I'm an over protective momma and started trustng Asia at about 18 monthes in an open area but only on trails where there was no roads nearby. I always carried a high value treat and practiced recalls off and on during the walks treating and praising when she came back. As for recall training, we used a long leash and would pull her to us initially if she didn't come when called. We use the "come" command when we mean business and otherwise we use "right here". praising and treating worked well for us and practicing with distractions came next. That one is harder but crucial to keep them safe. Even at almost 5 she is not perfect which is why she is only off leash in safe areas.
Before you can let them off leash you have to teach a reliable stay (palms up) then come, in a shortened field. And it takes awhile for them to get what you mean. Mine now respond to two arms in the air for "come", so I don't have to call them over and over. Treats are involved. In answer to your question about how old, I started mine very, very young.
Maybe I was bad, but I started Flora at around 4 months. She's the type of dog that I knew would not run away from me, primarily because she was (and still is) a little skittish and always looks to me for protection and comfort. I worked really hard on her recall too while on these off leash walks, and as a result she's pretty reliable with the come command. (Not that I need it - when she sees another person or animals on walks she freezes up, and I have plenty of time to get a leash on her.
I started Oakly at 3-4 months in a large open area away from traffic. I had pockets full of tiny training treats to hand him whenever he came near. I'm very happy with his recall. I started Caue within a month of him coming home (maybe 9 months) He did great from the start.
If you are unsure you can get a 50' parachute cord to reinforce the recall. Never use the Come command unless you are sure it is going to work. Use the dogs name until they are running straight toward you. Lots of big rewards when they get to you and you can grab the collar.
I actually just started with Brutus who is about 16 months now. He's got a pretty good recall, not perfect but we're working on it. We have a small grass park in out neighborhood so I've started walking him off leash down the street during the weekdays when it's quiet in the neighborhood.
He zig zags across the street, sniffing (and peeing) on mailboxes and when I call him he comes right back about 90% of the time. Although, i have to grab him quick because he'll come back but definitely won't stay.
I hope to soon move to a bigger field where we walk on occassion. I'm a little worried because it is so big and a billion more things for him to smell and distract him.
I'm definitely going to use the suggestion of using a super long lead at first.
I started both of mine from beginning, as soon as their puppy shots were over I let them free in a big open space and because they are young and uncertain they will follow you. Then I would practice the come command by calling them to me, treat and release so that they don't always think that coming back is the end of the fun.
Our cottage is very secluded (200 acres set about 2 km back from the nearest road), and Molson has had free roam up there since the first time we brought him up (around 4 months). He goes off playing with my moms 3yr old GR and they are always too busy wrestling and playing with each other to even think about running off alone.
Our first 2 goldens were females (Ginny & Tara) and they would take off on their own, take themselves for a hike, or swim out to the raft in the middle of the lake and lay there sun-tanning while we searched for them. Tara would always give it away because she would be sitting there barking at us to come get her! hahaha!
All three of mine have been going up to my parents' lake house since they were puppies. They are off-leash the entire time we are up there, unless Jasmine is feeling stubborn, then she gets a leash put on her during our walks. That normally will only happen once because she hates having to be on leash and starts behaving again.
In the city, Jasper is the only one I would allow off-leash. He goes to and from my car without a leash. But even as much as I trust him, I wouldn't do it near a busy road. He and Danny have very, very good recall. Though if Danny gets distracted, I just tell him to sit and he does, wherever he is. It's pretty funny!
We started our puppies off leash when we first got them ..around 2 and 3 months but only in an area away from traffic. We have a number of large soccer fields and creek areas by our house so that's where we take them. Of course when they're puppies they don't like to wander too far but now that they're older, they do tend to explore a bit further. We have started on whistle training with them and it's going really well. Their recall is quite good but we just found if they got too far away, they couldn't hear us...hence, the whistle. We don't allow them off leash during our regular walks however....too many rabbits!!!!
We have the benefit of living in a small town with a wide open school yard next to our house so Moose has rarely ever been on a lead. When he was about 4 months old I trained him ad nausem his recall command and since then he's been a perfect dog off lead. He doesn't run any farther than about 20-30 ft ahead of us.