Dog in front of garage

Is it possible to teach my dog to move out of the way? I need him to step out of my path sometimes, like when I’m opening and closing the garage door, but I’m not sure how to get him to do this.

In certain situations, having your dog underfoot can be dangerous for you and for him. Whether you are trying to close the garage door or carrying a hot plate of food, having the option to ask your pooch to step out of your path can help avoid a disaster. Fortunately, it is possible to teach your dog to give you some space. The trained behavior, called “out,” is simple to train and can be used to ask your dog to move away from a certain area on cue.

Teach the Command

For some dogs, training “out” may be as simple as communicating what’s about to happen. This approach will work best if your dog is already inclined to perceive and attend to human body language and adjust his own body in response to your movements. For example, if your dog already responds to a person moving into his space by stepping back or to the side, you can pair an informational cue with that action — for example, saying the word “out” and then moving forward into the space where the dog is sitting or standing. Over time, your dog will learn to associate the verbal cue “out” with the action of moving out of the way.

If your dog doesn’t instinctively move out of the way, he may need a little extra guidance. Try this: Give the cue “out” and immediately follow it by pointing or tossing a toy or treat away from you. If your dog rushes to return the toy to you or beg for another treat, there are a few things you can do to keep him out of your way. A "wait" or "stay" command can be useful for keeping him from returning immediately to you (remember to reward him for remaining in place). You can also send him to a specific place, like his bed or a mat, and reward him only when he is in his designated spot.

Teaching your dog to follow a gesture or a tossed treat can be especially helpful in situations when you need your dog to move in a certain direction — for example, if you need him to move inside the garage while you close the door. Start slowly: Anytime your dog responds to the cue by turning his head or body away or backing up, mark and reward by tossing a treat or toy in the direction the dog is moving.

Once your dog learns to associate the “out” cue with moving away from his current location, you can work on fading the toy or treat and teaching him to respond to just the word or a hand gesture. To fade the tossed treat or toy, say the word one to two seconds before tossing the toy or treat. Your dog should begin to anticipate and respond to the verbal cue alone. You can also pair a pointing gesture or a pantomime of tossing an item with the verbal cue.

Putting "Out" to Work

Ideally, “out” should be trained in a manner that makes it applicable to the real-life situations where it’s needed most. Once your dog learns to respond to the “out” cue, introduce common variables to his training to prepare him for potential situations that may arise. Train your dog to respond to the cue in a variety of places (inside the house, in the garage, in the yard) and with increasing distractions (other people and pets). Practice various situations as well, like unloading groceries, closing the garage door and moving furniture.

The “out” cue should be informational and useful for guiding your dog — don’t use it as a way to punish or reprimand him. Once the behavior is learned, the rewards for attending to the cue can be spaced out. Occasional praise, in combination with an intermittent treat or toy reward, is often enough to keep the behavior strong for most dogs.

Furthermore, most dogs will naturally gravitate back toward the area or person they were asked to move away from after a period of time. If your dog hangs back, an invitational word and gesture, such as a release cue like "free dog” or a pat on the leg or hand target may be used to invite the dog to return to you.

In your specific situation, you may also want to work with your dog on waiting at the door. With practice and continued guidance, your garage-opening experience can become a much simpler and less taxing process for both you and your dog.

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