible and heap praise on your dog each time it does come to you when called. If your puppy doesn’t respond when called, you might need to introduce a healthy treat as a reward, though over time the reward should be replaced by praise. Using a long lead initially, especially when first going to the park can be a real help. Let your dog get some distance away and call it. If it responds, heap praise on it or give it a treat. The important thing is to establish a pattern of behaviour, and you can massively increase your chances of success by choosing the right moment to call your dog back to you. If it is distracted or has just discovered something that smells fantastic and you call it at that moment, you reduce your chances of success. The first few times, you might want to wait until your dog looks at you so you know you have its attention. If this works, do as many repetitions as you can. If your dog doesn’t respond, repeat the instruction and put some pressure on the lead to encourage the dog to come towards you. Don’t just haul the dog to you. It’s important the dog moves towards you of its own volition. As it starts coming, start praising it in an excited way and give a reward when it gets to you. The message you are implanting is that coming back to Mummy or Daddy is both exciting and rewarding. Dogs want to please their owners, so they are far more likely to repeat behaviours which result in them being praised.

Once your dog comes back regularly when on the long lead, you need to try the same off-lead. However, do please give yourself the best possible chance of success. Don’t take your dog to a busy park with loads of screaming kids and numerous other dogs running around. Find a quiet area with no distractions and practice there. It will hugely increase your chances of success. Whilst it makes you look vaguely ridiculous, hiding from your dog behind trees does make it pay attention to the whereabouts of its owner and encourages it to seek you out. Again, lavish praise or treats will reinforce this. As you gravitate to parks and open spaces which have distractions, it is vital you call your dog when it is not unduly distracted or in a high level of excitement. Any dog owner will tell you that it is a truism that once dogs get above a certain level of excitement, their hearing shuts down. It is better to wait and have a successful recall than be premature and fail. It’s a pattern of behaviour you are trying to establish.

Finally, try to avoid the situation where you end up going to get your dog rather than it coming to you. Once you start this behaviour, your dog will rarely come back. It gets the idea, the pack will come to it, whereas you want it thinking it must stay with the pack. Dogs are pack animals who need to be with their pack so try and reinforce the idea that they need to look out for you and follow you, not the other way around. It’s amazing how often striding off in the opposite direction will bring a dog back. Of course, all this is much easier said than done but it is well worth the effort and your dog deserves to be walked off-lead. Good luck!

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