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I wanted to open up this post mainly in hopes of hearing others' stories of their first off-leash walk with their pups. At what age did you do it? What was your experience? What did you wish you did differently, or what were you happy you had done in advance?

 

I pose the question because I have virtually no idea how she will respond to this. She's 5 mo. old now and show's a lot of inclination toward me, but then also shows dazzling moments of indifference. One particular thing she shows is amazing speed and often she wants to run right to the end of her leash with the distance in her sights.

 

I am planning to start taking her to the park on a 30' lead and seeing how she reacts. I am working constantly on recall, but of all her tricks she loves to "play dumb" on this one.

 

I am all ears!

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Feist was probably eight weeks old the first time I let her off leash. I've always rewarded eye contact, orienting to me, and sticking close. Long line sounds like a good idea for you. She's now seven months old and pretty reliable off leash, but as I've said previously, we've been working on it since she was teensy.

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I adopted Meg at 2 years old. We worked on recall for a couple months before letting her loose. With me, she ran as fast as she could for quite a ways the first time before she realized we weren't with her and she turned around and came back. We we're in a field and I could see her the whole time so I did not call her back until she stopped running. When my dad let her off leash by himself for the first time, she took off completely, leaving him worried that he lost her, only to find her waiting for him at home.

 

When working on recall off leash (indoors or out), if you know your dog is not likely to listen (and is not in any danger), DON'T CALL HER. On-leash you can give a little tug or reel her in if needed, but off-leash you have no way to make her come. You don't want to teach her that she only has to come if she feels like it. Be sure to reward her every so often for coming to you even if you don't call. Work on recall around distractions while she's on a long line.

 

With Meg we have a straight recall "Come here" that means come now all the way to me. I also say "I can't see you" which is Meg's cue to get to where she is more visible (not behind a tree, over a hill, or in tall grass). Usually she just gets back on the trail and looks back at me for a few seconds. Its not a recall...just keeps her in sight and out of trouble.

 

You just have to learn to trust your dog (or not as the case may be). A long line is a good idea. When you're ready to go without any lead, I'd go to a dog park (an empty one if possible), schoolyard or somewhere that has a wide open space, but is fenced, that way you have a bit of a safety net. She may take off at a full run enjoying her new freedom before she remembers that you're there too. Or she may stick close because without the leash she has to pay more attention to know where you're at.

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Zorro just turned 7 mo. old and he's close to 100% reliable off lead (obviously there is always work to do). I started with the long lead in various parks as soon as he was fully vaccinated (4 mos). I practiced in a very safe area with as little distraction as possible at first so I wasn't anxious about him running off. I did make the mistake of testing him a little too soon and had a few instances where he was off and running without the long lead. Definitely take it slow, safety comes first.

 

I also played a "game" with Zorro where I would let him sniff around with the long lead dragging on the ground. As soon as he was at the end of the line and turned his back on me I would take off running in the other direction. It's really helped in establishing a "bubble" and with him "checking in" because he is a little paranoid that I'm going run off.

 

His semi-new interest in fetch has been the silver bullet though. The squeaky Kong Air Ball is the most interesting thing in the world to him so anytime he is off-lead I keep one in my pocket. As soon as I see something catch his attention I call him back and sometimes throw the ball a short distance in the opposite direction of the new thing. He's to the point now where anytime a new dog comes into the dog park he'll take a few steps and then turn around and look at me. If you can find the thing that gets you the border collie "stare" use that to your advantage for recall.

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Started at 11 months with Ness (got her at 9 months). Used a long lead (25' and 50') and got her to follow me around at a few parks using clicker treats. Did that for about 3-4 weeks then I changed parks and let her totally off lead mostly using hikes. Played only recall games (I'd run away, or do something to get her attention) using stuff she loved at first (Sticks, treats, ball, me). I tried not to call when she looked distracted. I stopped luring/treating when she was 15 months and her emergency recall has been pretty much rock solid since. I taught two recalls, one verbal and one by (lip) whistling. The whistle one works very well - I don't remember when she's blown it off since being trained, the verbal one is meh and probably will be forever, so I just use it when it's no big deal (more of a "heel" I guess). She's about 2 now and I use treats/sticks when I'm really happy with her actions. I tend to ignore stuff I don't really like and she has picked up on that. I think you'll just get a groove going as long as you've got a good connection with your buddy. Good luck and keep it fun and positive.

 

-Rich

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This may not be the best idea, but...

 

We've always just let dogs off-leash in my family. We walk them on-leash in neighborhoods with leash laws, but in the woods and fields, they go off. I think I let Buddy off a couple days after I brought him home. (Mind you, he was an adult. And now that I think of it, I did try a ball field first.) I don't remember any dog ever leaving a certain radius away from me; they've always seemed to keep us in their sight.

 

I guess I've never owned any dog who was prone to bolt. I kind of assumed dogs generally stayed with their masters.

 

Mary

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Dear Doggers,

 

My own pups are never on lead until they're a couple months old and light chained for a couple hours to a fence to get them used to it. Two lessons and they're tied-broke and leash-broke.

 

When I've care of unfamiliar adult Border Collies on the farm, I generally walk them on lead until they join the pack - three days? - before i take them off.

 

Haven't lost one yet.

 

That's Border Collies, mind.

 

 

Donald McCaig

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All my dogs have come to me between 15 weeks and 12 months.

 

A couple could be let off from day 1.

A couple took an awful lot of work before they were safe to be let off.

And couple needed a bit of training first.

 

Our collie was one of the second sort.

 

No help I know.

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Im with Donald if I get the pup young they are off lead right off the bat. Last pup was 4 months old when I got her. As soon as she knew I was her buddy and the other dogs were her pack she was off lead. Maybe 4 days or so. Recall is started immediately with other trained dogs. If out in public I use a leash for safety. But they could probably be off if they had to be. The older dogs dont need a leash out in public but I choose to use one so I dont have to be aware of them 100% of the time but the lead is usually dragging behind them.

Mine get fence tie training early. Keeps um from running the fence line when working other dogs.

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Depends what sort of life you lead and what age you acquire your dog.

 

Just letting them get on with it isn't really an option for the urban dweller.

 

I have a friend who has her own land that she rents out for sheep grazing and her approach is to let a new dog off lead from the start and, to quote her, "It will either come back or it won't."

 

With a pup I would prefer to do as much off lead as practically possible. Actually the same with an older dog but there are sometimes issues to address first.

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All my dogs have come to me between 15 weeks and 12 months.

 

A couple could be let off from day 1.

A couple took an awful lot of work before they were safe to be let off.

And couple needed a bit of training first.

 

Our collie was one of the second sort.

 

No help I know.

This is interesting, so what was it that you saw in the dogs that made you determine whether they were good off leash or needed more time?

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When you're ready to go without any lead, I'd go to a dog park (an empty one if possible), schoolyard or somewhere that has a wide open space, but is fenced, that way you have a bit of a safety net. She may take off at a full run enjoying her new freedom before she remembers that you're there too. Or she may stick close because without the leash she has to pay more attention to know where you're at.

 

^^This!! It is what I did with Camden. I started off leash training with him when he was about 4 months old. I started in a tennis court, actually. I would just walk in an unpredictable pattern and whenever he came back to me *on his own* I'd give him a very yummy treat and lots of praise: "Good boy, good check in!!". Then I moved to larger, fenced in areas (like a baseball field) and did the same thing... and so on. I tried to keep "commands" really scarce when we first started. Early on I preferred that he be the one to initiate contact (eye contact or checking in) and rewarded him heavily for doing so.

 

I think the advantage of working in a "secure" area is it gives you peace of mind and allows you to relax a bit. She will probably be very excited about her new freedom and will want to explore, run and enjoy herself. It's not going to do either of you any good if you are fretting the entire time.

 

Your gut will tell you when she can be trusted. It took me a long time to finally bring my boy to an off leash hiking canyon (the true test for him, imo). His radius seems to be line of sight. IOW he will go as far as he can as long as he can still see me. I'm OK with this because he has an excellent recall and checks in often on his own. I can also call him back to me to walk "in line" (our loose heel) when we cross the paths of mountain bikers, joggers, and the like.

 

As a side story: When Camden was almost a year old, we were hiking in an off leash canyon and there were a LOT of other dogs there that day. He was super distracted saying "hi" and playing with the other dogs so I took advantage of a very rare moment when he didn't have me in his sights. I ducked behind a tree into some shrubs where I was pretty well hidden. I was just curious to see what would happen. About 20 seconds passed and I saw him tear past me like a bat out of hell and do a sweeping circle, doubling back on the path looking for me. The instant he turned in my direction I saw the sheer panic in his eyes and I immediately called his name, stepping out of the bushes. I assure you I had not intended to be cruel, but when I saw his face I knew I had really, really scared him. I felt quite bad (feel a bit guilty even admitting this happened) and I'd never, ever do that again. Since that day, I've never doubted his awareness of me off leash...

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This is interesting, so what was it that you saw in the dogs that made you determine whether they were good off leash or needed more time?

 

 

The ones that needed a lot of work -

 

With the collie the fact that he screamed and struggled to get at any strange dog he saw was a clue that it might not be the best idea to let him off at that time.

 

With my lurcher, the fact that he would chase a speck on the horizon if given half a chance was another hint.

 

The ones that came back from the start -

 

One escaped out of the front door the day we got him but didn't go further than the end of the drive before coming back despite the fact that he was terrified of strangers.

 

And the terrier - his fosterer said he was fine off lead and he just wanted to hang out with us in the garden.

 

Those that needed a bit of work -

 

One was a hound mix pup and I wanted to make sure he didn't get into the habit of following his nose.

 

And the mongrel - her fosterer said she wouldn't come back if let off lead so I played safe and did some training before trying.

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Aussie =| collie, but...

 

I had my Aussie girl out at the park off leash pretty much from the moment I could successfully bring here there without her getting fearful on the walk over. She was probably 9 weeks old. Ever since then off leash walks have been a big part of our daily routine and it's one of the things that I value most about my relationship with her. Now that she's 4, off leash time has expanded from parks and woods to along the streets in my neighbourhood.

 

The biggest thing that I wished that I'd worked on more was her choosing not to run after the smell of food. As a pup she was able to find a couple delicious discarded sandwiches in the park and due to the sporadic and jackpot nature of that kind of reinforcement, she's always on the lookout for food. Now I can call her off a scent, but I had some really frustrating moments when she was younger that I wished hadn't happened. If I could do it all over again, I would proof behaviours around groundfood constantly.

 

Working on recall is huge. Not just for food or a quick game or pat, but work on real fully fledged celebrations upon a recall. Make enthusiastic recalls a way of life. Build value for yourself as a handler and pre-mack environmental reinforcers.

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Tennis court!! Brilliant! I hadn't though about that. I will get a good idea of her behavior there. Thanks!!! These stories are very helpful, thank you!!

 

The one we started in was a double court, so there was plenty of space for him to wander off, sniff around, be a goof and then come back. It's much smaller then a baseball field or school yard, but large enough you should be able to gauge her awareness of you. It was also near the entrance of our park, so there were often distractions (people, cars, other dogs, kids, etc.) and it was good for place for me to safely observe how he reacted to all of those things.

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I start out in open areas that can be closed like baseball diamonds with fences, tennis courts, big open yards with fences. I also put a standard back clip harness and a long drag line on any new puppy.

 

They get a taste of "freedom" safely enclosed, and I can get them by walking close and stepping on teh line (not making any dramatic reaches for them. Eventually they figure it all out.

 

I don't choose places where I could actually lose them until I know they are good with a recall, checking in, etc. Even then, as we give them more freedom we tend to choose places that are far away from roads and anything else that might be an issue.

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As a side story: When Camden was almost a year old, we were hiking in an off leash canyon and there were a LOT of other dogs there that day. He was super distracted saying "hi" and playing with the other dogs so I took advantage of a very rare moment when he didn't have me in his sights. I ducked behind a tree into some shrubs where I was pretty well hidden. I was just curious to see what would happen. About 20 seconds passed and I saw him tear past me like a bat out of hell and do a sweeping circle, doubling back on the path looking for me. The instant he turned in my direction I saw the sheer panic in his eyes and I immediately called his name, stepping out of the bushes. I assure you I had not intended to be cruel, but when I saw his face I knew I had really, really scared him. I felt quite bad (feel a bit guilty even admitting this happened) and I'd never, ever do that again. Since that day, I've never doubted his awareness of me off leash...

 

I did this with my first dog. She was sniffing around, stopped and turned and looked around for me, didn't see me, looked around for another few seconds and then turned away and continued eating grass. This was in a big field and her on a long line. Another time later on we were in the forest on a trail and I had my border collie by then as well. I hid on both of them. The border collie had the reaction above. The older dog came calmly trotting back the way I'd been, not really concerned at all, just following the direction the border collie had gone. She would also take off after squirrels, cats, intact male dogs or dodge caravans (or other vehicles with an engine that sounded the same). Needless to say she was very rarely offleash. She would stay with me unless there was something more interesting.

I think in general border collies are a bit more owner focused and not as likely to just take off than some other breeds (ie huskies, sight hounds, scent hounds).

 

I had both border collies offleash from pretty much day 1 when they were young puppies. Offleash in the trails away from traffic - onleash always if I was around or on city streets. My old one I did trust offleash walking on sidewalks etc - she would not leave the sidewalk. My young one is too at risk to be spooked by something or see a fast moving creature to chase to ever be trusted offleash around where vehicles are.

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