When can you take your dog off leash?
Our guide to help you know when its time.
Taking your dog off leash (or lead) at a park is a huge moment for both you and your dog, and being prepared so both of you have a pleasant experience is vital.
I'm sure you are familiar with that moment when someone has an off leash dog that they cannot control, that does not listen, or is not socialized that transforms the dog park from a calm, relaxing place, into a WWE fighter ring in a matter of seconds with the ensuing chaos. Letting your unsocialized dog into a group of other dogs is like putting a sprinkler system in the middle of an art gallery and lighting the place on fire and watch art collectors run around to save the items. It's absolute chaos.
Whether you have a puppy or an old dog, we suggest only letting your dog off leash if the following criteria are met:
1. Your dog has training, namely at least obedience and behavioural training.
Obedience training: Training whereby the dog learns to listen to you, commands you give and act on them such as sit, stay, lie down. If your dog does not listen to your commands then you cannot control them (for their safety).
Behavioural training: Training your dog to behave around people and other animals This normally addresses any behavioural issues such as barking, chewing, chasing, jumping, biting or aggression.
2. No hidden personality quirks that could provoke other dogs.
Throughout your training, you would know if your dog can have issues of being quickly overly stimulated from excitement, quick to temper (ex. territorial), or can be triggered easily.
3. Your dog has socialization experience with other humans and dogs.
BAM!!!! The biggest problem we see is owners who can control their dogs with basic commands, take their dog off leash, and then the dogs do not know how to socialize with other dogs and cause absolute chaos.
Socialization. Fancy word, but simply put, did your dog have the opportunity to interact with other dogs at their young age, to learn social skills, how to communicate with other dogs, learn their own strength or abilities, how they differ to other dogs, and realise that they are in fact a dog (similar to other dogs). Simply put did your dog go to kindergarten to play nice with other kids. However, socialization does not stop at kindergarten, it continues throughout life. Imagine if you had a child stopped developing their social skills at kindergarten, skipping all developments of primary, high school or university. Would a child be able to socialize with adults? probably not. For this reason, you cannot view your dog as entirely socialized if their training or interactions with other dogs stopped at a young age and your dog lived isolated in a back garden or with specific dogs only.
With socialization, you need to take into consideration the duration thereof throughout the dog's life and the variety thereof such as the types and amounts of dogs and humans they interact with.
Can you consider your dog socialized if the last time they saw another dog was when they were 3 or once every 3 months at a park for a span of 30 mins where there are perhaps 2 other dogs?
Thus, for amazing socialization, we suggest you think of your dog as a child. They have to learn how to communicate with others, and develop those abilities over time. We also suggest you expose your dog to different dog breeds, and sizes, with different personalities for more experience.
4. Walk the walk, but respectfully.
When you walk with your dog do you walk respectfully and do you give other owners and dogs enough space? Not every dog is equally socialized or trained and getting too close can cause dog (and owner) anxiety.
A lot of dogs, just like us, need their space to feel comfortable. Someone walking directly towards you with their dog could make your (or the other dog) very uncomfortable and let their instinct take priority to protect themselves or their owner by running away, or attacking the oncoming dog. Be nice, and give EVERYONE some space.
5. Use your lead for dangerous areas.
No matter how trained your dog is, unless you are a dog trainer, your dog can and would possibly be overcome by his instinct at some stage if triggered too much. In areas of danger, we suggest you use your lead. An example would be if you parked your car next to a highway, or busy road to keep your dog onlead, until you are safely inside a dog park. The dog could see a squirrel and decide to run across the road. We've unfortunately seen this happen countless times. At the end of dog parks, there are usually a lot of other dogs, and dogs can easily get overcome by excitement, become overly stimulated, not listening to commands, or running free. This is imperative if your dog is still learning and not yet that well socialized, to avoid overstimulation.
If your dog and you do not fulfil the above requirements, we don't suggest taking your dog offlead as you could put another dog at risk in terms of danger or a very bad socialization experience.
If you cannot take your dog offlead safely, don't be stupid. Use a leash.