I started at 9 weeks with Kyleigh. I had her attached to me in the house (for the parrots and her safety) and when we were in the backyard she followed me without the leash (as all puppies will do). At 11 weeks we left the backyard and started going to off leash dog parks ... there she was free to be a puppy and do whatever puppies do - rumble, tumble, etc. After we got home from the dog park I'd go for a walk around the block with her ... leash dragging. If she got a head of me I stepped on the leash. I picked up the pace, slowed the pace, stopped, turned around, etc. all with the leash on the ground.
By the time she was 6 months she heeled perfectly. I've taken her EVERYWHERE and the leash is lightly held in my hands - no tension.
We certainly had some challenges - those dang squirrels - and there around probably close to a million in my neighbourhood, but she's learned. A super hyper dog on the other side of the street? First step was to have her lay down beside me and I would tickle her or something - get her focus on me, not the dog. As she got older I put her in a sit / stay and we waited until the dog went by.
Don't get me wrong, she certainly challenged me with all the new things, but a quick pop of the leash and then SIT and most times that worked. If not, I just turned the other way and ran. She followed!
Recall? My last dog? Recall didn't exist until she was 2 years old, so I certainly had LOTS of tricks up my sleeve to try. Kyleigh was MUCH easier with recall.
By 5 months Ky knew sit, stay, come, heel, wait, down, up, off, on, stand, take it, drop it, leave it, find it, hold it and where's so and so ...
She'd been going to the off leash park every single day since I brought her home and I would practice it there too. One day (she's about 7 months old at the time) I called her to me and she looked at me and went the other way. AHA ... testing time ... let's see if she means it, and can she catch me in 75 acres?
I didn't run after her or anything, I just walked the other way. She came running after me INSTANTLY. I clipped her leash on her and we walked back to where I had been when I called her and put her in a sit. I made her sit there with me for about 10 minutes. I literally added a minute to the original time of 5 minutes (that was my "plan") every time she popped her butt up off the ground. So she popped her butt up 5 times ... After not moving for 90 seconds, I let her off leash and told her to go play. She went. 5 minutes later I called her back, and she FLEW back to me. I've never had an issue with her since.
Kyleigh is almost never on leash, and her recall is excellent. This morning my friend and I walked our dogs in a huge park. There were joggers, rollerbladers, kids, dogs, ducks, geese and a million squirrels. From the second we got on the path (the road was 15 feet behind us ... no fence) the leashes were off both dogs and they heeled until we said "go play."
They were running like crazy. We kept our eyes out for everything. At one point there were a group of joggers coming down the path - we were on one side of the path, dogs on the other. Joggers were about 100 feet away. We both called our dogs and they were at our sides in about 10 seconds ... before the joggers came to where we were standing. Both dogs sat and waited until we let them go again (which was about 5 minutes because they all stopped to talk to us about the beautiful dogs!) Not once did those dogs move!
Katdog ... It took LOADS of work, practice, etc. I don't have much of a life LOL ... I have two parrots, a cat and a dog ... that's it. No boyfriend, no kids, etc. So all my free time is devoted to training Kyleigh.