Freddy is a one and a half year old lanky looking mutt. His parents ordered one of those DNA tests and they say he’s part Rhodesian, part Greecian Visko, and part lab. (I made that second one up because the testing company probably made it all up too) Freddy is a fun-loving dog. He’s well mannered at home. He’s great with his cats. He can sit, lay down, give 5, roll over, and go to bed on command. He has sweet eyes. Freddy has never been off leash. His parent’s were nervous. They just never knew if he was ready.
Hugo is a 14 week old Frenchie puppy. He still pees in the house if he’s left alone. He would probably destroy a fair amount of the house if he was left out of the crate. He would definitely feebly terrorize some cats. He can’t do anything on command. His young eyes can’t follow the treat you threw on the floor for him. Hugo has also never been off leash.
Both boys’ owners are ready for them to head out with us - off leash dog walkers, for the first time. There’s not much that Hugo is likely better than Freddy at just yet. Maybe getting attention from girls. But there’s one thing I could be sure of in this scenario. We could take Hugo off leash immediately, Freddy we would not. The puppy would be a breeze off leash! Because of puppies’ anxieties of the big new world, the attachment issues they’ll have at their young age, their easily motivated nature, and their low sensory awareness, puppies have all the ingredients for turning an off leash walk into a cake walk. As long as you start in a safe place with plenty of space no dog is too young to start off leash training.
It’s almost mind boggling to see how quickly puppies grow, learn, and develop, but, to a 14 week old who just came into your house every single thing is new, and huge. No matter the breed the world is big from down there. Noises are incredibly loud too, and to ears that have only recently begun to hear most noises are startling. Take your new puppy outside here in the city and you’ll see the astonishment in their eyes and shocked faces as they watch the giant world going by unable to focus on anything. You'll see them freeze when they hear something loud or something huge like a garbage truck.
Where a fully grown dog like Freddy would love to run off and explore, a pup like Hugo is far too nervous to be far from you. Young pups have never been alone; they’ve been with their mother and their siblings. Shortly after coming home they’ll begin their first “fear period,” where they’ll be looking to you for comfort during their introduction to the world in your care. This natural desire to look to you and be near you is perfect because wherever you go they’re going too. There’s barely any need to coax them along. Like little ducklings falling in line behind their mother, puppies will follow you wherever you go. Especially at a long stretch of beach, or a big open field, a very young puppy will be way too nervous to venture off on their own, and even if they did most of us could quite easily catch them. Leave a leash trailing behind them and it’s even easier.
Puppies are extremely easy to motivate. Young dogs absolutely adore your attention, or anyone else’s for that matter. They love you. They love your touch. Keep a treat pouch full of treats and they’re yours. Whip out a tug toy from your pocket and you’ve got a powerful tool to keep your dog interested. But perhaps most importantly is your voice. A high pitched positive tone, or Powerfully Positive Pitch as I call it, can lock their attention to you like a tractor beam. They’ll be on you just as fast as their tail is wagging. You can easily redirect them if they start the wrong way or pull their attention off of any of the possible distractions. Every time we’ve got a cute puppy and some passerby starts to lose it, squealing with delight, our puppies instantly flock to the petifile immediately losing interest in us, until we squeal, because it never gets old.
Puppies have less awareness of their surroundings and are therefore less distracted. They keep a closer eye on you because they can’t keep their eyes on much else; their vision is just not yet developed enough to see the other dogs splashing in the surf 25 yards away, or the two dogs chasing the ball. Where the older dog would be fascinated and motivated to go join, your puppy is oblivious. They can’t even follow a bouncing ball. A bird flying toward the street is gone just as soon as it appeared.
At my dog walking company I love when people sign their dogs up as early as possible. Baby Hugo would stick to us for comfort, follow our feet on complete autopilot, come bounding over when called with a high pitch, and miss every possible distraction, except the people that squeal when they see him. Start him young enough and he will grow up having practiced all the things he needs to know to be off leash safely in open area his entire life. It’s definitely the dogs who haven’t been off leash enough and have grown up on leash that have no clue how to behave once it comes off. After being held captive by the man a little taste of freedom is enough to send them into a frenzy. Unable to control his impulses, a dog like Freddy would very likely take tons of hard work to rehabilitate. The younger the dog the easier they are to train for off leash voice command.