We spend a lot of time teaching our dogs to walk along side us. And we teach them to Sit or Down and Stay, or to go to their bed and lie down. But occasionally we need them to move out of our way which may require the dog to back up.
There are a few different ways we can teach this skill, ranging from zero social pressure to a pretty intense social pressure. (Note: Social Pressure is using our body to move into the dog’s personal space and simply by invading that personal space – without actually touching the dog – we cause the dog to move).
Option One: Tunnel
My preferred method involves zero social pressure. We do this by setting up a narrow tunnel, possibly lining up furniture near a wall, so that the dog can easily enter but it’s too narrow to easily turn around. Toss a medium value treat into this tunnel and allow your dog to go in to retrieve the treat. Just as she starts to back up to get out of the tunnel, you say “Back up”. After she’s taken 3 or 4 steps, or when she has backed out of the tunnel enough that just her shoulders are still in (so she can’t turn around), mark the movement with your Clicker and then treat with a high value treat. Invite her out of the tunnel completely, then repeat the exercise.
As she gets comfortable with this, you can widen the tunnel an inch or two at a time. So long as she continues to back up rather than turn around, you’re doing great. Then you can start to practice outside the tunnel space by tossing a medium value treat a few feet away and giving the “Back up” cue just as she retrieves the treat. When she’s backed up a few steps, CLICK and treat with a high value treat so that she learns that backing up earns something far better than moving forward.
Option Two: Target mats
Set out a towel or mat or anything that is flat and different from the floor you’re working on. Invite the dog to walk forward over the mat until the rear feet are just in front of the mat. Then hold a treat just below the dog’s chin so she looks slightly down. Tell her “Back up” and gently nudge your hand toward her. This should incline her to back up to get the treat.
Pay attention to her rear feet. The moment one of her feet touches the mat, CLICK and give the treat. Invite her forward and repeat until she is starting to back up just from the verbal cue, before you have to nudge the treat under her chin a little. As she gets good at this, you can invite her a step or two further forward so that now she has to take two steps before her foot lands on the target mat. Then three steps, then four…
Option Three: Social Pressure
Standing directly in front of your dog, say in a cheery voice “Back up” and walk toward your dog. Some dogs will back up – if she does, CLICK and treat. Some dogs will sit down as a way of defusing potential conflict because you’re moving into their personal space. If that happens, you can try luring with a treat as described in Option Two, but without a specific target for the feet to hit. Or, you can change tacks altogether. In my home, if my dogs don’t back up when I tell them to, I’ll simply point in the direction I want them to move and tell them “Go that way” and they will trot along in the direction I pointed.
Author - Jody Epstein
Jody Epstein is a certified behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and holds a master’s degree in animal behavior from Tufts University. She has been training professionally for more than 12 years and is pleased to be part of the Academy of Pet Careers team, teaching the next generation of trainers. Look out for her blogs on all things dog training and animal behavior.