You want to see how to teach a dog to back up without walking into them? Today I’m featuring a video I made about that in 2011 that is quite popular on YouTube, but that I have never shown here.
The video features the “channel” technique to teach backing up. You build a little channel out of furniture or household items, get your dog to go to the front of it by throwing a treat up there, then capture (click/treat) their backing up when they back out. This is only a good technique if your dog doesn’t mind small spaces. (Wait until you see my little demo dog! Kaci the rat terrier is fearless and very “in the game.”)
I made the video because almost all the “How To Teach Your Dog To Back Up” videos on YouTube feature some kind of body pressure. Leaning over the dog, stepping into their space, even waving a hand in their face or dragging them backwards. This is using an aversive/avoidance technique, and generally employs negative reinforcement. I avoid using it.
That’s not some kind of theoretical objection on my part. If you want to see an example of the effects of using body pressure vs positive reinforcement, I have a video that demos it with my own dogs: Negative vs Positive Reinforcement. It will be very clear why I avoid body pressure as a training technique. Some dogs are more sensitive than others of course, but if they move away it is aversive by definition.
One lovely exception to the plethora of pressure-based backing up methods on YouTube is one Susan Friedman showed in her class this year. It is by über-trainer Laura Monaco Torelli, who has a video where she teaches her great ridgeback Santino four different behaviors, including backing up. She doesn’t have to throw a treat forward for this experienced dog; she shapes it but sets him up for success by using a narrow passageway to give him a clue which direction is most available for movement.
I did not invent the channel method. I think I first read about it in a post by Greta Kaplan in the ClickerSolutions Yahoo group. But I looked and looked, and couldn’t find an example of it on YouTube, so I made one.
The beauty of it is that it can give a beginning dog/trainer team a jump start on capturing the behavior, rather than using pure shaping. I think shaping this behavior is difficult for beginners. And I’ve noticed that even when free shaping, it is devilishly easy to start using body pressure unconsciously to hurry things along.
In the video I refer to a Part 2. Yes, I am actually working on it now. I’m not sure whether it will feature little Kaci or my dog Clara, who I have carefully refrained from teaching this behavior to up till now. Kaci is now completely deaf, and while I have experience training a deaf dog, I may not be able to show the nuances I’d like. But I’ll give it a try with both.
The second half will show where to go with the behavior once you get the basics using the channel, and some tricks for treat placement.
I did make one trial with Clara, to see whether the channel method would work with her. Silly me, brilliant her. I didn’t notice there was a step in her way, but she sure did. She’s a great problem solver. This should be interesting!
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