Oddly enough, today London walked PERFECTLY through my 'hood off-leash. I have been training him to do so for about a year. To start this task, you must have taught your dog responsive recall. Very important. And your dog must be heeling on leash as well. One more thing, I have taught London to step off the road and sit when a car approaches. We live in a remote subdivision with no sidewalks but there is no thru traffic, only the few neighbors.
The first step is to have your dog's collar on with a short leash (6"-12") attached to it in case you have to grab it. Start walking along a fence in your enclosed backyard, if possible. Your dog should be against the fence and you should be next to him/her. Keep reinforcing the command "heel". If your dog starts to wander or get distracted, grab the short leash and gently pop it while saying "heel". When he/she is heeling, PRAISE! "Good heel!"
In our Intermediate Obedience Class, we all begin class off leash and randomly walking all around the large room. It is very distractful for the dogs because there is about 12-14 other dogs walking around off leash! It has been a great experience for London and me.
My first GSD, Minerva, learned to walk off-leash like a natural. There were times when a squirrel would dart right in front of us and into the street and Minerva would leave it. She was definitely focused on me above and beyond anything else. I was fortunate to have owned her.
It makes life so enjoyable when you have gained that trust/understanding from your dog whereas you can walk off-leash. For me, personally, it provides a sense of closeness for my dog and me as well as a sense of freedom.
Minerva 9/1994 - 1/2009
Lugar 4/1997 - 2/2009
Olina 4/2009 - 2/2011
London 1/19/2009 -
Emma 8/27/2010 -