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It is easy to get in the habit of working with your dog at close range. Many commands like 'sit' or 'shake' are things that you expect your dog to do when you are close to her. In fact, many dog owners make the mistake of only working at close range, inadvertently training their companions that they only need to pay attention when they are nearby.
However, there are major advantages to training your older dog to run away and still follow basic obedience commands. The main plus is that it extends the range of your command and response. Imagine being able to have your canine sit, stand, or lie down while she is 20 yards away from you! This is the power of starting to work with your dog from a distance.
This guide will offer three methods to try, each with a distinct command for a different version of 'run away' that will come in handy for training. Although it can take an older dog a little longer to learn new behaviors, all of the methods offered here are easy ways to get started with working together at a distance.
There are three methods in this guide. Decide which method works best for what you are looking to work on with your dog long term, or, put them all on separate commands and teach all three!
This method will train your older dog to run away and touch his nose to a target that you can place wherever you please. Or, you can train him to go to the target and wait for the next command if you like. Use whatever you want for a target--just be consistent. One good idea is a sticky note, which makes it easy to put your target on a vertical surface.
This trick will teach your older dog to run away from you and around an object. It is most helpful for outdoor work. Many trainers use it for dog sports like agility or herding trials.
This method lets you set a boundary using a piece of rope. You will send her away from you to a position behind the boundary of your choice. You can later use this skill to teach your dog to stay out of a room or stay off the porch while you are entertaining company.
All of the methods used in this guide assume you have a clicker. This inexpensive tool allows you to tell your dog exactly when she is doing the right thing, giving you a few seconds to get a reward to her after the fact. If you do not have a clicker, no problem! Just use a special sound or word that you always follow with a reward – something that you just use for training sessions.
You can use very small pieces of food as a reward when training your older dog. If he is on a diet, you can use some of his regular kibble to train with--just mix in a few tastier treats so he is randomly rewarded with something extra special. Over time, once your dog already understands a command, you can decrease the rate of reward until you are just rewarding the very best examples of a given behavior.
Keep it Positive
Training is not the time for punishment. Keep your training sessions fun and short so that your older dog will not lose interest. Focus on rewarding success and ignore failures. Set the bar to the level that she is at and you will find that she will learn quickly.
The Target Method
Hold the target close to your older dog’s face and when she goes to investigate it with her nose, click/treat. Repeat 10-20 times.
Move the target
Once she “gets it” and starts going for the target as soon as you show it, start saying the command “target” as she is moving to touch it with her nose. Click/reward each success after you give the command (and stop rewarding any efforts to target when you have not asked for it). Repeat 10-20 times.
Place the target on a nearby object (wall, table, chair, etc.). Say “target” and then wait a few seconds. If you need to, try putting your hand near the target to get her to touch her nose to it. Click/reward for success. Repeat 10-20 times.
Take a step away from the target and continue to do the target drills with a click/reward for each success when commanded. Have your dog come to you for the reward, then say “target” so she has to walk away from you to get to the target. Click when she touches the target, then have her return to you for the reward.
Continue to add distance to this game. Once your pooch has mastered this trick in the house, try it outside in the yard for even more of a challenge.
The Around Method
Define the object
Start this training method indoors with an object such as a brick or a box on the floor. Lure your canine around the object using a treat and your hand and click as he is at the farthest distance on the other side of the object. Reward when he is back on your side of the object.
Repeat this process several times with the object close. Start to abbreviate your hand motion as quickly as you can as long as he is responding to it. This will become your non-verbal cue for “around.”
Add some distance between you and the object, gradually. Repeat using just the non-verbal command until your dog is giving you the behavior reliably from 5 feet away. Click when he is on the far side, reward when he comes back to you.
Add verbal cue
Add the verbal cue “Around” to the training, continuing to use the non-verbal cue at the same time.
Add distance to this game a little bit at a time. Practice it outside in the yard and in other higher distraction environments to perfect working with your older dog from a distance.
The Boundary Method
Decide on your boundary
For this method you will need something that you can use to mark a boundary on the floor that you will train Fluffy to respect. You can use a short length of rope, a leash or even a stick. Have your clicker and bag of food rewards ready.
Start your training indoors so there will be less distraction. Lure your dog to the opposite side of the line using your hand with a treat in it. Click when she is on the other side of the line, then give her a treat.
Call your dog back over the line by saying “Okay!” then tossing a treat on your side of the line. This will teach your dog a release word at the same time you are teaching the boundary behavior. In the long run, you want her to be able to run away from you to the other side of the boundary, then stay there until released.
Repeat the above step 20-30 times. You want to gradually put some distance between yourself and the line as you work with her. Make sure to also give her a few rewards for staying on her side of the line before you release her to cross the boundary. Extend the time you expect her to wait gradually over time.
Add verbal cue
Work with just the hand signal of pointing to the line at first, adding a verbal cue “behind” only after she seems to understand the basics of this skill and you have at least 5’ of distance between you and the line. Add distractions like working outside only after you have trained your older dog to run away behind the boundary in a quiet environment.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 03/09/2018, edited: 01/08/2021