At many Nosework trials you’ll be given the option of searching one or more elements off leash. The Off-Leash Search is a frequent recommendation of trainers, as well as the founders of K9 Scent Work.
As the title, Off-Leash, suggests, you enter the search area, perform your start-line ritual, and then prompt your dog to begin and they search without wearing a leash: Off-Leash.
While leash work is an important element of Nose Work, so is working without the leash. When searching exteriors and vehicles, you will generally be on leash. But, with interior searches you might be given an option to search on or off leash.
Why would you choose to work off leash? Well, this creates a more independent level of searching for your dog. It changes the parameter of the Nosework game.
It’s also an excellent way to show your dog/handler teamwork. Because, while your dog will be off leash, you’ll still be offering cues to your dog by how you move and where you pause.
It takes training and time to become good at Off-Leash Searching. So many handlers I’ve met over the years simply refuse to take their dog off leash. The reasons are as varied as the number of handlers. At the core, so often, is some sort of fear. Handlers don’t like to give up control and allowing your dog to search off leash gives so much of the control of the search to the dog.
At the same time, your dog will continue to check in with you. And, this is where practice is important. Why? Because handlers have to learn the difference between an alert and checking in.
Atlas and I have had issues with this at times. He turns to look at me and check in, and it’s a subtle version of his Alert. I’ve called false alerts because of him checking in.
We’ve also had excellent successes off leash. We searched a small, copy room. If we’d been tethered, it would have made the search a lot harder.
We’ve also had success in larger rooms, too. Why? Because he takes off fast at the start line, he’s always so excited to play the game. And, in a large space, being off leash gives him the freedom to rush in. Then, depending on how and where I move, he comes back to me and we work our general pattern.
My recommendation is that you make Off-Leash searching part of your regular routine. Like all the elements and issues and bits and pieces of Nose Work, if you practice, it all becomes natural and easy.
And, remember, no matter how you start a search, if you’re allowed to be off leash, you can, at any time take the leash off your dog or put it back on.
After all, the Off-Leash search might not be the best choice in the moment, so be ready to put the leash back on your dog so you can reset or work your pattern.