Q: Sometimes when walking my dog, I see things ahead that I want to avoid, like a chatty neighbor or a kid on a skateboard. It's not always easy to get my dog to change directions, though. Do you have any tips?
A: One practical trick I like to teach dogs is to turn on cue, for just such situations. To teach your dog to turn, use a favorite treat or toy as a lure. Whether it's walking on the left or right, hold the treat near your dog's nose. (For small dogs, smear peanut butter or squeeze cheese on the end of a long wooden spoon so you don't have to crouch.)
Say "turn," and as you do so, move the lure in the direction you want to go. At the same time, move into the turn yourself so the dog stays at your side. At first, reward your dog for each small movement of the turn. As it starts to understand what you're asking, increase the amount of time between rewards.
Eventually, reward your dog only when it completes the turn. Practice left, right and 180-degree turns separately, because they're each different logistically.
For instance, if you're turning left with a dog who heels on the left, use the lure to guide your dog to pivot in place as you move around it to make the turn.
If you're turning right with a dog who heels left, reverse this process: As you pivot in place, use the lure to lead your dog through the turn. Gradually fade the lure until your dog responds only to the word "turn."
Practice indoors first, then outdoors with distractions until your dog is turning reliably. Reinforce with treats occasionally so that your dog will always be working for that reward.
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