General Training

Training Directionals

Handlers should be cautious who endeavor to teach their dogs left and right. It is *not* "all the same" when they are running with you on the course. There are many times when a dog's path has deviated from the intended and the directional that the handler had *planned* to use is no longer appropriate. To give an inappropriate command results in a confused dog (not good) that does not respond as hoped (even worse). To effectively use right and left the handler must be able to ad lib on course (which most handlers find difficult) and adjust the command for which way the dog is facing. While it is occasionally handy to have a dog that can respond to a directional (a Masters gamble, for example), for the most part, you might want to stick to the age-old "come" command and body position to maneuver the dog around the course. (Linda Mecklenburg)

If you have a choice between giving an obstacle command or directional command, it is usually better to give the directional command either verbal, hand or body language or more effectively some combination thereof. Work hard to try and get yourself in position to bring the dog towards you whenever possible, so your most common verbal command is "Here" combined with an appropriate body turn and hand signal followed by "Get Out". Left and right will often just confuse you and the dog. Even in circumstances involving obstacle discrimination like the classic tunnel next to the ramp, you can use a directional either "get out" to the obstacle away or "Here" for the obstacle near. It works better than the obstacle command. There are many cases if you have a fast dog where there is simply not enough time for a directional and an obstacle command; one or the other will be too late for any effect. (Kent Mahan)

The trend in the USA has been to see how far away from your dog you can be. Why?? More exciting is the dog and handler that flow smoothly and glide around the course together, not looking fast until they cross the finish and the time is announced. No wasted motion, no spinning, no fur flying--just fast and efficient. What will be coming more in vogue in agility handling is a closely knit relationship between dog and handler; moving tightly together as a team in total synchronization. This is what "freestyle" handling is all about. Subtle body cues and precisely timed footwork are effective means of communication for the dog if it is trained to respond to them (just as a dog can be trained to respond to verbal commands). Left and right commands are fashionable but not necessary. *Many* dogs have achieved the MAD without knowing them (a few ADChs, as well...). In addition, while the dog *can* learn them, in most instances the *handler* cannot. The classic example is the dog that is supposed to turn right after the jump but stops and turns back toward its handler. The handler continues to shout "right, right, RIGHT!!" while in actuality, it is now a "left" from the dog's viewpoint.

It is *much* more difficult to run a course if you have to remember 15 different directional commands than if you plan on just using "come!". It is also much more difficult to walk a course--you *have* to know your dog well enough to know where his path is going to carry him relative to the next obstacle. What appears to be a "right" to us may be end up being a straight-on, angled approach for the dog (thus if you command the dog "right" he may turn to the incorrect obstacle). Try to command a person around a course using right and left as a test. If you are successful (at a *dog's* pace),you are probably a good candidate for using the commands with your dog. It is still best to use the directionals *only* when necessary, however. (Linda Mecklenburg)

When you are close to your dog, do not use left/right commands, just use hand signals and run in that direction. Use directional verbal commands when there is at least one obstacle between you and your dog. For instance if the handler is in their usual position, lagging somewhere behind their four footed partner, give the command LEFT as the dog is in mid-air over a jump so that the dog knows to turn left towards the next obstacle.

To train left and right, put the dog on a Flexi-lead. To teach the left command, start with the dog on your right. The sequence would be (1) JUMP (2) As dog is in mid-air give the verbal command LEFT and (3) as the dog lands move to the left, twitch the Flexi-lead in that direction and give the command for the next obstacle. To teach right, reverse this process.

Although the crossover takes up so much room, it is great as another way to teach directional commands. You simply choose the leg in the appropiate direction.

Ruth Hobday teaches directionals using the tunnel. With the dog on the right side, stand a few feet in front of the tunnel, send the dog into the tunnel and then run out to the left about twelve feet and give the command LEFT. You want to give your command about three feet from the exit of the tunnel. If the dog exits turning to the left, throw the ball as a reward along with verbal praise. The sound of your voice coming from the left is sufficient to tell your dog which way to go. When the dog is consistent at this stage, run out only 10 feet and so on until you can stand in line with the tunnel and the dog exits correctly every time. In due course you cut out the ball reward as is usual. Remember to not rush it. Give lots of repetition at each stage and make only small changes between stages.

You will need to decide what your point of reference will be. Some handlers use their left and right as the point of reference since both they and the dog are usually running in the same direction. Other handlers use the dog's left/right as the point of reference. This means when the dog is running towards you at high speed, his left is your right. You need to be consistent, but you can't think fast enough to translate that your left is the dog's right you can give the command AWAY which will stop the dog from running into you and then give the directional command combined with the hand signal. Sometimes the dog will actually turn around on the AWAY command ready to go in the opposite direction before the dog realises that you have given a second directional command.

You will also want to train quite a bit using the AWAY command to send the dog straight away from you in the direction you are facing giving a left or right command at different distances. This cam be done separate from the agility equipment.
(Ian Pate)

Dogs can learn the concept though it takes time and consistency on the handler's part! In England, you will see a number of dogs that are proficient with verbal directional work - exemplified nicely by handlers running right and sending the dog left.

Start by training directions from the beginning in agility. At first it is an adjunct to body language and many times even in advanced work both are used together. However it is been a great skill to have in masters level work; for example when the dog is running ahead over a jump and needs to turn away from your body towards the next obstacle the directional command will do that no matter where you are positioned.

You can use lots of games with both pups and older dogs to teach directions. First, teach a head turn and then throw food or toy. Work on one direction at a time and only go to another when you begin to see comprehension. The dogs love these games (even non-BC's).

Start direction from Level 1 Week 1 in class. Initially it is fun games to play with the dog at home. As people progress in agility, talk more about body language and students get to decide whether to use body oriented direction (get out,come in) only with their dog or to include verbal in their skill bag! And because they had some early intro to direction in beginner classes some chose to simply continue what they have started. And of course some don't - either way is totally acceptable to work with your dog!
(Jean MacKenzie)

To beginning training for directional commands of Here, Out, Left, and Right commands, use the following exercises.

Here: (means "come towards me" regardless of what side your dog is on)

Leave your dog on a sit stay facing a tunnel. Stand about 5-6' from the middle of the tunnel. Tell the dog "Tunnel". Just before your dog comes out of the tunnel give the "Here" command and encourage your dog to come to you, treat or throw the ball.

Switch sides and do again, this time your dog will "Here" from a different side. Do the same over jumps, with weave poles, and with a combination of several obstacles in a row.

Out: (means "go away from me" regardless of what side your dog is on)

Imagine a V, with the handler standing at the bottom of the V and two jumps at the ends of the V, angling slightly toward the handler.

Place your dog on your left. Give the "Out" command and point towards the jump on your left. As you give the command, throw a ball over that jump. Repeat this exercise several times until your dog understands the command.

Next place your dog on your right and repeat the exercise pointing to the jump on the right. Repeat this several times. Always use your hands to point towards the correct obstacle.

Now, place a jump at the bottom of the V. With your dog on the left, stand about 10' from the bottom jump and run towards it. Command "Over" for the first jump, when your dog is in the air, command "Out" "Over", and use your hand to point at the left jump. Work on this until you can run straight and your dog will move away from you to the second jump. Switch sides and repeat the exercise with the dog doing the right jump.

Remember, with both the "Here" and "Out" commands, it doesn't matter which side the dog is on, your dog should still move toward you or away from you.

Right/Left: (use "Left" and "Right" to mean "turn left" and "turn right")

Use three jumps for this exercise. Arrange three jumps like a "U". Place one jump on each side of the "U", facing each other and one jump on the bottom.

Place your dog on a "Sit/Stay" in front of the bottom jump. Move so that you're on the outside of the "U" between the bottom jump and the jump on the right. Give the commands "Over", "Right", "Over" and throw a ball in the right direction as soon as your dog is taking off for the second jump. This will encourage your dog to turn sharp to jump the second jump to get the ball. Repeat this over many sessions.

Next begin to get closer to your dog. Rather than standing between the two jumps, move towards the first jump. Eventually, you want to be right next to your dog with your dog on your right, or your left. Remember, we want to teach the dog to go right regardless of which side you are on.

Once your dog is consistently turning "right", start the process from the beginning with the "Over", "Left", "Over", with you standing between the two jumps.

After you're standing next to your dog, begin to mix the directions slowly. Do several "Rights" then several "Lefts" standing next to your dog. Your dog may need a little help at first. Throw the ball in the direction you want him to go while he's in the air for the first jump, this will cue him as to which way to turn. Eventually, throw the ball later, once he's landed at the first jump, then only once he's in the air for the second jump.

Once you give the command, expect your dog to hit the ground going in that direction. You want a sharp quick turn. These commands are useful in many instances. When you are right behind your dog on the course, if you give a "Here" command the dog might look back at you and possibly knock the pole, hit the ground in the wrong direction, back jump, or turn wrong which might cause the dog to spin. A "Left" or "Right" command tells the dog exactly which way to go. "Left" and "Right" are very helpful in both Jumpers courses and Gamble courses where the handler cannot go with their dog or where the dog is so far ahead of the handler that "Here" or "Out" won't tell the dog which way to go.

It takes time to teach right and left so be patient and start over again if you begin to have problems. REMEMBER, Right and Left are your DOGS right and left. If your dog is coming towards you, you need to switch your commands, your right will be his left!

(Kristy Netzer)


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