How to Get Your Dog to Behave Off Leash

How to Get Your Dog to Behave Off Leash

I love off-leash hiking with my dog. But the first time our trainer said, “Drop the leash” my anxiety was off the charts.

A helpful technique she gave us was leash dragging.

Leash dragging has helped me—anxious, clingy human—and Baxter—sniffy, independent dog—to get to a point where we can comfortably and happily hike off-leash together.

Leash dragging is not necessary for every dog. We hiked a couple of weeks ago with a dog who wouldn’t go more than 10 feet from his owner. However, Baxter has a very large comfort zone and likes to follow his nose—so much that he sometimes seems to forget I exist.

What is leash dragging?

My technique of leash dragging involves a long line—about 10 feet long—looped onto our regular leash. Baxter drags this behind him along the ground.

I do not hold the leash as we walk. I have occasionally picked it up and reeled him in if I can see him getting overly excited or thinking about choosing his own adventure.

I step on the end of the line every so often if I want to slow him down, remind him we’re hiking together or he’s reaching the end of my comfort zone.

Get your dog to behave off leash

How do you set up the leash?

I found my long line at the dollar store. It’s the same woven fabric as my regular leash. It came with a cheap clip on one end that I cut off. I then tied big knots at the end and about 2 feet in from the end. These knots give extra “grab” if I have to step on the leash and stop it from sliding under my boot.

The other end of the leash has a regular loop handle. I loop it through Baxter’s six foot leash to attach the two together.

Note from Lindsay: I use the Mendota 30-foot lead for Remy (affiliate link). I love it!

How do you leash drag?

At the start of the walk, I usually hold our six-foot leash as usual with the extra line coiled up in my hand. Once we’ve walked a little ways and if Baxter seems calm and in-tune with me, I’ll casually drop the leash.

As I mentioned above, if I feel I need to, I will pick up the leash again—essentially putting Baxter back on leash. Most of the time, it’s sufficient to step on the line every so often to reinforce my boundaries.

After we finished our training classes, we joined our trainer’s off-leash hiking group. For every hike for over a year, Baxter dragged his leash behind him. That was a long time and we would occasionally get comments from other members of the group that they thought Baxter was ready to go off-leash.

You know your dog—and yourself—best. Don’t go off-leash until you are comfortable. For us, leash dragging was both about setting limits for Baxter and building my confidence in him. I needed to feel good about both of those aspects before I unclipped the leash.

See my post: Off leash hiking with your dog.

We’ve recently returned to leash dragging, as he’s gotten a little over-exuberant and over-confident. There’s no harm in returning to the basics and reinforcing your training foundation.

What are the benefits of leash dragging?

1. Helps you to define a comfort zone for your dog. I’m trying to shrink Baxter’s comfort zone. I love that he’s so independent and confident and I don’t want to take that away from him. Leash dragging helps me to set rules and limitations that I want him to respect.

2. Gives you a sense of security. When we first started off-leash hiking, I was nervous that I might lose my dog. The leash trailing behind Baxter gives me a sense that I could grab him or catch him if he decided to take off. It’s not always true—dogs are fast—but it made me feel more confident about hiking together.

How to get your dog to behave off leash

3. Reminds your dog he’s with a human. I feel like Baxter is often calmer when he’s leash dragging. He feels the leash behind him and that keeps him more tuned in with me.

What are the drawbacks of leash dragging?

1. Leash dragging on its own will not teach your dog how to behave off-leash. There is no substitution for a strong bond with your dog and solid recall. Leash dragging can be one part of your training regimen.

2. Tangling. Tangling has honestly not been a problem for us and we hike in some pretty rugged areas. Most of the time the leash bumps along over the ground without issue. However, the leash may get hung up between rocks or around trees. Pay attention. The other situation where a long leash can get tangled is in meeting other dogs. Again, this hasn’t been a huge problem for us, but when dogs are dancing around each other, someone’s leg could get wrapped up.

How to trust your dog off leash

3. Tripping. A long line dragging along the ground can be a tripping hazard for human hikers. Watch your footing and make sure you don’t get wrapped in the leash or accidentally step on it. If you’re hiking in a group, make sure people are aware that your dog will be leash dragging.

4. Be prepared to sacrifice a leash. The dragging leash(es) will take a beating. They’ll get worn and frayed by the ground. They’ll get wet and muddy. I’ve found leashes hold up surprisingly well, but you may not want to use your fanciest most expensive leash for dragging.

Hiking with my dog is some of the most rewarding time we spend together. It gives both of us a lot of joy. When we first got Baxter and I realized how independent he was, I wasn’t sure he would ever be able to be off-leash anywhere—let alone in the woods surrounded by smells and animals and distractions. Leash dragging has helped us get to a stage where we can share this experience together.

Note from Lindsay: Be very careful about rope burn on your hands! Depending on what kind of material your long leash is, it's usually best to step on the leash as Julia suggested or wear gloves. I injured my hands years ago when a young Ace was running on a 50-foot rope and I grabbed the rope. Doh!

Have any of you used this leash-dragging method?

What feedback do you have? How did it go?

Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She and her husband live on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada.


WO Design Review, Dog Collars and Dog Toys

WO Design Review, Dog Collars and Dog Toys

What if you bought your dog a new toy or collar AND helped feed orphans at the same time?

WO Design sells products for pets and people to help fund nutritional aid for widows and orphans in Ethiopia. (The WO in its name stands for widows and orphans.)

For each dog collar or dog toy purchased, WO Design provides two homecooked meals for widows and orphans in Ethiopia.

This post is sponsored by WO Design.

Use code thatmutt2017 for 20% off your entire order with WO Design (expires Friday March 31). Click here.

WO Design review—dog collar and disc toy

WO Design review - dog collars and dog toys

My thoughts on WO Design:

My dog Baxter got to try out a WO Design collar and the WO Design disc toy.

The WO|Collar is a brightly coloured, adjustable, fabric dog collar with a plastic buckle. It comes in sizes small, medium and large. The collar is brightly coloured, in blue, green, cranberry, black and yellow—the colours of the Ethiopian flag. It is made by Pride Bites.

WO Design dog collar

I love the bright colours on this collar. The first day Baxter was wearing it, we went hiking at a local park and a woman remarked right away on his beautiful collar.

I will say that we are using this more as a fashion collar than a functional one. I’m a bit hesitant about the strength of the plastic buckle, so we’re sticking with our regular martingale collar for our walks and tie out.

WO Design dog disc toy

The WO|Disc is a throw and tug toy. It is soft, flexible and light rubber—and completely recyclable. It is 8 inches in diameter and comes in four colours: blue, green, cranberry or yellow.

The disc is a fun variation on our usual sticks and rope. It doesn’t sail quite as far as a Frisbee, but it’s light and easy to throw.

I like that the soft rubber is gentle for Baxter’s mouth.

We didn’t put it to the test with a vigorous game of tug, but WO promises that it’s durable and “designed for active dogs.”

What is the cost of WO|Collar and WO|Disc?

Use code thatmutt2017 for 20% off your order from WO Design. ORDER HERE.

The WO|Collar costs $19.99, and the WO|Disc is $16.

For each product purchased, WO Design provides at least two homecooked meals for widows and orphans in Ethiopia.

What’s unique about WO Design?

The charitable aspect of WO’s business is a unique feature of their company.

The company’s commitment to the cause of women and orphans in Ethiopia is obvious through their website and their packaging—and even the colours of the WO|Collar.

Pros of WO Design:

  • Buying from WO Design means you're part of helping women and orphans in Ethiopia.
  • The WO|Collar is colourful and stylish.
  • The collar can easily be adjusted to fit your dog’s neck.
  • The spoke design of the WO|Disc makes it easy for you to throw and for your dog to carry. It’s also easy to grab.
  • The bright colours of the WO|Disc mean it’s easy to spot if it gets left on the lawn—or tossed to the middle of the lake (it floats).

WO Design review - dog disc toy


  • I question the sturdiness of the plastic buckle on the collar. If you have a large dog who likes to pull, the WO|Collar may not be the best choice for you.
  • The collar is fabric, which means it may absorb odors and dirt more easily.
  • When laying flat on the ground, the WO|Disc was a bit hard for Baxter to pick up—similar to a Frisbee.

Would I buy the WO|Collar or WO|Disc?

I like the company’s mission, but these two products are not a fit for my particular dog. My concerns about the sturdiness of the collar mean I’ll be sticking with my martingale. As for the disc, I don’t have a high-energy, playful dog. When he does want to play, Baxter is happiest chasing a stick.

Would I recommend WO Design to others?

I am happy to recommend WO Design. Their mission is commendable, and buying their products is a good way to support this cause. The WO|Collar would be a fit for smaller dogs or dogs that don’t pull—or if you’re looking for a colourful, stylish collar.

For dogs that enjoy Frisbees, the WO|Disc could be a good alternative toy to try.

WO Design coupon code

WO Design created a unique coupon code for readers of That Mutt. Use code thatmutt2017 for 20% off your order with WO Design. Click here.

*Code expires Sat. March 31.

WO Design review - dog collars and dog toys

Would you like a new collar or toy for your dog?

Let us know if you have any questions about the products. We'll get them answered for you!

When to Intervene at the Dog Park

When to Intervene at the Dog Park

Dog parks can be stages for good and bad scenes.

Baxter and I recently had an experience that could have been bad, but ended up being good.

There were two lessons:

1. Let dogs be dogs.

2. Know your dog and step in when needed.

I will explain.

When Baxter and I arrived at the park, two puppies were there playing and wrestling. A new dog was huge excitement for two already excited puppies.

They bounced around Baxter, mouthing at his face and jumping on him. Bax tolerated them for a time and then tried to move on. The puppies weren’t having it. They had a new toy. Eventually, Mr. B lost patience. There was a lip curl, a growl, then a snarl.

No one freaked out. Not the dogs, not the puppies’ owners, not me.

We knew Baxter wasn’t attacking the puppies. He was saying, “Hey kid, you’re being rude. Back off.”

When to intervene at the dog park

The puppies’ owners knew their puppies were being obnoxious. They knew their puppies needed to be corrected, and dogs can teach that lesson to each other better than humans. Let dogs be dogs.

However, one of the puppies just did not get the message.

He kept hassling Baxter, and Baxter was getting more and more annoyed. I believe that my job is to always put my dog first and help him if he’s in an uncomfortable situation. We had let dogs be dogs, but now it was time for the humans to interrupt.

I put B up on a picnic table and blocked the puppy from climbing up after him. The owners distracted their puppies and moved to another area of the park.

Bax and I headed in the opposite direction. Our two groups were each able to make our circuits of the park and keep out of each other’s way.

Eventually we did meet up again, and the puppies’ exuberance and Baxter’s patience were still at opposite ends of the spectrum. The one puppy did do a submissive down—for about a second. But I could see Baxter’s patience was at an end.

We left the park—Baxter’s joy at leaving was obvious—and went for a walk along a local creek instead. We even met two other dogs that were a bit more reasonable energy, so Bax got some socializing, which he loves and is why we go to the dog park.

Even though we ended up leaving the park, the incident was a good experience because all of the owners had the same perspective on the situation.

Instead of yelling at me and accusing Baxter of attacking the puppies, the owners saw what he was doing and why. When the dogs didn’t work things out themselves, we each stepped in and removed our dogs from the situation. To me, that is how educated responsible dog owners should act.

Lessons learned at the dog park

1. Let dogs be dogs. In my experience in most situations dogs can sort things out between themselves. A snarl is not the same as an attack.

2. Be real about your dog’s attitude. Are you the owner of an exuberant puppy? Not all dogs (or people) will be enthused about being jumped and chewed. If, like me, you have an older dog who prefers a quiet walk to an energetic game of tag, don’t force your dog to do something he’s not interested in.

3. Be prepared to step in. The first step is to let dogs be dogs. But if they can’t work it out, it’s up to me to do what’s best for my dog. If the puppies’ owners hadn’t taken their dogs away from Baxter, I could have politely suggested that we each go in opposite directions to give the dogs a break from each other.

4. Remove your dog from the situation if necessary. Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away. As much as Baxter loves to socialize, the dog park was just not the place to be on that particular day.

Do the rest of you have any examples of when you've “let dogs be dogs” or when you've chosen to step in?

Let us know in the comments!

Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres.

Related post: Should kids be allowed in dog parks?



How to Make Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth A Habit

How to Make Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth A Habit

Cleaning our dog’s teeth. We all know it’s important. But for some of us, it’s something that seems hard to do regularly.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to do a better job of taking care of Baxter’s teeth. Now, as we near the end of Pet Dental Month, it’s time for me to report on how I’m doing.

The answer?

Not great.


I have brushes and paste and chews and rinses. I have a relatively cooperative dog. I had a few nights in a row where I brushed his teeth right after dinner. But then I stopped.

I’ve decided that what I need is a habit.

I’ve heard it takes something like three weeks to establish a new habit.

I also know that goal setting isn’t enough on its own. I need a plan. So here is my plan to establish our new dental cleaning habit over the next three weeks.

How to make brushing your dog's teeth a habit


I liked brushing teeth after dinner. We weren’t pressed for time, Baxter was pretty relaxed, my husband was home so we could tag team if we needed to. But then Baxter started going to bed before we finished eating. He ate his dinner, did a lap around the kitchen to make sure we hadn’t dropped anything and walked down the hall to the bedroom.

Getting him up or getting down on the floor to brush his teeth while he’s laying in bed are not ideal scenarios.

New plan: Brush teeth in the morning.

How to make a habit of brushing your dog's teeth


Mr. B has more brushes, flavours of toothpaste, sprays and rinses than I do. The regular toothbrush is easiest to maneuver around his mouth as opposed to the finger brush, and he seems okay with the taste of the dog toothpaste.

However, he has some tartar buildup on his teeth that's too hard for the brush.

New plan: Add a tartar-softening rinse to his drinking water and find a scraper to try to remove the tartar.

Brushing your dog's teeth

Extra help

The comments on my last post and my own experience with Baxter confirm the biggest help for clean teeth is raw bones. We don’t feed raw (yet), so once a week we try to give Baxter a soup bone to chomp on.

The issues are we’re not consistent with every week, and I prefer he have the bones outside where he can lie down and chew for an hour or more. When he’s inside—like in the winter—he brings the bones to his bed. Yuck.

Baxter chewing on a raw soup bone

New plan: I’m not sure what I’m going to do here. Honestly, I may wait until the weather warms up to officially add bones to our routine. Spring is less than a month away now.

What else should I consider in my tooth cleaning plan?

How do you take care of your dog’s teeth?

Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating.

This post contains affiliate links.

What is the Best Way to Take Care of Your Dog’s Teeth?

What is the Best Way to Take Care of Your Dog’s Teeth?

One of my resolutions this year is to do a better job taking care of Baxter’s teeth.

February's Pet Dental Month is the perfect excuse to investigate doggie dental care more closely and get a better understanding of why it’s so important.

A long-time friend of mine, Laurie Stevenson, is a registered veterinary technician at our clinic, Clappison Animal Hospital.

Below, she and my favourite vet, Dr. Stephen Longridge, explain how to take care of your dog’s oral health.

Julia Thomson: The newsletter I recently received from the clinic says “A pet's mouth is the gateway to their overall health.” How so?

Laurie Stevenson and Dr. Stephen Longridge: As with people, dental health care is a key element in the overall well-being of our pets. A diseased mouth can lead to disease in other areas of the animal's body.

A healthy mouth enables the animal to eat a healthy diet free of pain, prevents infection from entering the blood stream and can prolong your pet’s life. It’s about both the quality and length of your pet’s life.

JT: What can you tell from looking at a dog’s mouth?

LS & Dr. SL: When examining an animal's mouth we are looking at the teeth, gums, lips, tongue—everything in the mouth. We also take note of areas surrounding the oral cavity including the eyes.

We note the colour and wear of the teeth and gums, any abnormal pigmentation, gum erosion, and tartar or calculus (the really hard debris on an animal's teeth) build up.

Best way to take care of your dog's teeth

Also, we can tell what the animal has been chewing and whether or not they chew more on one side than the other. If one side is used more it may indicate areas of pain or teeth that are loose.

JT: What are common issues you see?

LS & Dr. SL: Loose teeth due to gum recession are very common. Deep pockets around the teeth (gum recession) allow bacteria to grow which in turn leads to infection around the tooth as well as pain and inflammation. The roots of the teeth can become exposed leading to pain, infection and loose teeth. The jaw bone can actually begin to erode due to infection.

JT: Why is it important to get regular checkups that include dental checks?

LS & Dr. SL: If problems are caught before they get too bad then the animal's teeth can be saved and money can be saved as well. It's much better (and cheaper) to prevent problems than it is to fix them once they have occurred.

If dental disease progresses too far, it can lead to more severe diseases, in turn leading to a shorter overall lifespan.

JT: How does tooth care prevent other diseases?

LS & Dr. SL: A diseased mouth allows infection to enter the animal’s blood stream and harm organs. Usually, bacteria do not lead to infection or abscesses in other organs, but they create constant wear and tear on the body. In some cases bacteria may enter the animal’s blood stream causing a systemic infection. This infection can enter other organs causing heart, kidney or liver failure.

JT: What’s the best way to take care of your dog’s teeth?

LS & Dr. SL: The best way to take care of your dog’s teeth (and cat) is to brush daily. This can be very difficult of course, so as much brushing as possible is best.

If you cannot brush on a daily basis, the next best thing is to use chew treats such as CET chews which are specifically made to rub against the pet’s teeth as they chew and thus get rid of tartar. These chews also contain an enzyme which mixes with the dog’s saliva and aids in killing the bacteria in the mouth which causes tartar.

A specific dental diet may also be a good choice. The kibbles are formulated to brush up against the animal’s teeth which chewing. They are also larger kibbles and need to be chewed more than normal kibbles

Finally, additives can be added to your dog’s drinking water. They are similar to mouthwash for humans and aid in killing bacteria.

All these methods can be undertaken to prevent tartar build up which in turn leads to calculus.

JT: What’s involved in a professional dental cleaning?

LS & Dr. SL: A professional dental cleaning is very similar to human dental cleaning. The biggest difference for animals is that they must be under general anesthetic.

The animal is sedated, placed on IV fluids, then put under general anesthetic. A technician begins by cracking off the large pieces of calculus. The teeth are thoroughly examined on all sides and each tooth is individually charted.

Defects such as cavities, fractures, pulp exposure, wearing are all noted. The gums are examined around each tooth for deep pockets where infections start. The entire mouth is examined in detail.

Next an ultrasonic scaler is used to remove all calculus and tartar from the exposed parts of the teeth. Any loose teeth or teeth with exposed roots and bifurcations are noted. A curette is used to clean beneath the gums to remove tartar from under the gum line.

Next the veterinarian examines the mouth and determines if any teeth need to be removed. X-rays may be taken—to be sure of tooth health full mouth dental x-rays should be taken. It is impossible to see what is going on underneath the gums otherwise and problems may go undetected.

The vet will then extract any teeth using elevators. This is the most time consuming part of the dental procedure. Any lumps or abnormal tissue growth are also removed at this time. For large teeth that are removed the gums will be sutured together to aid in healing. An oral rinse helps clean the mouth and kill bacteria. If many teeth are removed the pet may be placed on antibiotics for a time after the procedure.

Once all the extractions are completed and the teeth have been cleaned (scaled), the teeth are polished. Once this has been done the animal is cleaned up and the mouth is rinsed.

The pet is now woken up and recovered before going home at the end of the day.

JT: What’s the most important thing people should realize about dental care for their dogs?

LS & Dr. SL: No matter the breed or diet, each and every dog should have their teeth closely monitored and properly taken care of. Brushing is the best way! Dental care is not just for humans. A healthy mouth means a healthy pet overall and can help them lead a longer and happier life with fewer health issues.

As for the rest of you …

Do the rest of you get regular dental check-ups? How do you take care of your dog’s teeth?

Let us know in the comments!

Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating.

Related posts:

Alternatives to brushing a dog's teeth

How to get a dog used to nail trims (similar approach could be used for teeth brushing)

Cleaning your dog's teeth without anesthesia

I can't afford a dental cleaning for my dog

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