Do you dream of being able to walk your dog without a leash, to see him running around without restraint and still be able to keep total control over him? After reading this article, you will know how to teach your dog to walk without a leash, but above all, what dangers this practice can present and what the law says about it.
Off-leash dog: what does the law say?
No one is supposed to ignore the law. So if you want to walk with your dog without a leash, you should already be interested in what the law says so that you are not, in fact, outside the law.
First of all, let’s remind you that if you are the owner of a categorized dog (category 1 or 2), it is compulsory to keep your dog on a leash on the public road (and to muzzle it as well). And for the dogs of the 1st category, some places are even totally forbidden to them, even on a leash.
Then, for non-categorized dogs, the law depends on where you are. Each city hall decides whether or not to prohibit walking dogs without a leash. Therefore, it is up to you to contact your local town hall to find out what provisions they have made. In addition, in many cities, huge cities with parks, there are signs to inform you of the regulations in effect. Some parks allow dogs to roam freely, some only on a leash, while others prohibit them altogether.
A dog without a leash can be considered to be in a state of divagation (which is strictly forbidden by law) when it is out of range of its owner’s voice or of any sound instrument allowing it to be called back, or when it is far from its owner or the person in charge of it by more than 100 meters. Of course, this does not concern dogs in a hunting action or during the protection of herds.
In addition, in certain places such as beaches or forests, access to dogs without a leash is only allowed during specific periods. Here again, ask your local town hall for information. Many websites list places where dogs are allowed or not allowed to roam freely or where dogs are allowed at all.
Dogs off-leash: the dangers
Even if your dog obeys the recall very well, walking him off-leash, whether in the city or the country, can be dangerous in many situations if your dog :
crosses paths with another dog on a leash: this can quickly turn into a fight because a dog on a leash will not behave in the same way as if it were free at first encounter,
crosses paths with another dog in the wild but who are not necessarily friendly or with whom the “feeling does not pass”,
sees a wild or domestic animal in the distance and decides to pursue it. Unfortunately, it can happen that, in its pursuit, your dog ignores the environment and gets run over or loses track after having followed a trail for a long time,
meet people who do not want to be approached by a dog,
meets another dog when its owners do not particularly like this contact to take place,
has spotted a female dog in heat that he decides to join,
tends to eat anything and everything on walks and ingests inedible and toxic food.
There are, of course, many other situations that can be potentially dangerous, but beyond the safety aspect, walking a dog without a leash should not invade other people’s space. It is essential not to make your own choices and decisions on others without their consent. Therefore, walking a dog off-leash requires some precautions.
Precautions to take when walking your dog off-leash
Learning to recall must be mastered
To prevent the few situations mentioned above, learning to recall must be acquired and mastered to perfection. However, even with extensive training, it can be challenging for a dog to resist the call of a female in heat or of a game animal passing by, even if his recall is almost perfect the rest of the time.
Off-leash walking should not be synonymous with “roaming”.
It is essential to make the difference between walking your dog off-leash and allowing your dog to roam freely in a chosen area!
A check and a knowledge of the environment are necessary
As the owner, you must always check the background and guarantee a specific safety, whether that of your dog or that of the individuals who will cross your dog’s path.
The dog walked without a leash must not initiate contact
This point is critical because many people do not necessarily want to be approached by a dog or do not particularly want a dog to come and sniff theirs. It is a question of good manners, and it is essential to respect each other’s space and not impose your dog on others.
A dog walked without a leash should not be “naked”.
It is indeed recommended to have your dog wear a collar or a harness with your coordinates if you ever lose your pet, but also to catch him easily if, for example, he starts a fight with other dogs or if he persists in unwelcome contact, whether with another dog or a human.
The use of a GPS for more security
It is widespread these days; there are GPS devices to hang around the neck of dogs that are particularly quick to take off. Nevertheless, it is, in my opinion, common sense not to walk your dog without a leash if he tends to run away regularly or if his recall is not totally under control.
To finish on this point, when you decide to walk your dog without a leash in any place, learning to walk without a leash is just as important as learning to recall.
Teaching your dog to walk without a leash
First of all, let’s be clear about the terms: teaching your dog to walk off-leash means teaching your dog to walk on a leash. This is entirely different from learning natural tracking or recall. In any case, these skills must be acquired for safer walks, but we are talking about learning to walk without a leash.
Thus, as you may have guessed, learning to walk without a leash is not possible if learning to walk “classically” (i.e. with a leash) is not mastered. I, therefore, invite you to consult our article on learning to walk on foot if your dog has not completely mastered it.
It is also important to remember that, for some dogs, learning to walk without a leash will not be possible; I am thinking in particular of dogs with a very highly developed hunting and chasing instinct, who clearly will not be able to resist an excellent scent to follow for example. So, of course, it is customary to say that each dog is “adaptable” and that each behaviour can be improved, worked on or otherwise, but in my opinion, it is essential to respect the true nature of the dog you have in front of you and not to ask more of him than he can offer you.
Moreover, the dog that you want to teach to walk on foot without a leash must be a perfectly balanced and socialized dog, who will not be “afraid of anything” and who will prefer to stay with his master rather than to run away if he is surprised or worried by an external element.
The stages of learning
As you can see, learning to walk without a leash can be a very long process. Here are some critical steps to follow to initiate this learning process:
Step 1: Walking on a leash must be perfect. Your dog must follow your every move and change of direction as if a band-aid connected him to your leg, without any tension in the leash.
Step 2: Since the sound of the clip connecting the leash to your dog’s collar or harness is often a trigger for dogs, pretend to untie your dog and make the sound of the clip without undoing your dog: see if he reacts yet.
Step 3: If your dog reacts and starts to leave as if he was untied, it means that the training must be reinforced. So don’t hesitate to repeat step 2 as many times as necessary. And if, on the other hand, your dog has not reacted and stays at your feet, then you can move on to the next step (while still reinforcing step 2 regularly).
Step 4: If your dog has not reacted, you can then pretend to untie him, creating the sound of the clip but still leaving the leash that you can either leave lying around (with the risk that it bothers him) or put it on his neck for example (the best thing here is to have a short leash of one meter). Keep walking like this and see if your dog still follows your movements.
Step 5: If your dog completes all of the steps in learning to walk without a leash, you can then make the exercises a little more complicated by offering them in increasingly stimulating environments while respecting the previous steps in each new environment. In other words, with each new environment, it is essential to start from the beginning to reinforce what you have learned and begin on a reasonable basis.
Don’t hesitate to use an incentive for your dog. Remember to reward good behaviour by encouraging your dog to continue his excellent attitude and show him that you expect this behaviour. On the other hand, if he doesn’t obey or loses his concentration, don’t scold him, take the leash back, repeat the first steps, and take a short break.
Don’t go too fast, and don’t expect your dog to walk off-leash overnight.
Use a very light leash so that your dog will hardly notice the difference between traditional leash walking and off-leash walking.
It will be exciting and valuable for some dogs always to leave a piece of the leash attached to the collar or harness (a small amount so that it doesn’t bother him, of course). On the one hand, it is for security reasons and because some dogs feel reassured this way. Moreover, this allows you to differentiate between off-leash walking (with the leash attached) and total relaxation in freedom (without the leash).
Offer short but regular work sessions.
Always start the various training sessions in places that are not very stimulating, that your dog knows and is comfortable in.
Always end an exercise with success and take the initiative at the end of the session by indicating your dog “it’s over” or “go play”.