How to Train Your Dog to Walk Off Leash – A Hiker’s Guide

60 Comments

How to Train Your Dog to Walk Off LeashThere’s only one thing that Haley loves more than playing with her basketball, and that’s going for an off-leash hike. The moment I let her loose, her eyes brighten, a smile spreads across her face and there’s a joyful bounce in her gait as she begins to connect with her wild, canine ancestors and become one with nature. She can run wild then stop abruptly to investigate any scent she pleases; she explores the world on her terms instead of at the end of a six-foot leash. It’s just as much fun for me too, watching her enjoy her freedom while I also have the freedom from being on my end of the leash.

Trusting Haley to hike off leash didn’t happen overnight or even within the first year of her life. It took a lot of training and bonding time with her before I felt comfortable letting her have some freedom. There’s always an element of risk when you let your dog off leash, even with a well-trained dog with excellent recall, but the tips below can help you avoid some of the common problems you might run into when you train your dog to walk off leash.

10 Tips to Train Your Dog to Walk Off Leash

1. Understand your dog’s instincts.
Unfortunately, off-leash hiking is not for every dog. For example, some independent breeds are prone to run if let off leash, sight hounds and scent hounds that were bred to chase prey or follow scents may be harder to train and terriers may be more interested in chasing a small animal than the treat you’re carrying in your pocket. That’s not to say you can’t train any of these dogs to stay with you when off leash, but it may be more challenging to train some dogs. Unneutered male dogs that like to roam, aggressive or unsocialized dogs and dogs with extremely high prey drives are probably not good candidates for off-leash hiking. Every dog is different and even within a particular breed there are dogs that don’t fit the norm for breed description. You know your dog best and it’s important to consider all these factors before deciding if off-leash walking is right for your dog.

2. Make sure your dog has reliable recall.
Before attempting an off-leash walk with your dog, she must come to you reliably when called, even around distractions. And there are a lot of distractions when hiking off leash, new sights, sounds and scents all along the trail. The treat that got your dog’s attention in your living room won’t be very appealing compared to what nature has to offer. If your dog needs to work on recall, check out Help! My Dog Doesn’t Come When Called for some tips. It’s also a good idea for your dog to be reliable with the Sit and Stay commands in case they’re needed on the trail.

Hiking Dog

3. Practice off-leash walking in a safe area first.
Before you hit the trails, practice your dog’s recall in a fenced area or on a long leash. A dog park is a good practice location if you visit during off-peak hours. After your dog comes to you reliably, work in new areas that are safe but have more distractions. Practice sending your dog out to explore something nearby with the Go command, then call her back and reward her for returning. Keep practicing until you’re confident with your dog’s recall skills.

4. Always have the right motivators to bring your dog back to you.
Be energetic and playful when you call your dog back. Always reward her with praise, treats or a favorite toy if she’s play motivated. It’s very important that you make it a fun and positive experience every time your dog comes to you, then release her to go right back and explore some more. If you only call your dog when it’s time to put her leash back on, she’ll learn not to come right away.

5. Select safe off-leash hiking areas.
Research hiking areas ahead of time and note any areas where dogs or off-leash dogs are not permitted. Most parks and trails are marked, but you could be fined if you’re caught walking off-leash where it’s prohibited. When exploring a new area or trail for the first time, have a trail map if possible and keep your dog on a leash until you know the area well. You don’t want your dog to be the first one to discover a cliff up ahead or have her jump into a fast moving river. Also, be aware of hunting and trapping seasons in national forests or other remote hiking locations and take precautions to avoid injuries. Have your dog wear a hunter’s orange or brightly-colored vest and keep your dog from wandering off the main trail.

Center Ring Dog Collar

Center Ring Collar

6. Try using a center ring collar when hiking.
Also called a double ring collar, both types have a second ring on the back of the collar which makes it easy to quickly leash your dog when necessary. There’s no reaching under their chin or sliding the collar around to find the connector ring. While on the subject of collars, make sure your dog is wearing an ID tag in case she gets lost while hiking. If you do a lot of hiking or a lot of worrying about hiking with your dog off leash, a GPS tracking collar might be a good investment.

7. Leashing and unleashing your dog.
Wait until you’re in an area that’s safe (away from roads or other dangers) and where you feel comfortable before letting your dog off leash. When Haley’s off leash, I still carry her leash in my hand so it’s ready when I need it. We mostly like to hike on remote trails but out of common courtesy, I always leash Haley if we come across other hikers or dogs. Even if your dog is generally friendly with other dogs, you don’t know if someone else’s dog is going to be friendly. Always leash your dog in busy areas or if you feel uncomfortable with the environment.

8. Pay attention to your dog.
Be watchful of your dog at all times. She shouldn’t get too far ahead or too far behind you and she should never be out of your sight. You want her close enough that you can see if she suddenly starts to stray off the trail or if she comes across something gross like a dead animal carcass. Also keep an eye on the trail both ahead of you and behind you for other people and dogs. Joggers tend to catch me off guard sometimes, but I try to keep an eye out for them and leash Haley while they pass. If your dog is well trained and bonded to you, you’ll notice them keeping an eye on you as well. Haley usually hikes twice the distance as I do, because she’s constantly running ahead and then coming back to check in with me, but she always keeps an eye on where I am.

9. Be respectful of wildlife and nature areas.
Haley’s got a pretty good prey drive and there have been a few times where she bolted off the trail after a squirrel or herd of deer, but luckily she stopped quickly when I called her off the chase. I don’t want her to get lost by chasing something too far away and I feel we should respect the animal’s territory when we’re visiting their neck of the woods. Besides, she gets her fill of chasing wildlife when they happen to encroach into her territory in the backyard. Also, while bears do sh*t in the woods, we should pick up after our dogs if they do.

10. Keep reinforcing your dog’s recall.
Even though Haley’s been hiking off leash for most of her life, I continue to reinforce her recall skills by occasionally calling her away from interesting things and giving her lots of praise and rewards for listening. When she listens well in extreme situations when I know it’s very challenging for her to come to me or stay on the trail, she might get all the treats I have in my pocket! Try not to get aggravated by challenges you meet on the trail, such as running into other hikers or dogs. Every challenge is an opportunity for training that you usually can’t duplicate at home. I also like to keep Haley on her toes when she’s out in front of me by occasionally stopping, turning around and walking in the opposite direction or taking a different path when I reach a fork in the trail. It helps reinforce her need to watch me closely and stay tuned in to where I am and what I’m doing.

Good RecallOff-leash hiking is my favorite activity to do with Haley. Even though there’s an element of risk and I know that no dog is 100 percent reliable in any situation, there’s something really special about being able to watch her just be a dog.

Do you enjoy off-leash hiking with your dog? Share your tips on how to train your dog to walk off leash!

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends!

60 Comments on “How to Train Your Dog to Walk Off Leash – A Hiker’s Guide”

      • Yes, there are definitely some dogs that will take off when given the opportunity no matter how much you try to train them. Chewy has lots of company and interesting things to keep him busy with your gang.

      • I’ve seen pictures of some beautiful, large dog parks that have hiking trails and are also fenced in around the perimeter. Unfortunately, we don’t have any parks like that around here, but maybe there’s a place near you where could take the Sibe Tribe for some off-leash hiking without the fear of them running off too far or getting lost.

      • That’s really ideal for your dogs! I would love to have some acreage and of course that would mean a few more dogs to go along with it. 🙂

    • We don’t do off leash hiking. (For many reasons – we have rattlesnakes here and ticks and they are all lurking just off the trail. Not to mention the poison oak and the coyotes. I need Rita to stay right beside me on the trail and not veer off it at all. ) And I have to admit – I hate it when others do. I’ve rarely encountered an off-leash dog that will stay by it’s owners side. And then we get rushed at and since Rita is on-leash while they’re not, she can turn into a snarly whirling dervish. Not very fun! There are signs all over the hiking trails here to keep dogs leashed – and it’s for good reason with all the dangers there are on the trails here. It’s great when dogs can run and romp off-leash, but it’s definitely not advisable here in So Cal.

      • We visited my son in Texas not too long ago and kept Haley very close too because of the rattlesnakes and other interesting wildlife lurking in the brush. A lot of people there get their dogs vaccinated for rattlesnake bites, but I’m not sure how effective the vaccines are.

        It is very aggravating to come across off-leash dogs in an area where they should be leashed. Last year while hiking in a park where all dogs are supposed to be leased, I ended up getting bit by a small, off-leash dog that approached Haley and wanted to fight with her. Instinctually, I stepped in front of the dog to block it and to protect Haley, so the dog bit me on the leg instead, ugh! Of course, the owners were quite a ways down the trail and totally oblivious about the situation. The park was pretty crowded with lots of kids and 80 percent of the dogs were off leash. We ran into a park ranger later that day who informed us that the park doesn’t enforce the leash rule.

        • It’s frustrating when they don’t enforce the off-leash rule.

          I’m not sure how effective those vaccines are either. My friend had a rattler in their backyard so she took her dog to one of the local classes that trains dogs to stay away from rattlers – but it was very aversive training (they used shock collars) so I wouldn’t put Rita through that!

          And I hear you on stepping in front to protect your own dog/keep the dogs apart. Luckily I haven’t been bit that way, but have gotten scratched up – and almost knocked down – a couple of times.

          I wish only good dog owners w/ well-trained dogs would let their dogs off-leash, but that’s a pipe dream. :\

        • Well I live in Phoenix and I am trying to teach my dog to stay 10 to 15 feet ahead of me.
          I did not do the rattlesnake training and my dog Rowdy has seen 8 rattlers so far. And on one night he started jumping and barking and I went over to see what was up and it was a Diamondback. Just the other day he warned me of a scorpion which was a pretty big one. He has also encountered a Gila Monster.
          He was a abused dog before I got him. He has it made now. We will finish the year with just over 1,200 miles of hiking and he loves to hike.
          Sometime when we are in a new place I have him stay behind me and he does. But when he gets in front of me sometimes he gets further a head than I like. Now if I just sit down he will come looking for me which I like. I just want him to stay where I can see him.

          • Oh wow, Rowdy has a lot to deal with there in Arizona and I can see why you would like to keep him a little closer. It almost sounds like he has an intuitive sense about being wary of snakes, scorpions and Gila Monsters, but you never known when one might catch him off-guard.

            Haley usually hikes about 10-20 feet in front of me too but I trained her to come back and stay closer when I give her the “Stay Here” command. I started working with her by calling her back when she would get too far ahead and saying “Stay Here”. When she would creep too far ahead, I would say “Ah Uh” (a gentler form of “No”) which would make her slow up and then I would repeat the “Stay Here” command. She caught on pretty quick to what I wanted her to do and of course, you can use any commands or sounds that make sense to you and Rowdy. Maybe you can try something similar when Rowdy starts to get to where he’s almost out of sight.

            Another thing I did with Haley was to test her occasionally by hiding from her (or taking a different fork in the trail) if she got too far ahead. She would turn around expecting to see me and be surprised that I wasn’t in sight. She would then come running to find me. It taught her to keep a closer eye on me and keep looking back to check in. In her mind, she’s probably thinking that her human is rather dense and has a tendency to get lost, haha!

            It sounds like Rowdy has really bonded to you and it probably wouldn’t be too hard to train him to stay a little closer. You’ve given him a wonderful new life with lots of hiking adventures. That’s fantastic!! ?

    • I live in an urban setting – therefore I am not afforded many places where we could enjoy “off-leash” activities other then our backyard. I am, however, getting ready to start professional off leash training with my Boys but I’m doing it because I want them trained for obedience. If I’m ever fortunate to be in an area safe for off leash fun – then it will come in handy then too! I love to see dogs free.

      • I’m looking forward to reading about the off-leash training with Harley and Jax. I’ve noticed a trend with some trainers now endorsing basic obedience as off-leash courses which is really interesting. I guess their theory is that your dog should be trained to stay with you and listen to commands without any physical cues from the leash.

    • I’m glad you’re one of the responsible off-leash hikers! I went for a 5 mile hike at Raven Rock Park in NC this past weekend, and encountered several off-leash dogs along the way (although the park requires all dogs to be on a 6 ft leash).

      I didn’t take the pups this time around because I wasn’t sure how shaded the trails were, so I personally didn’t have a problem with having loose dogs around me.

      However, I wouldn’t have appreciated people disregarding the leash laws had Missy & Buzz been along for the hike. There’s this immediate imbalance that’s created between leashed and non-leashed dogs, and you just never know how dogs who don’t know one another will behave. Besides that, there are also people who aren’t part of our dog loving circle, and who are downright afraid of dogs (I know, hard to comprehend!!).

      Not a single one of those dogs I encountered along the hike had a solid recall, by the way. One young German Shepherd (couldn’t have been older than maybe 8 months, and super cute!) ended up standing right in the middle of a footbridge, causing some oncoming hikers to stop because they were obviously scared of dogs.

      The GSD’s handlers (2 guys in their late 20s/early 30s) were trying to charm their way out of the situation by saying “Oh don’t worry, she’s friendly”, instead of calling the dog back to them, leashing her (the law required her to be leashed in the first place), and apologizing for the awkward situation. My friend (also the owner of a pet sitting business) & I just walked onto the bridge and past the dog without saying anything.

      The guys were right, their dog was definitely friendly and just a curious pup having a good time, but people who don’t surround themselves with dogs all the time will not come to that same conclusion because they are likely going to be afraid, or at least apprehensive, regardless.

      Long story short, I think it’s important to respect leash laws in order to cast a good light on dog ownership and of course to ensure the safety of our pups.

      I only let my pups Missy & Buzz run around off leash when we’re in an enclosed area. Buzz’s recall is very good, while Missy’s is not the greatest around distractions.

      I know that I can always get Buzz’s attention back on me when I have a ball in my hands ~ he will even pass up small animals (and even some treats) when he knows that he could have some ball time instead! Missy, however, is all about chasing “prey”…

      • You bring up a lot of good points, Barbara. I’ve seen plenty of people with off-leash dogs that don’t have control of them and it does cause a lot of problems. The strange thing about our area is, we mostly hike remote trails or trails where there are no leash regulations and we rarely run into anyone else or their dogs, yet in the parks that are crowded where they have leash rules, most of the dogs are running off leash and causing problems for the dogs that are leashed.

        I’m not sure why the people that want to do off-leash hiking don’t go to the more remote trails because it’s really too much of a hassle to walk your dog off leash around a lot of people anyway. Maybe they think they’re doing a good thing by socializing their dogs and allowing them to approach and “meet” other dogs, but it’s aggravating when park officials openly condone people ignoring the leash laws (they don’t even mention it when passing someone with an off-leash dog) because it does lead to a lot of conflicts between leashed and unleashed dogs.

        Like I mentioned to Jackie, on the day we hiked the park where I got bit by the dog, I heard probably 3 or 4 different vocal conflicts between various dogs just while we were there. When I mentioned all the off-leash dogs to the park ranger, she said “Everybody does it, we’re not going to say anything”

    • Mr. N is a terrier so he’s definitely interested in all sorts of prey animals. I’ve worked with him a lot on recall and now he’s very good at it. We practice periodically and I’ll hide from him so he knows he has to keep an eye on me!

      • I’ve heard it can be challenging to train recall in terriers, especially when they’re off-leash. Mr. N sounds very well trained! I especially like to hide from Haley if she ever gets a little too far ahead or behind, it’s a good reminder for her to pay attention and she usually stays much closer after that.

    • I’ve read quite a few posts about hiking with your dog, and it sounds great! I really like the tip of practising off leash walking in a safe area first, it’s a very important point! And thank you again for the nomination last week, I loved flicking through our old photos!

    • There are all really great tips. I’m thankful I’m also able to take Ace on off-leash hikes. He’s very treat, toy and praise motivated, so obviously that really works to our advantage! The recall is something we are always working on though, as no dog is ever perfect.

      One thing I would add is that when a dog gets to experience off-leash freedom on a regular basis, the dog feels no need to bolt or run off if he gets the chance. Well, at least that’s the case with my dog. Since he gets to run around off leash almost every day, if the door is left open momentarily or whatever, he just walks out and stands right next to us. No need for him to be like, “Freedoomm! Woo! Catch me if you can!” 🙂

      I never really knew or thought about the purpose of those center-ring collars. Now I know! 🙂

      • You could be right about that, Lindsay. Maybe the more experience a dog has off-leash, the more they view it as normal and not a situation to be taken advantage of. That’s an interesting thought.

        Oh, the center ring collars are also made for hunting or sporting dogs that could get tangled up or snagged on a branch or something in the woods. As long as they’re not on too tight, the dog can back out of the collar if he needs to and free himself. It’s nice that you can also use them for quick leashing.

    • I love off-leash hiking with my dogs. Unfortunately Sampson is the only one I can let off leash, because Delilah has a tendency to run off on me. The other day I had them both on leash in the woods and I actually had that thought, “Wow, I remember how I enjoyed hiking so much more when they were both off-leash.”

      Now Delilah gets little increments of time off-leash, but most of her time is on leash. I also use the “Go Check” command with her, where I let her off leash and tell her to “Go Check”, typically she comes right back to me, but I can’t trust her all the time.

      Good tips here!!

      • It’s still nice that Delilah gets a little time off leash every now and then. She’s a free spirit and keeps all of us entertained, that’s for sure!

      • I hope it works out well for you Sharon. With Haley, it was a process of working to train her and slowly giving her a little freedom at a time in safe areas until I could trust her to be reliable. It’s nice that you have a lot of off-leash walking trails in your area, I sure wish we had more around here. Happy hiking!

    • Loved your tips.

      Honey also loves off-leash play time. But we haven’t done it as much in Cambridge because she’s developed a fascination with bunnies–who are very plentiful here.

      Even though she’s 99% reliable in upstate NY, the presence of new creatures in MD make her a higher risk here. But we’re working on it.

      We start our practice with Honey dragging her leash so I can step on it quickly if she looks to interested in something besides me.

      • That’s a great leash tip, Pamela. I sometimes do that with Haley too if she tends to get overly excited when we have a new doggie guest visiting our home. Good luck working with Honey on the bunny training!

      • It really takes time and patience. Living in the Arizona Desert we have all kinds of wildlife here. Rowdy used to chase rabbits and prairie dogs. But after hearing about a dog that was killed chasing rabbits by a rattlesnake I got more involved with his training. And now he no longer chases them. Of course sometime we he see one he looks right at like can I buts no.
        Rowdy has gotten into two fights with coyotes and I jumped in a broke it up.
        I think people need to be aware of other animals and what they will or will not do.
        I seen Bobcats and Mountain Lions out here and what I have read and learn is to show no fear and just back off and everybody will be happy.

    • Great article! I have had mini schnauzers my whole life, and they have never been allowed off leash. They just have no recall no matter how hard I try. A year ago, I got my first German Shepherd. She’ll be a year old in two weeks, and we just perfected our recall enough to walk off leash and have her accompany me on my horseback rides. Absolutely love seeing her have so much fun (:

      • I grew up with miniature schnauzers too! My parents never tried off-leash walking with them but I’m sure they would have wandered too because they didn’t have good recall either. It sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job working with your german shepherd, especially to say she isn’t even a year old yet. There’s something very special about watching your dog get to “be a dog” and explore around a little bit off-leash. I bet she loves coming along on your rides! ?

    • I had a akc husky for 14 years. I will be glad to share how I was able to teach her how to be solid off leash. I had received so many complements when folks saw me hiking or montain biking with her off leash by my side. I miss my girl. But, I now have two ausie both able to be off leash. One is 12 and one is 9. They are never on lead when hiking or in my yard. Both are very attentive to my movement. I have a neighbor who saw my ausie, went to my breeder and baught one. His is also very good off leash.

      • That would be great! I’d love to hear more about how you trained your husky and the aussies. I know huskies can be especially challenging when off leash since they enjoy roaming and exploring sometimes. It sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job with their training.

    • Certain breeds of dogs are better to look for if wanting to have them off leash. You must understand the groupings of breeds and what the breed is designed to do. For anyone wanting a breed that is easier to train off leash, I would say they should look to the herding group or possible the gun dog group. The easiest breed I have ever delt with is my Australian Shepherds. When I decided to get these two I have now, I was able to go to the farm, see these puppies outside with no fence and big fields. Not one ran off and they all followed my family all around the back of the breeders house along with the parents jumping and nipping at us. Lol there herding instincts where strong and we were sold. It is so important to pick from a pure breed breeder who breeds small quantities and uses the dogs for what they where designed to do. My ausie breeder put s the pups parents in herding compotitions and it shows. As far as my sweet husky Jasmine was concerned, lol she took two years of hard work before I understood how to get her to want to stay with me. Luckily, I live in the country. In those first two years, she ran off a number of times. Lol. She had got to the point of even knowing when her leash was on and what it meant when the leash came off. Run, Run and run.lol Electric collar did not work, Electric dog fence did not work. Boy, I could tell you stories about her all day long. What finally occurred for me was a thunder bolt idea. I bought a mountain bike. I walked her beside the bike with her leash attached for a few weeks. Then I rode it for two more weeks. Once I saw she was comfortable with my bike and leash control while riding, I took her for her first long run with my bike. We went to the mountains and I rode for two hours, then when we got home, I would take her for a walk. While walking her, I would stop at a field and let her off her lead. It was like a miracle she didn’t run off. We walked around that field and she just followed. So this became my routine. Saturdays, Sundays and any days off, I would take her on those bike rides in the mountains and come home and walk her. Days I worked Monday thru Friday, I would walk her in the morning, and walk her at night. By the end of that third year, I was able to go to the mountains, unleash her and she would follow me all day if I wanted . The horse back riders and hikers and passed were amazed. This the translated to my yard and my trip to the hardware store to get my paper. Once she trusted me, she didnt run off anymore.You have got to be an active person if you want your dog to want to be with you. The more active you are, the more challenging of a breed you can try. Most people don’t understand though, they want a cookie cutter follower. That is not why you get a dog. You get the dog to be your best friend. You have to do as much as you can with them and you will be rewarded. I would love to talk more about it. This typing makes for to long of a read.

      • First, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with your Australian shepherds and your husky, Jasmine. You made so many valid and helpful points and hopefully I can summarize them adequately here.

        1. Select a breed that best fits your lifestyle and what you enjoy doing. Some breeds are easier to train and more likely to stay with you off-leash but if you’re not an active person and you select a high-energy, active breed, you’re both going to be frustrated with each other.

        2. If you’re working against a breed’s nature, like wanting a husky to stay right with you, it’s going to take a lot of work and you may or may not be successful.

        3. Find a way to connect and support your dog’s needs. You had a fantastic idea of supporting Jasmine’s need to run by riding along side of her on the mountain bike.

        4. Sometimes you need to exercise your dog to release some of their energy before working on training. With Jasmine’s energy released and her need to run fulfilled, she was ready to follow you and stay with you.

        5. If you make an effort to connect with your dog and fulfill their needs by doing something together, you can create an amazing bond and high level of trust. Having fun together and supporting each other are the ingredients needed to make a best friend.

        Your story brought together so many elements that I talk about here on the blog and I love hearing stories like yours. I would have been amazed to see you walking down the street with Jasmine too and probably would have asked you how you were able to do that.

        So, thank you again for sharing your insight and tips. Jasmine must have been a very special dog and she was lucky to have your love and support as well. Our dogs teach us so much and their love and lessons stay with us forever.

        • FYI for any of your readers looking to have a husky but live in a small city like place, consider buying an Alaskan Klee Kia which looks like a mini husky, bit actually has no husky heritage in them. My daughter has one we bought for her living in Pittsburgh while she attends college and she does very well in an apartment setting and visiting the dog parks. She was easier to train then my Husky, but, she still is never left off leash in the city.

          • Great tip! I had heard of the Alaskan Klee Kias but didn’t know that much about them. They do sound like a great alternative for people that like the look of a husky. Thanks for sharing that!

          • I could not agree with you more on dog breeds people need to think about what they want instead of its so cute.
            My dog was a abused dog he was beaten and burned with cigarettes and tossed out of a car on the I5 interstate.
            He is my dog now and we have a great time together. I told my wife I will be training him until I die.
            Know he is a Australian Cattle Dog mix. He is high energy and really cannot live in a apartment. I do have a fenced back yard and put in an electric doggy door for him to go in and out and not my three rescued cats.
            He loves to hike and we hike at least five days a week. I make sure he has everything he needs. And he carries his on food and water in his pack. He has boots and doogles and a hat and a cooling jacket. I live in Arizona

      • Great comment and advice. Knowing your dogs breed influence is so important to knowing what motivates their behaviors. We forget that dogs have jobs and what they were breed to do is more important to living with them than how cute they are. We choosed English Springer Spaniels. They have been breed to keep an eye on their owner and want to be near their humans. Off leash with our boy started the day we got him and he received a treat for any time he “checked in” with us (called or not). Now at 8 months he is great off leash, he sticks near and always looking back. We still don’t take him off leash in any crowded areas, but we live on remote dirt mountain roads. Our favorite off leash areas is under the powerlines going up the mountain. Good trails/roads and no one is ever on them. As a puppy, I am still not comfortable that he is reliable, but for his age he is impressive. His biggest problem is not birds or wildlife, but people and other dogs. He’s so friendly he wants to meet everyone!

    • I carry a can of bear spray with me in case i run into a brass pack of coyotes, mountain lion or a bear. I also have her vaccinated for rattlesnake bite and I agree, off leash hiking is a pretty awsome experience

      • That sounds like good advice, Bryce! I’m glad I don’t live in an area with mountain lions, those would scare me the most, I think. ?

    • I have a golden/ black lab mix! She is 9 months old and I am having a very hard time training her. She has a high prey drive and will go after anything! I would absolutely love if she could be off leash! Any tips? Thanks

      • Hi, Kayla! Wow, your girl is in the middle of her adolescent phase and it can be really challenging at times. During adolescence, dogs seem to forget some of their early training and they also test boundaries a bit. It’s probably best to reinforce the basics right now and work on developing a strong bond and recall, then when she’s a little older, start working on some of the ideas in the article for off-leash walking.

        You’ll know when she’s ready for off-leash training by how strong her recall is. Good luck with the training…she’ll be through this phase soon. ?

        • We have a black lab who is now 11 months, we did off-leash training with an obedience trainer starting when he was around 9 months. What I found was you really need to start the training in an area with no distractions and work your way up. We started recall training inside the house, then moved to the backyard (more smells outside), then moved to a fenced park, then an open field with no fence, and then finally to trails. We made sure his recall was perfect at each new place before moving to a place with more distractions. Lots of food rewards are key for food motivated dogs! We also started his off leash hiking on deactivated logging roads. Not much in the way for scenery, but it was highly unlikely we would run into other hikers, the path was much wider than a typical forest path, and fairly straight so we were able to see if there were any approaching people or animals. We still stick to fairly deserted trails, preferably ones that are straight or out in the open so we can leash him if we see any distractions. I still wouldn’t trust his recall if another dog came around a blind corner.

          Like many other commenters, I wish more hikers would leash their dog when they see people approaching. I think it’s just common courtesy, and since my lab is still young he is very over-the-top friendly and tends to jump on other dogs as a greeting. He has unfortunately been bit a few times by off leash dogs while he was on leash, and I’ve had to try to pull dogs off him, putting my own safety at risk, because the other dog’s owner was a mile away from their dog. It’s one of my pet peeves.

          • I think you could have written this article, Kristen! Thanks so much for sharing your off-leash training process with your lab. It sounds like you’ve done everything right and no doubt you’re making great progress. I’m so sorry that your pup has been bitten a few times. That’s so frustrating and hopefully others will read this and realize how important it is to leash up their dogs too. Happy hiking! ?

    • My little mini schnauzer loves to bolt out the door… He only comes when he wants to. He has not when under training yet but I’m going to start. Will he ever be an off-leash dog?

    • What a sensible and helpful post. You’re right about sighthounds, I have a young greyhound and when I let him off leash he’s off following his nose, chasing birds and plastic bags dancing in the breeze! We’re working on recall which he is uninterested in and so we walk him on leash, one day…..

      • Thank you so much, Debbie! It can be an even bigger challenge with young dogs that have all that energy, but you’re right…maybe one day. ?

    • Loved reading your tips on off-leash training and I was especially curious on what you do when you encounter other people/dogs. I would love to let my dog off-leash. His recall is great and he doesn’t like to run out of sight. However, we live in a pretty busy area and wherever we go, there’s always people with dogs. Now my dog couldn’t care less about other dogs. He’d never run to one, which is part of the problem. He is ok greeting them for a second and then he wants to move on. But we encounter so many dogs that are off-leash and are just obnoxiously in his face while he’s leashed already and he simply can’t stand it and often gives a warning snap so they back off. That doesn’t sometimes end well. He’s not aggressive, he just doesn’t want other dogs in his face all the time. And if I have him off-leash, even though he is a great listeners and always comes, I feel like it’d be sending the wrong message to owners whose dog don’t listen and just run off and yet have their dogs unleashed. So I leash my dog, sadly, and have a better chance in getting between the dogs if something was to happen. We do have a ton of off-leash dog parks but they are always way too crowded, unfortunately.

      • Hi Pia,

        You’re so lucky your dog doesn’t care that much about greeting other dogs when you’re out walking. That makes your life easier in one respect, but I can see your point about the obnoxious dogs that pester him. A lot of dogs don’t understand how to greet other dogs properly and they approach head on and with a lot of excitement. Your boy is just trying to teach those other dogs a few manners, but it can be stressful when that happens.

        In our area, I’ve found that people don’t like to walk or hike very far. So parks that are crowded near the parking areas thin out quite a bit once you get 1/4 mile down the trail. I usually keep Haley leashed until we get away from most of the people and dogs. Also, I don’t mind driving a little further in order to find a less crowded park. I have to admit, my favorite place to hike with Haley is a park where dogs are supposed to be leashed, but there’s rarely anybody on the trails. When we do meet someone, they usually have their dogs off-leash too. I keep a close eye out for other people (and park rangers, haha!) and immediately leash Haley until we pass.

        Haley can be a little defensive too when hyper dogs approach and what works best for us is to keep moving and walk away from the other dog. I call Haley to come along with me and the other dog tends to lose interest and go back to their owner. It may not work every time, but after the other dog leaves, I always give Haley lots of praise and a treat for listening and ignoring the other dog. Over time, she’s really improved on ignoring those dogs, even if they’re trying to get in her face. Sometimes it may seem rude to just walk away from someone and their dog, but on the other hand, it’s also rude to not have good control over your dog if they’re not being polite.

        If you can find a new place to walk off leash with your boy, that would be the easiest solution. Good luck with your search and enjoy your time together in the great outdoors!

    • My husky lives off leash. it just takes patients and a lot of trust. Sometime I let him off leash hiking and sometimes I don’t. Depends on my level of comfort and how many people are around.
      At home though, he roams free all day. Chasing ducks or people walking on the beach.
      He knows his own comfort level and that’s a sight to see. 🙂

      • That’s a great accomplishment to train a husky to be off leash, congrats! You’re so right about building patience and trust. Here’s to many more awesome off-leash adventures in your future.?

    • Actually I don’t think you could consider what I did training. I just never leashed him at home. When hiking he’d already spent a great deal of time off leash at home so I just started taking him to deserted hiking trails to let him run. That’s what I mean with trust and patients. It’s easy for me because we live out in the country, so I can send him outside and he could roam for an hour and I know he’ll come home when he wants to lay down or eat. I’ve watched him enough to know he’s set his own limitations. If I see him pushing them to far I’ll go call him and he returns to a nice welcome home and a treat.
      I think the most to this is you want to praise them when they return, no matter what they did or how long they were gone, Always praise them. You and your home are their sanctuary safe place. Who wants to return to punishment.
      Anyways, me and my buddy live a happy companion life that’s fit for us. Everyone has their own “style” 😉

      • That’s so nice that you live in the country with lots of space to roam and explore. I’m jealous, lol!?

        You’re so right about always praising them when they come to you, no matter what. That was a huge part of working with Haley when we were training off leash. I always cringe when I see someone yell at their dog because they didn’t come right away.

Share your thoughts, leave a comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 Subscribe to new posts