Hey, Get Outta My Way!

From a reader: “I would like some suggestions with our having a dog that herds me down the hall or is always right under my feet. I am always telling her , “I can’t walk when you are walking on my shoes”. Thanks!”

This is a great topic! I think it is so important for our dogs to respect our space, as much for their safety as for our own! Remember, we want to approach issues with our pups by asking “What behavior do I want to see?” as opposed to “How do I make him stop doing this?” There are two commands that I think work really well for these types of issues.

Go Lay Down

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This is a cue that we use any time our dogs are under feet or being little pests (who, them? never!) and also if they are begging. It works especially well when I am cooking or cleaning, and need to do something without the dogs ‘helping’ me every step of the way. We have dog beds in many of the rooms they frequent (our bedroom, the living room, and the basement). We began by simply rewarding the pups with treats and praise anytime they chose to lay on their beds themselves. “Good lay down!” Then, we would start at short distances. Say that we were sitting on the couch, and the dogs wanted to join us, but we wanted some human-only cuddle time… we would point to their beds and say “Go lay down!” If they didn’t quite grasp it right away, we would lead them to their beds, and put them into a ‘down’. Of course, they would receive treats for responding appropriately. Then we worked on their stay. If the dogs tried to get up before we released them, we would repeat the process all over, and ask them to ‘stay’. Of course, this cue works best if your dogs have already mastered some other basic commands, but I think that even if they don’t specifically know ‘stay’ they can still figure this out pretty quickly. We slowly but surely would increase the distance from where they were underfoot, to where we wanted them (the bed), always being sure to praise and reward them for understanding our requests.

Back up!

"Am I doing it right, Mom?"

“Am I doing it right, Mom?”

This is one of my favorite ‘tricks’ our dogs know… first, because it is adorable, and second, because it is also incredibly useful! We ask our dogs to back up when they are underfoot in the kitchen, but also for example, if we need to get in or out of the car, move safely through a doorway, or if we are throwing a toy and don’t want them jumping up at us. I am always surprised that more people don’t teach this trick, because it comes in so handy in a variety of circumstances.

To start, you can have your dog sitting, standing, or laying down, but they should be focused and facing you. Walk directly towards them, into their space, and say ‘back up’. You should also use a hand signal, such as pointing over their heads, or waving your hands towards them, palms up. (Note: You should not be scaring or startling them to move, but you want to invade their space just enough so that their natural inclination is to scoot backwards.) Once they take even a few steps straight backward (not turning around or to the side) give them a treat. Clicker-training works really well in an instance such as this, because you can instantly reward them so that they associate the specific behavior with the praise. Repeat this successfully three times, so that each time you say ‘back up,’ step into their space and signal, they are moving backwards. Once they seem to understand your request, you should start making the verbal and hand signal without moving your feet. It may take a few minutes, but try to refrain from moving your feet… give your pup a chance to use their brain to figure out what they have to do to earn that treat! As always, use their body language to determine how quickly you proceed… every dog learns at their own pace, so if your pup requires a little bit more assistance, that’s ok! Just try to get to the point where they are offering behaviors on their own, rather than needing you to walk them through each and every step.

Tonka is the master of this command… while laying down, he will scoot backward, then crawl forward, scoot backward, etc etc. It is a crowd-pleaser 😉

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