Many dog owners dream of the day they can head out to the local park and leave their Labrador off-leash. They don’t want to worry about their dog getting tangled in the lead.
Freedom seems like a great reward for their loyal companion, but are Labradors really good off leash?
Labradors can be great off-leash if you spend time training them properly. They need to know the “come command” reliably and have some practice with off-leash behaviors first. Once they master these, taking them off leash gives them more exercise and enhances confidence in the world around them.
If you think that your Labrador could benefit from being off leash, here are a few of the steps you need to take.
Are Labradors Good Off-Leash?
With the right temperament and training, your Labrador Retriever may be a great candidate to be left off leash to play. This breed is great at following commands and sticking by its owner when it matters.
However, there is always the chance that a dog could run off when it is not secured to you by a leash.
Keep in mind that you must teach your dog important behaviors and obedience commands before letting them off leash.
It is a good idea to teach your Labrador to sit and stay, as well as to watch you and to focus on what you are asking for.
Teaching them to touch their nose to your hand is another key way to draw your dog back to you when you have them in an off-leash setting.
Even if your Lab is well-trained, you should always be careful that your canine won’t bolt given the right circumstances. After all, most dogs are inclined to follow their instincts and sticking nearby may not be high on their list of priorities.
Labrador Retrievers are bred specifically for that purpose – to chase things and retrieve them. They have a high prey drive that tells them to chase after things that catch their interest.
This might be a tennis ball that you threw for them or a squirrel that darts past their field of vision. They don’t have any regard for what might be dangerous.
Your pup simply sees something that catches their interest, and they take off running after it.
Another reason your Labrador may struggle with being off leash is due to their friendly nature. They want to greet each new person and pup that crosses their path. They may be willing to take a quick jaunt away from you to seek out some affection.
A dog who does not receive the proper amount of exercise is also likely to bolt. They might take off from you while you are out and about.
Some dogs will even burst through the front door and take a quick jog down the street. If they do not have the proper amount of exercise, it is fairly common to see Labradors who are not good off-leash.
Advantages of Off-Leash Walking with your Labrador
There are some natural benefits to letting your dog off-leash if you can be fairly certain that he will listen when it is time to come back.
The first advantage to letting your lab off leash is that they can exercise and play more fully. They might be able to participate in activities that are difficult on leash.
For example, agility training is more feasible when you don’t have to worry about trailing after your dog on a leash. Your Labrador is also better able to participate in a game of long-distance fetch.
A Labrador Retriever who is allowed to explore their world also develops a greater sense of confidence. They have the opportunity to make more choices about what they want to do.
Being off leash also allows them to build relationships with other dogs, as they can interact more naturally.
Of course, your Labrador is also likely to burn off all their extra energy when left off leash. Most dogs will run ahead for a while and then return to check in with you.
Because they are running twice the distance, you are likely to have an extremely worn-out dog on your hands by the time you return home!
Read Next: 20 Stimulating Jobs for Labrador Retrievers
To make it simple, the advantages of leaving your Lab off leash are:
- More exercise
- Ability to participate in different forms of exercise more fully
- More confidence
- Ability to play with other dogs more naturally
- Ability to burn off excess energy
Disadvantages of Off-Leash Walking
The main concern with allowing your Labrador off-leash is that you do not have any control. There are no guarantees that your dog will be safe while roaming around off leash.
You can do your best to train them to come back when you call for them. However, there is always the possibility that they will not listen.
This can be particularly concerning if your dog is about to get into something that could hurt them. They may be about to eat something that was left on the ground.
They could be approaching another dog who is aggressive toward others. Oftentimes, you can see danger looming ahead but cannot react quickly enough to prevent the outcome.
When your Labrador Retriever is on a leash, you have more control over the situation and can prevent your dog from getting hurt.
Dogs also have the potential to react based on their instinct. In particular, Labradors are hunting dogs that are bred to run and retrieve things for you. If they see something that catches their interest, they are likely to pursue it.
They may even run off if they feel threatened by something or someone. Dogs are prone to the fight or flight response just like humans.
Labradors tend to prefer flight over fight, and they may run off if something feels threatening to them.
How to Teach Your Labrador to Behave Off-Leash
The best thing you can do to ensure good behavior off leash is to establish reliable commands. If your dog struggles to listen to you at home or while on leash, it is not a good time to try to take away the lead.
You need to train your Labrador to listen to you in any situation, and that starts with the basic foundation of obedience.
Teach Your Labrador to Come
The best command necessary for off leash training is the come command. Get ready to train by gathering up treats and your training pouch.
When your pup is a few feet away from you, get down on their level and hold out your hand. Encourage them to touch your hand with their nose.
Some dogs may naturally do this while others will need a bit of motivation. You can rub a smelly treat over the inside of your hand to get them curious about it.
If they touch your hand with their nose, immediately mark the moment with a clicker or a word like yes. Give them a treat immediately.
Keep in mind that the treats you use for this should be extremely appealing to your dog. Don’t just use their dry kibble. Consider using boiled chicken, green beans, or spray cheese.
Repeat this action about twenty times until your dog is clear on what you expect.
Once your Lab understands the basic concept, you need to make the command harder. Begin pairing it with a word such as come. Start to move farther away from your dog so that he has to travel to get close to you.
If this goes well, start generalizing the behavior to other areas. Work in your yard, on a leash at the local park, or at a pet store that allows dogs.
Add in distractions and other people. Only once your Labrador Retriever is reliably responding all the time is he prepared to go off-leash.
Practice Off Leash Behavior with your Lab
A dog who understands when to return to you is ready to practice being off leash. You may have to explore the parks around you to find a good test spot.
It should be somewhere where your dog is relatively contained if they get away from you such as a fenced-in dog park. Remember that you need to be aware of leash laws also. Only allow your Labrador off-leash if it is permitted.
When you get there, attach a long leash to your dog’s training harness. Allow the leash to trail the ground behind your dog while he plays.
This gives you the ability to pick it up if something goes awry. If all is well, your dog is still able to play, interact, and gain confidence without your intervention.
Remember to be careful with these long leashes. They can easily be tangled or get in the way while your Lab plays with others.
Once you feel comfortable with your Labrador Retriever on the long leash line, you can start taking it off them in a dog park setting. This is the easiest way to transition into off-leash behavior. Simply take the leash off and let them play.
Practice calling them over to you periodically, and reward them for listening. This reinforces their come command without interfering with their playtime too much.
What to Do If Your Dog Runs Away
If your Labrador runs away from you, you need to be prepared. Remain as calm as possible. After all, a dog is less likely to return to an angry owner.
Remind them that you have treats by shaking the bag or rummaging around in your treat pouch. Use your command word to encourage them to return to you.
The worst thing you can do is play chase with your dog. They are likely to view this as a fun game and you will not be able to outrun them.
If possible, turn away from your Lab and head back toward your car. If your dog senses that you aren’t going to be pursuing him, he may come back to you on his own.
When your dog returns to you, praise him lavishly! It is a big deal that he came back to you and you should never take your worry or anger out on him.
Give him a big treat and pet him, giving him your full and undivided attention. This makes him more likely to remember that returning to you is full of good things!
Teaching Your Lab to Be Good Off-Leash
There are a lot of benefits to teaching your Labrador to respond off leash. They can get more exercise, more socialization, and more confidence.
However, you must make sure that they are properly trained before letting your dog off-leash. They can learn to do this at any age, but you must put the proper time and effort into training them.
Start working with your dog as soon as possible to ensure that they will be great off-leash!
How far should a Labrador walk per day?
A Labrador needs about an hour and a half of moderate intensity exercise each day. This means that you should be walking about three to five miles at a relatively brisk pace to ensure they get all of the activity that they need.
How often should I walk my Labrador?
You should be walking your Labrador every day for about ninety minutes. Some owners prefer to break this up over the course of the day, giving their dog both morning and evening walks.
Can you over walk a Labrador?
Yes, it is possible to over walk both young and old Labradors. Puppies and senior dogs will need less activity than a healthy adult. While you may need to exercise a healthy adult for ninety minutes each day, puppies and elderly dogs can benefit from slightly less. They may exert themselves too much leading to health problems and exhaustion.
Are stairs bad for Labradors?
Stairs can be bad for young Labradors who are still developing. It is possible for puppies who climb stairs at a young age to develop hip dysplasia as they get older. Try to keep stairs to a minimum for this breed.