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Ask AKC: Training Dogs Off-Leash

American Kennel Club, Inc. (c) 2011

Dear Lisa: I have a 1-year-old male Lab and he is a very good dog. But when I let him out of the house (to play outside) he goes crazy and stops listening to me. I have worked with him outside on a leash and he is very good, but once I remove the leash he goes crazy. I'm afraid he may run into the street or get into something he shouldn't. I have seen people walk with their dogs with no leash and I want to be able to do that. I'm committed to having a trained dog, and he has been to obedience class twice. I train him for 30 minutes each day, but I need more advice. --Crazy Canine in Charlotte
Congratulations for sticking to your goals of having a trained dog that eventually will walk obediently by your side off leash. This is a goal most dog owners dream about but don't take the time to achieve. Your tenacity will serve you well.

Your instinct is right to keep working with him, but perhaps you need to adjust the manner in which you approach your training. To begin with, try not to train him in one long session but rather break it down into several short five minute sessions scattered throughout the day. This way, he will think of training as a fun game rather than a long boring exercise he would rather not do. You didn't mention if you used food or a toy as his "reward" for a job well done. If he is unmotivated by food, try giving him his favorite toy as a reward.

One type of training you might want to investigate is an "attention" class. Right now, your dog is focused on you in the secure classroom but outside he thinks it's a free for all with so much distraction. In attention class, you spend eight weeks doing nothing but getting your dog's attention focused on you with a single word command. It works wonders for people in competitive obedience. Look to a local dog club for a trainer for such a class.

After attention training, start taking your dog outside, on leash, and doing some of those five minute sessions in the park, at the mall, wherever there are lots of people. You have to teach him to pay attention and listen to you no matter where he is, not just in the confines of the warm and fuzzy training facility.


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