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Training your dog to stay by your side is an imperative command when you are out and about on leash or off-leash. Having your dog run from you because of a distraction or over-excitement can be quite scary and dangerous. If you are at a dog park or even just on a neighborhood walk where other animals may come across your dog, you want to your dog to remain safe and close to you so you can help protect him. Dogs who walk off-leash often need to know how to stay by their owner's side. Dogs who hike with their owners in public spaces off leash or dogs who go to restaurants or walk around town off-leash are the dogs who are expected to be well-behaved and next to their owners at all times. Training their dogs to remain by their side is the only way these owners can have their dogs completely off-leash.
Training your dog to be off leash and by your side will start with training your dog to be on-leash and by your side. You will want to teach your dog to heel. Whether your goal is for your dog to be on-leash or off-leash all of the time, you're going to need to train your dog to avoid distractions and keep his attention on you. If you move, your expectation should be that he moves with you. If you sit still, your expectation should be that he sits still with you. Though this can be taught at any age, it's often easier to teach puppies and younger dogs from the start how to stay by your side.
Training your dog to stay by your side will require daily small sessions of training. You will want to be consistent in your rules and how you decide to train your dog to stay by your side. You may need a leash to start even if your plan is to have your dog off leash once he is fully trained. High-value treats will help entice your dog to stay with you as well as to reward good behavior. Be patient and build daily training sessions into your days.
The Heel with Wall Method
Put your dog on your left side with a wall on his left side.
With a leash on your dog, walk with him along the wall.
To grab his attention and keep him close to you, offer him a treat every few feet.
As you walk further, begin to use the ‘heel’ command.
Be sure to reward your dog as he paces you by your side.
To get your dog comfortable with staying by your side, you will have to eventually take him off the leash and ask him to heel off leash.
Away from wall
As your dog gets used to the 'heel' command, move away from the wall. Begin to practice the 'heel' command on daily walks on and off leash.
Continue to practice these steps until your dog stays at your side whether you are standing or sitting when you use the command heel.
The Walk at Attention Method
Teach your dog the ‘watch me’ command and use this command as you are walking or sitting together to keep his attention and stay by your side.
Get your dog’s attention by making a noise. Give him a treat once you have his attention. Practice this for several minutes a few times a day.
Once your dog is familiar with looking at you and giving you his attention, add the command, ‘watch me.’ Plan to use this command as your command each time you’d like your dog’s attention.
Repeat these steps and practice this command in various places and positions before taking your dog for a walk using this command.
With your dog on a leash, use the 'watch me' command as you both slowly walk together. He should remain by your side. Every few moments, use the command ‘watch me,’ and give your dog a treat once he gives you his attention.
If you plan for your dog to be off leash and by your side, use the 'watch me' command while walking off leash as well. Keep his attention by using the command often and providing treats when he listens and obeys.
The Start Young Method
If you have a puppy you are training even the most basic obedience commands, do so off leash. This will give your puppy confidence in his training as well as teach him early to obey your command and stay by your side as he trains.
Fit in off leash play time with your dog either in open space, a dog park, or your backyard. During this time, you can challenge him to run from you to fetch a ball or catch a Frisbee, but always bring him back to your side by calling his name.
Build an excitement with your dog by rewarding him with positive reinforcement and verbal praise. When he comes to your side, be enthusiastic and say the word, ‘yes!’
If your dog gets away from your side, call him back and engage with him so he wants to stay by your side.
Recall your dog to you by saying his name once. If he doesn’t come to your side, walk to him as you say his name. This will teach him that when you say his name, you want to be next to him. Over time, when he hears his name he should come back to your side. If you recall him several times, he will expect to hear his name several times before returning to you.
By Stephanie Plummer
Published: 10/26/2017, edited: 01/08/2021
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