Rear Foot Target to Teach Stand & Back Up

Back up is something I’ve incompletely taught Zora to do over the years.  And I’ve taught her a moving stand, but not how to move from a sit or a down into a stand.

She has excellent body awareness and understands how to back up when the situation presents itself.  And we have a basic back up body/verbal cue like if she’s too close to something (like the duck pen door), I can ask her to back up and she’ll step 1-3 steps back wards.  Or if she’s in a tight spot and I need her to move to create space, she’ll back up 1-3 steps when I ask.

But beyond that, I’ve struggled with finding a way that makes sense to her.

If we were in the middle of a room with nothing around, and I were to stand in front of her and ask her to back up without my moving forward into her (and even if I did she still does this a good 50% of the time), she’d sit or lie down and then scoot back wards.  The various ways I used successfully to teach past dogs and countless client dogs to back up on cue (meaning from a stand position step backwards with rear feet leading remaining in a stand/walking position) have been unsuccessful with her.  So as I tend to do, I shelved it until I had time to think it through, research and develop another plan.

As we are starting out heeling foundations practice, teaching her to back up on a reliable cue independent of the environment is something that I know will be very useful for us as we develop the elements of a formal heel over the next months.

So to the drawing board I went.  And to google, and to youtube and to various obedience forums, online groups and such.  Researching the many various ways folks have taught their dogs to back up.  Pulling apart bits and pieces to make a plan that I think might make sense to Z.

In my research I came across the use of rear foot targets to teach back up and stand.  I thought to myself, “Hmmm, this I think could be useful…” and a plan formed in my head and on paper.  After a bit more thinking and researching, we’ve begun to implement my plan and I’d say it’s showing early signs of success!

To do this I wanted to use a target that she has no previous association with.  As we’ve struggled with back up training before I wanted to try to reduce confusion for her as much as possible and I felt using a target surface she’s learned other behaviors around wouldn’t be advisable.  So I chose an old cloth dish towel.  To start with I was trying just a dish towel spread flat on the floor, but she was still scooting and the towel wasn’t so flat after a couple of reps.  I took the towel, wrapped it around a piece of stiff cardboard and rubber banded it all together.  Well, the towel wasn’t being pushed into a mound but she still was thinking this was about scooting.  So I shelved it for a bit to think.  After a day’s break from it and more thinking, I added a 1″x4″x1″ board under the towel wrapped around cardboard, so that there is a slight lip she has to step up onto to get her feet to touch the towel.  Bingo!

Also because I know me and I know her, and I want this to be a straight back up for her from the start, I’m using a channel of a wall and an x-pen.  Once she is more solid on the concepts of backing up until her rear feet are both on the towel then remaining standing with me in various positions and distances, and of her remaining in relative position able to shift from a sit or down to a stand for rear feet touching the target, then I’ll start fading the gate.  Hopefully that will make it easier for the both of us to maintain the straight part of the criteria from the get go.

We are still in very early stages, but I can see her really starting to repeat ‘this has to to with my back feet touching the towel with me in a standing position.’  Yay for training plans!

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