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Discussion Starter #1
I'm curious how others handle off-leash walking. I have a 5 year old mix breed dog that I've only had for a couple months. However, he walks extremely well on a leash. His only weakness being that he still gets a little startled by things, noises, etc. He really didn't get walked by his prior owners so I'm sure this will dissipate over time.
Sometimes, I put a longer leash on him and let him walk "freely". If he pulls though, I give a gentle tug on the leash. Rarely though do I need to do that whether he's on the long leash or I have him walking by my side on a slip leash. Recently, I've dropped the leash on a walk after him walking by my side very well. It's been only the last 5 minutes or so of our walk. So, when he is on the longer leash or not on a leash, he always walks ahead of me and starts sniffing as though he's following a trail. I'm wondering how others would handle this and whether or not they feel it is acceptable for him to walk ahead and sniff freely? Or should I still have him stay closer to my side?
Let me clarify that we are walking in my neighborhood. It's an extremely small, old town, but the houses are still very close together on the roads we walk. He knows the roads pretty well already and knows which way to go to get back to our house. There aren't many roads- like I said it's a very small town and we usually stay on those roads and don't go "out of town". So this is why I'm asking about the off-leash walking because we're not just out in some field or open trail. FYI- I only do this with him late at night when the streets are empty. So, since we are in a small town, should I have him stay next to me? Or let him walk ahead? When I make a certain sound, he will stop and come back, but then start walking ahead again. So his recall is excellent.
Hopefully I explained this clearly, but feel free to ask clarifying questions. Also, I'm only interested in the questions I posed. In other forums, sometimes people start critiquing everything and that's not at all what I'm looking for, so I'd appreciate sticking to the topic.
Thanks again!:)
 

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Honestly, I don't feel comfortable walking any dog off leash in town, especially in the dark. We have some trails around here that allow dogs on or off leash where we go to hike. And he is loose on our forty acres. I always have my boy wear a blaze orange vest during hunting season.
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"Town" is probably misleading considering where we live. Tiny doesn't even begin to describe it. Given the size, we're not considered a town because it's too small. You didn't ask, but, yes, my dog is always wearing something to help me see him. My question is how other people handle it, not whether or not they do it. Please only reply if you have thoughts on how you handle it. I don't need to know that some people won't do it. I always regard my dog's safety as my top priority, but unless you live in a very rural area then perhaps you can't understand how absurd it sounds to say you wouldn't let your dog off-leash "in town".
 

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I let my dog off leash, but only on trails. When he does walk off leash, he is generally ahead sniffing around and checking things out. So I don't think it is a big deal for your dog to be out ahead of you.

Personally, I think that if your dog does get startled, I don't think I would take him totally off-leash, I would keep him on a long line. At least this way if a dog/squirrel/raccoon comes out of no where, you can grab the line and prevent him from making a bad choice.

I know you say he has a good recall, but you admit you've only had him for a couple months, and sometimes fear has a way of making a dog go deaf.
 
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Walking ahead and sniffing freely is fine for me as long as they don't pull.

In regards to off-leash: I live in a farm, but the nearby town is also very small (~200 people) so it's probably similar. I also do a lot of walking with my dogs at a park near the lake that has roads but not too much traffic. In both cases, I may drop the leash but I will always keep the leash attached just in case. You just never know if a car is going to come through, or if you'll run into another animal (wild or domestic). It's nice to just have that extra thing to grab.

But, my favorite lead is 15' long, so for my dogs that don't really pull I can hold it and not worry too much how far ahead they get, but I can also reel them in if I needed to. They don't stray too far so they honestly don't notice the leash at all.
 

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I don't let my dog off-leash in any area unless I am 99.9% certain she will come running to me the first time I call, no matter what else is around. My recall training is pretty systematic, so while that might sound limited at first, it gradually expands to bigger and more interesting areas, and bigger & more interesting distractions. My goal is to make being off-leash no different than being on-leash to my dog, in terms of her behavior. Either way, she checks in with me frequently. Either way, she responds to cues, including walking beside me if I ask. Either way, she is able to exercise self-control (no bolting after cars, wildlife, cats, etc.). Most of those are things we're still working on to some degree, but we do enjoy increasing amounts of off-leash time in some beautiful places.

Off-leash or on, I don't expect my dog to walk right beside me, unless I've asked her to. That being said, there are usually a few things to consider, like the presence other people or other dogs, and local custom. If off-leash dogs are common in your area, then cool. If you're the only person with an off-leash dog and everyone else uses a leash in town, I'd consider that it's probably polite to do the same (because many people don't want to be approached by an off-leash dog, or don't want their dog approached by an off-leash dog, and a leash is a nice way to signal that they will be respected). I don't know your local customs, so that part is up to you to determine.

Most of our off-leash time happens on trails, so I teach some specific behaviors related to that. For instance, my dog waits for me at trail junctures, to see which way I'm going to choose (versus running off on her own chosen path!). It might be useful to think about teaching your dog any similar things you'd like him to learn, like waiting for you before crossing streets or going around corners, if those are things you'd appreciate. I'd also work to improve your recall, and counter-condition the scary noises/things that are currently making your dog spook.
 

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"Town" is probably misleading considering where we live. Tiny doesn't even begin to describe it. Given the size, we're not considered a town because it's too small. You didn't ask, but, yes, my dog is always wearing something to help me see him. My question is how other people handle it, not whether or not they do it. Please only reply if you have thoughts on how you handle it. I don't need to know that some people won't do it. I always regard my dog's safety as my top priority, but unless you live in a very rural area then perhaps you can't understand how absurd it sounds to say you wouldn't let your dog off-leash "in town".
Well I guess you don't really want opinions then :/

I too live in a very rural area.....
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I guess if I lived in a tiny town with zero cars, no cats, no other dogs, no deer, no rabbits or any other distractions that might cause a dog to take off, I'd walk them off lead. That's of course it I had a dog with a 100% recall regardless of distractions.

I do let my dogs sniff as they walk. The walks are supposed to be enjoyable for them. I call them to me now and then are reinforce that with a treat. I don't tug on the leash to get them back. I trained them to respond to the word here.
 

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Please respect other people's choices

My response was not intended to start an argument. However, it appears that a few of you do not like your opinions or advice to be ignored. I understand that people love dogs passionately and are very passionate about training dogs also. As a therapist, I believe that we need to show a little more respect to dog owners that don't share our same beliefs. We are all entitled to live our lives authentically. I'm not asking anyone to agree with me. If you don't agree with walking a dog off-leash, then so be it. But, at the same time, you must understand that telling me you disagree isn't really helpful. I'm sure some things you do in your life are things I wouldn't agree with either.
All I'm trying to do is ask a question and get feedback from people that actually let their dog off-leash. I don't think it's being rude to ask that people don't reply if all they want to say is "don't do it". I understand what the risks are and know to consider all of this. To me, this seems obvious. I want to hear other people's experiences with off-leash walking and then I can take from it what can apply to my specific situation. Clearly, we all love dogs and want the best for our dogs; otherwise, we wouldn't be here. But please, let's respond positively and with support.:)
 

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At the same time you can't ask how people they handle something and then tell people how they can answer.

If you read my post, I did not say I don't walk my dog off leash. He's actually almost never on a leash. But I do not think its a good idea to walk them off leash in town. I think it would be much safer to stay on a long line if you want them to have freedom.

You should also check the leash laws for your area.
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Yes, I can certainly say that I don't want people telling me whether or not they think it's a good idea. This is completely normal. Can you imagine every time you had a concern and the person you spoke to about it always just tells you if you're right or wrong? That would be awful. And if you're actually listening, I'm asking how people "handle/train/manage their dog when he/she is off-leash"? So, if you answer that you wouldn't do it, then you're not actually answering that question- if you want to get technical.
gsdhunter- your post stated that you let your dog off-leash on your property. You said you go on trails that allow on or off-leash, but you actually didn't specify or explain anything about your experiences when walking your dog off-leash. Again, you telling me that you believe it's safer to not have him off-leash doesn't answer my question.
There's really no reason to be this hostile. You have no idea what the area is like where I am walking. It's very easy to be a bully online and act like people are awful dog owners, but what is the point? Why do you feel the need to so passionately make someone feel like they're doing something wrong? Are you not heard enough in your "real" life? Let's be real and not act like someone who walks their dog everyday and meets his every need and loves him and takes care of him is so awful because she lets her dog off-leash for a few minutes once a week. So many problems in life could so easily be avoided if people were just a little more respectful, open-minded, and not so eager to tell people they're wrong.
 

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I don't think you're a bad dog owner, but I'm a little confused by what you want.

My dogs are allowed off leash in my pasture. They have reasonable recall, but aren't allowed off leash in the part of our pasture that is near a road, nor are they in the winter/late fall/early spring because I don't want them walking on and falling through ice (which has happened).

I will also SOMETIMES allow "off leash" at the lake when we play recall games, but we drag the leash instead of taking it completely off.

I think overall it's safer to let dogs have more freedom in areas where you're not going to run into traffic and where encounters with domestic dogs are less common.

Obviously solid recall is important.

My experience is that, frankly, things happen. I've had dogs with rock-solid recall bolt after a rabbit. I've had off leash dogs run up and try to attack my friendly dogs, who were thankfully leashed so I could try to block the other dog as well as for liability reasons. And, when I'm on ANY kind of road I like to have my dogs near me because dogs can get hit by cars and people aren't always paying attention.

But, the level of risk I am comfortable with is probably different from yours. At the end of the day, you can and will do as you like. These are just a few of the reasons I tend to err on the side of caution.
 

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My dog Katie used to walk with me without a leash. I live on a dead end dirt road and there is not very many people nearby. She would walk by my side and sometimes get ahead of me but she always came back when I called her. She loved the outdoors and to go walking. Sadly she passed away in August. I still miss her very much. My walks will never be the same now that she is gone.
 

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I went back to your original post and I am not sure what you are asking. I walk my dogs off leash in the fields and trails but even though I live near a small town, we are not allowed to have dogs off leash there.

When they are off leash, they are allowed to run around, sniff and have fun. I will call them back every little while and give them treats and they have learned how close I want them to stay to me.

It sound like what you are doing is fine and working for you.
 

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In my first post, I was initially asking how people, in their experience, "manage" their dogs when off-leash- somewhere besides their own property. I've received thoughts from friends, but wanted to hear more feedback from other people. For instance, what commands do you use when your dog is off-leash, if any? Meaning, how do you control your dog so that he does not get too far from you and stays within a certain "distance" from you? A command, a noise, etc.? Are there any training exercises you've used that help and/or prepare you for your dog being off-leash? Do you teach certain safety commands, like "stop" or maybe even "down"? If you're walking with your dog off-leash, what do you do if he/she gets too far ahead of you or too far off your "path"? Again, is there something you use to keep him within a certain distance of you?
This is all I've wanted to know- how people manage dogs when off-leash. It's always helpful to keep hearing other people's feedback and I simply wanted this feedback from some other people besides the usual friends I ask without hearing all of the precautions. I know the risks and benefits. I just want to hear the experiences and any sort of training used to make it a safer and more enjoyable experience.
"Well I guess you don't really want opinions then :/ " doesn't sound very nice. And I know I'm not a bad dog owner. Thanks for asking for clarification though!
 

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Discussion Starter #17
pfreeman885

It sounds like you and your dog walked in a rural area too. Are there specific commands you used on your off-leash walks to help your dog understand that he can only go so far from you? Or did you have him walk close to you? Thanks!
 

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I think it depends on the area. I've only ever found a place I was comfortable walking Koda off leash once-a few acres of a friend's property. There were coyote packs and the like around, but we were walking around noon, with 2 dogs and 2 humans, both dogs having a reliable recall and I was requesting Koda stay lose-within 1-200m depending on if we were in a field or forest. There was risk, it was mitigated to a point where I didn't feel entirely anxious. She could have been on leash and things would have gone equally fine.

The main concern for me about walking off leash are reactive dogs (my own, or others...you NEED to recall away from the vast majority of terrifying distractions), people with irrational fears (I'd rather give them space than not know and have them freak out!), and cars. Cars encompasses distractions that would make your dog run into a car (squirrels, other dogs, etc). These are all crazy difficult to proof against 100%. I have a dog that mostly recalls away from rabbits, squirrels, etc...but she found 3 in the yard once and still ended up catching one, ignoring the cue to stop chasing her newest toy in derpy circles around the yard.

In modern society, avoiding cars isn't a simple task. Especially since you want your dog to feel comfortable being transported in one. Within the first month of getting Koda I witness a dog trying to run and greet her-it broke its collar and ended up being hit by a car. The driver didn't stand a chance to slow down in time. This accident wasn't off leash-but the accident still happened. it could have happened to ANY dog, including the ones that are better trained. This is why I don't walk off leash primarily.

The issue of scared dogs/people is more of a polite reasoning-my dog is reactive, so I hope for the same courtesy from others (we don't always get it). She was attacked once, and a combination of life events lead to her fear of dogs in her face. When most ill behaved dogs run up, they are directly prompting a fight with a strange dog-and most are too clueless to realize this (esp puppies!). Keeping her on leash prevents her from feeling she needs to force the encounter (she does want to play) and then scaring herself and the other dog. Likewise, if someone is scared of dogs, I'm sure they'd much rather some distance and freedom to move away. Keeping your dog on leash is a commitment to leave when they feel threatened, as well, and to guide them into better choices.

There are times when you CAN walk off leash, or when you HAVE to (thinking of the homeless with dogs-and even many of them use leashes or have lost dogs to cars). But there's nothing damaging about walking on leash (few exceptions being an entire lack of training, dog choking on collar, etc) and it creates a physical link to let you know when your dog is starting to become distracted long before they chase the squirrel. The connection is useful.
 

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If:
1) You are following leash laws for your area
2) You are 100% sure that if your dog saw a squirrel/dog/person accross the street that she would listen to you instead of running across the street at the exact time that a car came. If there are very few cars/squirrels/dogs in your area this becomes less of an issue, but all it takes is one car. Aside from the risk of harm to the dog, you do not want your dog rushing other people or dogs. Your dog has to come when you call 100% of the time.
3) Your dog doesn't eat stuff from the ground, all it takes is some antifreeze, chicken bones.....

Then when you are walking off leash, if your dog goes too far, call her back, that is how you set distance rules!

I personally don't walk my dog off leash except when hiking because while I know she will come 100% of the time when I call her, if she is chasing a squirrel she will run to the tree, bark a couple of times and then come back, and if a car is between the dog and the tree. Also my town doesn't allow off leash dogs.

But if you are not breaking any laws and you feel your dog and other dog/people are safe with her off leash. Go for it!
 

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My dog is only 10 months old, an his recall rate sucks. Really, really sucks, and it's something I'm working on. That said, there have been times where we were just somewhere amazing and I just sort of want the experience of letting him run free, since he's a city dog in Chicago and always has to be on leash.

The only place he's allowed off leash is in big state parks/ hiking trails where there isn't a car within miles. Oddly, even though his recall sucks, when he's in a new place he suddenly becomes a little obsessed with staying nearby. Perhaps he's afraid I will leave him. At times like this, I just walk on as normal and he continually walks in circles around me, never straying far.

If the occasion comes that he's a little to far away from me, I start circling him a little, and wait for him to look up and meet my eyes. And the second we make eye contact, I swiftly turn around and start running fast. He has a strong chasing instinct so this works 100% of the time - he sprints towards me and starts targeting my hand. If ignore him, he starts circling/herding around me until I can't move.

I don't know if this is a good thing, but it is really, really fun :) There's nothing more glorious than seeing him run top speed toward me.

That said, I can't even let him loose in my own gated yard because he's a escape artist and will sprint and jump over the fence. Unfortunately, there's a neighbor two homes down who always leaves his back door propped open, and also happens to pretty much always have a Columbian rotisserie chicken on his kitchen counter. My dog learned this somehow, and will do anything in his power to get out of my reach and sneak out and grab that chicken. He's done it before. So I have to leash him just to take him outside to pee.

Generally, I won't let him off leash when we are somewhere familiar, because he's more comfortable about wandering and exploring.

I've taken him through puppy school and one obedience class. His recall rate used to be 85% everywhere, inside and out. Now it's 100% in the home, and 10% outside of the home (with the exception of that chasing game I described above). I'm taking another class next month that focuses on getting your dog to behave and recall with distractions, and hopefully that will help. Until then, his off leash situations are very, very rare. Hopefully we'll be able to one day do lots of things off leash, and his recall rate will be strong enough so that I can give him some more freedom to be a dog.
 
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