Friday, November 4, 2011

Don't forget the back paws

As we all know, many dogs are very expressive with their front paws and are easy to teach all sorts of front-paw-centric tricks. Even many shy, reactive, and anxious dogs love to use their front paws to interact with the world. 

Back paws? Not so much. Many reactive dogs actually have little consciousness of their back paws, and are nervous about using them. This is why training that involves the back paws can be used in building confidence and ultimately helping the dog feel more secure in his body and even overcome some of his reactivity. 

When I coach Reactive Dog class at Your Dogs Friend, each dog practices using a PVC ladder that makes them more conscious of paw placement. This helps them feel more grounded in their bodies, which diminishes anxiety and reactivity.

We have worked with training a "Scoot"--getting the dog to back up, ultimately onto a different surface. 
  1. Have dog standing in front of you
  2. Lean forward slightly
  3. If dog steps back, however tentatively, click and treat!
  4. Withhold clicks and treats until dog is taking a step back
  5. Add hand signal like you're shooing away something. Then add verbal cue like "Scoot!"
  6. Place board, book, carpet scrap, or any different surface behind back paws. Click and treat when back paws touch the alternate surface
Whoa--what's that new sensation under my paw pads? This exercise gets dogs really thinking about their back paws. Once dogs are thinking about those tricky back paws, there's no telling what new frontiers of confidence and self-knowledge they may experience. 

Be very patient! Sometimes those back paws would like to go anywhere besides on a novel surface. Stay positive and don't get frustrated.

The next step? Maybe we'll be as brave as Tena at Success Just Clicks, who has trained her dog to back up onto a tree trunk--yes, a vertical tree trunk! That's some serious back paw confidence-building. What's your favorite back paw confidence building trick? Or are your back paws just fine the way they are?


  1. Oh this should be fun. I tried a lean forward and Finn just ran to the side in a circle. We'll have to be very patient but we're up for a challenge!

  2. Interesting. We'll give this a try... Thanks.

    -Bart and Ruby

  3. ooo we will have to try that

    Stop on by for a visit

  4. Man, I've been trying to work on rear foot awareness with my dogs for forever, and getting no where because they just don't understand that their back feet have anything to do with the reward process. However, I recently taught both of them to walk backwards in front of me, so hopefully this method, where they then step onto something with their back feet, will make the connection between reward and those back feet. Seems so obvious now that you mention it...

  5. K-Koira, the other things we tried was that I would just touch the back paw, and if it moved, I would click and treat immediately. I need to do this a bunch more times but I suspect that if I am persistent, something will finally *click*, so to speak!

  6. this is interesting. We push mom with our front feets
    Benny & Lily

  7. Most of our Greyhounds have been great at backing up. Bunny will back up across the entire kitchen. But Hawk was a very big boy who seemed to have no clue what his back feet were doing. Teaching him to do the stairs took a few more days than the girls. We used to laugh about it a lot, but we never did anything to teach him to use those back feet.

  8. Hi Kirsten, cool - thanks for some new ideas.

  9. Well, I'm pretty good at backing up but sometimes I just back up a coupla times and then sit. Mom has been trying to think of ways to teach me more abouts my back paws (which seems ker-azy since I chew on my back toenails all the time - I mean, I KNOW they're there but it's seems impawtant to her for some reason), so maybe I'll tell her abouts these ideas.

    Wiggles & Wags,

  10. Mayzie, tell mom that we had that trouble too, with dogs sitting instead of backing up, and then we tried clicking *fast* before any butt had a chance to hit the floor and all the butts seemed to catch on.

    Houndstooth, isn't that fun to watch a dog back up a long way? Lamar is starting to get good at that too.

  11. It was fun watching Beryl become aware she had back feet and had to step over the ranchslider base instead of just walk on it:) And she didn't know how to jump onto things, the bed, the couch, lol! It's all easy now.

    I taught Frankie to walk backwards by sitting on a chair and putting a treat under it and clicking him as soon as he started a step backwards out from under the chair. But I haven't tried teaching him to do a handstand up a wall or tree trunk:) That's very ambitious!

  12. Thanks for stopping by and wishing me a Happy Day! :) Together we raised $53 for my shelter. Wahoo!

    Waggin at ya,

  13. You are all so adventurous with your back paws! Must be some confident paws and some proud humans.

  14. This is something I want to work on. I'm wondering if we can teach Honey to climb a companionway ladder on a sailboat. You've given me some great ideas here.


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