To Move Into or to Move Away; That is the Question?

If Shakespeare had been a dog trainer, he may have poised the question:  To Move Into or Move Away; That is the Question?  Animals are very much aware of space, probably more so than people.  When people want something, they typically will invade another person’s sense of space.  This invasion is done to obtain the other person’s complete attention.  What they don’t realize is that it often times has detrimental effects.

In response to this confrontational shortening of distance, a person or animal often times will move away to keep their natural sense of space.  With humans, this sense of space with strangers is approximately 4-6 feet apart.  Depending upon a person’s comfort level or familiarity of a person, this distance may adjust slightly up or down.  Other factors may also impact a person’s sense of personal space such as:  cultural upbringing, gender, social confidence, etc.

Many times people move into their dog’s space to gain their attention.  After-all, this is what they are use to doing with people and animals are subservient to people (so goes the thinking).  So the dog should just accept our invasion of their space, right?  I don’t believe so.  Animals also have a sense of space that they are comfortable maintaining with people and other animals.  Try walking into a dog’s space and see what happens.  Most dogs will move away to maintain that sense of space.  Dependent upon their confidence and prior experience, dogs may also adjust their sense of space up or down than what is commonly seen as the usual distance kept by most dogs.

Now try getting a person’s attention and moving away from them.  Usually, what happens is that the person will follow you into your space.  For example, imagine if you needed to discuss something of importance with an employee or a loved one.  If you move into their space, the person is likely to adjust and move slightly away from you.  They view the impending discussion or your approach to be threatening or at least unpleasant.

However, if you were to obtain their attention and move away from them, gesturing for them to come closer, this reduces their tension and apprehension. After all, you have just invited them into your space and they have volunteered to comply with your request. One who complies with the request assumedly has permission to move away if so desired later.  So this is a much less threatening place to be even if the personal gap has been shortened. And, they are less likely to move away because you have been inviting and receptive to their approach.

With this technique, you are able to maneuver a person to where you want them to go such as to a quiet area to discuss the important topic.  Or let’s say, you felt uncomfortable by a person’s presence but your path to an exterior doorway was blocked.  You would have an easier time of maneuvering that person away from the doorway by stepping away and to the side rather than walking into their personal space and being confrontational.

And, so it is similar with dogs.  When we obtain their attention and move away from them; they become engaged with us and feel more comfortable to enter our space.  Thus, they become more easily maneuverable and manageable.  This “dance”  of us leading them into our personal space makes it comfortable for them to interact with us and helps build the trusting relationship that we desire to have with our dog.

So if Shakespeare had been a dog trainer, I would’ve answered him by saying; move away and draw them in for a dance to last a lifetime.

About Michael Burkey

Michael Burkey is a professional dog trainer, behaviorist and owner of, a highly successful dog training company whose aim is to promote peaceful relationships between pets and families. Additionally, he is an expert trial witness, certified Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluator for the American Kennel Club (AKC), former Police K9 Handler, Search and Rescue (SAR) K9 Training Director and SAR K9 Handler, obedience and rally competitor and social worker. Dog training is a complex science and art requiring knowledge of behavioral science and learning. You can rely on Michael's experience, teaching methods, and integrity. He can be contacted at or 734-634-4152.
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1 Response to To Move Into or to Move Away; That is the Question?

  1. K9 Coach says:

    Great post! People get so bent about it when dogs duck away from a hand and body coming at them completely uninvited and don’t seem to understand why.

    Of course someone like me… well, I completely get it. I’m a lot like my dog (subject of a book I plan to write) Come into my space only when invited and that usually takes some space and acquaintance time first 🙂

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