How can I train my dog to walk beside me without a leash?

Nothing makes dog owners happier than seeing their pups run and play freely. At the same time, most public places will require dogs to be walked with a leash for safety purposes.

Fortunately, there is a way to train dogs to walk without a leash that everyone can master!

From a dog walker in the countryside to a dog walker in Hampstead, anyone can learn this dog training and build an even deeper bond with their dog. Below are the steps to ensuring your dog can enjoy a fun and safe walk without a leash:

1) Make Sure Your Dog Has Mastered Leash Training

Ironically, the best way to start training off-leash training is to ensure your dog has mastered on-leash training. After all, if your dog is disobedient while on a leash, imagine what they will be like without one! A dog that constantly yanks, lunges towards people or objects or refuses to move while wearing a leash will need more initial training.

To get your dog walking well on a leash, make sure that you have a ‘cue’ with your dog. Whether it’s a click of the tongue or a specific word, this cue tells your dog to come back to you immediately. With a treat at the ready, make the cue and reward your dog when they come to you. After your dog has understood this, try using the word and then moving, ensuring your dog will follow your movement. Most dogs will be able to get this practice quite easily at home, though outside with many distractions, it will take some additional training.

Once outside, it’s only natural that your dog will likely become more distracted, whether from other dogs, people or cars. For a dog that continues to yank or lunge, a good tip is to act like a ‘tree,’ meaning to stop and stand completely still. Using your cue word, your dog will come back to you. Once the dog does, reward them with high praise or a treat. They will then be more inclined to stay close to you than to try and get away.

2) Incorporate Off-Leash Training in Daily Life

Once your dog has mastered walking with the leash, it’s time to incorporate the initial training steps towards off-leash walking. The best way to start this process is to include behaviors that your dog should do when they are officially off of their leash. This includes following the ‘heel, sit, stay, look and let-go’ commands. Once in nature, dogs will go off exploring and are bound to come across things they should avoid.

The best way to get this training started is to begin training at a dog park. These safe and enclosed places allow dogs to run free while also setting boundaries. Like with leash training, off-leash training should additionally be rewarded with praise or treats. While ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ are obvious tricks for any dog to learn, ‘heel,’ ‘look,’ and ‘let-go’ will be imperative commands to know before getting off the leash. ‘Heel’ assures that a dog will stop when they are told to, which is essential in situations where cars or other people may serve as a distraction. ‘Look’ will teach your dog to value your command over any other kind of distraction. Lastly, ‘let-go’ will come in handy when the dog grabs something they shouldn’t!

3) Start Off Easy

Once your dog is trained to obey both on-leash and off-leash behavior in controlled environments like dog parks, it’s time to practice off-leash walking in non-controlled environments. Firstly, it’s important to remember where NOT to go. Any high-traffic areas should be avoided. Ideally, the first place to try would be a small but open area, near a body of water or a group of houses, for instance. Bring your dog’s favorite treats or other kinds of rewards (like a favorite toy) and reward them EVERY single time they obey a command. High praise will also be beneficial, including using positive vocabulary or using positive body language, like clapping. Additionally, just because a dog has been listening to the first few commands, it does not mean that they are ready to be fully on their own. Always keep an eye on your dog and be prepared to call them if needed.

4) What To Do if Things Go Wrong

Even the best-trained dog can occasionally disobey, especially if distracted by something new. If your dog does start running off, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, stay calm. If you begin to feel anxious or angry, your dog will be more reluctant to return to you. Moreover, chasing after the dog will further excite them, as they may misinterpret it as a game. The best thing to do is to remain calm, use your cue word, remind your dog that you have treats/rewards and praise your dog for returning to you. If the dog continues to be resistant, you should conversely turn away from your dog, enticing them to come to you to seek attention. As your dog becomes more and more used to this, you can take them to larger areas that allow dogs to wander without a leash. Always make sure that the place you are visiting with your dog does not require a leash!

While training your dog to walk beside you without a leash may initially seem daunting, like all kinds of training, it just takes repetition and reward. Once you’ve trained your dog to do this, your bond with your pup will only deepen!