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Teaching Your Dog to "Back Up"

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Teaching your dog a few simple tricks is fun and entertaining for both you and your pet. It's best if your dog knows and can perform the basic obedience commands of sit, stay and down reliably before advancing to tricks. Most tricks are built on these commands and your dog will have learned to pay attention to you during training sessions.

If your dog has any type of arthritis or degenerative joint disease, check with your veterinarian before proceeding. Even simple tricks can place stress on joints that are painful and sore.

The success of training your dog relies on rewarding correct behavior. Rewards differ from dog to dog; for some it may be food and for others praise. Some dogs will do whatever you want just to have a little playtime. Find the reward that best motivates your dog to learn. Work with your dog daily in 5 to 15 minute sessions. Keep it fun and end the session with a reward. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or tired, quit and try again later.

Teaching your dog to BACK UP is a valuable skill. If your pet likes to dash out the door or crowd you going in or out, you can tell her to BACK UP so you can come and go freely.

To teach your dog to BACK UP, begin first by working with her on a leash. Have your dog walk a few steps with you. Give the command to STAY. Walk a few paces out and turn to face your dog. (Your dog should remain standing. If she tries to sit, correct her.) Begin to walk back to your dog. As you walk forward give the command BACK UP. Most dogs will naturally back a few steps if you walk directly at them. Make your movements natural and non-threatening. A frightened dog may turn and run away! If your dog keeps moving away to the side, you can try the same exercise between two couches. That way, there is only a narrow gully in which your dog can maneuver. If you're in front of your dog, and moving toward her, she only has one way to move – backwards!

If your dog does not move at all, use a small amount of pressure with your hand or thigh to your dog's chest as a signal to move back. Once your dog retreats a step or two, praise her and give her a reward. As your dog masters this skill, try it with the dog in a sitting position. This stage is a little harder, as it requires your dog to rise, take a little hop-step back, and then return to the sit position. Once she can reliably perform BACK UP on command, try removing the leash and giving the command from a greater distance. Soon, she might even start break dancing!

Continue to practice this over and over. Always use a happy singsong voice and lots of positive reinforcement. Eventually, your dog will understand what you want her to do.

The way to success in teaching your dog tricks is patience, practice, praise, and persistence. Every step in the right direction should be rewarded as though she had just won the lottery. Tricks are fun – learning how to do them should be fun, too.

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