The first thing you'll find when researching Huskies is a warning that you should never let a Husky off lead as it will run away and no amount of calling, whistling or recall training will prevent this.... This is enough to put most people off Huskies and was certainly a concern of my when I was thinking about getting Indy.
However, I am happy to say that my experience of having an off-lead Husky has been far from the repetitive warnings given on the internet. We've had Indy off-lead from day one and, although she's not perfect, she's as good as any other breed we meet at the dog park or beach.
We're yet to have an incident where Indy has run away or onto a road. Sometimes she follows other dogs the wrong way or ignores us for a while at the dog beach, but we've kept at it and been consistent with our training. The more we work on this sort of training and the older and less over-excited she gets (she's currently 2 1/2) the more she improves, and now we've gotten to a stage where I would trust her in any new off-lead and unfenced environment.
Don't get me wrong, this has taken a lot of training, trust, and persistence, but the derpy look on Indy's face when she is running on a beach is well worth it!
The capacity to go off-lead really depends on the level of training and the personality of the particular dog, it can even depend on their particular mood on any given day! Some days with Indy I can tell she's going to be less well-behaved than normal. It's all about choosing your moments, persisting, and making sure you have the right incentives and practices in place to ensure your pup is safe.
It seems many Husky owners are reluctant to even give off-lead a go due to the information they're told about the breed. We strongly recommend Husky owners try off-lead, you might be pleasantly surprised! The number of off-lead dogs in our local Husky group has boomed and it's so great to see owners build trust with their dogs in an off-lead environment.
The key to developing off-lead skills is finding a safe environment to practice and working at a pace with which you are comfortable and confident. You need to know your pup and understand what distracts them so you can be prepared when those distractions arise.
Starting off-lead training is much easier when your pup is young. Puppies they tend to be less independent and more receptive to training. However, that's not to say you can't teach an old dog new tricks! If your dog has not had prior off-lead training you may want to begin with extra recall training in your backyard or at a fenced park, or by using a training aid like a long-line.
We're currently working on off-lead training with our 1 1/2 year old Malamute, Willow. In the past Willow has tended to get excited and a bit rebellious off-lead but that hasn't deterred us! Josh has begun working with her 10 minutes a day in the backyard on recall and we've found a safe and quiet open park to work with more distractions.
We've found that it's easier to work on this training with Willow in an open park area as opposed to along tracks where she tends to run ahead and we sometimes just drop the lead instead of unclipping her as this reduces excitement and means she is calmer when she transitions to having more freedom. It also helps to have a few other dogs around who have good recall so she can learn off the pros!
At the park we call her back every ten minutes or so, grab her collar before letting her go, reward her, and basically sing her praises so she understands recall is a positive experience. We're already seeing improvements!
We're not dog trainers or experts but we thought we would share our experience with having Indy and Willow off-lead and show that it is possible! I'm sure many Husky owners may have had different experiences and if you are considering getting a Husky there certainly is no guarantee they will be good off-lead. It all comes down to the personality of your pup and the amount of training you're willing to be put in. All we can say is it's well worth it!
Keep an eye out for our next training post with our tips for recall and off-lead training.