Last week I was on vacation in Maine and though they didn’t have much snow there was plenty of ice everywhere making it difficult to give 6 active Golden Retrievers a decent workout. I don’t like to exercise my dogs on slippery surfaces for fear that someone with tear a cruciate ligament or otherwise get injured. We had to be creative about keeping everyone entertained so I spent alot of time dreaming up behaviors to teach the dogs .
I started out thinking I was going to teach them to back up but the sessions quickly turned into crawling backwards which was actually a little more interesting to teach. I taught each of the 6 dogs to do this behavior and it was interesting to see how each of them figured it out in their own way.
To get them started I tried to watch their feet and click and treat any movement backwards. Initially they started in a standing position but since most of them defaulted almost immediately to a down position I figured I would just start clicking and treating them for shuffling their feet. Observation skills are very important here, you want to click and treat the slightest movement at first. Try to be generous with your initial clicks and treats so that you can get some movement started or you will spend alot of time just staring at your dog. The placement of the treat is also really important, after you click toss the treat so that it lands right between the dog’s paws at chest level. In order to eat the treat the dog will have to dip it’s chin down and hunt around giving you more opportunities to click foot movement.
Once the dog is offering some backward movement don’t be afraid to change the placement of the treat. When the dog is offering movement easily, varying where the treat is delivered can help the dog offer more variations and help shape the behavior toward your goal. I like to rotate delivering the treat between the paws at first with delivering the treat a foot or so in front of the dogs paws. By varying where the treat is placed I can restart the behavior if the dog gets stuck because he runs out of room to back up.
Once the dog is offering crawling backward easily I delay the click until he shuffles backwards twice or makes more effort to extend his legs etc. By varying this a bit it will be easier to get the dog to offer crawling backward for several steps instead of just a few. When you are happy with your dog’s effort go ahead and start labeling it whatever you are going to call it. I am calling this behavior “back” . To help the dog learn the verbal cue for crawl backward I say the word “back” and then wait until the dog starts to shift her weight and offer pulling herself backwards a bit. It is important not to chant the cue at the dog. Just say it once and wait for her to initiate the behavior then click and reward. I hope you enjoy trying out this new trick with your dog. Happy Training !