How to Train a Turn & Go for Leash Reactivity

What is a Turn & Go?

A Turn & Go is a trained maneuver you and your dog can learn to make walks easier, especially for reactive dogs. It asks your dog to move quickly along with you, and often involves smoothly and suddenly changing directions with your dog. The purpose of practicing a Turn & Go is to assist with moving your dog away from distractions that might trigger reactive behaviors (mainly barking and lunging). 


Why train a Turn & Go?

A Turn & Go is a great first response when you see one of your dog’s reactivity triggers in the environment. I recommend and teach it to just about every reactivity client I work with. It is helpful for many reasons, but here are the big 2:


  1. It prevents reactions by providing immediate distance from the trigger
  2. It trains your dog to focus on you


Reason 1: Prevent reactions by giving your dog more space

A Turn & Go is one of the best tricks for managing leash reactivity because it immediately puts more distance between your dog and the distraction. Why does this matter? Put simply, the closer a distraction is, the more likely your dog is to react to it. 


One of my personal mantras for training or walking a dog with reactive behaviors is “when in doubt, get more distance”. How close your dog is to a distraction is one of the biggest factors that determines whether your dog will keep their cool, or whether they will go over their reaction threshold. While there are other factors of course, the thing about distance is this: you can control it!


So: When in doubt, Turn & Go first, get yourself and your dog more room to work with, and then decide how to proceed based on the situation from there. 


Reason 2: Train your dog to focus on you around their triggers

Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of barking and lunging, your dog turned and looked at you when they encountered a distraction? A Turn & Go can help you achieve just that. 


Let’s suppose that every time your dog notices one of their triggers, the next thing that happens is you ask them to Turn & Go. Over time, your dog will begin to look at you automatically as soon as they see a trigger; they will anticipate you asking for the Turn & Go, and skip ahead to the part where they turn towards you. That is, they will offer you their attention without you even having to ask.


Your dog’s new default response to a distraction can be to calmly focus on you. And consistently using a Turn & Go around your dog’s triggers is a great way to achieve that result. 


How to Teach a Turn & Go:


There are some initial training steps you should go through with your dog to get them familiar with the Turn & Go maneuver itself before introducing big distractions like other dogs or people into the picture.


Before you train:

Choose a quiet place to train where your dog can easily focus on you and your training treats. Think: your living room, backyard, or other familiar place free from any major distractions. 


Step 1:

Say “This way!”, then encourage your dog to come with you a short distance. Praise and feed your dog by your side when they follow. 


First, give the verbal cue, “This way!”. Next, encourage your dog to follow. Dogs naturally want to chase after you if you talk excitedly to them, jog or shuffle away from them, crouch down, or pat your leg. Use a combination of these to invite your dog to follow in your direction.


As soon as your dog steps in your direction, make a big deal of it – say “Yes!” Or “Good!” to praise them, and feed them a treat by your side for catching up to you.


Step 2:

Add in sudden changes of direction


Continue practicing your Turn & Go cue (“This way!”) and rewarding once your dog catches up. Now, just after you say the cue, hurry in the opposite direction so that your dog switches their focus and comes in your direction too. 


Practice these changes in direction until your dog follows along happily as soon as they hear you say “This way!”. 


Step 3:

Practice turning away from a surprise distraction


Now you’ll practice your Turn & Go with a surprise distraction present. 


This distraction should appear suddenly, should be enticing to the dog, and should be visible but out of the dog’s reach, usually a short distance away. 


Here are some suggested surprise distractions to practice with:

  • Treats tossed suddenly over the dog’s head
  • Dog’s favorite person, who they haven’t seen in a while, appearing from behind a wall or doorway and talking to the dog
  • Dog’s favorite toy tossed over dog’s head


Make sure that any distraction you use is placed in a way that your dog can’t reach it!


Next, ask your dog to perform a Turn & Go, moving directly away from the distraction. Be patient and persistent! It may take seconds or even minutes for your dog to pull their attention away from the distraction. Praise any glances in your direction, and use any amount of jogging, talking, and leg-patting you need to in order to get your dog moving away from the distraction. Feed your dog once they move with you away from the distraction several feet. 


Repeat until your dog can move with you away from the distraction quickly with minimal additional prompting from you.


Step 4:

Practice your Turn & Go out on an actual walk


The first time you try this out on a walk, do it only when your dog is calm and no distractions are around. At the end of a nice long walk, as you are approaching home again, is usually a good time. 


Practice until your dog Turns & Go’s with you readily in the environment of an actual walk. 


Step 5:

Practice your Turn & Go around your dog’s triggers from a distance


Now you’re ready! You can start implementing Turn & Go’s to both manage and train your dog around their reactivity triggers on walks.


Remember that if at any point your dog struggles to listen, you can help them out by guiding them with treats placed on their nose. And don’t be afraid to drop back to review the earlier training steps for a bit. It’s totally normal to go back and review the basics sometimes in order to help your dog listen the best. 


For in-person help training your reactive dog near Anaheim Ca, contact us

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Mara Clare Van Valzah, CTC, PNWI

Mara Clare Van Valzah, CTC, PNWI

Dog Trainer & Behavior Consultant

I founded Collaborative Canines to help dog owners to better understand, communicate with, and coexist with their pets. Here, I share my dog training stories, tips, and tricks with you and other dog lovers all over the world. 

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