Letting your dog play off-lead allows them to fully stretch their legs while exploring to their heart’s content. However, it’s not always safe. Ask yourself these questions before you let your dog run loose:
Has my dog been here before?
You should never let your dog off-lead in a new area. It’s best to explore new areas a few times on-lead to see how your dog behaves. In new areas, your dog may be highly distracted because of exciting new scents, sounds and terrains. You can expect your dog to be more reliable in familiar areas.
Is this a safe area?
Is the area close to a busy road? Are there any cliffs, waterfalls or raging waters? Will your dog encounter wild animals like foxes, lynxes, hedgehogs or birds of prey? Are you near any farms? Please note that it is legal for a farmer to shoot your dog if they are a threat to their livestock.
Is it legal for me to let my dog loose?
Obey any posted signs stating that you must keep your dog on-lead. Also note that if your dog is out of your sight, they may poo without your knowledge, but you are still responsible for picking it up.
Just because there are no posted signs, does not mean that it is legal for you to let your dog off-lead. Unless you are in an area in which dog owners typically let their dogs loose, you should assume that off-lead dogs are not permitted.
Also note that if your dog is of a banned breed, even with a Certificate of Exemption, you will need to keep your dog on-lead and muzzled in public at all times, regardless of how friendly and well-trained they may be.
Did I remember to bring those tasty treats?
Any time you let your dog off-lead, it’s best to keep high value treats on your person to greatly boost your ability to get your dog to recall quickly, especially in distracting environments. Semi-moist liver treats are irresistible to most dogs, and you can store them in a treat bag to keep them on-hand without stinking up your jacket pockets. Recall your dog frequently and reward them with treats to keep them within a couple metres, don’t wait until your dog is out of your sight to call them back to you.
Will my dog come back when I call them?
You will need to practice recall many, many times in a safe, fenced-in area before you can safely let them off-lead in an open space. Do not let your dog off-lead if you have to call them many times before they come back to you. Ideally, you will be able to call or whistle just once, and your dog will come running back to you, without the need for you to shake a bag of treats. Some dogs will never be reliable off-lead.
While your dog is still in-training, you can give them a bit more freedom with a very long lead or a few leads tied together. This is a safe way for you to practice recall at a distance without risking losing your dog.
Can I recall my dog off a squirrel?
Even if your dog usually comes back to you, they may not be able to resist chasing a squirrel. Even if you think your dog will never catch one, you should not allow your dog to harass wild animals. If your dog does manage to catch an animal, they may get scratched or bitten, or contract rabies, fleas or ticks.
Can I recall my dog off other dogs who might not be friendly?
Just because there are other dogs on or off-lead in the area, does not mean it is always okay for your dog to charge up to them. Not all dogs are friendly, and some owners may want you to keep your dog at a distance if they are working on training their own dog. You should always get the owner’s permission before allowing your dog to greet another, and be respectful if they say no, no matter how friendly you think your dog is.
Does my dog eat random rubbish?
If your dog eats sticks, feces, animal carcasses or rubbish, you will have a hard time getting them to stop if they are off-lead. Only let your dog loose if they have a strong “leave-it” cue or simply lack an interest in random junk. While you can use a basket-style muzzle to make it harder for your dog to pick up rubbish, a muzzle is designed to be used under supervision.
When your dog can’t be off-lead
You can still have fun with your dog even when they cannot be off-lead. A long leash attached to your belt allows you to play with your dog hands-free while you throw a frisbee or jog around in an open area. You can also find unoccupied, fenced-in sports fields and dog parks during off-peak hours to safely let your dog loose. Sometimes, you just have to get creative to help your dog get the exercise they need.