In the post The dog’s approach you learned how to improve the way your dog presents itself to you. Next we need to teach the dog to move out of our space. This may sound like a silly thing to teach, but our body language is inherently different than that of another species (in this case, the dog), and you need to be understood to be effective. I teach this in a very easy, progressive way. It is important to note that I START these exercises with a volunteer….one that is approaching me. For dogs, I walk towards the dog (small, slow, shuffling steps so the animal has plenty of time to size up the situation and respond accordingly). As the dog gives (starts to move out of my way….which they always do because I keep moving inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, millimeter by millimeter), I toss a treat at or past the dog. This toss serves two purposes. First, it positively reinforces the dog for responding to or, at a minimum, thinking about responding to my body language in the way that I want. Second, it sets the dog up nicely for another approach to me….which gives the dog an opportunity to stop short of barging into my space to begin with. So, within a few repetitions of this exercise, the dog is already becoming more aware of my space and realizing that space is also important to me. It’s also starting to notice and decipher some of my body language. Soon the dog is stopping short of my personal space and looking hopeful. I reward this….tossing treats at or past it, loving on the dog in a way it likes and enjoys, or maybe changing the subject and initiating an activity it enjoys. I do this exercise in a training session context just long enough for the dog to start to have some understanding of how I want it to respond to my body language and that I appreciate it when the dog is aware of, moves out of, or stops short of barging into my personal space. I then pick moments when the dog is attentive to me but out of my space to approach the dog and have it move out of my now moving personal space….I move the same way (slow shuffling steps to begin with) and celebrate the dog’s brilliance as it identifies the new twist on a now familiar topic and moves out of my way. Good dog. Good choice. Good news for you.
I then start working on it in everyday exchanges with the dog. When the dog, unsolicited, comes barging into my space, I ignore it and at the same time shuffle my feet towards it. As it moves off of the impending path of my feet, thereby moving out of my personal space, I notice the dog….I may toss a treat or toy or I may just speak to it or offer up eye contact/my attention. I let the attention or good times flow so long as the dog or puppy is maintaining its composure. Should they become too pushy or obnoxious, the flow of attention stops. I can either disconnect, ignore the dog, and go about my business, or I can simply help the dog out of my space via the same technique….ignoring the dog as I move into it. As it vacates my space, I stop my movement towards them and either give more positive feedback or go about my business.
When a dog approaches and stops just short of breaching my space, I reinforce it in a way it finds pleasurable. I may offer up a “hello,” speak sweetly, deliver a treat quickly to where the dog is (on the boundary of my space with all four feet on the ground), or toss a treat past it. I may love on the dog in a way it enjoys, being sure to bring myself and the lovin’ that follows to the dog’s level so that there is no added incentive for it to dive further into my space. I may invite the dog into my personal space. With consistent exchanges of this nature, dogs get very good at identifying and staying clear of my personal space….no confusion….no drama. Now, when I invite them into my space it feels like a privilege….a gift. Now when they approach, they stop short of my space and look hopeful, optimistic, and ready. I then want to help them understand (in the same way) that space is important not only to me but to all human beings, little ones included.