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How To Get Your Dog Off Leash Reliable - What You Do In Foundational Puppy Training Matters

One of my best kept secrets for raising a dog that grows up to be off leash reliable is to start the foundational training when they’re young puppies.

Why?  Because there’s a very unique trait that puppies have apart from adult dogs, and that is: they need you.

Why Puppies Are Off Leash Reliable With Their Mother

puppy off leash reliable with their mother - Metropawlitan Dog Training Inc.  Calgary dog training.

Ever see a litter of puppies with their mother?  You’ll notice that as soon as she enters the whelping box after a short period of being away, all the puppies will clamor to follow her or approach her.  

You see, puppies instinctively know they need their mother for food, comfort, and warmth, much like a human baby does with their mother.

Harnessing the Power of Off Leash Imprinting

When your puppy is young (and just entering your home), especially around 2-3 months of age, they’re still very much in this infant stage.  But now, in their new home, the role of that figure of comfort, security, and food is you!

It’s at this stage that I reward the puppy a lot for his natural desire to be with me and to follow me.  This can come in the form of food rewards (I typically use their daily meals in training), as playtime with me, or just attention and affection. 

I want him to believe that anytime we’re somewhere new, instead of wanting to wander off, whether he’s on or off leash, he’s pushing me to do something with him instead.

Over time and repetition, my puppy learns that every time he goes somewhere new with me, his first instinct is to want to pay attention to me and engage with me rather than blowing me off to go sniff everything in sight.

After all, when he wants to be with me this much, then having him drag me at the end of his leash or trying to run away when he’s actually off leash just doesn’t ever really happen.  It’s something we can both take for granted.

Bonus points?  When you reinforce this behavior at such a young age, you build muscle memory into it.  It becomes such an ingrained habit that it’s subconscious when they do it.  That means that even when they encounter distractions, they’ll still retain the habit you’ve built in, wanting to stay close and stay engaged with you, without you having to bribe them away from distractions by using food in front of their nose to try to draw them back to you.

And trust me, having witnessed the incredibly heart wrenching stress that comes from watching dogs run away on their owners, it’s worth the time and effort to build this habit in when they’re young.

Can This Type of Training Help Adult Dogs Become More Off Leash Reliable?

I often get the question - can you do this with adult dogs too?  

Of course you can.  But if they have previously learned habits of checking out on you and being rewarded for it, then building this new habit to override the old becomes more challenging.

As such, you may need additional training tools to help them stay off leash reliable. 

The Power Of Foundational Puppy Training

When you start a young puppy this way and this is all they know?  There’s a lot of truth behind the saying that when the going gets tough, we all revert back to our foundations.  This is as true for our dogs as it is for us.  And if all your puppy knows is to want to be with you, doesn’t that make your life that much easier?

So the next time you take your puppy out, consider what you’re rewarding them for paying attention to - you, or their environment?


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