dog on a beach

What is Spatial Awareness

Creating and developing spatial awareness

Not many trainers talk about creating spatial awareness, but this is a natural part of the canine development process. Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware and have an organised knowledge of objects in relation to space around us.

This important and complex cognitive skill should be developed at an early age. Spacial awareness to humans and dogs comes naturally but like some humans our dogs do have difficulties with this skill, so sometimes we must perform certain exercises to help improve spatial awareness.

When a young dog is developing spatial awareness, they begin to become aware of their size and place in relation to the World around them. This is the key as they need to understand their location in relation to objects around them, including the smell, shape and size of the object.

“Creating spatial awareness is part of their overall perception”

The development of perception can be difficult as perception is the organisation and interpretation of the environment. Your dog first and foremost needs to have adequate body awareness, meaning it needs to know it is small, medium or large.

Without this it will be unable to form an accurate picture of their body in relationship to the objects within that space. For example, you have a small table and as a young dog they can run and hide underneath it.

As they grow they gradually learn that this is no longer something they can do, simply by interpreting and observing their own physical changes. As they find it harder and harder to get underneath the table, knocking their body each time.

They have learnt something about their own body size. This perception is then applied to similar objects at a similar height another time.

Dogs with poor spatial awareness may appear to be clumsy and may continue to bump into objects including you. They often misjudge distances and exaggerate body movements like running, jumping or even walking around objects.

Their strengths, however come in other ways as dogs have a high ability to learn. So even though they may be slow in learning their special awareness this can be helped through training.

The three main training exercises used across the board are;

The Ladder

Place a ladder on the floor next to a wall and then slowly introduce your dog to walking through it. Start by getting your dog to place one foot in between the ladder runs then put a treat between the next couple of rungs.

Wait for your dog to move forward then go for the next two and so on until you reach the end of the ladder, then simply repeat the exercise. This will teach your dog how to focus on lifting their front and back legs in the correct sequence.

The Back Up

Use a narrow area like a hallway inside or an alleyway outside, using the lead have your dog face you. Slowly walk toward your dog and wait for your dog to take 1-2 steps backwards. Reward your dog for these steps then slowly ask for a few more.

Over time you should be able do this without the lead and move at least 10-15 steps backwards with your dog focusing on you. This process can be repeated as many times as you like and is all about your dog learning its own body mechanics.

The Crawl

This is an excellent exercise to teach your dog where their head and back are in relation to an object like a table for instance. An effective way to teach the crawl is to start with the is to sit on the ground with your feet together and knees bent up.

The using some high-end treats lure your dog to underneath your legs, they will then naturally crawl under your knees. Once they are crawling proficiently through your legs you can then move on to teaching around other objects.

In no time at all your dog will be aware of its height and start to use the crawl in certain situations.

Remember our spatial awareness involves understanding the relationship of objects around us and the same applies for dogs.

That understanding is important to their development and although many dogs learn this cognitive skill quickly some may need a little helping hand.


HDipCCB One of the UK’s Leading Dog Behaviourists
I have made it my purpose in life to help you understand your dog and build a true relationship which is based on trust. I have worked with 1000’s of dogs and their owners with 70% of these cases being aggression to both dogs and people. Whilst the remaining 30% of cases were made up of pulling on the lead, over excitement, recall, prey drive behaviour, separation anxiety and training related issues.

Photo by Jeff Nissen