Want your dog to be well behaved when they're off-leash? This trainer's four simple tips have got you covered

Three Australian shepherd dogs playing outside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We all want a dog who’s really well-behaved when they’re off their leash, right? For most dog parents, it’s one of the most desirable qualities a canine can have. 

But, our dogs aren’t born knowing how to behave perfectly off-leash — they need us to train them! And, doing so can be more simple than we might think, provided we have some of the best dog treats to help us. 

Award-winning trainer Lisa Burton of Listen Dog Training has explained what we need to do in a recent Instagram post.  

Start your off-leash training early on: “Young pups are naturally clingy,” Burton begins, “so get oodles of reinforcement in before adolescence hits.”

If you get your dog as a puppy, there’s no time like the present to start off-leash training — and here are 32 differences between a puppy and a dog that can help to explain why. 

If you can teach your dog that it’s more rewarding for them to stay close to you even when they aren’t on their leash, by the time they become a teenager and might be tempted to run off, they’ll know that they can expect plenty of rewards if they stay near you.

Reward spontaneous check-ins: As Burton says, “The sights, sounds, and smells of the environment can be so reinforcing, so make sure every voluntary check-in with you is rewarding too!”

If your dog chooses to check in with you during an off-leash walk, for example, reward them just as you would while actively training them. 

Keep your puppy on a longline: Burton recommends doing this for the first few months, just to give you some added confidence and control — it strikes a sensible balance between giving your puppy total freedom and completely restricting them. 

By keeping your pup on a longline, you can prevent the reinforcement of undesirable behaviors. If they decide not to come back and stay close to you, they won’t be rewarded with total freedom. 

For some more longline advice, here are three of the most common loose leash walking mistakes (and how to fix them).

Be engaging when your pup is off-lead!: Resist the urge to keep checking your phone while your dog is off-lead. “Instigate random games of chase, surprise them with a toy, bowl a few treats,” suggests Burton.

Make sure to connect and engage with your dog, especially when they’re not too distracted. Keep things varied, and keep them fun!

If you’re struggling with your dog when they’re off-leash and you’d like some advice from someone who was in a similar situation, you might find this article useful: My dog embarrassed me with her terrible off-leash behavior — here’s how I fixed it.

Pupford Beef Liver Training Freeze-Dried Dog Treats 
$16.89 from Chewy

Pupford Beef Liver Training Freeze-Dried Dog Treats
$16.89 from Chewy
We gave these to our tester Isaiah for his dog Hayes to try. He reports back that they're his new favorite treat and are a suitable size for training. "He could and would eat the whole bag if allowed!"

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' Golden Retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.