The emergency U-turn is the first line of defense when encountering a loose dog or any other site that might tip your dog over threshold. Mastering the emergency U-turn involves mastering how you communicate with your dog in high stress environments. Dog trainer Grisha Stewart discusses the U-turn in her book on Behavior Adjustment Training and likens it to "a flotation device tossed to get a drowning child out of the deep end of the pool".
On face value this is nothing more then turning and moving in the opposite direction. Tuff Pup Training sees your U-turn as a crucial fundamental skills. Like all fundamental skills you would on with your dog, the more you practice the action the more reliable it will be when you need to happen.
Extra benefit - Beyond getting you and your dog to a safe, non-reactive distance you are also giving your dog the impression that you know where the "exit strategies are". Remember that your dog does not want to "deal" with that other dog (or other trigger) anyway. As you direct your dog to turn and walk away you are supplying that functional reward of moving toward safety that sits at the heart of the B.A.T. training set-ups.
Teaching the EMERGENCY U-Turn:
Start your practice in a distraction fee space. You'll need to practice the behavior in many different environments before it will feel fluid and practical. Consider practicing twice a day for 5 minutes at times when you have to walk your dog anyway for potty breaks or exercise
- Start walking forward with your dog at a brisk pace. You'll be turning in a few steps but before you do begin baby talking to your dog. This works to get attention from our pup in a non invasive way as well as lighten the tone of the experience for both of you.
- Slow down your forward motion or even come to a complete stop. The change in pace here will cause your dog to turn and look at you. It might not happen immediately but your dog will realize somethings up and turn to see what.
- The moment your dog turns Click! or say "yes!". Deliver your dog a treat but do so by holding the treat out to the side of your body that you want your dog to turn too. If you want your dog to turn and catch up to the left side of your body then be sure to hold the treat out to that left side. Only (actually) release the treat to your dog's mouth when your dog has made the effort to catch up to that side. The only thing required for your dog to do is take that one or two extra steps to reach their nose to your side. When you first try this you may only be turning your dog about 90 degrees. As you repeat the above process you can start holding back on releasing the treat until your dog has turned as full 180-degrees.
- Build on the U-Turn by adding more distance before clicking. Your dog has to turn and then take a full additional step with you before you click. Then repeat but wait two steps. You are delaying the gratification but still giving plenty of opportunities for your dog to be successful.
This whole process will make the act of turning a visual cue for your dog to follow. If you turn, your dog should turn. Since you'll likely be using this to avoid a trigger in a rushed or abrupt way you should consider adding a vocal cue. Begin to say "let's go" or "this way" just as your dog turns to make an association between the words and the action. Grisha Stewart (mention above) recommends the vocal cue be "Call Your Dog!". That way you can simultaneously U-Turn while demanding that an off leash dog be called back to it's owner.
Adding distractions and proofing the U-turn:
Begin searching for mild distractions to practice around. Pick distractions that might get your dog's attention but won't trigger an emotional over-reaction. Walk toward that distraction and 100 feet away implement your U-Turn as practiced. Then repeat but implement the U-Turn at 90 feet, then 80 feet, 70 feet, etc. Continue until you are at 10 or 5 feet distances.
The best way to practice is to ask the help of friends or family to create set-ups where they can be your distraction. Take the opportunity to try out your U-Turns during the Tuff Pup Training reactive group walks at times when another dog has gotten too close. Then return to group at a distance your dog feel safe with.
If you are struggling with your U-Turns don't hesitate to contact Tuff Pup Training to troubleshoot or to schedule a personal training session.