Cheryl May's Agility Skills You Can Teach at Home

Copyright by Cheryl May. May be reprinted without permission 1) if used in its entirety without editing; and 2) provided copyright notice remains in place.

Control Exercises Needed For Agility Success
Work on the three control exercises required for agility success: come, sit-stay, and down-stay. Practice each of these behaviors daily. Make the recall fun! Carry treats in your pocket as you work in your yard or around the house and randomly call your dog to you, reward and release to play. Make sure that "come" doesn't mean the fun is at an end! Practice sit-stay and down-stay while your dog waits for you to prepare his or her dinner. Use your release word - "OK" or "FREE" - and reward with the jackpot: dinner!

Directionals -- Left And Right
It really is helpful to be able to tell your dog to go left or right. Directionals are given for the dog's left and right - not ours! Here are good ways to practice this: On a walk, as you start to turn a corner, tell the dog "left" or "right" depending on which way you are turning. At home, take a handful of kibble from the dog's dinner -- or treats -- and play the left and right game. Give a hand signal for left and toss a kibble to the dog's left, using the cue word, "left." Next, give a hand signal for right and toss a kibble to the dog's right, using the cue word, "right." Practice daily for best results. After about a month of this, your dog should have a fair idea of left and right.

Crossing In Front Or Behind The Dog
Our dog needs to learn that we might cross in front or behind, and that it's not a problem when we do so. This work is more for YOU than for your dog!

Rear cross: While you are walking with the dog in a straight line, let the dog get a bit ahead of you, and switch your position from one side of the dog to the other. In agility, a rear cross tends to slow the dog down.

Front cross: While you are walking with the dog in a straight line, cut across in front of the dog, turn INTO the dog to change direction. Front crosses tend to speed the dog up.

Get Out
Sometimes we need to encourage the dog to move out and away from us. The behavior is called "get out." Use a broom handle, or thick dowel to teach this behavior on leash. With the leash in the right hand, and the broom handle in the left, walk in a straight line and slowly and gently ease the broom handle out to your side, using the command "get out." Do the same on the other side: broom handle in right hand, leash in left. Walk along and slowly move the broom handle out to the side, encouraging the dog to move away from you sideways. This isn't a correction -- the dog shouldn't be intimidated by the dowel or broom handle.

Follow Me!
This is a fun exercise that will tune your dog into watching your body language and show him that it is worthwhile to watch what you are doing and to follow where you are going.

Start with a handful of yummy treats. If you have a safe area to work don't use a leash on your dog. If its not safe to take him off-lead, tie a long line around your waist. The key is not to use the leash to pull your dog in your direction. Now, begin walking around the area making frequent changes of direction. Whenever your dog catches up to you (in any position) give your condioned reinforcer and pop a tiny treat in his mouth. Don't call your dog or clap your hands or whistle - watching and following your moves should be your dog's idea. This is a game - keep it light and fun. And, keep it short. Quit while your dog still wants more, don't wait until he's bored and looking for something more interesting.

This exercise teaches your dog to move from one side of you to the other on command. Start walking away from your dog with your hands at your side, palms flat and showing the hand target to your dog. Whatever side he's on, you want to tell him "switch" and feed a treat from the other side when he gets to that side. Keep walking, tell him "switch" again and feed from the other hand.

Play Running
Set the dog up sitting or standing at your side, restrain with leash, which will use opposition reflex to build drive. Rock back and forth on your feet, crouch down a little and say something like, "Ready, let's go!) Run a few steps, toss a toy or a highly visible treat. (Cheese balls are good.) Release dog to run and chase the motivator. I say "Get it!"

Progress to running in a big arc with the dog. Try it with the dog on both your left and your right. Allow the dog to be a few feet away from you but about even with your side.

If the dog starts sniffing the ground, or otherwise is distracted, stop the game. Then get the dog's attention and start up again. Make it fun. If the dog barks while running, stop the game for a few seconds, then start again slowly. Give treats for quiet running.

Go On
We want to teach the dog to keep moving in a straight line, away from us. The behavior is called "go on." While walking with the dog, toss a treat or a toy out in front of the dog, and simultaneously say "go on." We hope you will "go on" with agility training!

back to Cheryl May's Dogsports