The Five Senses of Off-Leash Dog Training

Wanna know the secret to amazing off-leash dog training greatness? Ok, I am going to tell but please don’t like or share it because this is super top secret classified information. Shh, it’s just between us, ok, so don’t tell anyone.  


Defining Off-Leash Dog Training


Before we get started, let’s clarify the term “off-leash dog training” because, contrary to popular belief, it does not mean that you actually train the dog without ever using a leash, it means that you systematically train the dog on-leash until you feel they can be trusted to be off-leash. To train the dog to make good choices, not wander off too far, keep an eye on you and follow basic commands like “Come” or “Leave It” at a distance and around distractions we start out on a 50 foot long line and then ditch the line. Whether you are still on the long line or have already gone off-leash, I think you may see improvements in your dog's training and behavior by following the principles outlined below for using the five senses. 


Using The Five Senses 


I’m not talking about taste, touch, scent, sight and sound, the five senses I’m talking about are the senses of purpose, urgency, enthusiasm, freedom and adventure. What the heck does that mean? Keep reading to find out.   


1 - Sense of Purpose: When you walk your dog, walk with a sense of purpose. Walk as if you are going somewhere or doing something important and you are simply bringing the dog with you. In other words, don’t walk around staring at your dog's butt. If you walk with the attitude that your only purpose is to let the dog enjoy “their walk” then you are literally following the dog, which translates to allowing the dog to lead. This tends to create a dog that doesn’t respond well to commands, which generally means you will have a dog that is not safe to allow off-leash. If this does not come naturally to you, try choosing a spot in the distance and just start walking towards it and don’t let the dog make you veer from your target. Then, at some point, change your mind, choose another spot and start walking towards that one. Lather, rinse, repeat and, every now and then, throw in a recall or Leave It command just for practice. 


2 - Sense of Urgency: When you call your dog, do it with a sense of urgency. In other words, don’t act like you have all day to wait for your dog to get around to listening to you. For example: If you call your dog’s name and you do not see an immediate orientation response, if the dog does not turn to look at you right away, like, literally within ½ second, then you should “pop” the long line. I said to pop the leash, I did not say to jerk the leash as hard as you can. The idea is to create a “positive” reflexive response to having their name called, not to strike fear in the dog. This is achieved by following the pop with a rewarding event, assuming the pop was even required. Obviously, we don’t pop for no reason, we only do it if the dog doesn’t respond to the sound of our voice. The secret sauce is the quick response, not the “whenever you get around to it” response. There’s a quote that I love that goes, “A rapid response becomes a reliable response, a slow response becomes no response.” I wish I could take credit for that one but I’m pretty sure I stole it from someone, I just can’t remember who. Sorry, whoever you are, I would give you credit if I remembered.   


3 - Sense of Enthusiasm: When you call your dog’s name, as soon as they look, as in, immediately, as in, don’t hesitate at all, as in, don’t even say “come” yet, just praise your dog for looking at you and do so with a true sense of enthusiasm. Convince them that this is going to be awesome! Then, call your dog to “come” and continue to share genuine loving praise to encourage them to keep coming all the way to you. It goes something like this; “Rover! Good dog! Come here! Good dog, good dog, good dog!” Compare that to the typical “Rover-Come” and then just standing there, poker faced, waiting for Rover to arrive only to tell him to sit when he gets there. How boring is that? In his 1911 book, Training Dogs: A Manual, Colonel Konrad Most wrote of executing “a dance of joy with the animal” and I think that is something that has been lost to a lot of dog trainers over the last century or so. Of course, you can throw some extrinsic rewards, such as treats in there, but let’s not forget to make listening to us intrinsically rewarding. You know, put a little charm and personality into it while using play and affection as rewards. Let’s help “genuine loving praise” make a comeback, shall we? 


4 - Sense of Freedom: When walking your dog, either on the 50’ long line or off-leash, it’s important to allow them to have a sense of freedom. In other words, try not to micromanage too much, don’t be a helicopter parent and simply continue to walk (with a sense of purpose) and see how well your dog naturally gravitates towards you or orbits around you. Most people are astonished by how powerful this is. The less effort you make, the less you seem concerned about what the dog is doing, the more the dog seems to care about what you are doing. With a little practice, it becomes a very natural and almost effortless endeavor. Warning: Don’t let your guard down too much, it is still important to be aware of what your dog is doing and very easy to get injured with the long line, so don’t daydream, be present and mind your handling skills and safety techniques


5 - Sense of Adventure: While it is fine to start off training your dog in your neighborhood park or on your own property, most dogs will be a lot happier with a little more adventure in their lives. It doesn’t need to be anything super crazy, just something that’s not the same old same old. A hike in the mountains or a trip to the beach would be amazing but I’ll bet there are things that can be done closer to home that you simply haven’t noticed or put much thought into. For example: I was just with a client the other day and we went to their neighborhood park to do some long line work with the dog. They had been to the park many times but they had never actually explored the park. They would normally just walk the paved path through the park, or maybe go out on the lawn, but they never went off the beaten path. There was a dry creek bed that ran along one side of the park that was calling out to be explored. It was a little craggy getting down into the creek bed, I went too fast and almost wiped out so I warned the owners to be careful. We survived and the dog had a blast. I am not claiming to have read the dog’s mind or anything but I’m pretty sure I heard him thinking, “Dude, this is so awesome, you’re the best!” 




Use the long line until you find your dog is listening to you so well that you never need to pop it. Walk with purpose, call with a sense of urgency and enthusiasm, let your dog have some freedom and adventure once in a while and see what happens. I think you will be amazed at the positive changes you will see in your dog's behavior, your relationship and you journey towards having a dog who can be trusted off-leash. Have fun! 


Chad Culp - Certified Dog Trainer, Canine Behavior Consultant, Owner of Thriving Canine. 

© Thriving Canine 2022 

Related Content: 

Video: Long Line Handling Skills

Video: E-collar: Silent Recall 

Building a Reliable Recall 

The “Don’t Be Greedy” Recall

The 5 Essentials for a Great Off-Leash Experience

Q & A: Dog Won’t Come, E-collar Conditioning, Social Media Awareness   

Three Tips For Training Dog To Come

Long Line Training: Part Two: How To Use The Line  

Q & A: Dog Won’t Come At Dog Park

How To Be Magnetic When Walking Off-Leash 

Preparing Your Dog To Go Off-Leash 



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