Many of you have asked how I have trained Buddha to walk nicely, both on leash and off leash. He is pretty good at it for only being a year and half but we still have moments where he forgets and forges ahead. This usually happens when we are in a brand new environment and it just reminds me that Buddha is a young boy and that training is never really done.
To refresh our own training as well as respond to your frequently asked question, here's what we've done and still do to this day.
In the very beginning I started with a bag of food (his daily ration that he earned throughout the day instead of free meals) and a clicker. I clicked and gave him a "treat" every time he stayed next to me and/or gave me eye contact.
If he started to pull, I simply stopped. Pulling got him no where and I wouldn't start to move again until he got beside me. This takes a lot of patience and make sure you don't have a timed destination to reach when you first begin training. You may only make it 5 feet and back from your doorstep the first day. There may be many, many stop and go moments.
If he pulled while trying to meet and greet another dog (or anything or anyone), go the opposite way. Many people let their dog pull them and unknowingly "reward" the pulling behavior by giving their dog what they wanted (meeting/playing with another dog). Every time you let your dog pull you to their goal, your are training your dog that pulling is very rewarding. Even if it takes 30 minutes, be patient and stop or take a few steps back the opposite way every time there is tension on the leash.
Use your voice to ask your dog to stay close. When I want Buddha to slow down, I say, "Slow" before I come to a stop. It works as a verbal warning that you are about to stop and end the fun walking. If they come back to position before you come to a complete halt, reward them. I believe that a verbal command without the physical tug on the leash works best because it is the same tool you will have when you are off leash. If you don't need to yank on the leash to keep your dog next to you, you won't need it when you're off leash either.
Sometimes, treat your dog randomly when they are looking around but also staying close. This taught Buddha that it was perfectly acceptable to enjoy his surroundings and sniff interesting things within our limited space. You can hand the treat down right next to your leg and teach your dog to LOVE this position, that walking by your side has rewards.
Once Buddha got the hang of walking next to me, I started to reward him by letting him "Sniff" areas up to the end of the leash. Instead of treats, he would get to smell fun stuff and relieve himself at the new command. This also has the benefit of not having a dog who has to stop and pee constantly during your walk. Buddha would walk perfectly beside me for a while and then I would tell him to go "Sniff." He had the freedom to wander around and after a few moments I would say, "Let's Go!" where he would come right back next to my side. If he didn't listen, I'd shorten the leash length with my hands and simply stop to refrain his movement until he got back into position.
We practiced recalls at the dog park. I used to carry a bag of still warm, cooked hamburger meat and would reward him heavily for running back to me when I called his name. Try not to repeat their name over and over when you call them back otherwise the word loses it's magic. Say it once, loud and clear, and wait. This recall practice came into play when I finally let him off leash after he was a year old.
Since he was used to walking next to me without tension on the leash to hold him back, walking without a physical restriction didn't phase him. The recall training came in handy when surprising and unexpected distractions arose and he forgot to stay in position. I was so proud of him two weeks ago when a suicidal squirrel jumped out 3 feet in front of us on the sidewalk and dashed into the open road. Buddha's body instinctively flew into action but froze half a second later at my recall command. He had only strayed 3 feet from me. I praised him and hugged him all over.
Remember to always set up your dog to succeed, not to fail! Start where there are few or no distractions. Make things easy for your dog to learn, and if they falter at any time, go back a step or two. Don't get mad or frustrated when walking your dog. Keep it fun, short, and simple. Practice and consistency is the magic tool.
Have any tips of your own? Or questions? I'm no pro but just a dog lover sharing my own experience. Thanks for reading!