In my opinion, off leash dog training is likely the most misunderstood area of dog training and behavior. Nearly everyone I’ve ever met who claims to have off leash control with their dog actually doesn’t. A handful of questions to most of my clients helps them understand what off the lead training is actually about. Here is a typical conversation:
Me: So you are looking for help with obedience training. Is your dog obedient without a leash?
Client: My dog is a great dog. Yes, he listens to me off leash.
Me: So, does your dog come when called?
Client: Yes! He knows what come means.
Me: What about off leash in the front yard?
Client: Um…not so much. (On the off chance that someone claims that their dog comes when called every time in the front yard my follow up question is..)
Me: If he’s off the lead in the front yard and a distraction; dog, cat, bike, kid, etc. goes past…does he still come or does he go chasing off to say hi?
Client: Well….I can get him to come back if I yell enough.
Me: Okay, moving on. Does your dog stay when you ask him to?
Client: Oh yes, he knows how to stay on command.
Me: Can you be at a baseball game for your kid and have the dog lie down and stay while you run back to the car to grab something? Will he lie down and stay when you are in the front yard gardening and something interesting goes past? Will he sit and stay when someone rings your doorbell?
Client: Well, no. But he will stay if I’m standing 10 feet away and holding a treat…
Me: Can you go on a walk off leash and have your dog follow right next to you?
The point I’m getting at is that many people believe that their dogs are obedient and listen to them. The problem is that they’ve set such a low standard that their definition of ‘off leash obedience’ is a dog who will listen in the living room without any distractions.
My definition of off leash dog training is a dog who will listen to your commands nearly 100% of the time (no dog is perfect) with or without a leash and with or without real distractions. How many of you reading this have dogs who perform at that level?
I can tell you that in my years of dog training and having worked with over 1000 dogs I’ve helped a strong majority of my clients achieve that goal. The amount of people I’ve met in that time, though, who have achieved that level of obedience before going through one of my training programs is something I can count on one hand.
Nearly everyone I’ve ever met with a dog has taken the time and patience to train their dogs to do some things. Most people would also train their dogs to be obedient off leash as well….if they knew how.
And therein lies the rub. No one wakes up one morning and suddenly realizes, “Hey, I know how to get advanced obedience training with my dog!” Gaining this level of off leash obedience is best achieved by seeking out and finding experts. I’d never dream of re-building my transmission, I’d never even think of re-modeling my kitchen. These are things that I don’t know how to do and would likely screw up if I tried to attempt them on my own.
The same is true for this level of training with your dog. If you don’t know how to do it now you likely won’t ever know unless you enlist the help of those who have gone before you. That’s one reason my company and this website have been so successful. So few dog trainers are experts at this level of advanced obedience. Having said that, even the most novice dog owner can learn to achieve this type of training with their dog.