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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Circle work

Circle work was next on the agenda for Secret.. in my opinion an essential part of training an agility dog as it teaches them to follow your body and acts as a preparation for handling work done later with jumps. I teach it simply as a loose heeling exercise- rewarding if the pup stays round about the position of my knee. Its not as precise as proper heeling but I do like attention from the pup. This was started by doing big circles with the food in the outside hand rewarding frequently for position. Once she became more confident in finding the position I would throw the food out so she would run out to get it and run back into finding the right position.
The turns are taught independently- to start with using a luring technique. The first turn I teach is the post turn: show the pup you have food in your hand and once they are in the correct position turn 90 degrees to the right (easier to teach then left) and reward in position. Then build up to 180 degree turns. Again I often used throwing the food to encourage speed through the turns and to set up for the next repetition.
Once the right and left post turn was taught I started her off on learning the basic front-cross on the flat. This was again done using luring; with her initially on my left I lured her with that hand, then transferred the food to my right hand and turned her to face my body, then rewarding from the right hand after the turn had been completed.
I do not teach this on lead for twofold; firstly to allow the dog to make choices and to think about what she is doing, secondly because to hold a lead and treats and co-ordinate the dog isn't always the easiest to do!
The next part of circle work I teach is one that not as many people do as it has kind of gone out of fashion (in our agility scene anyway) which is directional turns. I teach a turn away from me on both sides (absolute directionals)- which I call 'back' (turn left) and 'turn' (turn right). Jess as my first agility dog did not have directional commands and managed absolutely fine without them. Terra however I DID teach them to and have found them to be invaluable as being a much faster dog she is quite often quite far ahead of me, in which case I can give her the information with my voice as to which direction to take. Having said that, however, I know body position will always override directionals so obviously the two commands must be in agreement!
When I first taught Terra her directionals I was worried I would get them confused on course in the heat of the moment and send her the wrong way. This happens very occasionally, but mainly I walk the courses and plan then which directional to give her and try to avoid using them 'on the fly'. Directionals are also my way of starting to teach a dog how to rear-cross.
To teach the directionals again I lure it initially; but I try to fade this out as quickly as possible. Terra took a very long time to learn hers, hundreds of repetitions later she still hadn't got the idea and I toyed with shaping it. Before I started that she did finally comprehend what to do, and Secret learned in only a couple of repetitions. I teach each turn in separate sessions, but would do both turns on the same day. Once she was reliably turning the correct way on both commands I introduced the idea with her standing next to me, on the left and right hand side. Then it was built into the rest of her circle work.

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