When to go off lead?

Developing a perfect recall

I recently had one of the pups back for a few weeks, which was an interesting experience.  It seems that just like when you have a baby you instantly forget what labour is like, once your puppy is transformed into a sweet-natured, well-behaved adult dog, you forget what it is like to have a puppy!

I began my daily 15-20 minute walks with Charlie on lead, switching to a long line whenever there was space.  This is basically a long cord, which can be left on the ground.  It is NOT a retractable lead, which must be pulled against by the dog.  It allows the puppy the freedom to roam a bit further away from you, with the security to be gathered up if he isn’t interested in coming back to you on his own.

Getting started

The trick is in working really hard on the recall at this early stage and in trusting the pup to come back, even when they are off lead.  How do you do that?  Here are some top tips:

  • Start in the garden and house, before you go anywhere.  Your puppy should know their name and know that coming to see you results in a reward, whether that is receiving a fuss and a cuddle, or a play with a toy, or some loving words, or a tasty treat.
  • As soon as you go out, use treats to gain interest and engagement, even while you are just walking along on the normal lead.  Use the puppy’s name and a positive tone of voice.
  • I also take a special toy, which I use to play tuggy or to throw a short distance, to add interest and engagement.

Once you’ve gained a bit of confidence that you can get your puppy back, let him go!  Warning: it will be scary and it might go wrong!  So obviously try and look out for possible dangers and try and find somewhere will plenty of space.

Do’s and Don’ts

Like everything else, it takes practice and patience.  The more you do it and the more relaxed you are with it, the more likely you are to succeed.  Some more tips:

  • Don’t expect an instant response, instantly!  Call his name and ‘come’ and then wait a few seconds for the call to register.  The more he is able to wander around and have a good sniff, the more likely he is to want to come back to you for a treat, knowing that he can then go off again.
  • Do practice the recall many times during the course of the walk.  If he thinks he is going to come back and then be put on the lead because it’s the end of the walk, that’s not much of a reward, is it?
  • Do keep your voice light and excited.  This is VERY hard to do when he is completely ignoring you and talking to another dog/person/butterfly.
  • Do praise him for coming back, even if it has taken time to achieve.  If I have to go and get him, I’m not going to be happy about it, but ANY response I get from him MUST be rewarded (although you might really be wanting to kill him!)
  • Do be more interesting and exciting than whatever else is going on. An excited voice, an interesting toy and tasty treats will all be needed.


If all else fails, run away!  Turning your back and legging it in the opposite direction is one of the best ways to get your pup to come back to you.  It’s scary and difficult to do, but will usually work.

Comment or Get in touch?

Good luck with your training!  Please comment below on your puppy training experiences or Contact me if you want to discuss your training.


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