No dog knows how to be off-leash until it has been trained, and some dog breeds are easier to train than others. Teaching your dog to always come when it is called, or recall is one of the most important tools you can teach your dog. It is a foundation in training and a dream dog will come no matter the distraction.
If your dog sees another person, or animal, or catches a smell, it is important that they not run off, for their safety and other creatures’ safety.
However, some dogs are simply bad at being off the leash. Do not worry, it does not mean you are a bad trainer. Certain breeds are simply hardwired to be worse than others off the leash.
So what breeds are known for being the worse off-leash and what makes them so difficult?
Some of the worst breeds off leash are difficult because of what they were bred to do. Spitz dogs, sighthounds, and scenthounds were all bred to perform certain jobs. They are independent breeds and often have high prey drives which makes training them to be off-leash very difficult and often impossible.
In this article, we will explore these groups of stubborn and independent dogs, and look at some of the more well-known breeds from these canine categories. We will also look at what they were bred to do and why that makes them the worse breeds to have off-leash.
Bred to be hardy winter dogs, Spitz breeds are scattered across the northern regions in North America, Europe, Russia, and Asia. While many Spitz breeds were bred to have specific jobs like mushing, hunting, and herding, they have become very popular pet dogs across the world.
They come in various sizes, from tiny lap dogs like Pomeranians to giant guard dogs like Akitas, but they all share big fluffy coats, tightly curled tails, and pointy wolf-like ears.
Fiercely loyal and affectionate with their owners, Spitz breeds are well known for their independence and stubbornness. This independence is what makes most Spitz breeds so unreliable off-leash, it is in their nature to not always listen to you.
There are between 50-70 different Spitz breeds from different regions around the world, but let’s take a look at six very popular ones in pet homes today!
One of the most popular dog breeds in the United States, the Siberian Husky is known for its wolf-like appearance, goofy personality, and often piercing blue eyes.
Originally hailing from Siberia, huskies were brought to Alaska in the early 1900s as sled dogs. They have done everything from haul supplies during harsh Arctic winters to sled dog racing. The Iditarod is a famous 938-mile sled dog race held annually in Alaska and features many husky teams.
Huskies are mischievous, independent, playful, and full of energy! As sled dogs, they have to work independently to navigate ice and snow without the help of a handler. This independence paired with high prey drive and stubbornness makes it very difficult to train huskies to be off-leash.
Much like Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes were also bred to pull sleds but think of them more as freight haulers than race cars.
People often confuse Huskies and Malamutes because of their similar wolfy looks, but malamutes are much bigger, stronger, and broader than huskies.
Alaskan Malamutes are strong-willed, aloof, and independent by nature. These traits make training a recall very difficult and being able to have them off leash almost impossible.
Known for their beautiful plush silver and grey coats and playful personalities, Norwegian Elkhounds are one of the oldest breeds in Scandinavia. Their ancestry can be traced back to the Viking era and they are even featured in Norse mythology.
The Norwegian Elkhound is the national dog of Norway and was bred to hunt and bring down moose. Elkhound is a mistranslation of “elghund” which means moose dog, but they have been used to hunt all kinds of large game like deer, elk, caribou, and bears. They also have been used as herders and guardians.
Because of their high prey drive and traditional training to hunt on a leash by their handlers, Norwegian Elkhounds are not very reliable off-leash. Like most Spitz dogs, they are stubborn and driven and cannot always be trusted to listen when off-leash.
Distinguished by their fluffy ruff around their neck that resembles a lion, Chow Chows are an ancient, large all-purpose Spitz dog from China. They have pulled sleds, and been used as guard dogs and possibly as war dogs.
One ancient Chinese emperor was said to have had 5,000 of these beautiful loyal dogs that were used for hunting.
Chow Chows are aloof dogs who tend to bond to close family, sometimes to only one person. Between their passive aloofness and instinctual headstrong personality, Chow Chows are not always the most obedient dog when it comes to recalling. Therefore they are one of the worse breeds off-leash.
Like the Chow Chow, the Akita is another large-boned ancient Asian Spitz breed. In their native country of Japan, Akitas are known for their loyalty as family protection dogs. They also represent good luck and happiness!
Akitas are very affectionate with their owners and family, but aloof and wary around strangers.
Like most Spitz breeds, Akitas are stubborn and have a high prey drive. And because of their guard dog breeding instincts, they have to be properly socialized around strangers or they could become reactive. These breed traits make them poor candidates for off-leash excursions.
Another famous ancient Japanese breed, the Shiba Inu is much more compact than the Akita, and they do not get much larger than 23 pounds.
Known for their silly antics and cat-like behavior, internet sensations like Dogecoin and memes have made it a very popular breed in the past few years. The compilation video above shows what stars Shiba Inus are on the internet.
Despite its popularity today, the Shiba Inu breed almost went extinct during World War II and was revitalized using three surviving bloodlines in Japan. Now the Shiba Inu makes up 80% of dogs owned in Japan and it is rapidly becoming a favorite of dog owners in the United States.
Nowadays Shibas are kept as pets across the world, but originally they were bred to flush out small game like birds and rabbits.
They have a strong prey drive, are notorious escape artists, and can be incredibly stubborn. According to the AKC, these traits make off-leash training impossible, and letting a Shiba Inu off leash “is playing Russian Roulette with their life.”
Luckily with enough leashed walks and their compact size, they are one of the many breeds that make excellent apartment dogs!
Bred to keep fast, agile prey in their “sight” and to quickly be able to take them down, sighthounds tend to have a similar look to them. From bullet-like whippets to the giant silky Salukis, these dogs were bred for speed and look incredibly aerodynamic.
Sighthound breeds are all delicately boned; you should be able to see their ribs, and, probably what they are most well known for, their incredibly tucked waistline. They never have an ounce of fat on them.
Their torpedo-like head and bodies are what makes sighthounds like the Greyhound some of the fastest dogs in the world. Some sighthounds are still used for dog racing in many parts of the world, and there are lots of resources for people to adopt retired racing dogs.
Dog racing is losing popularity in many countries for ethical reasons, but dog sports like FAST cat is a fun way to channel your sighthound’s (or any dog with a high prey drive) inner race dog.
Since sighthounds were bred to chase down high-speed prey from rabbits to wolves, they have an incredibly high prey drive. This genetically ingrained instinct is what makes sight-hounds so unreliable off-leash.
There are over 20 different breeds of sighthounds from all over the world, but let’s take a closer look at five of the more well-known sighthounds.
Perhaps the most identifiable of the sighthounds, the English Greyhound‘s aerodynamic bodies and shock-absorbing pad have made them ideal dogs for racing and lure coursing and the fastest dog in the world.
They were bred to chase game by sight without their handlers telling them what to do. Because of this, they are independent dogs and have a very high prey drive.
They can go from 0 to 45mph in a few steps, and a racing greyhound has been trained to ignore loud cheering crowds, so they might have a hard time hearing you call them back.
They can even spot small prey like rabbits or cats up to a mile away, and no amount of training can stop their instinctual prey drive. This is why a greyhound is very difficult to train to be off-leash and it is safer to keep them leashed!
Often mistaken for greyhounds, whippets are smaller but share the same S-curved stealthy bodies. Whippets are English dogs descended from Greyhounds that have been used for hunting and racing.
They have incredible acceleration power and are almost as fast as greyhounds. The world-record long jump is held by a dock-diving whippet, so they have amazing exploding speed.
You can really see the power behind a whippet’s speed in the above slow-motion video!
Whippets can reach speeds of 35mph and share the intense prey drive and hyper-focus running that their larger greyhound relatives have. These traits they share with Greyhounds as well as many other sighthounds make being off leash very difficult and unsafe.
Looking like a glamorous long-hair cousin of the Greyhound, the Saluki was bred to be the hunting hound of Persian kings centuries ago.
A typical sighthound, they were bred to find game with sight rather than scent and were developed from dogs that followed nomadic tribes of the Fertile Crescent, a region in the Middle East. This makes them one of the most ancient breeds in the world!
Like their other sighthound cousins, Salukis have much too high of a prey drive and instinct to chase to be trusted off-leash. Salukis are also escape artists if they get bored, so a safely fenced-in area is a must for them.
Like Greyhounds and Whippets, Salukis are one of the fastest dogs in the world, they could be gone in a flash if let off the leash!
The tallest of the AKC-recognized breeds, the Irish Wolfhound is another sighthound, but instead of racing and chasing rabbits, they were bred to be protectors.
They are not as ancient a breed as the Saluki and Greyhound but are incredibly fierce, and as the name suggests, were bred not only for protection but to run down large prey like wolves.
Since Irish Wolfhounds are such large dogs and are not fully mature until they are over 18 months old, their exercise as a puppy must be carefully monitored.
They have a powerful instinctual prey drive and a strong urge to chase, so they also always have to be on a leash unless they are in a fenced-in space.
While Basenjis might not have quite the same familiar look as the more racehorse-looking sighthounds like Greyhounds, these ancient little African dogs are also sighthounds!
Known for cleanliness, not barking, and cat-like behavior, Basenjis were bred as hunting companions.
In case you wanted to know what a non-barking dog sounds like, check the video above of the different noises a Basenji makes.
Basenjis need lots of exercise and get bored easily, but their hunting instinct is too strong to let them off leash. They are sure to dash after any tiny animal that might come across them on the trail and they will keep it in their sight until they are lost.
Unlike sighthounds who were bred to keep fast prey in their sight, scenthounds put their nose to the ground and track prey with their sense of smell. Since dogs have a powerful nose, up to 10,000 times more powerful than humans, that makes them ideal tracking companions for hunting.
Scenthounds like Beagles, Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds, and Coonhounds were bred to hunt by smell and to be able to cover a lot of distance in pursuit of prey. Nowadays these dogs are often used as detection dogs.
They can smell out everything from narcotics, medical emergencies like seizures, or even invasive plant species! The instinctual need to follow a smell for long distances makes it very difficult to train these dogs to be off-leash.
Beagles are classic hunting companions and loyal family dogs, which has made them one of the most popular hound dogs in the United States. They have lots of energy and were bred to hunt in packs, usually focusing on hunting hare, or “beagling,” hence their name!
While one of the smaller of the scenthounds, they still have an incredibly powerful nose and lots of energy that can get them in trouble quickly. One smell can send them chasing a smell for hours, which is why beagles are not good dogs to let off the leash.
The Bloodhound is one the most iconic scenthounds, originally used for hunting large game, but now known for their incredible tracking skills for finding missing persons.
This makes them a popular choice for police K-9 units. Law enforcement starts training Bloodhounds as young as the 8-week-old Peak in the video.
They are gentle giants with long ears and lots of drooping skin, and they are infamous droolers. But despite their mopey appearance, Bloodhounds were bred to spend hours tracking a scent and will relentlessly stay on a smell for miles.
They require long walks but have to stay on the leash. If they catch an interesting smell and are off leash they are not likely to listen to commands.
Take a Bloodhound and shorten their legs by 8 inches or so and you have a Basset Hound!
Like the Bloodhound, the Basset Hound originated from the United Kingdom and France. They are another scenthound, bred to hunt hares, and their trailing ears help trap the scent of whatever they are tracking.
While known for being slow dogs that sleep a lot, Basset Hounds still have a powerful nose and can be easily distracted by a scent and independently take off to follow it.
These dogs can be stubborn, and aloof, and are notorious for wandering off to follow their nose, and their low stature means they can easily get lost in thick brush. This makes off-leash training very difficult.
As the name indicates, Coonhounds are scenthounds bred in America to hunt raccoons by scent, but they also hunt larger game like bears, boars, mountain lions, and bobcats.
Trained to hunt in packs, their booming barks and howls are a jolting wake-up call if you live in a rural area where people still use these dogs to hunt.
Just imagine a dozen of these Redbone Coonhounds baying at 5:00 in the morning!
Coonhounds originated in America from Foxhound and Bloodhound bloodlines. Considered different breeds by the AKC, there are the Black and Tan, Redbone, Bluetick, and Tree Walking Coonhounds.
You can still see the ancestry from the Bloodhound in their droopy faces and long ears, although their wrinkles are not as exaggerated.
Coonhounds are quick and efficient hunters, which is why they are still used for hunting game today. They are relentless on a scent and will stop at nothing.
These dogs are not good candidates to be off-leash, and their prey drive is so high that they should be supervised very closely around smaller pets like cats.
Alternatives To Letting Your Dog Off Leash
Do not worry, even if your dog is one of the breeds that cannot be trusted off the leash, there are still a lot of fun options to exercise and spend time with your dog.
While some of these sports might be suited better for certain breeds over others, they are still fun for all dogs to try!
For example, Huskies will probably like Joring (pulling you on skis, bicycles, or rollerskates) more than a basset hound, and a Bloodhound will likely excel more than a Basenji at scent work.
Sighthounds are great at Fast CAT and agility, but non-traditional sporting breeds like Great Danes can enjoy agility and other dog sports.
Just look at this husky rocking this agility course at a competition in Finland.
Here is a list of great alternatives to having your dog off leash in the open that you can do to exercise, train, and bond with your dog.
Before you let them off leash, always know your dog. If you have a dog breed that is notorious for being terrible off-leash, better safe than sorry and always keep them on a leash.
Dogs were bred for many different purposes, and Spitz dogs, sighthounds, and scenthounds’ high prey drive and independent natures can get them in serious trouble if they are off-leash.
So unless you have a breed that is good off-leash and you have trained a great recall with, keep your dog on a leash.
If you have one of the worse breeds off leash, only let them off in a secure fenced-in area, or get them some good walking equipment and always keep them leashed up!