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Kay Laurence | Learning About Dogs | Backing

Fitness Foundation Course

Lesson 5: Backing

November 2018

– introduction

This is an excellent long term project and develops great rear leg strength and awareness.
The inclination when faced with “no forward option available” is for the dog to step sideway as they move backwards to avoid collision.

To teach a dog to move backwards in a straight line is somewhat counter intuitive and needs no limitations on the time it takes ot teach it.

All my dogs learn backing, from big to small, young to old. In a small environment it becomes second nature, it becomes integrated with many lifeskills from simply stepping backwards when a door opens towards you, to being able to back away from a puddle.

What is the action?

Backing is a 2-beat, diagonal action, exactly the opposite of trotting, although bouncing backwards, similar to a canter is achievable as is a walk backwards.

The propulsion to move backwards comes from resistance against the floor, so always ensure the dog is not on a slippery surface.

It is easy to stress the action with too much pressure from the front. This can cause a dip in the topline just behind the shoulders or a head carriage that is tipped too far back over the shoulders, or some very weird rear leg action.

The inclination is for the dog to move out of the path of this pressure, without guidance they would step aside to allow you to come through.  

Although we have experience shaping backing, I used to use a target mat behind the dog as in this video. (MAC backing in the kitchen) I now would use that protocol only AFTER they have learned the correct technical, flowing action with the cup and wall.

Teaching backing

The dog should be comfortable holding the balanced stand to cup.

You will need a wall on the offside of the dog to help shape a straight line.

You will need to walk parallel to the dog’s hips to encourage maintaining a backwards focus and the straight path. This particular set up is going to be the unique cue “we are going backwards”, to avoid any confusion with reaching or anticipating forward action to the cup.

Base behaviour: standing in balance
Opening move: backward balance, rear leg first step

If a dog has learned to walk back from pressure we will see the front legs push back first and appear to curve the back. The back feet look like they are just getting out of the way of the front feet.

For each micro change in balance re-set the food to the floor and forwards and as the dog’s head raises the location of the cup should indicate Step Backwards.

Teach both directions – the wall on the dog’s left and then the wall on the dog’s right, a mirror image.

The temptation is to put too much pressure on the dog and expect results too fast too quickly. This is a difficult action for the dog to learn, and to a degree counter intuitive. When presented with blocking pressure the instinct to step aside, not keep walking backwards.

It is difficult at any age, so take lots of time to let the dog work out how to use their legs in a coordinated fashion, rather than “just move backwards”. The results are worth the time investment.

Although there are times in the kitchen when I wish the dogs would default back to “move out of the way” rather than just backing into the pantry.


Trying to go too quickly results:

  • jerky action, (avoidance), the dog will curve away
  • bouncing
  • stuttering, non-flowing smooth action, step-step-stop
  • make extra sure you click and stop and feed during action not when the dog stops


If your dog hops backwards, instead of moving each leg individually, move the cup lower when you cue ‘back’, so it is below muzzle height when you are both moving. You may first have to teach your dog not mug the cup when it is so low.

Around the curve

As we taught the dogs to walk in a circle to isolate the movement of individual legs, if you do not have the space to teach along a wall, you can teach a circle in a small space.

Using a corner of a room on the “offside” (outside) to teach the curved action. Include both directions to keep the dog physically balanced.

Consider the cue which in the initial stage is the corner of the room. The distance the dog is from the corner will shape the action. Training this in a VERY small space encourages rotations in the steps, in a larger space it will be a curved pulling action in towards the centre.


Prepare and give thought to quite different (environmental) cues for different action:

Going back in a straight line:

the way to stand, the cup you use, where to train and what you say.

Going back in a curve

the way to stand, the cup you use, where to train and what you say.

Adding variations to as many elements as possible to keep the cues unique.

Connect and Share

sounds like a biscuit …….


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