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Probably a more controversial opinion here, but since seeing the difference between my older and younger dogs' off-leash manners, I'm more and more of the opinion that with young puppies, doing is the best way to learn.

Of course, I don't mean just walk out the door with no leash on the pup. I started in a wooded area I knew well - so no surprise rivers or cliffs - at a location and time I knew wasn't highly populated. Started on a long-line to judge how the puppy was doing. And once I took the leash off, it was constant check-ins. Repeatedly calling the pup over, rewarding with food and praise, then letting them go back to exploring. Rewarding when the pup chooses to check in on their own. Practice collar/harness grabs and leashing/unleashing multiple times on an outing.

Frodo, our younger dog, isn't even out of his teenage stage yet, so nothing's set in stone and of course it's a small sample size. But he's so far a really wonderful trail dog. Attentive to where we are, responsive to recalls, has no issue when it's time to leash up (either to let someone else pass or to head home). He doesn't seem to view off-leash activities as something rare and valuable and therefore necessary to prolong with keep-away games and the like. Again, we started when he was a baby (and honestly the breeder took them out a time or two before we even got him), since babies are almost never going to go far from you or get into any real trouble.

Samwise, our older dog, was an adult when we first tried any kind of off-leash activity with him outside of a dog park/fenced yard. He doesn't take off or completely ignore us, but he does go out of our sight more than I'd like and is less responsive to recalls if there's anything exciting around. We're constantly working on improving this, but he gets fewer off-leash privileges than Frodo as a result.

This could absolutely be a difference in temperament and breed as much as the way they were introduced to off-leash hiking. But I've seen a lot of reputable trainers have great success with introducing off-leash experiences early and often as well. It comes with risks. Your breed and how they might be received by the public is absolutely a good thing to keep in mind. If I lived somewhere with high risk of parvo or other puppy illnesses I'd personally hold off until the pup could get at least a couple rounds of vaccines. You have to know your local wildlife and what you might encounter in the areas you're using (even stuff like ground wasps can be dangerous to a pup if you stir up a nest). Just wanted to offer another perspective.

Again. I'm talking baby puppies here. I would NOT recommend taking an adult dog without solid recall/manners training and just letting them off-leash to see what they do.
 
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