General Training

Getting the Dog to Work Ahead of the Handler

You might try finding yourself a area with a tree or fence that you can use as a target. At first, place the dog about ten feet away from the the target and let the dog see you put the food or toy on or at the target. Then come back to the dog and point at the food or toy and give the command "out" or what ever command you want to use. Then run out to the target with the dog the first couple times so they understand what you want them to do. It won't take long and the dog will go out on its own in front of you then slowly move back as the dog gains confidence and the dog will start working farther in front of you. (Robert Kirkbride)

There are many dogs who simply do not like to get out and will not do it for love, money or liver biscuits. While dogs are pack animals, some have been trained get out in front alone and find something. Others are retrievers, which go out but always come back, and some types or personalities of dog *like* being alongside and just don't want to go out at all. You might not be able to get much out of your dog, and will have to resign yourself to adapting *your* style of handling to them. (Jim Hutchins)

It can be really tough with some dogs to get them to focus on more than one obstacle. The following solution may not be for every dog and probably isn't for very soft dogs or dogs who shy from sudden noises or movements.

Start by training on a flexi-lead. That is, the handler gives the hand signals and voice commands, but a helper holds the flexi-lead and controls his path. If he decides to cut out and check out something he is simply stopped by the lead. Make no verbal corrections and made a point of not making any eye contact with the dog. As far as he is concerned, he has simply hit the end of his rope in that direction. Any movement towards the obstacle that was being signaled should result in releasing the brake on the flexi-lead. The dog will quickly learn that freedom comes when he does as signalled and will keep him from learning to run off and make up his own courses. A side result is that because the handler doesn't have to worry about watching their dog, they can improve greatly on correctly timing their signals.

The drawbacks are that you'll sometimes get the lead caught on a jump and pull it over, and to phase the training out you might need to go to lighter line (wear gloves) and so on. Using this method prevents a beginner dog from learning some bad habits and helps the beginner handler concentrate on handling. (Penny Winegartner)

Teach the dog a command like 'go-on' which means that he can do what he wants to do next without waiting for you to catch up with him. Don't just use this command in agility but in any situation when he KNOWS what is expected of him next. Start training him to respond to 'go-on' by putting his dinner down and heeling him away from it and then telling him 'go-on' while giving a clear hand signal, then move on to him being allowed to go up stairs ahead of you - again using the command and a clear hand signal. Once he is doing this reliably start using it at the end of the agility run in training, then in competition where it is a big help on some courses to be able to have him finish ahead of you. Then move on to using it in the middle of a run. (Tony Dickinson)

Teaching your dog to go away from you and perform a series of obstacles is easy if taken in small steps. This actually requires two separate training exercises. First you must teach the dog to move away from you to do one obstacle at a distance. Second you must teach the dog to go on to a second, third, etc. obstacle.

1. Start with the tunnel as your first obstacle. Most dogs like it. Stand still close to the mouth of the tunnel and give the command Through (or whatever you use). When the dog exits the tunnel throw the ball or toy for the dog to retrieve. And, of course, always praise. Do this two or three times so that the dog knows it is going to be rewarded for doing the tunnel.

Then take a step backwards and repeat the exercise several times. Keep doing this - three times to five times at one distance with a reward every time. Then a step back again and repeat the exercise. Depending on the dog, you may well be able to send it from 6 or 7 yards in the one lesson but don't worry if it takes several lessons.

If the dog hesitates, doesn't obey your command or looks confused, it means that you moved away from the obstacle too quickly. Back up and repeat the exercise making small moves away from the tunnel until your dog understands the exercise. The distance you will be able to move away from the tunnel will vary greatly for different dogs, but most dogs will be okay at 2' or 3' but for some dogs it could be as small as 6" so that the dog doesn't notice.

After your dog is willing to go to the tunnel from about seven yards away, move to the next stage. Here you will repeat the whole exercise except you will not be moving back from the tunnel in a straight line but at a slight angle to the center line. Slowly increase the distance as before.

Next repeat the exercise while standing on the other side of the center line at the same angle as before. Always start close to the tunnel. Repeat by increasing the angles (both sides) until you are working at right angles to the mouth of the tunnel with you 7 yards from it.

For real success you should be able to stand at 7 yards from the tunnel at right angles to the middle of the tunnel and send the dog to either end by using the appropriate hand signals.

Train similarly on the other obstacles. Train the hurdle as the next obstacle. Your maximum angle for the jump is around 45 degrees. Standard practice prevails as far as rewarding the dog with the ball or toy. Once the dog KNOWS the exercise you can cut down on the use of the ball until it is used infrequently.

2. Once the dog is happy going away from you to the first obstacle then you can start training for the dog to carry on by itself to more obstacles.

For this training start off with four jumps in a straight line, the first one is #1 and the last is #4. Stand close to #4 jump with #3 jump behind you and command the dog to jump over #4 jump. Reward with the ball thrown as the dog is in midair so that it lands ahead of the dog and praise as in the earlier exercise. Do not let the dog back jump but bring it around the side.

Keep moving back until you are close to jump #3 and then stand in front of jump #3. So far this is just a repeat of the previous exercise but now you are going to make your dog jump #3 and go on to jump #4. Give the command Jump and then, as the dog is in midair over jump #3, the command Go-On (said as one word) followed by Jump as it lands. This sequence should not give trouble if the dog has properly learned exercise 1.

Keep moving back until you are finally sending the dog over all four obstacles. This system of starting by training on the last obstacle (#4) instead of #1 is called back chaining. Doing it this way means the dog has only to take one small step before it is back to doing a repeat of the familiar part.

It is vital that you cut out the use of the ball as a reward as soon as possible after the dog knows what you want. You do not want the dog to be dependent on the reward of a ball as it is not allowed in the ring. Keep the speed up by sending the dog over several obstacles while you take a shortcut. Make a race of it. This is what you will be doing in a trial. Even if you are at a distance from the dog but are running parallel to the dog you probably do not need to use the Go-On command.

I just use the obstacle command for the next obstacle to us even if it is at a distance. The Go-On command is only for subsequent obstacles. Some handlers use the word Go in front of most commands (Go through, Go jump, Go tire). Such a use of the word Go is superfluous, does no good and may confuse the dog. With a fast dog such as a border collie there may just not be time to say the two words and can increase the chance of the dog going on the wrong course. The dog hears the Go and heads for the jump ahead and does not hear the Through in time to veer left towards the tunnel.

One final word of caution. It is very easy to overdo jumping during this exercise. Your dog can do 40 or 50 jumps in a couple of minutes. Remember to stay within the fitness level of your dog.

(Ian Pate)

Some dogs have trouble putting it all together. They seem afraid to leave Mom (or Dad's) side to go out and work the obstalces. You need to help this kind of dog gain confidence. No other dogs should come over uninvited, even friendly ones, because it breaks concentration. Exercises should set the dog up for success,and keep it positive. Corrections are only if the dog REALLY knows all parts of the exercise. Corrections aren't very effective to help the dog learn new behaviors. The dog will need to learn that it is OK to go ahead & do the obstacles -- YEAH puppy!

Give your dog an incentive to focus on the equipment. Teach targeting. Away from the equipment, teach the dog that at the cue word ("take it", "look", "seek") she should locate the tidbit on the margarine lid, gobble it up, and keep on going (NO hanging around looking for more). Use a white or yellow, plastic lid to a margarine tub -- dogs can readily see the light color. If there is no lid, there is no food so they don't stop to look. You can later use the target without the food like a touch stick. You can fade the target with smaller and smaller lids -- or you can cut part of it off to make it smaller. Metal jar lids can be used for retrieving types. Keep extras in your training bag or car. Work on this for 5 minutes once or twice per day. Working before meals can be motivating. Increase the distance she will go out. Add a rev-up ritual: restrain the dog "ready, ready. go" before releasing. Listen to your dog - she will give you clues. Have others observe you and your dog working and playing and share what they notice.

Once your dog gets the idea, introduce targets at the class - without an obstacle. YEAH clever dog - it's OK to do treats around all this other activity! Make sure other dogs aren't going to beat your pup to the treat. Use a juicy treat, two or three kinds during the class. Use Rollover, cheese, bread/pizza crusts, hot dogs, meat cubes. Notice what your dog REALLY likes, but don't over use it. Use one kind for 10 or 15 minutes, then switch. Keep your dog guessing. Keep smiling! Your dog can't be wrong at this point! Your disappointment or disgust would be VERY demotivating.

Then set up exercises where your dog can't be wrong. You are building up her confidence. Scrunch up the tunnel. Take your dog on leash to the exit end. Show her the treat on the target, go happily to the entrance, point your dog in the right direction, rev her up verbally, release and give your target cue. Did she run through the tunnel and gobble up the treat? YEAH, clap your hands, "CLEVER DOG", make a big fuss.

A helper can guard the treat and remove it for incorrect performance (but NO correction or grumping at the dog please). If training alone, you can train a treat container: plastic pill bottle, tennis ball with a 2" slit -- you squeeze to open the slit up to dispense the treat, or the like. You run over and give the dog the treat from the container once the dog runs up to the container.

Work up to being able to send her from 10 feet to the easy tunnel. YEAH clever dog! Keep the sessions brief & happy. At class, work for 5-7 minutes, take a break, offer water, ignore your dog for 5 or 10 minutes, get a different treat, work intensely for 5-7 more minutes, take break, work 5-7 minutes, call it a day. Try to end on a high note. Try to quit before your dog does.

Then make the tunnel longer, then curved, then teach a jump this way, then do tunnel /jump, then jump/tunnel. This should not take a long time, but even if it does, in the end your dog's performance will look the same as the dogs that learned in fewer sessions. Equipment at home and a focused and patient and supportive handler will really help. Your dog will be up to speed in no time. The pause table can also be a nice big target. Build up sends to the table with an object of attraction such as food on the target, food container, tennis ball, fuzzy toy, or even your spouse or dog's special person or other dog. See Ruth Hobday's books for lots of exercises on this. Add the table after the closed tunnel to encourage working on after coming out of that blind chute.

Food targets and containers work well for dogs that don't feel safe since they unlikely to chase a toy around all those dogs and people. As the dog's comfort level increases, offer a toy away from the equipment at class. Cultivate a SPECIAL agility toy that the dog only gets to play with you when working -- it's on top of the 'fridge all the other time. Once your pup will chase a toy in class, use that first as a lure. Throw it to get performance of the obstacle, then as a reward for performing the obstacle.

Remember it's easier to avoid bad habits than it is to fix them.
(Lynnda Lenzen)

Here is a totally different method of getting the dog to work away from you that while it does involve a kind of targeting does not involve a single specific target.

Start using the 'go on' command first at feeding time. Ask your dog to sit while you put the food down. Give the 'go on' command to your dog as a release to go and get his food. Gradually move the sit position from immediately in front of the food bowl to a point about six feet away. Your dog will catch on to this very quickly. It also has another advantage of reinforcing solid sits and establishing the dominance hierarchy.

Next move on to using the 'go on' when the dog is going upstairs at home. This command can be applied to any simple movement that the dog frequently does. Stairs are great because they are confined by two walls and the dog finds it easiest to go all the way before turning round.

Next at obedience class, send the dog away to a toy that he can see that is off the ground. Placing the toy off the ground is important because the dog needs to work with his head up when doing 'send away's and 'go on's. Most dogs don't seem to mind if you mix the two commands up.

After obedience training, you will have a dog who understands that the 'go on' command means that he can work away from you. Now you can transfer this to two distinct areas by slightly different means.

For field work, use knotted socks hung in trees as targets before moving on to clear dummies and then hidden dummies. (The knotted socks come from the fact that the first dummies that your dogs retrieve can be made from old tee shirts knotted in socks. When the dog chews the ends off the sock, use the sock as a tug toy and general reinforcer). For this exercise the target is obviously the dummy.

For agility, start transferring the 'go on' by running with your dog over three or four jumps in a straight line. When the dog knows that he is running the jumps in line (usually a couple of repetitions), start falling back as he jumps. Raise your arm and give the 'go on' command. Gradually increase the distance and the number of obstacles until the dog is able to run four jumps in line without moving past the first jump. Once the dog is solid working in a straight line at a distance, start putting other directional commands into the sequence.

For these exercises there is no obvious target. The command has been transferred from the obedience class and the field work where there is an obvious target to agility where there isn't.

In other words..... teaching your dog to touch the target as in DOING CONTACTS ties in but differs from training the dog to MOVE AWAY and do obstacles towards a target? Use a different command, saving the "touch" or "target" command ONLY for use on contacts. Using the same command for a dog to stop at the target on end of dogwalk or for the dog to go over two jumps to a target is confusing. Don't underestimate your dog's agility to differentiate between commands for similar behaviors.

Tony Dickinson

Here are four exercises that can be used to teach the dog to work away. With The first two teach the "go" or getting your dog to go straight ahead of you. The second two teach "get out" or getting the dog out to the side further away from you. Clickers are especially effective in training at a distance because they don't get the dog looking and coming towards you like voice does, and they get the dog used to knowing when he has done right even if he has to wait a while for you to catch up and give the treat. Don't use your dogs name when telling her to go/get out because it tends to pull her toward you. As the dog starts to gain some independence, set up sequences with obstacles closer than normal so that it is easy for her to know what is coming next. At this point, don't get upset if she goes off course -- you want her to have confidence about going ahead.

  1. Set up a sequence of three jumps in a line. Put a target such as a paper plate with treats on it at the end. Show your dog that it is there and then go to the beginning of the line. Send your dog using a command like "go" or "over". She may go right over the jumps to the treat. If not, start running with her, but lag behind over the last jump. When she gets to the last jump, click. You should always go to her to praise her after the last jump. Don't call her back to you. When she starts to catch on, you can phase out the treats and then the target, and then move the same exercise to other obstacles. If you think that your dog might run around the obstacle to get to the treats, use a helper who will cover the treats up if the dog does the obstacle wrong.

  2. Use clicker training to teach the dog to target on some object. First get the dog touching it with his nose when you say "touch" for the click and treat. Then gradually move it further away from you. When he will run 10' or so to touch, switch the command to "go". Use the target to teach the dog to go in the direction you point.

  3. Teach a get out around a tree. At first have the dog walk/jog beside you approaching the tree. When you get to the tree, say "get out" and give an out signal with the hand that is nearest the dog (hand toward the dog, palm out like a policeman stopping traffic). Send the dog on the opposite side of the tree from you. When you get to the other side, call her to you and praise. Once she gets the idea, start sending her when you are further from the tree, and send her around bigger objects (if there is a park nearby, soccer goals are great for this).

  4. Set up a line of jumps staggered like so:






    Do this line with the dog running on your left. At first run the dog through a couple of times by running right next to all the jumps. Once he knows where to go, you start running straight so that the dog has to gradually move farther from you to keep doing the jumps. Give an out command and hand signal to keep the dog out over the jumps. If he isn't catching on quickly, you can use a paper plate with treats at the finish to encourage him in that direction at first.

(Jo Renn)


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