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Sheila Dempsey of West Virginia, owner and trainer of multi-talented All-American Dog – He’s A PatchWork Puppy CD BN GN RAE OAP OJP OFP (also known as Patches) tells us how to teach your dog to Back Up – one of the exercises required at the AKC Rally Excellent level and one that many Rally competitors find difficult to train.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2012 issue of the AKC Canine Partners News newsletter.

I have incorporated three methods to teach my dogs to back up. The first method I teach is the easiest, but it is sometimes hard to transfer teaching the back up with the dog in front of you when you have them in heel position. I always make “back” a game with lots of treats when I teach it.

Dog in front of you: With your dog in front of you standing (facing you), preferably in a hallway, take a step toward him and when he takes a step backwards, treat. If you clicker train, click and treat. I want the dog to get the behavior first, and then I add the command “back.” My dogs have learned this method fairly quickly, and we have fun seeing how fast we can go backwards once they understand the command. I add a hand signal when my dog understands the command. The purpose behind doing this in a hallway is to help teach your dog to back straight and so they can’t move around behind or beside you.  The reason I teach this method first is to teach my dog the command “back.”

The couch trick: This method is one I discovered by accident. I had been working with my Beagle, Ginger, on the back up. I had taught her method “1” and was trying to transfer it while she was in heel position. She understood the back, but we were in the process of transferring it while she was in heel position.  My couch is far enough away from the wall that she would walk behind it. One day it hit me that I could use this to help train the back command. Get your bait bag and some treats. Some dogs may be a little skittish about this so make sure they are comfortable walking behind the couch before you try to teach the back. You can use toys or treats; make sure the couch is just far enough away from the wall that they can comfortably walk behind the couch, but not enough so they can turn around.  Once your dog is comfortable with this exercise you can begin to teach the back command while they are behind the couch. Get your treats (and clicker if you are clicker training) ready, as your dog starts to go behind the couch put your treat in front of his/her nose and say “back” while you use the treat to push him back, just one step to start. Once they are taking one step back consistently, I add the command “back.” As your dog gets consistent with one step, bring them further in behind the couch and ask for two steps, then three until you can get them to back the length of the couch. This teaches a straight back and also is helpful once your dog is in heel position.

Teaching back from heel position: Start teaching this with your dog in heel position, standing. Use a wall or fence on your dog’s left side to help teach them to back straight. Personally I train this off leash, but if you have a very energetic dog you may want to use your leash to keep him from moving forward (offering behavior). Using your treats (and clicker if you have one), I put the treat in front of my dog’s nose and move it slightly backward to get the movement; at first all I want is any foot movement backwards. Treat or click and treat. When consistently getting a foot movement ask for one step, then two, then three steps.  If you have taught one of the other methods, first use your “back” command. I usually get the behavior before I add the command. I add a hand signal for every command I teach.  If you want to really impress others, teach your commands from a distance (gradually). It amazes others when you can give a command or hand signal from 10 or 15 feet away, and the dog responds.