Off-leash training is a transition because it is, most definitely, a slow process.
It would be nice if we could just reach down, unsnap the leash, and know that your dog would instantly obey the commands “Come”, “Sit”, “Down”, “Stay”, and “Heel”. Regardless of how proficient a dog may be in basic obedience while attached to the leash, his efficiency diminishes about 80% once the leash is removed.
While heeling, he will lag terribly, go wide on the turns, forge ahead and sit in front of you when you stop. Sometimes, it is as if the unsnapping of a leash erases everything on the memory of a dog’s mind.
On a sit-stay exercise, without the benefit of a leash, a dog suddenly realizes that his owner is powerless to do anything in the way of correction in the event of disobedience. Should the dog then bolt and runs, the command “Come” falls on seemingly deaf ears.
To begin off-leash work without making the proper transition would be the same as standing a baby on his two feet to walk before he had even had an opportunity to perfect his crawling technique. On the other hand, to begin making the transition before your dog has demonstrated absolute perfection and control in his work on leash would be a total waste of time.
If your dog needs constant correction while heeling on-leash, he will need the same constant correction while heeling without the benefit of the leash; but without a leash, how are you going to make a correction? Your dog should be able to perform all basic obedience exercises willingly, smartly, and with no opposition, before you undertake the transition to off-leash work.
If you have followed proper obedience training from the very beginning, you will now begin to realize why so much emphasis was placed on correct heeling techniques.
You were constantly reminded to keep a belly of slack in the leash at all times. Instructions were explicit that dogs were not to be allowed to forge ahead and tighten the leash. One of the purposes, of course, was for the dog to get used to feeling no connection between him and his owner. Of course, if the dog spends ten weeks being restrained by the leash while heeling, there’s not a bond of affection that’s strong enough to hold that dog in the proper heel position once the leash is off.
If your dog is proficient in the commands “Come”, “Sit”, “Down”, and “Stay”, but requires constant tugging on the leash while heeling, spend more time correcting that deficiency now while you still have the help of a six-foot leather training leash. Use it while you can.