Have you ever watched a well trained dog walk attentively beside his owner through a crowded outdoor shopping plaza? Have you ever seen a Service Dog walk nicely beside her owner through an airport off leash? When you see a dog stay beside his owner through high levels of distraction it is always very impressive. Training a dog to walk beside you in the presence of such distraction can be a challenge, but if you begin when your dog is young then your dog can truly master this skill.
As you may have already discovered, your German Shepherd is probably very intelligent and likely loves to work and to learn. Teaching your puppy to walk nicely on a leash is not only important for meeting his exercise needs, but it is also a great way to stimulate him mentally and to give him something purposeful to do. Additionally, teaching your puppy to walk nicely on the leash also makes it easier for you to go places with him and to socialize him. Socializing your puppy when he is young can prevent him from becoming fearful, aggressive, or overly protective. It can also prepare him for other specialized work, such as Service Dog work, Therapy Dog work, Canine Good Citizen certification, Schutzhund work, Advanced Obedience, and Agility or Flyball.
It is so enjoyable to be able to go for a walk with your well-trained dog. Teaching your puppy to walk beside you on the leash now will be much easier than trying to teach him when he weighs over seventy pounds and has developed bad leash pulling habits. By starting early, you are also exposing him to many important sights and sounds while you are walking him, and you are meeting his exercise needs as he grows. Teaching your puppy to walk beside you can also help your puppy to trust and respect you, as well as teach him to listen and focus on you better.
Although teaching your puppy to walk beside you on the leash without pulling is fairly simple, it may take your puppy a lot of practice before he will do it when he is around distractions. Being consistent and continuing to practice often will help him to learn, though. Expect this to take between two to four months to truly train. He should begin to understand what he is supposed to do within a couple of weeks, but it might take him a lot of practice before he can do it when he is distracted. For this reason, be patient. By teaching him this while he is young you are gaining a lifetime of enjoyable walks with him and preventing years of frustration from him pulling.
While teaching this it is important to pay close attention to your puppy. Watch for opportunities to reward him for walking right beside you and looking at you. Pay careful attention to where his body is. If his head begins to move in front of your leg by more than a couple of inches, then be ready to move in front of him, stop, or get his focus back on the treat, depending on which method you are using to teach him. It is much easier to teach him if you act as soon as he starts to get ahead of you, rather than when he is a foot or two ahead of you.
Keep things fun and upbeat as much as possible, especially when he is successful. It is important to let him know when he is doing well so that he will understand what he is supposed to be doing. If you are getting frustrated, then it is best to end your walk on a successful note and then return home and try again later when you are feeling better. Remember that he is still learning, and at first will not understand what he is supposed to be doing. He will need time and your help to learn.
To get started you will need lots of small, tasty treats. Choose treats that will be easy for him to eat while moving, such as real meat, freeze dried treats, or something else that is very soft or dissolves. You will also need a six-foot leash and regular collar that your puppy will cannot slip out of. If you are using the 'Treat Luring' method and you are practicing in a safe, enclosed area, then you can practice this method without a leash at first. It is important to use a six-foot leash rather than a shorter three or four-foot leash or a retractable leash while you are teaching this. Additionally, you will need patience, good timing, focus on your dog, and a great attitude!