Research in the past decade has advanced our knowledge of the key role that diffusible cues play in axonal guidance during development. In higher vertebrates, dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons extend axons centrally to the spinal cord through the dorsal root entry zone and peripherally to muscle and skin targets. In this review, we focus on the role of proximate "non-target" tissues in the initial stages of DRG axonal growth. In the early stages of development, "non-target" tissues including the dermamyotome, the notochord, and the ventral spinal cord exert chemorepulsion for DRG axons. We describe how semaphorin 3A, chondroitin sulfate proteogrycans, and cell adhesion molecules participate in chemorepulsion and the way they provide spatio-temporal specificity to chemorepulsion. Axon chemorepulsion may act not only to shape DRG axonal trajectories but it also affects a variety of other axonal projections in the peripheral and central nervous system.