Off-leash obedience; How to keep your dog close.

Off-leash obedience; How to keep your dog close.

by Mark Siebel – Owner – DOGGIE STEPS Dog Training

Oh…the dream of taking your dog to the park, taking him OFF the leash, and playing fetch without him running away! For some dogs this can be a reality. Unfortunately, for others, the instinctual desires to smell and track will make it difficult to trust their “off-leash” freedom. I tell customers that off-leash obedience is NOT for every dog, so be sure that your dog has mastered the “come” command before attempting any off-lead work.

Off-leash obedience takes time, repetition, and your dog’s awareness that YOU are the pack leader. Through daily exercises and by using a stern-voiced recall, followed by a treat and strong praise/affection, your dog may have what it takes to play fetch unleashed. To see if your off-leash dream can become a reality, follow the simple tips below:

1. Off-leash at your local baseball diamond. A great way to get your dog prepared for off-leash obedience is to work with him at an enclosed baseball diamond. Find a local ball diamond and arrive early or late in the day to ensure you will be the only ones there. Go prepared with a leash and poop bag to pick up after your dog. Enter the ball diamond and be sure ALL gates are closed behind you. Release your dog from the leash and begin to walk the perimeter of the park. After only a few times of this routine, your dog will begin to follow/come to you! You can also practice running backwards combined with the “come” command in the ballpark. For a local ball diamond near you check out:

2. 50-foot lead. Next, your dog must link the off-leash connection at the ball park to the eventual freedom in an open park/field setting. To achieve this, purchase a 50 foot training lead from: With the 50 foot lead, go to your local park or greenbelt and tie one end of the lead to your dog and the other to your waist. The purpose of this long lead is to teach your dog that he has a 50 foot radius in which to roam. If he goes straight right, you go straight left. Just as the lead is about to get taut, you will command “come!” and continue walking in the opposite direction as your dog. In time, a boundary will be set, and your dog will not exceed the 50 foot radius. Practice this exercise often until your dog no longer exceeds the entire length of the 50 foot lead.

3. Playtime with dogs already off-leash trained. With your dog now familiar with a 50 foot boundary, its time to acclimate him to a play environment with dogs already trained to be off- leash. I often help customers with this by bringing my two Australian Shepherds. Having dogs that STAY close to the handler off lead will keep a new dog close to the pack 90% of the time. If you see any oncoming passersby with or without dogs, leash up your dog to ensure they don’t run. If your dog begins to stray from the pack on this exercise, you may want to have a 4 foot lead attached just to stop your dog. If your dog roams and doesn’t stay with the pack, repeat tips 1 & 2 for a few more weeks.

4. Finally, off leash with lead still attached. You’re almost there! Now that your dog knows its boundaries and has run with an off-lead trained pack, you now can do the final test. Pick an early morning and go to your local park/field. Take some tasty treats and a ball with which to play fetch. Be sure no other passersby are near and drop your lead. Have your dog explore with the lead ON to be sure you can stop him if he strays. After you’re sure the boundary is being obeyed, you can then remove the leash and your dream has come true!

Off leash obedience can be achieved with time and patience. As stated earlier, this is NOT for every dog. After you have tried tips 1 & 2 you will have good idea if your dog will have the capacity to achieve off-leash obedience. Please also be aware of your local OFF LEASH LAWS. I’d recommend off-lead work ONLY for exercises like fetch or general retrieval. Otherwise, for safety and dog etiquette, have your dog remain leashed.

Canine Behavior and Misbehavior

 If Rover’s chewing through your shoe collection or regularly raiding the trash, it may seem like a personal put-down. But unless he learns the proper etiquette, your ill-mannered mutt is just doing what comes naturally.

The habits that may in the human world qualify as misbehavior on the part of your canine companion are usually entirely normal dog behaviors that have run afoul of human rules. Rather than punish your dog for doing something he didn’t understand was wrong, you need to restrict his access to the garbage area when you are not home and alleviate the hunger, boredom or separation anxiety that may have led to garbage picking in the first place. Think like a dog; start by understanding what motivates him to do the things he does.

Below you’ll find an overview of some of the most common canine misbehaviors. In correcting these misbehaviors, spend time on basic obedience training. Training involves both you and your dog. The better trained a pet owner you are, the better trained your dog will be. If you continue to have problems with certain behaviors, consult a professional behaviorist.

Digging is a natural tendency for dogs, and they may do it for several reasons: to reach or get to a prey, to protest against being left outside too long, to relieve boredom, or to make a cooling/heating pit. You can discourage your dog from digging in areas where he should not. Here’s how:

  • Fill the holes with debris such as dead leaves, sticks or rocks and cover it with dirt. Dogs usually get discouraged with the debris, and give up.
  • Put “surprises” in the hole like a water balloon that will pop when the dog digs or cans filled with pennies that will make a lot of noise.
  • Designate a place where the dog has permission to dig. This may be a sandbox or an out-of-the-way section of yard. Teach your dog to dig there by burying a toy or treat, then encourage and praise your dog for digging only in that area.

Scratching Doors
Dogs are highly social animals and want to be where the action is. They may scratch doors in their effort to convince their owners to let them in or out. First, figure out why he’s scratching and see if you can resolve his problem. If he has to go out to relieve himself, take him for a walk. If he is lonely outside and wants your attention, take a short play break with him. Check to see if his food and water dishes are full. If he continues scratching, tell him “No!” firmly, when you catch him in the act.

A good substitute for scratching that will alert you to your dog’s need (and that won’t ruin the door) is to hang a small bell by the doorknob or near the door. Let him use his nose or paw to ring the bell every time you take him in or out, and soon he will learn that this is the way to get your attention.

Jumping on Furniture and People
The best way to keep a dog from jumping on furniture and people is to train him to sit on command. Give the command when you anticipate the dog is about to jump up, then reward him with praise or food when he complies.

Bolting out of Doors
For their own safety, dogs must never be allowed to dash out as soon as you open the door. Again, good training is your answer to a bad habit. Basic obedience commands such as “sit” and “stay” will stop your dog from finding himself in a potentially dangerous situation.

Barking and Howling
When your dog barks or howls, find out why before you tell him to stop. If he’s alerting you to a stranger in the yard or at the door, praise him and then tell him “Quiet.” If he barks constantly at sights and sounds outside your home, put him in a quieter less stimulating part of the house. If he howls all day when you’re gone – something you may discover from your neighbors – he may be suffering from separation anxiety and in need of professional intervention.

One basic obedience command that can discourage incessant barking and howling is the “speak” command. When your dog barks, give the command “Speak!” and praise him so he knows he’s pleased you. Then train him further by saying “Speak!” and waiting for him to comply. When he does, give him a treat and plenty of praise. In no time, he will learn to understand that the combination of “No! Speak!” means he shouldn’t make a sound.

Chewing Shoes and Other Objects
Expect your dog to chew. It’s a normal, healthy activity that can be a dog’s favorite pastime. The problem arises when your dog is chewing on all the wrong things. To keep your dog from chewing on shoes, socks, and other objects, don’t ever use the items as toys. For example, if you give your dog an old sock or shoe to play with, he may think that all socks and shoes are his to chew on. When at all possible, keep the objects out of reach of your dog. Provide him with a “puppy proof” area, full of chew toys such as Kongs and Nyla-bones.

Since puppies chew because they’re teething, always have a supply of chew toys on hand. Whenever you see your dog about to chew on something else, say “No!” gently take it from him, and replace it with one of his chew toys.

Some spray products on the market may help deter unwanted chewing. Products like Bitter Apple or hot sauce will make the chewable items taste bad.

If after these interventions, your dog is still chewing you out of house and home, particularly when he’s left alone, he may be suffering from separation anxiety and may need professional help.

Begging for Food
Dogs are scavengers. Most dogs can’t resist the smell of food wafting toward their nose. Once you offer them a bite from your plate, they will take it as an invitation to join you at every meal. You can teach your dog that this is unacceptable behavior by giving him the “sit” or “lie down” commands when you sit down to eat. It’s also highly effective to “stare down” your dog in order to get the message across. Make direct eye contact with him until he looks away. Wolf and dog alpha leaders use the stare down to elicit submissive behavior from their underlings.

At the end of the meal, give your dog a verbal signal that it’s okay to get up. A simple, “Okay!” and lots of praise should do the trick. If none of these techniques work, crate him or have him stay somewhere out of sight of the dining room table until you’ve finished eating. Also, try feeding your dog before you eat.

Stealing Food
The key to stopping your dog from stealing food from the counter top or table is to startle him (without harming him, of course). You can easily make a homemade device to accomplish this by putting several pebbles in an empty pop can and attaching it with string to a piece of food. When your dog steals the piece of food, the can will come crashing down and scare him out of his bad habit.

Pulling on the Leash
Dogs will tend to pull on their leash if they are excited about being out for a walk. Dogs naturally resist the pull of a leash by forging forward. The only way a dog will understand that pulling is not okay is to teach him on-leash manners. You can use basic obedience techniques to teach him to “heel” and walk comfortably on his leash, rather than drag you to where he wants to go.

Refusing Commands
A dog that refuses commands that he has already been trained to obey is challenging his owner’s authority as alpha leader. This is especially common in adolescent dogs. It’s important to always correct a challenge by insisting on the spot that the dog obey your command. Never allow your dog to get away with ignoring a command. Otherwise, it will become difficult to make him follow your commands in the future.

If your dog continues to challenge you, re-establish dominance by making focused eye contact, speaking in a stern but controlled voice and giving him a time out in his crate. Never assert your authority with physical punishment.

Eating Waste
Many dogs eat their own feces, but no one is really sure why. One theory is that dogs are imitating their mother’s behavior of cleaning up after them when they soil their whelping area as puppies. Another theory is that the dog has a trypsin (digestive enzyme) deficiency. The dog is not getting enough nutrients from his food, so he eats the stool to compensate. A veterinarian can easily test your dog for this syndrome. Eating feces is usually only harmful if the feces contains parasites. Nevertheless, it’s an unattractive habit and there are several ways to curb it:

  • Clean up your dog’s feces as soon as possible.
  • Add Accent (monosodium glutamate) or kelp tablets to your dog’s food, which will give the feces a bad taste for the dog.
  • Pour hot sauce or vinegar directly on the feces.

If your dog won’t give up the habit, have a veterinarian examine him to rule out any nutritional deficiencies or other health problems.

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