It is advisable to keep newly rehomed dogs on the lead for up to 2-3 months from when you adopt them. However, every dog and every situation is different.
There are many key factors to consider before you let your new found friend run free.
First of all, you need to build a good bond of trust between you. This is achieved by lots of play, consistent feedback to basic training and manners and, of course, lots of love and attention.
Then, before you let the dog off the lead take it for lots of walks and, depending on how well trained it is on the lead, start to give it more length on the lead. From time to time, call the dog and see if it stops and responds to you. If it does, great, you can move onto the next step. If not, do not push things beyond this stage until the dog stops and responds to you.
The next step is to find an enclosed space, your garden is ideal, or a fenced park or other defined space. Make sure there is no access to too much open space and that you are not close to any main roads. It’s best if you do this with a partner.
After a little while of walking (so the initial excitement of the walk has worn off a bit and the dog has burnt off some of its energy) walk ahead of your partner. Making sure the dog has your attention, let it off the lead and ask the other person to call it. The dog should run to the other person and then back to you.
Over the course of the next few days (or weeks, you will have a good sense of how responsive your dog is becoming to you) increase the distance between you.
Reward the dog every time it runs to you when you call it, make a big fuss, ruffle its ears, tell it how clever it is and give it a treat. Positive reinforcement works much better than any amount of cajoling, shouting or scolding.
Once you feel confident your dog will return to you, you can start to let it off the lead in the same enclosed space. We tried this with our new rescue dog, Holly, this weekend and she loved it. She went dashing off, enjoying the newfound freedom, but was very good at returning when called.
Holly is quite well trained and after a week we had our first off the lead country walk today. Holly was aware of my need to keep an eye on her and having bounded off ahead she then ran back and patiently waited for me to catch up. She is an older dog (7) so is going to be more sensible than a younger dog, and probably more predictable than a dog that has had a difficult past.
You will soon gauge how responsive your dog is when you call it and can adjust your time off the lead accordingly. Once you have had a week or two of defined time off the lead in safe places you can start to trust the dog in more open places.
The main thing to watch out for is distractions. Dogs may come when called when it is just the two of you but may go charging off if they pick up an exciting scent, see another dog or other people or sight a rabbit. This is where your careful and slow building up of recall and trust will pay off. It’s imperative the dog listens to you and doesn’t disappear off. Keep your firmest tone for calling the dog when you can see there is a distraction.
As with any relationship, with enough patience and love the trust continues to build and your canine companion will soon be your most reliable and dependable friend.