Training at a Distance
by Robin MacFarlane
It's not disobedience, it's confusion.
Having a dog that can perform a behavior at a distance from you is so cool. Imagine having your dog doing tricks like "waving bye-bye" when you're not standing right next to them. It is pretty impressive to see a dog performing a trick or other behavior without knowing exactly where the owner is!
It is also a major safety issue. Imagine your dog crossing the street after an errant ball toss. Now a car is coming and you can't call the dog to you, you need her to Stop. Right. There. in a Sit or Down position so that they are kept safe from potential harm.
Having a dog capable of understanding this concept of following through at a distance is fantastic. The training of it, though, takes some work and creativity.
A dog's natural tendency is to come toward you when you ask them to Sit or Down (or do any stationary behavior). This is because the dog has first learned how to perform that behavior when they were right next to us. We teach most positions with the dog either right in front of us or right beside us. In the dog's mind, being close to us is simply part of the association of complying with the command correctly.
So when we ask for a behavior with the dog at a distance, they naturally move close to us first before they do as requested. They simply don't understand they should do it without moving closer.
In order for the dog to learn how to follow through in the exact spot they are in, we have to help them remain in that location. This means limiting their options for making the mistake of moving toward you.
There are a number of ways to do this. Today's video demonstrates the idea of a "back tie" in order to anchor the dog to a location, thus limiting how close she can get to me. The back tie is a simple concept that can be done in most any location with little equipment other than a leash. You can back tie to a fence, a tree, a doorknob, or anything solid enough to hold the dog steady.
Expect some confusion in the very beginning stages, move toward the dog as needed to assist behavior, but really pay attention that you aren't going all the way in each and every time. If you continue to move all the way in you simply reinforce that proximity concept to the dog.
Take a look as we work on Sitting at a distance with Brandy.
PLEASE NOTE: this is an advanced training concept. If your dog does not clearly understand a behavior and perform reliably 8 or 9 times out of 10 when they are close to you, DO NOT jump into working commands at a distance. As with any training, you must create a solid foundation to build on in order to progress to greater levels of difficulty.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.