TEACHING YOUR DOG TO LEAVE DISTRACTIONS: THE WALK-AWAY GAME
The walk-away behavior teaches your dog to quickly turn away from a distraction. Practice this game as outlined below to teach your dog to leave an object/distraction on your verbal cue, with slight pressure on his collar and eventually your dog will walk away with only the verbal cue given.
How to train it….
1. With your dog on a longer leash, throw a piece of food about 8-10 feet in front of your dog. Be sure the food is thrown far enough so the dog can't reach it and be prepared for your dog to lunge at the food. Ideally the dog must NEVER get the food on the floor.
At first do NOT use a verbal cue. Your dog's cue will be the gentle pressure on his/her leash. As your dog pulls for the food, walk backwards at a brisk pace. Your dog may take a while to turn toward you. This is OK. Use your body, not your arm, to apply an even, gentle pull as you continue to move backwards.
When your dog looks away from the food and turns to come towards you, say YES and then give him a treat when he gets back to you. Continue to walk backwards as you give your dog several food rewards. Use higher value treats than the item the dog is walking away from. For example, give cheese when your dog is walking away from kibble. After several treats play with your dog and allow him to re-orient towards the food and walk away again, marking and rewarding each successful repetition. Mark as soon as the leash is no longer tight and do not wait for the dog to get to you. Eventually, the dog may choose not to look at the food because you are more rewarding.
2. After several repetitions of rewarding your dog for simply looking away from the food and coming towards you, raise the bar by waiting until you get you dog's attention to say YES and reward again when he returns to you. Again, continue to walk backwards as you give your dog several food rewards. After a few successful repetitions of this, start rewarding your dog with just one treat (preceded by YES) and repeat the sequence.
3. When your dog is consistently responding to the leash pressure cue, immediately and without hesitation, you can add the verbal cue WALK AWAY. Say WALK AWAY right before you apply the leash pressure. With enough repetition, your dog will start anticipating the leash pressure and turn his attention towards you on the verbal cue alone. Other words can be used such as LEAVE IT or just an AH-HA,
When ever your dog fails to respond to the verbal cue, simply continue to walk backwards; do NOT say WALK AWAY again. Your dog will give you his attention eventually, when he does, say YES and follow that up with a food treat.
Taking it on the road: Real life applications…
Practice this game often and in various locations. Initially, use food as the distraction and then expand it to include any real-life object your dog finds appealing: a chicken bone on the ground, a dirty Kleenex, a squirrel or another dog, for example. Always practice with your dog on leash and with treats readily available.
Always practice walking away multiple times from any given distraction; do not expect your dog to do one walk away from a really big distraction and then immediately be able to walk right past it like an angel. This will only come with practice. Be quick in delivering the treat and immediately praise, then quickly cue the dog to walk away again, etc. Try to avoid letting your dog trigger, as this is counter-productive; you need to build on success.
If your dog tends to bark and/or lunge at certain triggers, practice this game with anything that causes your dog to trigger: kids on bikes, men wearing hats, etc. Always cue the dog to WALK AWAY before he triggers: do not wait until he is already barking and lunging at the end of the leash.
If you have to walk backwards for a long time (more than 10 feet), before your dog turns towards you, you are working too close to the distraction. Give your dog enough distance from it to be successful. You can gradually decrease the distance from the distraction or trigger, in very small increments, as your dog is successful.
Always remember to set your dog up to succeed.