I love my dogs and want them to be with me, all the time but I don’t always want to engage with them, so I teach them to Go Away, when I’m busy. It boggles my mind to know how many people either teach their dogs to lay on a mat or to go to their bed, (the Place cue), so that they don’t bother them during meals, when company comes, while cooking, reading bedtime stories to the children, etc. You too, can train your dog to have choices.
I teach my dogs to “Go Away“, instead. Go Away means, ‘I love you but right now, I’m busy, so you can be with me but not under foot or bothering me.’ I really don’t care what my dog does when I’m busy. I surely don’t want to make him have to stay in his bed or on a mat and not be able to move about, just because I’m busy. I just don’t want to interact, while I’m doing other things or have company, etc.
Teaching Go Away means my dog is free to choose to be where he wants to be, get a drink of water, sunbathe in the incoming warmth of the rays of spring, get a toy and play by himself or simply lay at my feet while I read bedtime stories to my granddaughter. You can use whatever cue or phrase you want. Other choices are “No Now”, “Chill”, “That’ll Do”, or whatever else you can come up with.
I remember, eons ago when I started training dogs, a book titled, The Koehler Method of Dog Training, (one of a few dog training books at that time and NO, I don’t recommend it), recommended that you train your dog, to the Place command, which was to go to his bed and stay until released. I tried it 40 years ago, and felt awful about it. Why would I make my dog go to his bed or a mat and make him stay for however long it took me to do whatever it was I needed to do. I didn’t feel right then and it doesn’t feel right today.
As long as I have met my dogs emotional, physical and mental needs, I want my dog to have freedom and choice and learn the cue ‘Go Away‘ as a way of being able to be with me, without the need to engage. So, here’s how you do it!
Teaching any cue, behavior or trick is best taught when you know that all of their needs have been met and they are now ready to learn. This means that he doesn’t have to go potty, hasn’t just eaten, (you really want them to be hungry when teaching something new), so either don’t feed a meal in a bowl, but use their meal for training or feed half their meal and the other half for training. Start each session with play, either a few throws of fetch or a game of tug or whatever your dogs favorite game is, then do a little bit of training in obedience or tricks that your dog excels at. The play and training should last about 5 min or so before starting to teach a new cue. Use high value treats (pieces of chicken, turkey or hot dogs) and sit on a chair or sofa and completely disengage with your dog. That means, no eye contact, no talking, no touching, nothing. You are not going to engage with your dog at all. If he paws at you, nudges your hand, barks at you or tries in any way to engage with you, you are to simply ignore the dog.
Remember, a dogs first language is body language and energy. They are very good at reading body language, yes, even ours. So, when you disengage, he may try to get you to engage or wonder why you’re not engaging, and you will remain quiet and disengaged. Don’t let him nudge your hand, leg or any other body part. Keep it still, in place, unable to be moved. In a soft and monotone voice, say Go Away without looking at your dog. Looking at your dog is engaging. We want eye contact when we are engaging dogs. When we are disengaging them, we don’t want eye contact, so while looking away, say Go Away and ignore your dog. When he realizes you’re not going to engage with him, he may lie right next to you and settle, he may go to another part of the room, or to his bed and you will say nothing at this point. Wait about 15 seconds and then say Yes and go to your dog wherever he is and offer a treat. Don’t ask him to come, you want to go to him after you say Yes and give him the treat, wherever he is. Then, go back to where you were and if your dog follows you, ignore him again. When he stops trying to engage, say Go Away again and wait. When he stops engaging and remember, it doesn’t matter where he goes, even if it’s right at your feet. He’s leaving you alone, and this is what you want. Now, wait a little longer, perhaps, 30 seconds before you, say Yes and go to him with treats. Do this only about 3 times this first training session. The amount of time he spends trying to engage, will decrease, until you don’t even have to say Go Away. He’ll notice and realize that you are disengaged and on his own, he’ll go away, allowing you, to be busy without pestering you.
Keep the sessions short and do it about three times a day, for a few days. Then start to add distractions, for example; eat a meal at the table and say Go Away if he starts to engage with you. I know for me, I don’t need my dog to go to his bed or be out of the room, while we eat, I just don’t want my meals to be about him. He can lay under the table, on his bed or anywhere he chooses, as long as I can enjoy my meal without being pestered by him. Once he has the idea, up the ante with new and bigger distractions; i.e. around company, reading, exercising, cooking, etc. until your dog goes away (stops engaging with you) when you are busy.
It’s such a pleasure to have dogs be able to be with us, whenever or wherever we are and know that when we have other things to do, that don’t involve them, that they can still be part of our human family and not bother us.
About the author: Jill Breitner, is a professional dog trainer and dog body language expert loving and living her life on the west coast of the USA. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language recommended and used by veterinarians, shelters, trainers, educators and guardians worldwide. It’s available in iTunes and Google play. Jill has been teaching gentle handling/basic husbandry skills to clients and their dogs for 40 years, to be your pets advocate for a happier and stress free life. She also does online dog training, worldwide. Join Jill on her Dog Decoder Facebook page