Finding Safe Places To Work With Your Dog Off-Leash

If something happened while you were out walking your dog and you had to drop his leash, would he stay where you told him to? Or if he wandered, would he come back to you when you called him?

The only way to know is to test him.

That’s why it’s important to find safe places to work with your dog off-leash.

Honey the golden retriever in snow.

So you’re making sure I stay by freezing me in snow?

My Dog Has A Rock-Solid Stay

When my husband Mike walks our dog Honey in the morning without me, I always ask if they had any adventures.

Last week, they did.

They passed someone whose car was stuck in his driveway and needed a push. Mike moved Honey off to the side, dropped her leash, and told her to stay.

He then spent five minutes helping our neighbor rock his car out of its snowy parking place.

And yes, Honey stayed planted on the sidewalk the whole time.

Lucky for everyone I regularly practice Honey’s cues with her off-leash.

Honey the golden retriever walks in the snow.

The snow piles up up two feet on both sides of the sidewalk. That limits the directions I can roam in.

Training Where You Need Your Dog To Listen

It’s great that you train your dog in your living room or kitchen.

When you need her to stay while you’re pouring hot water out of a pot or moving furniture in the living room, she’ll be golden.

But the training you do indoors is not enough to guarantee your dog will listen to you outdoors. So you need to practice.

But how do you find safe ways to practice cues like “Stay” or “Come” without risking your dog’s safety?

Safe Training Outdoors

No dog is 100% reliable in training without lots of practice. (I shared my humiliating example in When Is Your Dog Safe Off Leash.)

And some dogs won’t even be 50% reliable off-leash, no matter how hard you work (that was definitely true for my earlier dogs, Christie and Shadow).

So you need to make sure you have a safe place to practice.

Here are a few potential off-leash practice places I’ve used with Honey:

Fully enclosed areas

Tennis courts – Fences are too high for any dog to scale and they go close enough to the ground to keep tennis balls from escaping. Just keep an eye out for tennis players who could open the gate and lose you a dog.

Fully fenced back yard – If it’s yours, you’ll eventually need to find a strange place with new distractions to train on. Perhaps a friend’s?

Baseball fields – Some little league fields are enclosed in chain link fence on all sides.

Cemeteries – Many older cemeteries have fences on all sides. The gaps in old metal fences might be big enough for a small dog to get through, so check carefully.

Honey the golden retriever in the cemetery.

How did you know I wanted to have a long, off-leash walk in my favorite place? I didn’t say a word.

Dog parks – Many dog parks are fenced on all sides. But training during a busy time would be dumb. Find out when people don’t come and go then. In my town, early Sunday morning is a perfect time to enjoy the dog park by yourself. Keep in mind that the smells left in even an empty dog park make this a high-distraction zone suitable only for advanced training.

Partly enclosed areas

Dead-end alleys – How much more fun would scary movies be if dead-end alleys were where people went to train their dogs instead of to get mugged or murdered?

Gorges or canyons – The Ithaca Falls is an ideal training environment. With high, rock walls on three sides, I can practice Honey’s recall as long as I watch out for hikers coming from behind me.

Honey the golden retriever at Ithaca Falls.

With a waterfall behind me and huge stone walls on either side, I’d have to be SpiderDog to get out of here.

Paths with barriers – Two of my favorite walks with Honey are along steep creek banks with fences on the other side. Honey is not a water dog so I don’t have to worry about her dashing down the banks. And the fences mean I only have to keep a look ahead and behind me to look out for big distractions, like other dog walkers.

Honey the Golden Retriever - why does my dog do that

This is a great place to walk. There’s no place for dogs or people to hide from being my friend.

And if your dog is too high a flight-risk to feel comfortable with having him off-leash in even a fully enclosed area, here’s one more option.

Long training lines

If you don’t want to risk losing your dog off-leash during outdoor training, rely on a Long Recall Training Lead (affiliate).

Honey’s long lead is 20 feet. But you can get them as long as 50 feet and made from super-light materials.

You dog can get far enough away from you that he has to deal with training distractions. But you can keep a handle on him.

I’d also argue that practicing your dog’s recall and stay is one of the few proper uses for a Flexi Retractable Leash (affiliate). I strongly suggest you only buy the kind that has a retractable band instead of the thin line that can act like a garotte.

And only use it if you can hold on tight. I’ve heard too many horrible stories about dogs panicking as the plastic cartridge of their flexible leash follows them as they go running down the street.

Golden Retriever running in the woods.

Showing off my best recall.

Safety First

Training your dog to listen to you outdoors is an important safety tool. If you fell on a walk and lost hold of your dog’s leash, you want to know he’d come back to you or stop when you told him to.

You need to make sure the training is safe first. Here are some guidelines:

  • Start outdoor training once your dog listens reliably to you indoors. This is an advanced skill. You don’t start practicing recall outside if your dog ignores you inside.
  • Save the most appealing reward for your dog for outside practice. Liverwurst is my go-to when we’re doing training Honey to do something difficult.
  • Before you choose a safe, outdoor practice area visit it on your own. Look at it from your dog’s point of view. Are there gaps? Could he jump a fence if something appealing walked by outside?
  • Know your dog. My humiliating training fail happened because I did not know Honey well enough. I discounted her immaturity and the appeal of a particular distraction. And just because something is safe for my dog doesn’t mean it’s safe for your dog.
  • Save your outdoor, off-leash practice sessions for when you’re both ready to work. If one of you is impatient or distracted, blow-off training for another time.

But most important safety tip is to love your dog.

The more time you spend enjoying each other, the more likely he will be to listen to you when you need him to. And the more likely you are to know when asking your dog to listen to you is just expecting too much.

Because there’s no much thing as perfection, no matter who much you love each other.

Your Turn: Do you practice advanced training outdoors without a leash? How do you keep things safe?

Apologies to my S’Waggers:

As I prepare to sell the house at the end of this month, I spend all my spare time painting, packing, repairing, and preparing to leave my job to someone else. That means that I haven’t been replying to everyone’s great comments (except in my mind; I always do that). And my visits to my favorite blogs are sporadic and comments are non-existent.

I wanted to thank everyone who reads Something Wagging with a special thanks to those who leave interesting comments. And to apologize for not hanging out with you as much as I want to. Hopefully that will change soon.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Links marked as “affiliates” will take you to Amazon. If you buy something while you’re there, I’ll earn a small commission. But you will not pay more for your item. Thank you for supporting Something Wagging.






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  1. Great tips for working with teaching your dog to have a great recall. We found the long leash worked the best for us with our most difficult dog who we adopted from a shelter. She had been picked up as a stray and was used to being on her own. We had to a long line with her for over 6 months, gradually weaning off to a 50 foot drag line rather than something we hung onto. The drag line gave us a little extra safety until we were certain she would respond.

  2. One drawback to having a smaller dog like Ruby is that a lot of the places we find have gaps in the fencing that she could escape through. This is a great list -I’m always on the hunt for places like these.

  3. How timely! Yesterday on my walk with Harley, a neighbor walking her dogs was about 20 feet from us and she abruptly sat down. I called to her and when she didn’t respond, I dropped Harley’s leash and told him to stay. When I walked over to her, she said she felt light headed and needed to rest a moment. Harley was right behind me LOL – so I guess I’d better work on that command. *Neighbor is doing fine….

  4. I start off-leash training as soon as I get the puppy home. So many people make the mistake of never allowing their young dog off-leash, that the very first time the dog gets out without a leash, the joy of freedom hits and they are GONE and uncatchable. Freedom isn’t a novel concept to my dogs, so they are not in a big hurry to disappear. I do a lot of impulse control work using crate games as well. BUT, nothing, no amount of training will keep my dogs from chasing the sudden movement of a herd of deer, or even worse, the sight of a fleeing fox. Jimmy runs about the length of a football field and returns. Wilson is just plain GONE! He comes right back to the spot where he took off from, but it can be a while and the whole time I am having a heart attack. A fox has recently taken up a home base very near my house. The dogs know it and are always on the hunt. Leashes are an absolute must now.

  5. No dogs are allowed on our baseball fields. And we have leash laws everywhere, so training B to come when called isn’t really an option. She has fairly good recall and the couple of times she’s slipped her harness, she’s come back to me. About the only time I know she wouldn’t, is if she spotted a rabbit or coyote and then she’d be gone. There are just too many dangers in the desert for me to let her off leash even if I did trust her to not take off.

  6. Sampson is generally very good. Although there are times when he tests the limits of my patience.

    Delilah is the runner. Our dog parks are very small and I rarely if ever take her there. There is a baseball diamond not too far and I should take her there. I mostly work her in the woods. I wait until we are far enough away from houses and let her off leash. The surprising thing is when she is on leash she is right at the end of the leash, pulling me along. When I let her off the leash, she is practically glued to my side in the woods.

    Yesterday I let her go in the field, thinking there was plenty of deep snow to prevent her running pell mell away from me. I let her run, then called her back and did this a couple of times. It’s a great way for her to release some of her energy. Then she ate poop so I leashed her back up. I don’t ever foresee a time when she will be able to walk off-leash all the time, but if I can let her off for little bits, I can live with that.

  7. This is a very timely post for us. I see all of that sit perfectly still in the middle of a huge field and all I can think about is how if I did that, I’d never see my dog again.We actually just had our trainer come in to work on a few skills and we’re getting back to square one with recall. We’ve scrapped “come” and we’re working on “here” instead. We have a 15-foot training lead that I plan on utilizing once we are ready to start practicing in the front yard. These are all really great ideas and I’m definitely going to use as many as I can.

    Since we plan on having a human child in the next year or so, we are also working on not crossing thresholds so we can keep her out of, say, the baby’s nursery. Our trainer said that by teaching her about this invisible barrier, it will help with recall. If she starts running away, we can yell “wait,” which she’ll know as, “stop moving forward. There is a barrier that you are not allowed to cross.” We’re doing this in conjunction with “stay” which is now, “stay here until I tell you it’s OK.”

  8. good post! Ahhh it must have been nice for your husband to drop the leash and trust her to stay. When we went to Chipotle with both dogs, I had to hold Roxie (the smaller dog)’s leash in between my legs whenever I needed to handle Bubba (the Great Dane) with both hands. If she really wanted to, she could run off. Thankfully, she hasn’t figured out my thighs aren’t that strong lol. Anyway, you’ve inspired me to work on her stay outdoors. Thanks!

  9. Great post!! I completely agree with you that off leash training is so important! We work on it as much as possible!

  10. Great tips! I work the dogs in the yard, then in the front yard with a long line, then off leash at the beach. Nola is solid in stay and come (in four years, she’s only blown me off once), Pike is mostly reliably but I don’t trust him so he’s leashed, Olivia is more solid than Pike but also always leashed, and Linc is too young for outings.

  11. This is something I need to work on with Leroy because he has no recall at all. I’ve attempted to find local baseball parks but out of the 100 that we have in our city none of them are fully enclosed. I don’t trust Leroy at all (based on past experiences) and I’m not willing to take a chance so a long leash might be our only option. At times I’ve taken a few steps away from him to get a picture but in the back of my mind I was ready to pounce on the leash if he took off.

  12. I can see you cringe when you read this but… I have practiced recall with both my dogs. Mity his always a little pick and mix, whereas BD was brilliant when I first got him but now seems to be less keen, he will come close but not all the way to me – I have no idea why. However, both of them seem to know when I am not kidding around and have a perfect ‘freeze’. Mity once took off after a rabbit, I tried come I tried everything worried I would loose him down a rabbit hole. I screamed his name and stop in terror I was about to loose him forever and he froze, on the spot. It was as if he knew. Same thing happens with BD. If a dog is coming at him across a field, has left the owner and decided he will come and say hi, I know that BD won’t like it. in that split second of worry I call his name and run towards him (to get there first and get the muzzle on) and again it is as if he knows, he freezes to the spot and doesn’t move until I get to his side. I think it’s something about the tone. I know it isn’t reliable and I don’t rely on it to ‘control’ them but they both know when I am just calling for a practice or when they can come but it won’t be the end of the world if they don’t and when it really matters.

    You can un-cringe now! Is this when I come back tomorrow and can no longer access the site ;0)

  13. You’ve given me some great ideas of places to work off-leash! I would never have thought of a cemetery or tennis court. You might have to avoid teaching the roll-over trick in a cemetery though. 😉

  14. Great tips! Now I know where you’ve been hiding lately so I don’t have to worry that you’re in a slump. :-)

  15. We were lucky to have an enclosed tennis court that was hardly used nearby so we would go there sometimes. There are also some quite large fields that we use when the farm animals are not in them. My recall is perfect in an enclosed space – even a very large one! But they still only let me off lead when my routes are restricted as they say I’m too unreliable.

  16. Great tips; it really isn’t easy to come up with “safe” areas around here. I’m so lucky that we have a big backyard that backs up to the woods so Laika gets to be offleash at home ( we also have a fence – although Laika hopped it once to chase the neighbors horses…. ) I hadn’t thought about a tennis court but that’s something we could definitely find around here.