How to Get Your Dog to Behave Off Leash

How to use the “Premack principle” to teach your dog to check in with you when off leash.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #29

As you practice more often and in more and more places, your dog will learn to automatically focus on you when you’re about to let her off leash. And, once she’s off, she’ll check in frequently. You can still give her a food reward sometimes, but you can also toss a ball for her, or ask her to do a fun trick. Then encourage her to go explore.

How to Get Your Dog to Enjoy Being On Leash

Of course, sooner or later it’ll be time to leash up and go home. For many dogs, being on leash means the fun is over. But not so for your dog! You’ve taught her that being on leash almost always comes with the opportunity to go play again. Besides -- and here we’re straying away from the Premack principle a bit -- just because your dog’s on leash doesn’t mean you need to act like a stick in the mud. As you walk home or head back to your car, talk to your dog, give her a toy to carry, ask her to do tricks and reward her with scritches and treats. Being with you should never be any kind of a drag.

That’s all for this week – but, like your dog, I’ll be back. Visit me on Facebook. Comments and questions are welcome – e-mail dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com or call 206-600-5661. Thanks for listening!


In this YouTube video of the Premack principle being used to teach a dog to orient to her person when off leash, the trainer explains that she used a clicker to mark her dog’s attention to her.


The clicker sound is distinctive, which is a huge advantage. So that you can get started right away without any equipment, I substitute a happy “Yes!” in this and my other podcasts, but if you want to learn more about clicker training, I will cheer you on! www.clickertraining.com and www.clickersolutions.com are excellent sources of free information on this great technique.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).