Part of working on a reliable stay with Ruby means I need to be able to drop her leash in public. It's possible that she could become accidentally separated from her partner when she is working, so I want to familiarize her with the feeling of being untethered in a public place without her breaking the implied stay of a "sit" or "down" command.
As far as how comfortable I am with dropping her leash in public, it feels like handing the car keys over to a teenager learning how to drive – you just have to let the trust outweigh the terror!
When I'm with her in a store and I want to practice, I just don't make it a big deal. Ruby's not really interested in adults or children passing by, so I feel pretty confident (I think...) that she's not going to take off. We're strolling along, I stop to see something and put her in a "sit" or "down," drop the leash, and walk ahead a few paces. Then I walk back, treat her for staying put, pick up the leash, and we move on for awhile and do it again.
If I feel she's in a good, relaxed state, I'll keep increasing the distance between us. She was doing very well at this shoe store, so I dropped the leash and walked past the aisle to the mirror. I think she was able to see me when I turned the corner, even though there were about three seconds when I couldn't see her. I'll admit, in those three seconds, I had visions of a gleeful Roo flying down the aisle with a boot dangling out of her mouth, losing her in this shoe maze, and eventually finding her devouring the heel of some $200 pump! But, of course, she hadn't moved an inch.
All in all, it was a pretty controlled environment, the store wasn't very crowded and had few distractions. So Mr. Raiser and I took her to Target and chose a noisy spot at checkout.
To start, I walked out about six feet while still holding the leash. She was mildly interested in a cart going by, but she didn't show any sign of getting up.
She was calm, so I tossed the leash and we practiced in different areas, just to change the context. She was great all around.
I've mentioned that service puppy raisers live and train by a philosophy of "Set Your Dog Up For Success." The dog's triumphs are even more striking when you realize that she has reached the point of also setting YOU up for success; what an amazing feeling it is when a nervous raiser can drop the leash and draw assurance from the confidence within her dog!