Do you ever feel stuck in situations with your dog? Perhaps they’re so set on greeting a dog, you can’t physically move them? Or you see another dog rapidly approaching and you and your dog are frozen in fear and panic?
It can be incredibly frustrating when you feel you can’t get away from a situation and you have no control to move your dog, you might end up dreading other dogs coming near you because of this. Often in these moments, we just don’t know what to do, if calling your dog’s name and waving a treat in front of them doesn’t work then really what more is there to do!?
This is where a ‘let’s go’ cue can change everything. We call it ‘let’s go’ but you can name it whatever you like; the idea is simply to teach your dog a ‘U turn’ behaviour. If they can learn to do a 180⁰ turn and focus back on you then you’ve got yourself a perfect way to get your dog out of any situation.
Depending on your dog’s behaviour around other dogs, the let’s go cue can have many uses…
Super Social Dogs
If your dog fixates on other dogs because he’s so excited to go and greet them, having a cue to turn him away can enable you to then work through a calmer approach and greeting
It can stop your dog running fast into another dog
It can interrupt stalking behaviours which other dogs may find threatening
It can help your dog move on after a greeting or help break up a game between dogs
Fearful or Reactive Dogs
Fearful dogs can often feel stuck when faced with another dog, the cue can help show them how to move away and gain space from another dog
If another dog is quickly approaching your dog’s space, the cue can quickly create distance and avoid a head-to-head approach
It can get your dog out of a tricky situation like walking towards another dog on the pavement or avoiding head-to-head approaches
Low Tolerance Dogs
Some dogs can only cope with a level of social interaction, the let’s go cue can help break greetings after a few seconds and before your dog becomes tense or overwhelmed
If a dog is approaching who looks like a trigger (typical examples are puppies, bouncy/inappropriate youngsters, or confrontational dogs), the cue can turn your dog away and avoid an interaction happening
Why is it so effective?
We tend to overuse our dogs names, we might be guilty of saying their name a lot and not always rewarding them or paying them for responding. Over time their names become less valuable and meaningful because we use them so frequently, it’s hard to avoid doing this, so instead teaching a cue like ‘let’s go’ means you always have a high value cue.
It’s also so common to find ourselves battling to get our dog’s attention, whether your dog is excited or fearful or has no social struggles, they can be prone to getting fixated on other dogs and it’s not easy to regain their attention or move them away. Teaching a fun, high-value cue can give you a way to gain their attention and engage them in other behaviours.
‘Let’s go’ is a versatile cue which can be used in all manner of situations, it should always remain a really high value cue with the aim to maintain enough value that your dog can respond in difficult situations (e.g. after sniffing a dog, if they’re on the edge of a reaction, or if you want to quickly avoid a potential trigger).
For dogs who find lead pressure a trigger, either causing them to freeze and counter the pressure, or causing them to react, ‘let’s go’ can be paired with a positive association of lead pressure.
This means if you need to help your dog move away from another dog, when they feel the lead or longline go tight and they hear the cue ‘let’s go’, they instantly know to turn willingly towards you. This skill enables your dog to feel positive about any tension on the lead so it no longer causes a negative reaction or resistance from them.
Teaching Let’s Go
1. With your dog on lead, turn away from your dog and say ‘yes’ when your dog turns to follow you. Reward by tossing the treat ahead of you
2. Repeat this until your dog is readily following your turn
3. Start adding the ‘let’s go’ cue – say ‘let’s go’, turn away, say ‘yes’ and toss the treat
4. Add more movement – say ‘let’s go’, turn away and take a few quick steps, then say ‘yes’ and toss the treat
5. Keep increasing the distance you move each time
6. Once your dog is engaged with this concept then you can add some distractions. To begin with, practice in a couple of different quiet locations (e.g. different rooms in the house, in the garden or in a quiet walking location)
7. Then add food (or a toy) as a distraction, place the food down, allow your dog to see it and as he moves towards it say ‘let’s go’ and turn away, as soon as he moves with you say ‘yes’ and toss the reward. If the lead goes tight, wait patiently for your dog to turn, don’t tug the lead or pull your dog, just wait it out and he will turn
8. Once he is successfully responding to this set-up then begin bringing the cue into walks, first away from dogs in the distance and then when this response is reliable you can decrease the distance between dogs until you feel he’s ready to respond during an actual greeting
Make sure you only use ‘let’s go’ when you’re ready to toss the treat out and make it into a fun game. If you need a cue for your dog to change direction with less speed and focus, use a different word of phrase (e.g. this way) so you don’t begin to devalue the ‘let’s go’ cue with less meaningful use.
While ‘let’s go’ is a great cue to teach your dog, it’s often best when used alongside other behaviours because having a range of cues and skills in place will enable you to support your dog and keep control in all situations.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that ‘let’s go’ can be a very exciting behaviour because it’s paired with chasing a treat, while this is beneficial in many ways, it’s not right for every dog or every situation. If you have a dog who finds it too exciting then either pair the cue with chasing a treat into a ‘find it’ exercise (i.e. sniff calmly for several treats on the floor) or something more controlled, for example … ‘let’s go!’ – chase a treat – down-stay/walking eye contact/find it … you can still keep the reward of chasing a treat but follow it quickly with a calmer controlled behaviour to avoid your dog’s excitement escalating!
If you'd like to see this cue in action and how to use it in real life, have a watch of our Live Training Walks in the Online Academy. We film some of our walks with reactive dogs LIVE so that you can see how and when we use Let's Go along with how and when we use other cues and what to do when it goes wrong
Written by Naomi White