Introducing Off-Leash Play While Training Your Dog

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Fence training refers to teaching your dog to remain within a contained space and not run or jump out of it, even when excited. There are several wireless/invisible fences available, which can help train your dog to understand and respect perimeters. Typically in a wireless fence, the dog will have a sensor in the collar, which will start to beep as it approaches the perimeter. Once trained, the dog will identify the beep to mean that the perimeter is close and should not be crossed. Once the dog approaches perimeter, the sensor transmits a static (small shock) so the dog knows that this is the boundary.

There are certain steps involved in fence training your dog. The first being introducing the boundary, next step is the addition of static, the third step is to test the dog’s boundary control despite distraction, the fourth step is to take off the leash within the perimeter so the dog can play unsupervised in the yard, the last two steps being taking the dog out for a walk (crossing the boundary) and finally, observation and removing all training flags.

While each stage is critical in its own way, here we will focus on the fourth step of training, i.e. taking off the leash. The trick is to encourage your dog to play unleashed within the contained area, at the same time respect the perimeter.

The goal here is that over a period of time you can let your dog remain in the yard unsupervised for a whole day without worrying about him/her crossing the perimeter.

So far, in fence training, your dog has been on a leash so there has been no time for free play outdoors. With the static in the collar, in the initial days, it is possible that when you take off the leash, your dog might break away or run to the fence. That implies a revisit to steps 2 and 3 of fence training.

How to go about it?

While introducing off leash play time, you will need to do it slowly, starting with small stints of few minutes each day, gradually moving to an hour, two hours, until your dog is comfortable and playing in the yard without supervision.

The sessions will be short in the beginning. If your dog stays within the boundary, you can extend off leash time. At this stage, stay close. After a couple of days, leave the dog and go in for a few minutes, but stay close enough to observe.

What happens if your dog runs to the boundary?

If your dog runs to the boundary in your absence, then you need to retrain your pet in Steps 2 and 3.

While fence training is a step by step process, off leash play does not have specific steps. It is more a process of wait and watch. The idea here is to get your dog to play in the yard unsupervised and unleashed. In the initial days of off leash play, do not attempt to distract your dog to test control. Let your pet get used to being on its own.

Ideally you should start with three, 20-minute sessions the first week. If you dog stays within the perimeter, extend the time to 30 minutes after day 3 (go inside for 5-10 minutes) and from day 4, make it 5 sessions a day. You can increase the duration by 5 to 10 minutes each day from week two.

If your dog has managed to stay within the boundary for around 3 weeks (at least 7 days of unsupervised sessions included), you can consider this stage of training complete and move on to the next step.