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You’re out playing the timeless game fetch with your canine pal. But he insists on standing right at your feet, giving you no space to move. Or, you’re coming in the house with the shopping and once again, he’s right in front of you so you’re unable to get through the door. If you had a dollar for every time you had nearly tripped over him you’d be living on a yacht and sipping cocktails by now.
Training your dog to back up would give you some much needed space and avoid an inevitable accident and injury. It’s also a fun party trick to entertain friends and family with. I mean, who doesn’t love a dog that can walk backwards on command? Training obedience commands like this will also make teaching him other commands more straightforward.
The actual command itself is relatively straightforward. With just one phrase you will be able to put your pooch in reverse. The training consists mainly of obedience commands that are reinforced with food and verbal praise. If he’s a young puppy he should be a fast learner and eager to please. This will mean you can expect results from training in just a few days. If he’s greying and lost the odd marble or two, then be prepared to invest a couple of weeks into this regime.
It may seem like a whole lot of work just for a crowd pleaser, but if your dog is always at your feet, one day you may go flying over him. While it’s easy for you to maneuver around him, guests and strangers may not expect such close proximity and will be even more likely to fall and injure themselves.
Before you teach your dog to back up you will need a few bits. The most essential training component is food or treats. The more he loves the food the more eager he will be to learn, so break up his favorite food into small chunks, whether it’s cheese, meat or potato peelings.
You will also need a spacious room or yard, that has enough space to avoid breaking something and is free from distractions such as noisy kids. A clicker can also come in handy for this training. Then just set aside 10 minutes a day for the next couple of weeks, bring a proactive attitude and you’re ready to get to work!
The Gentle Edge Closer Method
Find a good spot
Take him into the yard or a big room with a handful of treats. It can also help to put him in a collar as some dogs focus more with one on. Ensure there is nothing in his immediate environment will catch his eye and steal his attention.
Get a little distance
Turn and take several steps away from him, then turn and face him. Do not talk to him during this time, you want him to focus on you and wonder what you’re up to.
Close the gap
Now purposely move towards him. Many dogs will instinctively start walking backwards as soon as they see you approaching. If he doesn’t naturally start moving, continue towards him and lean over slightly to encourage him further.
As soon as he starts to move backwards give him a treat and praise him. It is important he gets the treat as soon as he starts moving so he associates the action with the reward. This is the hardest stage so be patient, it may take a couple of days before he realizes what it is you want him to do.
Add a command
When he starts to get the hang of it, say ‘back up’ as you head towards him. This will slowly integrate the command into the action and he will quickly understand what the phrase means.
Practice daily until you no longer need to walk towards him and the verbal command alone is enough. When you reach this stage, start practicing in other situations and when he has mastered those, reduce the frequency of treats until the verbal instruction itself does the job.
The Leash and Couches Method
Create an obstacle
Position two couches together with enough space to walk between. Then secure him to leash and head towards your new obstacle course with a pocket full of treats.
Walk directly through the path with each other, but then have him wait while you take a few steps ahead. You are about to turn and walk towards him and having the two couches there will prevent him from stepping to the side, he will have no choice but to walk backwards.
Turn and approach
Say ‘back up’ and walk towards him. Ensure you don’t walk in a threatening way, be natural, otherwise he may turn around and sprint off. Give the command in a firm but playful voice, you need to make this all a game to him.
As soon as he inches backwards, give him a treat and lots of praise. To start with, reward him just for moving back a tiny amount, you can then slowly build up the distance. It is important you hammer home how happy you are with him through praise. The bigger the praise the quicker he will remember the action and the more eager he will be to please.
Ditch the course
After several days, when you are confident he understand the command, you can lose the props. Now try practicing in a variety of situations, such as coming through the door and when you’re playing fetch. When he backs up in all the challenging situations you can slowly reduce the frequency of treats until the command alone does the job.
The Clicker Method
Stock up on treats and a training clicker, which will help reinforce the desired behavior.
Stand directly in front
You may need to hold a treat out at this point to ensure he focuses and his attention is on you. Make sure there is enough space that he can move backwards freely and that there are distractions around.
Holding eye contact, walk towards him. When he takes a step back, click and then give him a treat. You can also quickly praise him to reinforce the good behavior.
Now continue stepping forward and when he takes multiple steps backwards, click and treat. Practice this for 10 minutes a day for 3 days. He will soon associate stepping backwards with a click and a click as a sign he is going to get a treat.
Add a signal
Start walking towards him less and instead use a hand gesture. Try simply waving your hand towards him or take just a single step. Again be sure to reward him and praise him each time he correctly backs up.
Add a command
Now say ‘back’ while you give the hand gesture. Practice this each day for a couple of days, again clicking and rewarding for each successful move backwards. He will now associate the action with the verbal command and you can stop using the hand gesture, while slowly reducing the frequency of treats. You will then finally have a dog that can reverse!
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/08/2017, edited: 01/08/2021