Pushing is a basic dog training technique that aims to get a greater bond between you and your dog. It not only improves your relationship with your dog but helps him to relax during times of stress. It is the opposite of playing “Tuggy” when the dog’s effort is to move away from you. You get the dog to push against you by making use of his inherent prey drive or food hunting instinct.
It is relatively easy to learn. Armed with tasty treats you take your preferably hungry dog to a fairly large open space of ground. Attach a long line and start hand feeding him by offering some treats held in your right hand. The first treat is offered at the normal distance from yourself and each one after that is held closer to you until the back of your hand actually touching against your body.
Praise in a relaxed tone as he moves forward to take the treat being offered. Do not move towards the dog but move away to encourage him to come closer to you. Call something like, “Here” and “Take it” as you continue to move further away while your dog increases his efforts to get at the tasty treats on offer. As his prey drive kicks in his efforts to get at the food should also increase as he pushes against your body to get the treats. The dog must get a GOOD feeling that he is winning the game so close to your body.
When the dog has successfully moved you backwards as he eagerly goes for the food on offer, you slowly introduce the left hand. Hold the left in such a way that the dog has to reach over your left to get at the treat in your right hand. As soon as he gets used to the left hand in that position and forces his way over it to get to the treat, you can begin to gently push him back with the left. Do it in such a way that it encourages him to push harder. Your left, pushing against the dog, gradually pushes back stronger against the dog but not hard enough to discourage him in any way. In fact it should have him pushing even harder into your body. It is now time to say, “Push, push, good push” as you continue to play and tease your dog. This is playing “Tuggy” in reverse.
Not all dogs can get this far in a single session. If he backs away it could be that there are too many or strong interests competing with your treat at the training site or he is not hungry enough. Avoid him getting a bad feeling about the exercise. Rest and try again at another time. You may want to start hand feeding your dog for a while. We want to elicit prey-drive in him successfully so take care. Refusing food when he should be hungry is a sure sign of stress!
It is important to understand that the dog will only tolerate being pushed back as long as he is interested in getting at the treat. The moment he gets the food from your right hand, there is no reason for him to want to push close to your body. When this happens the left hand must immediately stop pushing back.
Repeat these steps a few times so that your dog can get used to the left hand pushing him where the neck and chest meet. As the dog gets used to the pressure from the left hand you should feel counter pressure from the dog – this is what you want. Now you can begin to deliberately push him back some distance before letting him get the treat. Continue the game of first pushing the dog and then to move backwards for the dog to be driving hard into you, front legs off the ground and back legs pushing in order to get the food. Repeat the word, “Push” often.
“Sit” your dog, move away a short distance, show a treat and invite him to “Come, push, push.” It is not a stay exercise and the dog should immediately leap forward in an effort to get at the food and the pushing can continue while he is being praised for his efforts. Gradually the distance can increase and the “Ready” signal can be used to increase attention.
Successful dog training depends on a dog feeling safe with its handler who is able to “switch on” his prey drive. The dog must be relaxed in his company, bond with him and give him his undivided attention. I have used this method with Quanto with great success. At shows, walking past trailers full of barking dogs, his attention was on me and he would be ready to perform when needed.