In this article: teaching your dog commands: behind, forward, left and right.
You and your dog have mastered basic obedience (sit, down, heal); is there more? Well, of course there’s more! Most dogs love to learn, and what better way to learn than on a dog walk? The fact that many of us don’t realize that is just another one of those communication issues in life.
For city folks who walk their dogs on streets or bike trails, I recommend a “behind” command. It’s an especially great command for those folks walking multiple large dogs, or for neighborhoods where you run into loose dogs. This is a command that will help ingratiate you and your dog with neighbors and cyclists alike.
“Behind” simply means you want your dog to walk directly behind you. I see those puzzled looks on the faces of people whose dog walks in front of them. After all, isn’t that single file? Yes, but being the control freak that I am, I prefer to be the one in charge. The “behind” position is only for a brief moment during your dog walk. I’m not suggesting having your dog walk behind you for any length of time.
So, why “behind?” If you are walking multiple dogs using both hands, and you are on a path or narrow street, you can “skinny up” the space you take up with one dog beside you and the other dog behind you. Behind also works well because you are in charge of the stimulus ahead. You can’t believe how friendly cyclists are when walkers with dogs share the trails with them.
Another reason I like the “behind” command is when children on skateboards or children excited to see your dog start running up to you. You can calmly move your dog behind and keep moving forward, while you deal with the children. It’s equally important when a loose dog comes galloping your way. Many dogs on leash react by pulling and barking when a loose dog approaches. That may escalate the situation. You may want to be the one in charge and remain calm. Ask your dog to walk behind, and you calmly stop the other dog from running up to your dog. When your dog senses danger, he will not get behind you unless he trusts you to take care of the problem. You have to prove to your dog that you will not let harm come to him. How to handle a charging dog is a much larger topic for another time.
Some people have asked why walk a dog on the street when there is a sidewalk available? That’s a matter of personal preference. In the city, you never know what chemicals are lurking in another person’s yard. So, to minimize exposure, you can walk your dog on the street. Also, your dog is less likely to pick up fleas, ticks, or even get exposed to poison ivy while walking on the street. Of course, you should be mindful of the road surface temperature. The middle of the day in July in Texas may be pretty uncomfortable on your dogs’ pads. One reminder: you should walk on the side of the street facing on-coming traffic with your dog next to the curb.
Train “behind.” To train a “behind” command is super easy. It’s just teaching the dog the meaning of the word and practicing. Go outside with one dog on the leash. You probably only want to give him about three feet of lead. As you leisurely stroll, say “behind” and move your dog behind you while you walk. Take two or three steps with the dog behind. He will try to get next to you, but just keep him back. Then give him whatever release command you use (okay, heel, etc.). Walk ten steps and repeat. After you do this about 10 times, he should start to connect the dots. Once he stops resisting, slowly lengthen the time you ask him to remain behind you. Most dogs pick this up incredibly fast. The real tests come out on the trail when there are lots of distractions. Have a little patience. There’s no need for treats. Just lots of praise and love as he starts to get it right. As always when training, remain calm, tell politely but firmly, enforce, praise success, and repeat.
Extra points—Right, Left and Forward. When I obedience train, I always teach directions to the dog. Directional training is extra stimulus and learning for the dog. It also reminds the dog that you are controlling the path, not the dog. One step before you turn a corner, say “left” or “right” and gently pull the leash in the corresponding direction. After the turn, you can use the term “forward.” To fast track the training, go to a park, your front yard, or a street with no traffic. Shorten your lead to two to three feet. Start walking and doing left and right turns with your dog. Change up the pattern. Don’t just do squares or rectangles. You will be so surprised how fast your dog picks up these commands. Make sure to add “forward” after the turn so your dog learns what forward means. After several minutes of calm training, take a break and make a big fuss about how great your dog has done. They love humans making a fool of themselves!
Once the dog has mastered directions, it’s fun to play hide and seek. Instead of just allowing your dog to use his nose (which is perfectly fine), you can give your dog hints where to find something. Well, maybe some of you are crazy enough over dogs to think it’s fun.
See you on the trail!