Depending on the dog, many owners would likely agree that their dog is far from in love with their leash. Of course, some dogs may be very well trained and comfortable with their leashes, but both dogs and owners can admit that being off-leash allows for much more boundless, playful energy and less limited exploration.

dog playing off-leash

As much as we love to see our pups at their happiest, letting your dog off their leash in a public place without several precautions is ill-advised in general, and it’s often against the law. The first thing you’ll want to do before even considering letting your dog off its leash is educating yourself on your state and local leash laws. The details of what is and isn’t allowed can vary quite a bit depending on where you’re located, what you’re doing, and whether the land is technically public or private. In order to stay on the good side of your local law enforcement officials — as well as your fellow community members — you’ll want to make sure you’re not breaking any leash laws when you let fido run loose.

When deciding whether or not to let your dog off its leash in a public area, here are several things you’ll want to keep in mind:

Consider Your Surroundings

Just because your dog can walk off-leash, doesn’t always mean it should. If you’re in an area where there may be children and other pets around, it might not be the best time to let your dog roam untethered. Even some of the most well-mannered dogs can respond surprisingly to certain unexpected situations, which can bring harm to others or your dog. Children and other animals, in particular, have been known to be lead to unpleasant situations even in dogs who are generally friendly and calm.

Also, consider other dangers in the environment that your dog may not be accustomed to. Traffic, bodies of water, rough terrain, or dangerous substances are some examples of hazards that your dog may not know to avoid. Without a leash, you’ll have a hard time getting your dog away from an active piece of machinery, an upset snake, a steep cliffside, or some questionable substance baking on the pavement.

Make sure you are familiar with your surroundings before unclipping the leash and have your leash ready at hand in case any troublesome scenario arises.

Train Early and Often

Leashes are not instinctual. In fact, many young dogs will quickly tell you that the instinct is to pull or try to escape. Proper leash training involves getting your dog used to the leash, setting expectations for how and when to proceed, and understanding a few basic commands. Knowing commands and training is particularly important when going off-leash in a public place.


It’s easier to teach a dog how to behave without a leash in public places if they start training at an early age. Starting your dog with basic obedience training is a good route to take and can open the door to more complicated verbal commands. Starting off with commands like “sit,” “lie down,” and “come” are good basic commands that can be used to test how obedient your dog is in the face of a distraction. Once confidence with these commands is achieved, “heel” and “wait” are important commands for safe off-leash activity.


One major step to pleasant off-leash experiences is getting your dog accustomed to certain people, places, and situations. Some dogs that are comfortable in the home setting may get nervous around strangers, at crowded places, or when other pets come into the picture. Making them used to a variety of situations — and being able to gauge their body language in each — is a great form of insurance for a situation where they might get loose, even when properly leashed. Dog parks are a great place to introduce your pup to like-minded individuals and give them the necessary experience to avoid needless confrontations with other dogs in the future. 

Older Dogs

An older dog may not be impossible to train, but it will definitely be more of a challenge than with a young pup. You may only be able to take their training so far, or it may be much harder for them to learn any “new tricks.” Keep in mind that training should keep to a reasonable pace since drastic changes can be traumatic to an older dog outside its comfort zone. In some cases, it may be worth spending the money for a skilled trainer if your dog has a hard time learning good behavior when on or off-leash.

Training Tips for Off-Leash Activities

When working on teaching your dog good off-leash behavior, there are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of succeeding.

  • Go on walks with a longer leash or a retractable leash, giving your dog more and more room to move freely
  • Start distraction training when your dog has had the chance to burn off some excited energy
  • Train your dog with its daily food throughout the day, rather than using intermittent treats. Feed it half to ¾ of its normal portion, and carry the rest in an airtight container for rewards.
  • Start with simple commands, and work your way up to the more complicated ones
  • If your dog is nervous around other dogs, introduce them to similar-sized dogs first and try to keep most early interactions to one-on-one
  • Pay close attention to your dog and learn its comfort levels. Be realistic about situations where the dog may be better off clipping into its leash for a little while, helping you prevent situations that could be stressful or unpleasant for them.
  • Be patient! Recognize that progress doesn’t always move forward. You may need to repeat lessons or rewind to older forms of training from time to time, especially after a stressful incident.

Get Help From a Professional Trainer

Sometimes, we just don’t have the knowledge or the time to buckle down with our dog to teach obedience, vocal commands, and proper on-leash or off-leash behaviors. If you need the assistance of a professional, get in touch with one of our trainers today, and we can help get your dog to their leash-free happy place in no time! We even provide personalized guidance for owners, helping the training continue at home and out in public.

If you’re in the central Pennsylvania area and are looking for a boost to your confidence when walking your dog off-leash, reach out to us at any one of our convenient locations and we can schedule a free training evaluation to figure out what kind of help you need. Our dog daycare is also a great opportunity for your pup to socialize and get comfortable living its best life. 

If you happen to be needing a place to lodge your dog, we also offer overnight training camps that can help your dog overcome any obstacles they may be facing. Your dog will be in the safest, coziest, most exciting accommodations available, so you can rest easy while your dog relaxes at a Greenlin Resort. Contact a location near you to book an appointment today!