Seems everyone wants a dog that walks by their side. While this is not natural to our dogs it makes for a stress free and pleasant walk for us. The problem though is how do we make something that is not natural for our dogs become what they do automatically?
The answer? Make being by your side the best thing in the world! To do this we need to create a reinforcement zone at our side (whichever side you want your dog to walk at).
To start grab a handful of treats your dog goes gaga over. These need to be the good stuff, think real meat for most dogs. Put these treats in the hand on the opposite side you want your dog to walk on. Then ask your dog for a sit on the side you want them on (ideally they should sit at your side facing the same direction as you, this may take some practice). When your dog sits mark the behavior with your praise word or a click. Then transfer one treat to the hand on the same side as your dog. Using the hand closest to your dog with the one treat, tap your hip with the treat and then deliver it to your dog for its reward. Keep repeating this exercise, grabbing one treat at a time and tapping your hip before delivering the treat to your dog.
Why tap your hip? This teaches your dog that the reward comes from the side, when they are at your side (which just happens to be the position you want them in when your on your walk). The tap prevents your dog from crossing in front of you to try to get to the treats faster as well.
Repeat this exercise several times a day for about 3 minutes each session to create a high rate of reinforcement at the side and build a strong history of rewards coming from the side aka building a side reinforcement zone. Once the reinforcement zone is established you’re ready to begin to add movement. Make sure to take baby steps when adding movement. Work in areas of no distractions at first and slowly add distractions as your dog remains in their side reinforcement zone while moving.