Building a Breathtaking Back Up!

Whenever the Back Up 3 Steps appears on the course map at rally trials, collective groans echo through the Excellent crowd. Against a wall, the back up is great, but take away that wall or gate and everything goes south.

The good news is, you can have a beautiful back up! This process is how I teach the back. If you break this skill down, you will build a breathtaking back up in just a short amount of time!

Description: Back Up 3 Steps 

Backup 3 Steps – While heeling, the dog and handler reverse direction walking backward at least 3 steps together and then continue heeling forward. The dog must remain standing throughout.

Video Demos

Here is Strive demonstrating what this sign should look like.

AKC Demo

Training the Skills: Back Up

Ooh backup, my favorite! This seems to be one of the most difficult signs in Rally. I've taught the back up several different ways over the years, and have found that my favorite way to teach it is using a rear foot target. I learned of this method from the wonderful Hannah Branigan, who teaches some awesome classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

I used this method with Excel and he has the best backup of all my dogs. I have also taught it to a dozen client dogs in the last two years and have been really happy. Here is a video of adorable puppy Excel's second session with backing up.

Put Value Into Standing on the Target

The most difficult part of teaching backup is that very first backward step onto the target. Most people bring the treat forward too much, resulting in the dog coming all the way off the target. I am very careful to split this into tiny little pieces. First I put a ton of value into the position of two feet on the ground, back feet on the target. I click/treat that many many times. Once the dog is pretty good about staying there and waiting for the next treat, I will start putting the treats just a tiny bit farther from the dog. Pretty soon the dog is leaning forward to get the treat but keeping the back feet on. You can see Excel starting to do this around :05 and even more at :09. At this point, I'm clicking when the dog does the backwards weight shift. Do you see how he leans forward to get the treat and as soon as he gets it, he shifts his weight backwards? That's exactly what I want to click because that is the beginning of the dog's backward movement.

Stepping on the Target

In this video, I put the treat just a tiny bit too far away, because on that next rep Excel came off with both feet. Ideally I want the dog to come off with only one foot, like what happened at :14. However, because I had clicked a ton of weight shifts backward, Excel figured out how to back onto the target. So now, I'm clicking back foot going onto the target. Some dogs will get stuck at this point, and will just look at you, or sit (very common) or do another behavior. If your dog gets stuck, throw a reset treat behind them and start over by clicking them for the 2 feet on, 2 feet off behavior, then slowly bringing your treats forward.

Slowly Increase Distance

Once your dog figures out how to get those back feet on the target, the training goes very quickly. Keep incrementally increasing the distance that your dog has to back up. I will ping pong the distance, making sure I'm going from hard to easy and back again. I don't always want to make it more difficult for my dog. I usually end the session with a slightly easier rep.

Here's (still adorable) grown-up Excel demonstrating a big dog backup for you. Notice he's still backing up to that rear foot target.

I'm feeding in position here, then luring him off the board with another treat. You can always mark and just feed out of position to set the dog up for the next rep. If your dog needs a bit higher rate of reinforcement, you can feed two treats for each rep like I'm doing here.

Adding a Back Up Cue 

At this point, the behavior is quite predictable so I can go ahead and attach a verbal cue. My super creative cue is "back." Say the cue just before the dog starts to back up.

Transfer Back Up to Heel Position 

The next step is to transfer this to heel position.

I'm using the same backup target that I did in the last video. In fact, this is simply a continuation of that training session. I just went from being in front to stepping into heel. When you get to this step be sure to warm your dog up by doing backing up in front of you.

At first I start with marking the weight shifts backwards. Then I lure Excel off just a little bit and mark/reward for backing up and putting his feet on the target. At that point I'll start moving with him. The hardest part of this session was keeping up with Excel! He backs too quickly for me! When I added the verbal cue he got even faster!

Fade the Target 

And finally, we take away the target in heel position. Just a quick note that at sometime during this process of transferring to heel, I have already faded the target when he's backing up in front of me. So his cue "Back" is reliable with or without the target when I'm in front. He also is very good at backing to the target in heel.

Here's how taking the target away looks:

Go nice and slow in the beginning so the dog can learn how to control his movement. I wanted to mention that this is Excel's very first time doing this much backing up in heel with the cue. He knows how to back on pivots, etc, but we've never done the three steps back in heel. This just goes to show you that if your foundation is solid, this stuff becomes pretty easy for the dog.

Other Tips for Teaching Back Up

Be sure to give the "back" cue to the dog before you go into reverse. As you stop, many dogs are going to get ready to sit, and we need them to engage different muscles in order to backup, so I want to make sure they have time to prepare themselves. As I think about slowing down, I say "back" to the dog and then I start backing up.

The dog must stay in heel position and be fairly straight during this sign. If the dog gets very crooked or ever faces the handler, or just leaps backwards without any control, you will lose points for this sign.

E187: Melissa Breau - "A Little Bit of Background....
E186: Lori Stevens - "Fitness Foundations"