Should You Offer Off-Leash Walks?
In many areas clients really want their dogs to romp and play off-leash with other dogs. You may have private walk clients asking if you’ll let their dog off-leash too— often times clients who regularly exercise their dogs off-leash want you to do the same. Should your dog walking company offer off-leash walks?
#1 Are There Areas Where You Can Legally and Safely Walk Dogs Off-Leash?
If not, it’s a no-go. It’s in your best interest to follow the rules for both ethical and professional reasons. You’ll risk being ticketed, plus annoy the general public (including potential customers). And, should anything happen with a dog in your care while you’re breaking the leash law, chances are the outcome will not be favorable in the event of a dispute.
#2 Does your insurance cover it?
Not all insurance policies cover dogs being off-leash. Check with your insurance company and see, you might need to switch insurance coverage providers if you’re not covered.
#3 Are You Comfortable Allowing Client Dogs Off-Leash?
If you’re aren’t 100% comfortable skip the off-leash option for client dogs. It’s absolutely fine to decline requests for off-leash. Do what makes you comfortable. There are plenty of clients who don’t mind, or even prefer their dogs remain on lead.
#4 Do You Have the Training Skills to Evaluate If and When a Dog is Ready to Go Off-Leash?
I never take a dog I don’t know out and just let him run free— I ask questions during the meet & greet to determine if the dog is a good candidate for off-leash (get the 8 essential questions I ask to determine if a dog will be good off-leash below). Then I test the dog’s recall with various distractions and build a relationship with the dog. Only when I’ve seen a solid recall and I’m confident he will come when called do I let him off, dragging a long-line at first.
#4 Are You Willing to Cope With the Risk of a Dog Running Off?
Losing an off-leash dog is one of the most stressful things ever. If you walk dogs off-leash for long enough, it’s likely it will happen to you. Even with all the careful screening and training I’ve done, I’ve had a couple incidences when a dog has taken off unexpectedly— luckily both were found within an hour. But these were dogs I’d walked off-leash for years with zero issues. Any dog that’s off-leash does have the potential to run off. Can you remain calm and handle the stress if that happens?
Bottom line, if you’re not fully comfortable with the idea of off-leash walks, it’s not necessary to offer them to have a successful dog walking company. If you’re confident with dogs off-leash, know how to screen, test, and reinforce solid recall and have a place to legally and safely exercise the dogs, then go for it!