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Teach Your Dog: Walk Backwards & Lateral Stepping

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Apr 29, 2022

 

Welcome back to the Fit Dogs blog! This is the last of the five fundamentals articles. Learn two more advanced maneuvers below. If you’re just joining the Fit Dogs blog journey now, be sure to also read 5 Reasons to Practice Fitness with Fido.

Lateral Stepping

Lateral stepping means that your dog walks sideways in shuffle steps – step-together-step. Their spine stays neutral (fairly straight, not curved). To walk to their left laterally, they'll have to move both left legs (likely one at a time) and then both right legs and repeat.

Use a hallway or other area with lots of space. It may be helpful to have your dog on a rug so you can align their front paws with the edge of the mat – this will allow you to see if they are going “straight” sideways, and will also give them some traction. You could also line up their front paws with a seam in the floor to ensure that you are going “straight” sideways instead of diagonally.

To have your dog learn to laterally step left, start with your dog on your left side as if you are both looking in a mirror - this is similar to heel position. Then, take treats in your right hand and turn your body (not your dog’s body) 90 degrees so that if you took a step, you’d be walking into your dog’s shoulder. Put the treats in front of your dog’s nose as a lure, so you can quickly reward when they take a lateral step.

You take a tiny step into the dog – do not physically push or run into the dog, but simply use your “force field bubble” to knock into your dog’s “force field bubble.” Moving into your dog’s “personal space” will put some spatial pressure on the dog and most dogs will take a lateral step with one of their left paws (front or hind). 

The second your dog takes a step, say “Yes” and give them a treat. Continue to put the “force field bubble” pressure on your dog with the treats in front of their nose. Whenever they laterally step, give treats. Over time, they'll get better with coordination and require fewer treats for more steps.

Switch sides and practice the right side too. At first, try doing three repetitions on each side using five treats per repetition. Later, you may only need 1-2 treats to have your dog lateral step 5-10 feet per side. Over time, you may be able to stop walking into the dog and face forward with the dog in heel position or have your dog independently walk laterally if you give this motion a command word.

Walk Backwards

Walking backwards takes a lot of focus and coordination for dogs and it’s really fun to watch your dog zip backwards away from you in all wheel drive! One of the fastest ways to teach back-up is by using props. You can set up some dining room chairs. Build a “hallway” with the back ends of the chairs near the center of the “hallway.” The “hallway” is narrow and not much wider than your dog; if it’s too wide, your dog may just do a u-turn and walk forwards out!

At first, use just one chair on each side - later you may do 2-3 chairs on each side as your dog becomes better and can add more reverse steps. Some folks like to use exercise pen (x-pen) gating or two baby gates (propped up against chairs or another object) instead of chairs.

Have your dog stand between the two chair backs of your short “hallway.” You may need to use a treat to lure them into position with their shoulders at the front of the “hallway.” Treat them for happily just standing in the area and for getting into the “start” position.

You should stand in front of your dog and do one of the following:

  1. Wait for your dog to walk backwards out of the hallway, say “Yes," and toss them a treat
  2. Take a small step toward your dog into their “force field bubble,” watch them walk backwards out of the hallway, say “Yes," and give or toss them a treat.
  3. Very gently move the chairs (or whatever you are using) just half an inch closer to your dog, watch your dog back up out of the hallway, say “Yes,” and treat your dog.

For the third option, it’s very important to hardly touch the chairs and to do so calmly. The goal is not to scare the dog in any way, but to put some pressure on their “force field bubble” so that they move backwards. Over time, lengthen the hallway and eventually you won’t even need the barriers! Add the command word “reverse” or “back” when your dog is confidently and happily zooming backwards.

This skill can also be taught by waiting for your dog to take a step backwards naturally - this means you would capture your dog doing the skill! The moment your dog takes a backward step on their own, say “Yes,” and give a treat. Wait for the dog to figure out what they did to earn the treat; when they do, they'll offer another reverse step.

Over time, up the criteria by waiting for two steps instead of one step and so on. You’ll gradually increase how many steps are required for your dog to earn a treat and you’ll add the command word when your dog understands that the reverse motion earns a treat.

Yet another method for teaching backwards walking involves using rear paw targeting; another trainer explains that method in her blog.

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