Top Ten Things about letting your Border Terrier off the leash

I have a Border Terrier, she is 18 months old and her name is Fizz, you can read more about her here (*with tiny puppy photos!) and also here (*with training tips)

Fizz is my 3rd BT and all of them have been exercised off leash, all had/have pretty good recall. Many breeeders will tell you that BTs can never run free and are not safe off leash. So this post is my own view on the subject.

It's worth noting that American and UK views on dog's off leash vary greatly, and that some councils and many UK areas, such as beaches and common land, have rules about allowing dogs off leash. Dogs should never be off leash on a pavement near a road.

Assuming you are allowed to have a dog off leash...here are my top ten tips.

  1. No dog and especially not a border terrier will ever be 100% 'safe' off leash. Dogs are not robots, however much you train, however good their recall, there may come a day that something you could not have planned for will happen, a car will backfire and scare your pup, a bitch in heat will be walking nearby, a squirrel will dash out from a bush right in front of your dog....This list will help but it can't make off leash a safe, risk-free pass time.
  2. Until you have some confidence in your pup consider a long leash, not a flexi that you keep hold of, though they can be useful, but a long line of the sort used to lunge horses. We bought a 12 foot line in wide (less chance of a burn if it whips around your leg) purple (nice and clear to see against the grass). A long trailing line has many benefits. People can see your dog is learning. You don't have to get close to your pup if their attention is on another dog. Other people can easily grab the leash or step on it if you shout out! And it will get tangled on something if the dog does decide to try and bolt.
  3. Choose a car free fenced area if you can for the first few months of off leash fun. A dog park is ideal or a recreation ground if dogs are allowed there. (always clear up after your dog) Visit regularly so that your dog doesn't have to 'explore' each time, if your dog knows an area it will be less likely to roam around.
  4. Practice recall. It seems obvious but lots and lots of practice! Find out what your dog likes best, cheese, sausage, or a squeaky toy and make that the reward. Let your dog run and play but call it back often, treat and release. If your dog isn't coming back, use the long line! Make your dog return if you call or it will learn to disobey! Especially practice recall when your dog is interacting with other dogs, your dog must learn you are the boss, this takes time, but Fizz has finally sussed it.
  5. Never punish a dog when it returns to you. No matter what your dog has done, ignored you, humped your friends chihuahua, eaten a kid's ice cream, it doesn't matter, coming back to you must always by good! You don't want to teach a dog that a return to you gets it yelled at or (shudder) hit. (Don't hit your dog)
  6. Find a friend and walk far apart, take it in turns to call the dog for treats or a game, make your terrier work at watching and listening to see who will call, make it fun.
  7. Consider having your pet neutered or spayed. Unless your dog is a show dog and destined for great things, have it 'done'. A girl will no longer have the desire to escape and be shagged twice a year and your boy will find he no longer has the urge to mount everything in sight, he will lose some aggression too and will be less interested in bitches in season. When we had a boy his recall became 90% more consistent after he was neutered.
  8. Check your surroundings before allowing your dog off leash. Never let your dog off near roads. Keep dogs on leads where there is livestock of any kind. (one of my previous dogs was a chicken killer - he was proud of this, I was not. The farmer was extremely nice about it and we were very lucky and learned a big lesson!) Keep your terrier on a lead if they may be fox dens or badger sets about. Keep dogs on leads on cliff top walks (do not assume your dog is clever enough not to run over the edge)
  9. Don't wait til the end of a walk to call your dog. Call your terrier often, treat often and pop your dog back onto the lead a few times, before releasing it again, during a walk, don't make recall and lead = the end of fun!
  10. Don't feel bad if your dog has poor recall even if you've followed all the tips. Dogs vary in personality and some will be more biddable than others. Also dogs can have 'relapses' in training, especially during their 'teenage' years at around 2 years old. Keep practising, resort back to the long line or use a flexi.
Do you walk your dog(s) off leash? Any good advice I've missed? I'd love a comment below or on Facebook/Twitter (Links in the sidebar >>)