• Resources •
Most of this article comes from an excellent book that
we highly recommend:
"In Focus: Developing a Working Relationship With Your Performance Dog" by
Deborah Jones, Ph.D & Judy Keller.
• Moving Control •
Your dog should be proficient at stationary
exercises before introducing moving control exercises, which
are much more challenging.
Controlled walking: Do not start this exercise
until your dog is proficient at coming in to both sides. In
controlled walking your dog should walk next to you on the desired
side and at the same speed that you are moving. Your dog should
speed up and slow down with you. Be sure that your dog stays
parallel to you and does not race ahead. Start controlled walking
with just a step or two, marking and treating your dog for moving
with you. As your dog becomes successful, increase the number
of steps you take before reinforcing. Once your dog can move
with you at a normal pace, then you can add slow and fast changes
of pace. If you have a dog that consistently wants to move ahead
of you, it is a good idea to mark and then toss the reinforcer
behind the dog to keep him from focusing forward as much. If
you have a Velcro dog (a dog that wants to stay glued to your
side and not move ahead), it is a good idea to mark and then
toss the reinforcer ahead of the dog to encourage him to move
Let's go: Once you have mastered controlled
walking, you can take this exercise to the next level by adding
running to it. Use an exciting verbal prompt as you encourage
your dog to run along with you. Keep connected to your dog by
using praise. Your dog does not need to maintain strict eye
contact but must be responsive to you. Run and then slow down
in short, intense spurts. You want your dog to run parallel
to you at approximately the same speed. If your dog tends to
forge ahead of you, turn away from him and run in the opposite
direction, encouraging him to catch up. Be sure to reinforce
your dog for catching you. Practice this exercise with your
dog on both your left and right sides.
The purpose of a cross is to change the side of your body that
your dog is working on. The types of turns and crosses you may
use on an agility course depend on the nature of the course,
your dog, and your physical abilities. Most people find it useful
to he able to perform at least some of these maneuvers. We will
give a brief general description
Front cross: You will use the front cross
as a way to switch sides when you are ahead of your dog. You
will turn toward your dog, cueing your dog to turn toward you
so he ends up on the opposite side of your body.
Rear cross: You will use the rear cross as
a way to switch sides when you are behind your dog. As the dog
moves ahead, you will cross behind, which will cue your dog
to turn in the new direction, and continue with your dog on
the opposite side.
Blind cross: As with the front cross, the blind
cross is used to switch sides when you are ahead of your dog.
Instead of turning into your dog, you will continue moving forward
ahead of your dog and cross his path, so he ends tip on your
opposite side. We don’t use blind crosses often, if ever, because
losing visual communication with our dog.
Once you have mastered the basic moving control exercises, you
can put them all together to practice agility heeling. Agility
heeling gives you the opportunity to perform all the basic agility
moves without equipment. It is also an excellent way to improve
your teamwork and your dog's responsiveness to your cues. We
recommend that you use a combination of verbal cues, body language,
and hand signals during agility heeling. Start out slowly at
first and only try one or two moves at a time. It will take
you a while to feel comfortable going through the agility moves
at a normal and at a fast pace with your dog. If you feel unsure
about performing this exercise, check with your agility instructor
for feedback and suggestions.
Agility heeling can include controlled walking, Let's go, and
front and rear crosses. Be surprising and exciting during this
exercise. Keep each sequence of agility heeling relatively short
(no more than I to 2 minutes) and reinforce your dog multiple
times during each sequence. You can mark and treat for attention,
a quick response, a nice cross, and so on, then simply continue
with the sequence. Release your dog
for a minute or so between each sequence and allow him to relax.
Remember to practice all your moving exercises with your dog
on both your left and right sides.
Some examples of agility heeling would be:
- Start with a quick Let's go, take a few steps, do a front
cross, slow down into controlled walking for a few steps, and
then do a blind cross.
- Start with slow controlled walking, suddenly increase to a
fast pace, do a rear cross, change hack to a slow pace, do a
front cross, increase to a moderate pace for a few steps, and
do a blind cross.
- From a stationary position do a front cross, then move into
a fast pace for a few steps, go into a slow pace, then do a
Try lots of combinations and variations. You are only limited
by your imagination.
As we mentioned before, it is extremely important to reinforce
your dog multiple times during the agility heeling sequences.
The purpose of this exercise is to practice and perfect the
small movements that lead to success in the agility ring. To
get this kind of responsiveness and precision, you need to capture
those moments and reinforce them. In example #1 above, there
are many opportunities to reinforce specific behaviors. You
could mark and treat when your dog moves into a fast pace with
you, mark and treat again after the front cross, mark and treat
again when your dog slows into controlled walking.
ADVANCED AGILITY HEELING
Once your dog can successfully perform agility heeling then
you can add some advanced variations to increase the difficulty.
Some examples would include:
Treat toss: When you are giving your dog his treat for a good
performance in advanced agility heeling, toss the treat behind
him for him to turn and chase. When he gets to his treat, you
will start moving forward. Your dog should soon realize that
you arc heeling without him and catch up with you. You can call
his name and encourage him to come toward you. Be sure to mark
and reward when he reaches your side. If your dog runs past
you rather than moving to your side, turn quickly and move in
the opposite direction. His job is to find his position at your
side. If your dog does not try to move toward you, move faster
so that you are more exciting and interesting. Run away: In
this variation of the treat toss, you toss your dog's treat
behind him, then run away from him. This should encourage your
dog to quickly get his treat then race to catch up with you.
Don't slow down and wait for your dog; keep moving quickly until
your dog gets to you. Mark and reward when he
reaches your side. Silent agility heeling: To help your dog
focus on your body language and movement rather than your voice,
you can practice agility heeling without any verbal cues or
prompts. Your dog's job is to pay close attention to you to
catch your movements and signals. Be sure to reinforce often
when beginning this
exercise to let your dog know that he is doing the right thing.
To increase your control over your dog's movement, you can add
sit-, down-, and stand-stays to your agility heeling exercises.
When your dog is moving well at your side stop and ask him to
sit. Tell him to stay, and then walk away. Mark and toss him
his treat. When you can walk away easily, you can move further
away before you reward. When he can manage the further distance
easily, you can move
away at a faster pace. Later you might circle him at a walk
before rewarding. About three-quarters of the time, reward him
while he's in the stay. About one-quarter of the time, call
him from the stay to your side For the down-stay you may need
to pivot in front of your dog to stop his forward motion, then
ask for a
down. The stand-stay is often the most difficult position for
dogs to hold. Don't try to move away too far or too quickly.
Reinforce while your dog is being successful and you are still
close. Follow the same guidelines for the stand- and down-stays
of rewarding the dog in the stay three-quarters of the time
and calling him to your side one-quarter of the time.
Run in circles with dog on your right, both clockwise and counterclockwise.
Do the same with the dog on your left. When you and your dog
are doing this well, add figure eights. Start with running in
a small circle and then increase in size with the dog first
on the outside. Stop often and play tug. To run with the dog
inside the circle, place the dog on a leash. The hand farthest
from the dog holds the end of the lead and the hand close to
the dog holds the lead near the dog to control his body
position. Start slow and increase speed. After you are successful
at this, change venues and run in different environments. Run
in a small circle and then stop and do a 360o spin with your
dog staying on the same side. This is a great exercise for leading
up to doing jump pinwheels.
Run in a straight line and then turn in the opposite direction.
Have the dog turn in towards you as he switches direction. What
you are accomplishing is starting with the dog on one side of
you and effectively switching the dog to the other side. Practice
doing a turn and then throwing a toy to encourage speed and
acceleration. Then increase the number of turns before throwing
the toy. Add this maneuver to your circle work.
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