Great effort has always been placed on training your dog to come to you. It’s even very common these days to see training classes specifically dedicated to “Training a Great Recall,” or getting your dog to come to you on cue, especially amidst distractions. And rightly so. This could be the single most important thing that you instill in your dog, and could very well be a lifesaver in an emergency situation.
With all the emphasis on asking dogs to come to us, I believe that it might be arguably as important to train your dog to move away. Have you ever been bombarded by a pogo puppy immediately upon entering the house from a long day at work? Boing! Boing! Boing! Have you ever been attacked by a slime bath while trying to relax on the couch? Ick! Have you ever tried to make dinner in peace without tripping over a big fuzzy vacuum cleaner? Snarf, snarf.
These are all household situations where I’ve found it absolutely beneficial to send a dog away from me. Competitive obedience participants are familiar with the “send away,” one of the exercises required for the Utility Dog title. Service dogs can be taught to “go retrieve” any number of things, like the phone, the remote, a beer from the fridge. But otherwise, the “away” cue isn’t usually something taught in pet obedience classes.
Other, more dangerous situations, might call for a very strong “away” cue when you need your dog to move away from some thing. For example, in some southern states, like Arizona, thousands of dogs are bitten by venomous rattlesnakes each year. Consequently, some trainers encourage owners to train via shock collar to avoid these rattlesnakes. Could there be possibly another, less aversive, technique that could be effective in teaching avoidance? Perhaps dogs could be positively trained to move “away” from snakes, as well as anything we deem as dangerous or inappropriate.
Here’s a good way to start:
Training an “away” might start very similarly to training a “leave it.” Hold a slightly yummy biscuit in your closed fingers or fist. Your dog will attempt any way possible to get the food out of your hand, but eventually will give up, and turn his head away. At that precise moment, click with your clicker and toss a better treat, like a small tidbit of hotdog, behind your dog so that he has to turn around and move away from you in order to find and eat it.
Continue several repetitions, within several short training sessions, until your dog is automatically turning around when the less yummy food is presented. When the behavior is reliable, you can add the cue “away.” You can delay the click longer and longer in order to build distance in your dog once the behavior is on-cue. Then you can practice having your dog move away from increasingly distracting items, like food, toys, people, the cat, and the tempting kitchen counter.
Certainly, no offense to our pups, but sometimes, we just don’t need them around us, or around certain things that can get them into trouble. We might not necessarily need or want them to go to their bed to lay down, it's just that sometimes we need them to do a quick 180º.
And when you’re ready to spend time with your dog again, use that rock solid recall with all the energy, enthusiasm and pride in the world. After all, if you’re like me, you can’t stand it when your mutt is "away" too long.