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Your Dog Unleashed?!?

By Devene Godau, CPDT-KA

Many dog owners wonder when it will be safe to let their dogs run off-lead.

Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question. There are many variables to consider before deciding when, and if, your dog is ready to take on the world off-leash.

First, it is important to acknowledge that no dog can be trained to 100 percent reliability. No matter how well trained the dog, there is still the potential for a situation to pop up that you've not trained
for, and the consequences could be devastating.

Consider what your dog's breed was developed for. Sight hounds (such as greyhound, whippets, and borzoi) were bred to hunt by sight, and that drive can be so strong that they will take off at the sight of a
squirrel, or sometimes even a leaf floating through the air. Scent hounds (such as beagles, basset hounds and coonhounds) were bred to track by scent, so again, the job they were bred to do will often be
more motivating than their owners. Please consider that hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years of breeding for these jobs may not be compatible with your dreams of letting your dog off-leash in an unfenced area.

If you intend to train your dog off-lead, please do not expect too much too soon. It could mean your dog's life! We often get calls from people who want our help with a dog that keeps running away. The fix
is simple: get the dog on a leash and start training. Do not let your dog outside unleashed until you are sure your dog will respond to your cues reliably under those circumstances.

Realize that when you are training your dog to walk off-leash, or run in an open area, you need to work with the dog safely (on lead) around increasingly intense distractions first. Can you be sure your
dog won't want to run off and visit other animals in the park? If you have only worked the "come" command in your living room, he isn't ready to romp freely in the park.

Signing up for a group obedience class will help build control around other dogs and people. Then practice, practice, practice. Buy a long line and practice in your yard, in the park, at the soccer field, and
anywhere else you can think of.

Before unleashing your dog, please consider the following:

  • Leashes keep your dog safe, and not just from the obvious dangers like cars. Leashes will help prevent your dog from eating garbage, drinking contaminated water and eating animal feces, which can lead to diseases like parvovirus. Dogs might also find dead animal carcasses… gourmet cuisine for Fido! You want to be able to prevent all access to these things.

  • Leashes give you more control when meeting up with other dogs. Your dog might love other dogs, but can you be sure about the other dogs you meet?

  • Consider local leash laws to avoid fines.

  • Please be respectful of signs posted, requiring leashes. Failure to abide by these rules may result in all dogs being banned from these areas.

When you do choose to unleash your dog, please make sure to:

  • Keep both eyes on your dog. You want to be able to call him away from anything he might attempt to eat or play with.

  • Please make sure to clean up after your dog. People not picking up after their dogs is the biggest reason dogs are banned from public areas, so bring plastic baggies with you to clean up after your dog.

  • Keep a leash handy. If your unleashed dog is making other dogs or people uncomfortable, put the dog on leash, and take him out of the situation.

When in doubt, use a leash. It is always better to be safe than sorry! Your dog's life depends on it.

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