How To Train Your Dog To Be Off Leash
Walking your dog off-leash takes some serious training. In the case of my Karelian Bear Dog, Kintla, it took about 13 months to become proficient off-leash, and we still practice off-leash commands and obedience. I have some great tips and tricks on how to walk your dog off-leash. You don’t want your dog to rudely gallop over to random dogs and people to say “Hi.” Yes, you may think this is cute and friendly, but it may seem rude to others. The work and effort required for off-leash training is entirely worth it! I enjoy my freedom on hikes, and so does Kintla! So put the time and effort into off-leash training for your dog.
Karelians are a wilder and more primitive dog breed, so training Karelians to listen off-leash is a bit more difficult than training, for example, a Golden Retriever. These tips are all encompassing and not just limited to Karelians, though. Each dog is gifted with a unique personality, so training them to be proficient off-leash may take more or less time than it did for Kintla. That’s okay!
First off, ditch the harness and opt for a Martingale slip collar like this one. Harnesses are meant for working dogs doing work! If you want to be pulled to and fro then be my guest.
“But wait Gubba, aren’t harnesses the best and safer than a collar?”
Not true. Any reputable dog trainer will agree that you need a reliable collar to effectively communicate with your dog on the leash. YOU must be the leader, not your dog. Those same people who said get a harness for Kintla told me to take Kintla to the dog park for “socialization”… enough said. I will write another blog detailing why you should never take your dog to a dog park. I still regret taking Kintla to the dog park to this day. That’s another post for another day! ANYWAY, I’d recommend that you view tutorials on using slip collars to communicate with your dog. For example, if you want them to “come,” say the word “come” and if they don’t come to you right away, apply gentle pressure towards you so they come; then heavily and positively reward them with treats and praise! Think of the leash as a tool to talk to your dog and direct them. I had trouble with Kintla listening to commands until my friend—who has worked with Karelians for 15 years—told me to replace the harness ASAP with a slip collar.
By showing your dog what you want, they learn to listen! Perfection won’t happen overnight, and it took me thirteen months of training every single day for Kintla to become proficient at her commands on leash. Until she was perfect with her commands on leash, I didn’t trust her off-leash. Don’t trust your dog either! This isn’t a matter of power; it is a matter of keeping your dog safe. Don’t let them run into traffic or up to an aggressive dog or person. You want them to stop at a moment’s notice and come when called! Slip collars are a marvelous training tool—you will quickly become your dog’s leader!
Second, it’s all about the leash length! You gain trust in people by working on your relationship, right? It’s the same with your dog. Leash length correlates with trust level, so start small and work your way up. Here is a leash I recommend with different length options to suit your needs. I started Kintla on a 6-foot leash when she was a puppy. We practiced her commands—sit, stay, drop it, leave it, and come—during every walk. Once she mastered these commands on a six-foot leash, we graduated to a ten-foot leash. We repeated practicing her commands until perfection. Traditionally, once your dog is perfect on the ten-foot leash, graduate to a twenty-foot leash. Repeat the steps until perfection; then move on to a thirty-foot leash. Once they are perfect on a thirty-foot leash, they can be released into the wild! If you graduate to the thirty-foot leash and your dog does not listen, demote them to the twenty-foot leash and repeat the process. This process is the same my friend used with Karelians for fifteen years—it works!
Third, reward with treats and praise consistently! Every single time your dog listens and performs the command you ask, reward them with a treat and affection. You want affection to be a reward because you may not have treats with you all the time. I recommend these Stewart Freeze Dried Beef Liver treats. Yum Yum!
Lastly, once your dog is off the leash, invest in a high-quality training collar. You do not want a cheap collar that falls apart in the woods or gets snagged on a branch. You want a sturdy training collar that won’t easily fall off of fall apart. If a collar is constantly falling off, breaking, or not working, you waste time and money. Get the right collar in the beginning, so you don’t have to worry in the future. I would also suggest not doing “beep” training. A beep training collar comes equipped with different beeps to alert your dog. At first this may seem like a nice alternative to a vibrating or shock collar, but think about all the beeps we hear daily in our technological world. Don’t train your dog to a particular beep and then have them react every time your microwave or dishwasher finishes.
There are a plethora of dog training collars, so research to find the best match for your dog’s needs. I purchased the Dogtra 1900s Remote Training Collar for Kintla, and it has worked without problems. It comes equipped with (1) vibrate, (2) knick, or (3) continuous shock. You can adjust the shock level according to stubbornness. With the shock, you don’t want your dog to be in pain, so do not crank it high at first! Start low and work your way up until they react—do not stop at a yelp or shriek (too painful), but rather a slight startle. You want the shock to be a last resort, just a slight jolt to get their attention. Before using any type of training collar, research its proper use, so you can expect the best from your dog! Eventually I want to upgrade to a GPS collar for Kintla, as she tends to run far distances from me, but GPS collars come with a hefty price tag. We are starting small, but hopefully will work up!
With any heavily desired outcome, work needs to get you there. Training your dog is not easy, but it’s totally worth it! I love, love, love hiking with Kintla and not having to deal with directing her on the leash. She also enjoys her freedom to run about and sniff whatever she desires! I hope these tips help jump start you to finding success in training your dog to be obedient off-leash. I think the most important tip of all is to cultivate a meaningful relationship with your dog. I believe they are more apt to listen if they love and respect you, but who the heck knows! Happy wagging!