Few tricks are as mesmerizing as a backward walking dog. Not only is the back-up trick entertaining, but it also serves a practical purpose. Should your dog ever crowd you in a narrow hallway or doorframe you can cue him to “back-up” out of your way, this is much faster than waiting for a dog to turn around in a tight space. Mastery of this skill is also mandatory for those human and canine teams that aspire to compete in Rally Obedience competitions.
What it Looks Like
Your dog will stand in front of you and walk backward as you walk directly toward him. It will look as though he is backing out of your way.
Before You Begin
Collect a delicious supply of his favorite edible rewards. Small soft treats are preferred over large crunchier ones.
Steps to a Boogying Back-Up
#1 Find a Narrow Place
Go to a hallway or other narrow space in your home. A hallway is ideal if you have a large breed, such as a Labrador or a St. Bernard. If you have a small dog, such as a Sheltie or a Toy Poodle, a hallway may be too wide, and you will need to create a custom passageway. This can be done by lining up a row of chairs about two feet from a wall or propping up a baby gate so that there is a restricted alley for you and your dog to work in. You want the training space to be too narrow for him to comfortably turn around in, so that he will choose to back-up naturally instead.
#2 Take a Moment to Visualize the Back-Up Trick
Your dog needs to stand in front of you and walk backward as you move forward, into him. Keep the finished trick pictured in your mind as you proceed.
#3 Reward Him
Grab a heaping handful of training rewards and lure him so that he is standing in front of you. Because he needs to stand as straight as possible, it’s best to stay close to the wall. Bring your treat-stuffed hands down so he must lower his head to eat. He should instinctively follow your treats and lower his head. Now, slowly, take a step into him as most dogs will automatically step backward to avoid you. When he does back-up, cheer “Yes!” and reward
#4 Repeat Step #3
Do this until your dog seems to be comfortable countering each of your forward steps with a backward one of his own. Be sure to reward each step generously. Now it is time to raise our criteria. Walk into him and require that he step two or three times before earning a reward.
#5 Increase the Steps
Continue to increase the number of steps your dog needs to back-up in between rewards. It is best to randomize when you are awarding him so that you do not become predictable. If he only gets his treat after five steps, he may become frustrated. Sometimes you must reward him for just one step, other times for three and then for five or six steps. The more unpredictable you are with your rewards the better and more eager he will be to back-up to earn them. Think of his back-up training like playing lottery scratch off tickets: it’s the unpredictable prizes which makes playing fun! You never know which ticket is a loser, which may win you a small prize or a large one, so you’ll keep eagerly playing for the thrills of “Maybe this one is a winner”. Likewise Fido will anxiously take each backward step thinking: “Maybe this step is the winner!”
#6 Find an Open Space
It is time to move out of your hallway and see if your dog still understands how to back-up without the hallway to aid him. Stand in front of him just as you did before: with your treat-stuffed hands held low and walk into him. Hopefully he will start to back up and you will celebrate with him at once.
Congratulations, your dog is on his way to a winning boogying backup bonanza! When he can back-up out of the hallway, he is also demonstrating that he is ready for you to name this trick. You may call your trick anything you’d like, some suggestions are “Back-up”, “Move it” or, the favorite choice of my students, “Beep-beep-beep” as they imitate a dump truck rolling in reverse!
Some dogs become confused during their backup training and will default to a “sit” position when their trainer walks into them. If this happens, do not become frustrated. They are merely misunderstanding your body cues. Lure them into a standing position and reward him like crazy whenever his butt is off the floor. If he sits, you must stop feeding him. Even if he backs-up and then sits, do not reward him. Your dog should never be rewarded while in the sitting position. If he takes a step backward and then sits and you reward him, he will think that the “sit” is what you want, not the back-up. An easy solution is to feed him while he is only in motion heading backward.
Another training challenge can arise when teaching tiny-sized dogs to back-up. It can be physically uncomfortable for humans to bend down to our ankles to lure a small dog to back with the rewards. If you are uncomfortable holding a bending position an easy solution is to retrieve a long wooden spoon from your pantry and smother the end in Peanut Butter or wet dog food. Now you can easily lower the delicious spoon to the level of your dog’s head rather than bending like a human pipe cleaner.
Tara Baggerman, Trainer & Owner of Caliber Canines Positive Dog Training