Gee, I Didn’t Know They Were Mine: Rear Paw Awareness

You Don’t Pay a Trainer for the Clicker; You Pay Him for the Brain

A smart dog trainer is an idea person.

Golden Retriever looking out car window.

I don't know why you felt the need to trade this in for a bike and cart. I can stretch out much better in here.

I’m not bad with the basics. I’ve taught Honey to walk nicely on leash, wait for me at crosswalks, come when I call her, and lie down nicely on the rug while I’m cooking dinner.

But when I read about Shiva learning to do handstands or 80-pound Hurley learning to stand in a box, I don’t know where to begin.  How do you get a dog to do something he wouldn’t expect to do on his own in a given day?

That’s where the creative trainer comes in.

Stretching Honey

We’ve been working for a long time to see if we can get Honey to ride comfortably in the Doggy Ride bicycle cart.

At the same time, we’d like to know if she could ever be comfortable with us on a sailboat. Can she walk a ramp from a dock to a moving boat? Feel comfortable when a boat shifts under a person’s weight? Will she tolerate the noise and motion of high winds causing sails, lines, and hardware to move and clank?

We’ve been getting help from a local trainer to teach us how to work with Honey and to help us evaluate if our goals for her are even possible. And it’s been so helpful.

But this past session, our trainer, Russ, suggested something that caused a real breakthrough for Honey.

Golden Retriever getting treat in bicycle cart.

If I stretch any more, people are going to think I'm a Corgi or a Basset Hound.

We’ve been rewarding Honey for putting her head into the Doggy Ride bicycle cart. Gradually, she’s worked up to putting her front two paws into the cart and streeeetttttcccccching her body to take a treat from my hand at the front of the cart. Her rear paws are firmly anchored on the ground outside the cart and they’re not going anywhere. If the floor is slippery, she’ll scramble with her back paws to keep them from going into the cart even as she’s pursuing the treat in my hand.

If you want to know what this look likes, imagine an American tourist discovering her first “squatty potty” in a moment of desperate need while balancing a long skirt, two shopping bags, and a huge purse. It’s pretty awkward looking.

We’re also working to get her to walk on a small teeter board that barely teeters at all. Russ suggested we place obstacles on each side of the teeter so Honey has to approach from the front and can step on with both paws. No doing. She’d put her two front paws tentatively on the board but will not walk on with her back paws even though her weight is already holding the board down.

When I asked Russ if there was some way we could make her separately aware of her back paws from her front, he came up with a deceptively simple but very effective idea.

Back Paw Awareness

Russ moved a floor mat into the middle of the room. Honey walked over it periodically trying to figure out what would get her a treat. Each time her front paws were off the rug and her back paws were on them, Russ would click and treat.

It was a slow process. Honey didn’t understand what we expected of her. But eventually her brain figured it out and she’d walk over the rug and pause with her front paws on the wood floor and her back paws on the carpet.

We continued working with the rug the next day. And, after a few repetitions, I moved the rug onto the teeter board. The teeter board she had never touched with her rear paws. The teeter board I could not get her to walk forward onto after her front two paws touched it.

Honey stepped onto the rug onto the teeter board. Then she moved forward until her back paws were also on the rug. And then she moved forward again so her front paws were free of the rug but her back paws remained on it.


Progress Isn’t Linear

When I go downstairs to work with Honey again, we may not duplicate yesterday’s success. She might look like she needs to start all over again.

But that’s ok. She’s done it once. She’ll do it again.

Honey looks bolder and more confident around the crazy equipment in the house. But most of all, she looks more and more like she’s starting to have fun. And that’s a beautiful sight to see. No matter where her paws are.

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  1. That is awesome Pamela! I would have cried when she stepped on that board! Did you throw a party? LOL

    I too am amazed by those who can teach their dogs tricks that I could never dream of, I mean I can’t even get my dog to come when I call her or take a treat from my hand without removing skin! We’re working on it and you just gave me an idea to use the clicker and try and teach her to nicely take the treat. Whoo Hooo!!

    Thank you Pamela (and Honey and Russ!) Carry on Honey, you will master that doggy cart before you know it!

  2. This reminds me of our Hawk. That boy had no clue what his back end was doing! lol It took him much longer to do stairs than any of our other dogs. He just couldn’t coordinate that back end. I had no idea at the time that there were things that I could do to help him figure things out, and he did eventually get it. We had a lot of giggles over his lack of back end awareness through his life, though!

  3. What a gem Russ is. How great to have a trainer who is so creative in his approach to teaching.

  4. Oh Honey! You go girlfriend!

  5. Way to go Honey! You OWN those back paws! I love seeing how far into that cart she is. You’ve come a long way!!

    In agility, we used a ladder laid on the ground to teach hind foot awareness. The first time Kol caught his back paw on a ladder rung, he almost jumped out of his skin. I don’t think he realized he HAD hind feet!

  6. Great Job, Honey! It truly takes thinking outside of the box to make a breakthrough and it sounds like you guys have a great trainer helping you to make progress on your goals. (Hurley will now lay down in his box; I’m just hoping that one day I will be so fortunate as to have the camera ready when it splits at the seam!)

  7. Wow! That’s progress with the cart! Soon…!

    On getting Honey used to the sailboat swing, how about a suspension bridge walk? Do you have any in your area? An elevator ride is interesting too. The first time Jordan and Rufus went into one, they both dropped to the floor 😉

    BTW, I can’t walk on a suspension bridge myself. I get so nervous, I just stop, drop and grab at anything. I also scream at anyone who dares to move or tries to swing the bridge. For. Fun. Are they mad? I need a trainer like Russ.

  8. Awesome work – good job all round! Go, Honey. I’ve taken my dogs to the kiddy gym at the park; there normally is a suspension bridge. One Beagle loved the slide – he would slide down and zoom back up he stairs, across the suspension bridge so he could slide down again :). Honey will do it.

  9. So happy that you continue to see results for all your hard work :-)

  10. How interesting! How cool! I’ve never run into such a thing so I can imagine how simply awesome this must be for you and Honey!! I can really see the practicality in it and how simple awareness would make such a difference. Paws off to your trainer!! That idea alone makes him a keeper. :) I’m so happy you found something that works for all of you. Very cool!

    p.s. Part of working with the Back Dogs closer and getting them better integrated is all part of the bigger plan of the two packs combining. Who knows Pamela, it may still happen some day. :)

  11. Interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever thought about whether Sage is aware of her back paws. She sails through agility and other things she’s interested in (note the ‘interested in’ bit) that it’s never been an issue. At least so far. I guess the only thing I haven’t gotten her to do is go downstairs into our basement (which is finished). No way! But she’ll do stairs other places. I think I’ll become more aware…

  12. That is awesome Honey is happy with it all – it really does matter more than anything else. And Russ sure is worth his weight in gold – love the creative ideas!

  13. You must be so proud of Honey for this. What a great success. Sounds like Russ is a good teacher able to come up with new methods that work for the dog (as opposed to trying to fit the dog to the method). So glad you’ve found someone good to work with you.

    One of the first things we tackled in agility class was back leg awareness. Like everyone else upstream here, it never occurred to me that Bella wasn’t particularly aware she had them. And like Jodi and Kolchack, we used a ladder to get the idea across. Who knew that would be such a difficult concept?

    Congratulations on doing such a good job with Honey. She’s a doll. :)

  14. Great idea on how to train that skill. Mats and boxes can be quite useful in training a lot of different things. We use them to help with steadiness. Now another good way to use them.

  15. Congratulations – it’s so cool when they catch on to what you’re trying to communicate, isn’t it? I’m so excited for you and Honey – I know that feeling, and can imagine how proud you must be of your scaredy-girl.

  16. This is so great! I was practically cheering out loud as I was reading. I am so thrilled your trainer understands you and Honey so well. There is no better feeling than seeing your dog do something she never could before. :-) Yay!

    When we stared our rear end awareness work we actually used a foot stool. I shaped Shiva to stand on the stool with just her two front paws and then with just her two back paws. As an extra challenge, we then progressed to her walking in circles around the stool with her front paws up and her back paws on the floor.

  17. It’s great that Honey is making such progress! It’s wonderful that you can see how much happier and confident she is becoming. Congrats on finding a trainer that can help you bring out the best in your dog!

  18. Success!!! Oh Pamela! That is so awesome!
    I think one of the things I like about working with special needs dogs is that I have to think outside the box. Coming up with new ideas is fun. I am so going to try the mat idea!

    One day I am going to read about your bike ride (you, Honey and Mike) to the park. Then I am going to dance the jig. :)

  19. Wow! I love the creativity of your trainer! It sounds like Honey is having lots of fun :)

  20. this is absolutely wonderful, and what a fabulous idea your trainer had. i may have to borrow that technique someday. :-)


  1. […] a “fraidy” dog, certainly nothing like Bella. Maybe Moree had a crate issue similar to some of Honey’s bike trailer issues, but his were strictly limited to crates, and not small spaces in general […]