How and When to Go Off Leash



Ahhhhhh people always want to skip ahead to off leash obedience, usually without teaching… well, obedience.

The thing about off leash obedience is that your dog has to understand on leash obedience in all situations, under all kinds of distractions before you can expect off leash obedience.

It is like the article I wrote recently about the person who thought using a leash, especially inside the house, was cruel.

But I want to give my dog a “leg up” and an understanding in all kinds of environments before I risk his life with off leash obedience.

Let’s face it, unless you are in a fenced in and very secure area with no other animals having your dog off leash can kill him.

He could get hit by a car, he could get mauled by a dog, or he could even be mauled by a wild animal (if you think hiking off leash and away from roads is a good idea).

Off leash obedience can be very dangerous stuff and you had better be sure that your dog is either expendable (which is super sad) or very, very well behaved and that he understands the behaviors and what you want.

I also recently wrote an article about why I think using a shock collar can be sad and is often misused, and although many use these collars for off leash training, I worry about it being just as dangerous.  Many dogs don’t understand why they are getting shocked so once they are running away and the owner keeps shocking, the dog keeps going just to get away from the pain.

Last Week



ppy ask me last week how he could keep his puppy from running away, or running in the street.

My simple answer is use a leash.  Once they are used to running off leash, this is a hard problem to fix; for more on why off leash running is more rewarding click here.

I know it is hard to read tone, when you are reading (unless you are reading a descriptive novel).  Text messages, emails, posts can all come off quite condescending or angry and that is not the case; I take no tone, I just simply mean that using a leash and teaching your dog is the best way to keep him out of the street, especially a puppy.

If you have a door rusher, click here for help.

But I must reiterate, leash manners (for that click here  ) is basic dog obedience.

Finding heel and eye contact and focus are intermediate dog obedience for more on finding heel click here  and eye contact and focus click here.

But off leash obedience is really ADVANCED DOG OBEDIENCE

If your dog doesn’t listen to you when he is on a leash outside, or he doesn’t obey when he is off leash inside, there is no way he is ready for off leash obedience!

Don’t fool yourself, don’t rush, and don’t push it!

If he is not 95% obedient all of the time under distractions like squirrels, other dogs, deer, cars, people then don’t even try!  Go back to your basic or advanced obedience.

Safe Place

Find a safe place to train.

I never just “hope” my dog will respond and do well off leash.  I take them to a LARGE fenced in area.

That way if my dog thinks “yipeeeee!  I can RUN” I know he won’t be run over by a car or eaten by a bear, or lost forever!

Baseball parks and dog parks early in the morning are great off leash trial areas.

The Next Trick

off-leash-dog-edit-300x213Use 2 leashes.

I know that sounds funny and against what you are trying to do but think about it.

Every time you unsnap that leash, your dog gets to run.

Usually it’s when you come home and he is inside, or you unsnap it outside; but the unsnapping means RUN FREEE!  Even if that is not what you have meant to teach him… that is what you have taught him.

So typically when you unsnap the leash he is gooooone!  Even if he comes back, most dogs get unsnapped and run around doing a happy dance.

I use two leashes (one usually a long line) and I unsnap one while still giving him the command to heel.

If he should decide to run, I have the ability to remind him he is always on leash and needs to listen!

This is a very important moment and message.  If you do it right he will always think you have a leash on and are in control!

Once you are over this hump you can use the long line and work your way to dropping it and then going totally off leash.

But, this is a process and not a privilege all dogs should have!

  • Do you have a dog aggressive dog?
  • Do you have a people aggressive dog?
  • Do you have a dog that doesn’t like kids?
  • Do you have a dog that can’t help but chase small or even big animals?

Then He Shouldn’t Be Off Leash, Ever!off leash

That doesn’t mean you can’t take him to a fenced in and controlled area and train for it in case an emergency ever happens; but not all dogs can be safely off leash.

And, always obey your leash laws!

If your city, or county says no dogs can be off leash; don’t do it!  It’s not worth the fine!

And, remember not all dogs are friendly.

Your dog may be friendly off leash, but you had better have enough control that he leaves other dogs totally alone or someday he might find a dog that wants to kill him.

If you take your dog off leash, it should be a law abiding activity and you should have total control.

And, with that I say go train and have fun!

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  1. Jean Delafchell says:

    Your methods are new to me but I plan to try them with my newest dog. I am a long time trainer and exhibitor of German shepherds in AKC obedience from companion dog to companion dog excellent and utility levels.I used the slip collar humanely placing it on properly, slipping across the top not bottom of neck from left to right, so it would instantly release and only using it when verbal correction was not effective. In order to show your dog to these degrees you must wear the slip collar and a six foot lead on it.I am about to get a new puppy, different breed, Bichon Frise, and want to use all I’ve read in your methods. It will be a shelter or rescue dog so I went searching for new solutions to home problems. Your program is my choice. Now that mixed breeds and non AKC registered dogs can earn AKC obedience degrees, I also want to show him to the AKC obedience degrees. Heeling at all times while on lead with a slip collar is a given. When should I introduce the slip collar and how best is it to differentiate it from the leading harness and plain leather collar? Also, no food rewards are ever given during the training nor allowed in the ring exhibition of obedience dogs at AKC trials. Do you think my dog will do okay without the treats or should I just offer the treats after a training or exhibiting session is ended instead of using the play your favorite game and get your favorite petting or tummy rub reward I have always used?

    I agree with your description of how choke collars are used. The slip collar was not intended to choke but to be a quick snap and release. Even as a nine year old child in my first obedience class to train my new first dog, a year old pit bull/Boston terrier mix formerly allowed to roam the neighborhood by his previous owner,I knew the trainer was wrong when he told my parents, “These are tough dogs who may require a spiked collar to get them in line.” My Colonel became a perfect gentleman for a mere inexperienced child by giving him lots of love and affection and learning the difference in a low, firm voice and a loud, abusive, frightening one.I used no food rewards as all obedience classes taught in the fifties and sixties and he worked simply for his love of me and the reward of my petting and enthusiastic voice praising.

    I must add my top scoring German shepherd, Sandy, who brought me many trophies and hours of fun training and showing her also never needed a food reward. Her collar slipped tight so infrequently I can’t remember using it. She adored me and worked for the pure joy of it and to please me. At one show I had a judge tell me he had never seen a dog love her work so much when she leaped in the air, kissing my ear, and came down into a perfect sit for her finish. She should have had points deducted for the leaping instead of calmly turning around and returning to a side sit position but this judge did not deduct, recognizing her love of me and sheer joy in doing whatever I asked of her.We won first place that day for highest scoring German Shepherd at the trial, but I got a first place dog all the time because I trained with love not fear.

    I used down as you have demonstrated leave it for all situations like bolting the front door, chasing cats, running away. I’m intrigued by your leave it as it is an every situation fixer early on and will use it instead. I will also use leave it for toys and balls to distinguish between out and leave it in the obedience ring. Dogs must retrieve and return with the dumbbell to a sitting in front position and hold the dumbbell until given the command to release it, not just spit it at your feet.

    I am so glad to have found your DVD’s and programs on line. Sign me an old dog trainer learning new tricks to train my new forever best friend.


    Minette Reply:

    I think if you teach your dog eye contact and focus there is no reason to use a slip collar/choke chain.

    I teach my puppies to give me eye contact, this puts them perfectly in heel position so we too can compete at high level.


  2. Bettina says:

    I just have a quick question. My dog she is 15 months old english pointer. She listens to me every time, she has the eye contact etc… She is great off lead everywhere but if she sees deers in the park she starts to chasing them and doesn`t listen. However I call her back she runs away but she comes back after 1 minutes and sits down in front of me. I dont know what to do. Do you have any suggestion?


    Minette Reply:

    You have to find a way to train under such distractions.

    I have a deer chaser as well, and so I stalk deer at dusk for training opportunities while my dog is on leash so he learns to listen to me and not chase.

    He is not there yet with deer, so I never let him go off leash. He won’t be off leash until he can completely ignore them and listen to me.

    If I let him off leash and he chases a deer into the street and gets run over by a car, I would be devastated so it’s just not worth it for me for him to go off leash until I know he will listen to me.


  3. Joseph Richards says:

    How do we do we house train a three month old lab cross from a rescue mission.


  4. Carol Coldewey says:

    I LOVE your articles and I so agree. I was on the beach with my young dog. I was approx 200 yards from anyone, my dog on a long lead playing and practicing “come”. Out of nowhere a large, young, male yellow lab came bounding up towering over my dog. My dog growled and the lab bared his teach. The lab owner came running up saying “my dog is sooo gentle, just a big baby” and tried to bring his dog to my dog. I told him, gently, not to push it, and walked away with my dog on short lead. This kind of attitude makes it very hard to have training sessions in public areas. So many people want their dogs to run wild and free with no concern for others.


  5. Amy Kaelin says:

    I have a question – I have a lab/dacshund mix. We were told she was mostly lab, but that has not been the case. She is totally dacshund. She is 13 weeks old and we are having so many problems. She pees on the carpet no matter how many times we take her out, she very aggressive and nips a lot. She chews on my poor cat until he screams. Please don’t get me wrong, we love her so much and can be very sweet “at times” but I feel so overwhelmed with her at this point. I just don’t know much about Dacshund’s – we have always had big labs. Can you recommend anything?
    Thanks so much for your help.


    Minette Reply:

    She needs to be on a leash and taught manners around the house.


    Heidi Jacobsen Reply:

    Dachshunds definitely have minds of their own and have to be handled differently than a lab. They are wonderful dogs but will need much more patience and long suffering than a lab. I have had both breeds and in my experience, labs want to please you and will learn quickly what you want and will do it. Dachshunds are more like a cat in that they are not so interested in pleasing you and work better for treats. They do have a more potent personality and will bark, nip and be more aggressive than a lab. They have very obsessive/compulsive personalities and will really hyper focus on something they really like. (Mine loves rocks!) With patience though, they can be charming, determined, protective, sweet and loving. Mixed with a lab, some of those “qualities” may be diluted. Give lots of praise for good things it does and keep trying. They are notoriously difficult to potty train but it will happen!


  6. Hi Minette, tried for quite a few months last winter to train my Malti-poo to pay attention to me when we went outside. We went over the routine in the house, lets walk, heel to my left, sit, treat. Ok lets walk, etc. She had it down pat. We went outside and she pulled on the leash like a lion. walked a few feet and started again. we went back inside, left her alone for a half hour or so, and started in again in the house first. Perfect little lady. So outside again, don’t cha know we almost made it to the driveway and here we go again. so I tried getting her under control and heeled and we’d start again,,,,,,, zoom. I finally decided to try again another day. Same thing, countless times. I can take her out without the leash to do her business, but, but, but, if another dog, person or cat shows up, she’s after them like a Bear. If nothing else comes around, she’s all herself, hardly knows I’m there unless I talk to her. 3 times this month she’s gone to the road, one time crossed it, and then we went back to the leash. She’s back loose again in my yard. Not paying an awful lot of attention to me, mainly hunting ,,, something. If I hear people or the neighbors dogs barking I call her and she comes to me If she hasn’t seen what their barking at.
    I take her for a ride in the truck and she thinks it’s time to attack every cow, horse, even hay bales. I really think I have a nut case on my hands. Are all Malti poo dogs crazy. Wish I had a lot more time to work with her, but as a widower, time seems to fly. Are Malti poo hard to train???? Thanks Bob


    Minette Reply:

    Little dogs can have a Napoleon complex 😉

    You have to find her motivator and use it against her. If she likes balls or toys play with her, if she likes food make her work for it.

    If she is not treat motivated skip a meal or two until she is and then reinforce behaviors. If she doesn’t do something she loses a privilege and stick to it.


  7. Christin Bittner says:

    Hello, I live in Australia and have a baby girl GSP 7mths old now. I have used Chet’s puppy training since I brought her home at 8 weeks old. I have used 2 leashes since she was able to go to the park and would not let her off leash unless she was in someone’s backyard. Too many dogs get attacked (even while restrained). I have found her recall is excellent because she knows no different. At 7 mths old I now get how well mannered is your pup! How obedient! I also am now training her to be tied up and by that I mean put on a leash around the leg of my table where she can see me! She doesn’t try to get off the leash because she can see me! This is for when we go out to have a coffee in a café and also for when she goes to obedience training at our local club. If she can be restrained without me being there in her sight then she will be relaxed and happy. So as has Chet done I do all introduction to training in my house, then yard then go outside the yard. I love reading all this information on training..


  8. Sandra Gregoire says:

    We adopted a rescue dog about 4 years ago when he was thought to be about 2. He is thought to be part St. Bernard and part Border Collie. He is the size of a border collie and has the coloring of a St. Bernard. I took him to training at Pet Smart for up to and including advanced. He graduated top of his class and is a perfect gentleman except in two areas. He is getting better with “Come”, but now I have a definate problem. He used to love all people and animals, but in the past year,he
    has been mauled by a Pit Bull that is the neighbors. The Pit jumped their 5′ fence and attacked our Amos in our yard. The first 2 times weren’t too bad, but the last two required a vet to stitch him up. The Vet called the pits owners and declared the dog vicious, and they did move the dog to another location. My problem is that now Amos is showing agression around other dogs. This is very difficult as my daughter and her family, including their dog, will be here for Thanksgiving. The dogs have been together before, without a problem, but I don’t know what to do now to be prepared. HELP…….


    Minette Reply:

    this kind of aggression and traumatic experience can’t just be easily over come. Its like having PTSD, it doesn’t just go away with a few quick training sessions.

    Your dog will need some intensive desensitization and training… and you may need to separate them for the holiday to keep everyone happy and safe.

    I recommend you contact our customer service, as I just finished shooting videos for an aggression program that will help you and your dog and they can let you know if it is available now, or when the next session might start.


  9. Charlotte says:

    I have 2 15 month English bullies .The female is docile and fairly obedient; doesn’t pull on leash. Sit .down. woe. The male is hyper active.Dragging me across yard. Chasing cat etc .I have tried the eye contact and he will not obey .He knows that if he puts his face to ground he can’t c me. Also tried walking in front of him and starting over on leash .One more time he puts head to ground or looks other way so as not to c me. Thus getting his way .I used to take him back inside or sit down for tine out. Now he is too heavy and stout to put in time out or take back inside. HELP


    Minette Reply:

    He is clearly in charge of your relationship. He has learned how to ignore you and get away with it.

    How do the whale trainers at sea world get the marine wildlife to obey commands? They certainly don’t pick them up, they deny them what they want (food, play, interaction) immediately after they have made a bad decision. These mammals learn that in order to get what they want, they have to please the trainer.

    He needs to work for everything he gets, petting, food, treats, toys, walks, etc.

    And, training does not happen outside in the real world. Training is done at home in the privacy of your home without other distractions. It is too hard for a dog to focus on you and ignore everything exciting going on around them. You work them in a boring environment and then begin to add distractions.


  10. Susan Busch says:

    My SharPei was aloof and even as a young puppy did not like any physical contact with us. He later became extremely aggressive and had to be put down after attacking my son. I would like to get another SharPei puppy using your training method but I wonder if the aloofness and dislike of any physical contact is typical of the breed or just a personality trait of this particular dog. Thanks


    Minette Reply:

    That is a part of the breed, if you want a highly social dog pick another breed.


  11. AnnaMarie DUNNE says:

    Chet I Think your advise is amazing but if you could provide a video of the technique I think more people would buy your book. In order to keep it you have to give it away. All i’m asking is jus a 1 minute tutorial of the training methods. Yes its in the books but most people learn by visual. If yo calim to be as kind hearted as you say you are, and I believe you are well then back it up with a small video clip. Im 100% sure you will get more people buying your books. Like a dog we need to be shown. And lets not isolate people that cannot read.

    Thanks Chet

    You Rule


    Minette Reply:

    There are videos available in our Video Vault. But that is a subscription product. Find more information at

    And, 1 minute really isn’t enough for most people to comprehend how to train their dogs either. Most videos are 5 minutes or more.


  12. Annamarie says:

    Hi Chet. Thank you for your feedback. Obviously 1 minute wouldn’t suffice to do a tutorial.. But I think you’re get the gist of what I was asking.

    As mentioned I think you are amazing at what you do. I made a big error with my 5 month old puppy by taking her out on the lead without training her in insider first.. Now when I get the lead to train her she thinks she’s going out. Any suggestions!!!


  13. teresa says:

    Help, my poodle rescue appears to be well trained but is afraid of leash and newspapers. Hates the crate and poops, pees and shreds anything in it. At first, I bawled him out, but would later find him cowering behind toilet. How sad is that. How can I fix problem without further scaring this little guy?


    Minette Reply: Read that

    and search for articles on crate training, take it slow, make it fun


  14. Teresa Juliano says:

    This is the best issue I’ve read in a long time, hoping everyone who is thinking of training off leash really take’s there time and make sure the dog and they are ready for this. Lots of my clients always asking me can I just try having my dog off leash, I tell them the same information you have in your issue, I will pass this on to all my clients and hope they all understand the great importance of this proper training, thank you so much.
    Your the best!


  15. Matt says:

    I think you give e-collars a bad rap. They don’t have to shock. They Maidstone and vibrate. I use one when my dog is off leash on beach. I use the tone to get his attention to come back to me. Gives him freedom to explore but a way for me to communicate.


    Minette Reply:

    See I would rather my dogs pay attention to me and listen to my voice! As my voice is the most important thing they should hear… not some collar that they may or may not have on


  16. Matt says:

    Sorry, make a tone, not Maidstone.


  17. Matt says:

    If off leash, they may be outside your voice.


  18. Judy says:

    I have both Labs & Doxies and have found them both very easy to train. My current family includes 1 senior yellow Lab (16 years), a senior red mini Doxie (17), a merle Mini Doxie (14), a blue merle Aussie (10) & a Chiweenie (6). They all listen really well. (Actually I have to use hand signals with the oldest two.) Perhaps the smooth doxies are less stubborn. We have always treated them as dogs – not little people. Since puppyhood they were taught to listen the first time or we would ‘help’ them to listen. Training was ‘play’ and fun. It’s easy to train a small pup not to rush out doors, jump on people, bite- even in play, and to come and sit for meals. Be consistent, positive, and make it fun!


  19. Kajal says:

    Hi I have a 11 month old lab pit mix and I have been using a 7 foot leash since I got him so he’d learn to stay near me , then a week ago I got a contract able leash and let him roam for few days with that and now when I put him on his short leash he keeps tugging


    Minette Reply:

    he has been rewarded by being off leash without the training of not pulling.

    You must teach him not to pull no matter what or he loses privileges.


  20. Randy says:

    I really love reading all your answers to how to, and what to, l do really want to have a dog again. I ended up becoming disable with MS. And l cannot walk anymore. I used to have big dogs, but now not being able to get around as good as l could before. And to buy a big one that knows every thing is way to costly for me. What type of little dog would you say l could train some what easy. Or what is a good mix to get from a shelter that might be some what potty train. And would like to ride on my power chair with me ?? Thank You for your Great Stories and for the people out there Please Don’t Give Up !! Your Four Legged Friends Have Feelings to.
    ps l’am wanting a Four Legged Friend again.


    Minette Reply:

    I would talk to a local rescue or yes, go to the shelter.


  21. Dee says:

    All I want to know is how to stop a almost 4 years old dog to stop jumping up on anybody, she just want to lick their face, her name is Beauty she’s a lab/ terrier, she is 5olbs and I am 107 lbs and I am only five ft 10 inch, when no ones home she will listen and soon as my husband comes home she runs and grab any thing and runs all over the place she moves the couch I wish I could stop her shes too strong. Is there anything to do, when my husband comes home she thinks she is the boss, I’m staring to hate this dog.


    Minette Reply:

    search our free articles on jumping using the search bar at the top of the page


  22. Audrey Page says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your work with us. I have a question. I am fostering a 6 year old shepherd/collie mix who is brilliant. The only problem I have had with her and it is a big one, is she is terrified of young males. She goes into attack stance and actually scared me the first time she did this. She does not approach the person but that does not mean she won’t. It can be any young boy or man. We think she is a former puppy mill dog as when we got her spayed there were ‘things’ inside her that were, well, disgusting. How can I untrain her terror of young males? She has come a long way otherwise.


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