In order to perform to the best of their ability, our agility dogs need to understand and be aware of how their bodies work. And more and more research is being done all the time to improve the training we do with our canine athletes.
Teaching your dog to walk backwards is just one simple exercise that will help your dog be the best that they can be. It's also a really fun trick to teach non-agility dogs too!
You’ll need some training treats that you can throw easily and that will show up on the colour of the surface you’re working on. Cheese cubes work nicely on dark carpet or similar, or sliced hot dog sausage on lighter floors.
- To begin with create a channel for your dog - perhaps using your sofa and your coffee table - that is wide enough for them to stand comfortably in, but not so wide they can turn around.
- If they Sit automatically at the sight of your training treats, use a hand touch to encourage them to stand up.
- Drop a treat between their front legs - you should find as they bend to eat their treat they move backwards slightly.
- Mark that with a click or your marker word, and roll another treat between their front legs.
- Repeat these steps until they are moving backwards for a few paces.
Once your dog starts to anticipate the game you can think about naming the behaviour of walking backwards. I love imaginative cues like ‘Beep, beep’ as in a reversing lorry! But you can choose anything that makes sense to you - my cue is very dull and simply ‘Back, back’. The key thing is to choose something which doesn’t sound like anything else they already know, or perhaps other cues you may wish to teach them in the future.
If your dog already knows how to walk backwards, then challenge their awareness by asking them to back up over objects such as jump bumps, backwards through a ladder, into their crate or even backing up stairs!
Watch how they perform the behaviour - are they using their body effectively and placing each foot thoughtfully? Or do they thrown themselves backwards and ‘bounce’ backwards on their two back legs? If you find they are doing this then take them back a stage and re-educate them that foot placement is important in this behaviour.
Today I’m grateful for the breadth of information available on helping our agility dogs be more body aware and therefore safe, when they are running top-speed around an agility course. Not to mention how much fun the exercises are to teach!