Jump to section
Your dog needs walking, the kids could do with getting out of the house and there are a couple of bits you’d like to pick up from town. The only problem is you’ve only got two hands. If he could just follow you without a leash he’d make your life a whole lot easier. You could push the stroller and carry bags of groceries. It would almost make taking him with you to do any number of chores stress-free.
This training wouldn’t just make trotting down the street easier, it would also make training him to follow other commands easier too. The more training you do with him, the quicker he will learn, from ‘wait’ to ‘roll over’. You’d also swiftly become known as the dog whisperer. While most owners struggle to get their dogs to sit, yours will silently and obediently follow you everywhere you go.
This type of training isn’t a walk in the park, it requires hard work and patience. You will mainly be using obedience commands to assert your control and communicate to your dog what you want him to do. The difficulty comes because you have to be consistent and sacrifice a lot of time. If he’s a young puppy he should be receptive and respond to training in just a couple of weeks. He may well be stuck in his ways if he’s older but he’s probably more subdued on walks anyway, which will also make it a little easier. Regardless of their age, though, be prepared to commit to several weeks to training.
The rewards will be more than worth it when you have a dog who doesn’t need any looking after when you’re out and about. When you want to teach him to do a back flip, or catch a tennis ball in the air, you’ll find that he responds to training much quicker.
Before you lose the leash you’re going to need a few things. An extendable leash will be the very first thing you need. A quiet space, like a big yard or a field will also be required. Try and ensure you train in an area that isn’t close to busy roads--you don’t want to risk a traffic collision.
Also, stock up on treats or his favorite food, they will play a key role in motivating and rewarding him throughout the training process. Time, persistence and a positive mental attitude will also come in handy.
Once you’re armed with all of that, you’re ready to start!
The Watch Me Method
Head out for a walk
Put your dog on a leash and head for the door. On the walk, you’re going to teach him the ‘watch me’ command so you’ll always have his attention.
Hold a treat in front of his nose and say ‘watch me’. As you do this, bring the treat up towards your eyes, then as soon as he looks at your eyes give him the treat and tell him he’s done a good job. Practice this for 10 minutes each day for a week or two.
Unclip the leash
Once he understands the command, unclip the leash and head out for a walk in a quiet space. Start by holding his favorite treat in his hand so you have his attention from the very start.
Plenty of praise
As you go, give him verbal praise and play with him. As soon as he starts to wander off, give him the ‘watch me’ command. Once he comes back to you and looks at you, you can give him the treat and praise. Practice this each time you walk for a week or two.
As he gets the hang of it, slowly introduce distractions. You can head to a local park or even into town. All the while, use your command and praise him consistently as he follows you. After several weeks of no problems, gradually decrease how many treats you give him until the command alone is enough to bring him back into check if he starts to wander.
The Keep it Fun Method
You and a friend
Call your dog between yourself and a friend. As soon he comes to one of you, give him a treat and praise. You need to play a variety of games everyday off the leash to ensure he always responds to your calls and wants to be close to you. He will respond quickly if he thinks the whole thing is big game, so keep it light-hearted. Play this with a friend for a few minutes each day for a couple of weeks.
Upgrade to hide and seek
Have your dog sit, then go and hide somewhere and call him. As soon he finds you, give him a treat and shower him with verbal praise. Again, practice this for a few minutes each day. Both of these games will encourage him to always be at your side.
Give him treats when he plays with you, follows you around the house and is generally by your side. It is important he wants to constantly be with you when you’re in the house, that way when you head outside his instincts will also tell him to keep close.
Fetch the leash
Secure him to a leash and head outside. Hold a treat down by your waist to keep his attention. Then give him a treat and play with him every time you walk 30 seconds with him right by your side. After a few attempts, you can start to increase the distance you walk before you give him the treat. Practice this each day when you walk him for at least a couple of weeks.
Lose the leash
After weeks of the in-house and outside leash training, you can lose the leash. By now it should be habit for him to want to be right by your side. For the first few walks, use a treat to keep him right by your side. As he gets the hang of it, you can slowly cut down how many treats you give him. Be consistent with this training and expect to put in several weeks before you get regular results.
The Off-Leash Rules Method
Consistently call him to you through out the day, whether you’re in the home or outside. It is important he wants to always be at your side. That way when you head out the house, it will be his natural behavior to follow you.
When he does come over to you, give him a variety of rewards. Keeping the rewards unpredictable can be very important. If he knows what he’s going to get for running over to you he may decide he’d rather chase that rabbit. Instead, mix it up, sometimes play with a tennis ball, or his favorite toy. Other times give him a treat or his favorite food. If he doesn’t know what’s coming he won’t want to risk leaving your side.
Don't keep calling if he runs off
Every time you call and he doesn’t come will decrease your control. Instead if he doesn’t come, go over and get him. When you do get him, be happy to see him. It is important he’s never afraid of you and associates being next to you with a top time.
Start with an extendable leash
As soon as he walks more than a few feet, stand still and wait for him to return to your side. Once at your side give him any one of the multitude of rewards in your arsenal. Practice this each day even if it means it takes 20 minutes to walk a couple of hundred yards.
Lose the leash
After a few weeks, you can leave the leash at home. When you think he understands you want him by your side you can go leash-free. Consistently keep up with all of the steps above and he’ll quickly fall into place. After a few weeks of successful walks with him by your side you can gradually stop giving him rewards.
By James Barra
Published: 10/15/2017, edited: 01/08/2021