Figure of Eights ~ Compulsory Exercise

This is a thing I call the “Figure of Eight”. I set two cones out on the floor and ask simply that the handler draw the dog in a figure of eight pattern around the two cones, giving the dog a constant stream of rewards (treats) out of his lead hand for attention to the lead-hand.


Note that the agility Figure-of-Eight is decidedly different from the obedience Figure-of-Eight. In agility the handler will take the lazy inside path while the dog takes the more robust outer path. That means that the handler must Cross going into the center of the “eight” to get the dog on the opposite side as he goes the opposite direction.

This is an important exercise for many handlers, because many have not taught their dogs to give their lead hands close focus in tight technical moments on the course. While I like a dog that will work away on fast and flowing sequences; when things get tight and technical I really like when the dog understands how to come in close to get his direction from a control point.

The handler learns several important lessons in this exercise. Aside from the fact that handler and dog must master movement in one of the most complicated character patterns in western civilization (the “eight”); it is implicit that the movement that conducts the dog through the center of the crossing pattern be a Front Cross. Also, you’ll find handlers who will drop their connection with the dog on the outside curves of the “eight”… allowing me, as the instructor, to teach a discipline that is fundamental to the exercise: It is not the dog’s job to attend the lead, it is the handler’s job. Once the handler understands that this is his job he will put in the modest effort required to keep the connection with his dog.


The purpose of the Figure of Eights exercise is to teach the dog to work in tight handler focus without regard to agility equipment which might be set near. And so we transfer the skill to the floor where we’ve carved out enough free space to conduct the figure-of-eight movement.

Note that the attitude of the handler’s arm is the chief cue to the dog whether to be in handler focus or obstacle focus. When the arm is down and close to the body or leg then the dog should be attentive to the handler. When the arm lifts the dog should be pushed to obstacle focus and away from the handler.

I’ll share my more comprehensive discussion of the “attitude of arms” below… and follow that with the escalation of the figure of eights compulsory exercise.

Arms and the Object of Focus

In our discussion of the matter of the dog’s focus I don’t believe I have for awhile talked through how we use our arms to communicate simple information.  This is a simple system based on the dog’s natural inclinations and understanding of our movement and habits.

The “attitude” of the arm refers to the height of the lifted arm and the degree of the angle created by the lift. A high attitude is at shoulder height; a low attitude is against the pant leg.

As the handler runs lifting the arm and pointing forward is a basic cue for the dog to stay in obstacle focus and, frankly, constitutes permission to work at a considerable distance. Don’t get me wrong here. The arm is not the primary cue. Consider it a detail and confirmation of the more abiding cues (running, for example is the most important cue).

Note that the arm stays arrow-straight and points on in the direction the dog is to move if not directly at the obstacle the dog should move to.

Now the handler slowing down, presumably in anticipation of a turn draws his arm down so that the hand is about belt level. However the arm stands out away from the body. The arm remains arrow-straight and points directly at the obstacle the dog is next to perform.

Again we ask for the dog to be in obstacle focus. But clearly we’re giving other cues. Indeed the dog might take a little steam out of his movement in response to the handlers braking movement.

To draw the dog into tight handler focus the lead hand should drop flush against the handler’s body. When conducting a tight movement in redirecting the dog we want the dog watching us closely. Now the lead hand probably becomes the predominate cue.

Putting it all Together ~ Escalating the Exercise


It would be good now to test the premise that the attitude of the handler’s arm is significant language to the dog so that the handler can either wrap him tightly or send him on flight over agility obstacles. As it happens the floor is set very nicely for this adventure.

Note that out of the Figure of Eight the handler will abruptly raise his or her arm to signal the dog ahead into the three-jump pinwheel. Note that the arm up is a cue to the dog… but certainly not the only cue. It will be the instructor’s job to ensure that the handler understands is job in terms of movement and giving good focus to the work ahead.

This foundation training introduces another important foundation exercise, and an escalation of this work, which I will share with you tomorrow.

Susan Garrett’s 2×2 DVD

I had the pleasure to get a look at Susan’s very nicely crafted 2×2 Weave Pole training DVD. I shall certainly use her method to train my boy Kory in the Weave Poles… but I’m waiting until he’s a year old before we even think about weave poles.

Anyhow, I want to share with you an observation. In the video is a segment showing her IFCS Snooker win with Encore. Anyone watching the performance was probably completely engrossed in the astounding performance Encore gave her in the weave poles… working at full speed, attacking the poles from improbable approaches, and making controlled entries to the poles.

Sure, this was impressive stuff. But there was something that I saw that might not be completely evident to the casual viewer. You know that in Snooker it’s sometimes important and necessary to draw a dog past obstacles without actually performing them. That’s something quite difficult with a very advanced and obstacle focused dog. But note what Susan did. As she ran across the field her arm was down flat against her leg (low arm is handler focus… remember) and her dog ran with her completely ignoring the obstacles that they ran past. And then, as soon as her dog slid past the last possible wrong obstacle on the way to the weave poles Susan would lift her hand (high attitude is obstacle focus… remember), and Encore would immediately attack the poles, get in, and go through.

To my thinking this was as much an exhibition in understanding the language of the attitude of the arm in communicating with the dog as it was an exhibition in magnificent weave pole performance.

League Play Game


This course will be our League game this week. I’ll have more discussion on running an agility league over the next couple of weeks.


I saw Roshomon last evening. It’s the story of a crime told from the viewpoint of four different people. It leaves you not knowing the truth…

It strikes me that Western movies have very specific rules for both plot development and characterization that aren’t really recognized at all by Japanese film, or at least Akira Kurosawa. And so Rashomon has for me a dream-like quality… but a gritty, unsettling dream.

Akira Kurosawa




Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available on the Country Dream Web Store.

2 Responses to “Figure of Eights ~ Compulsory Exercise”

  1. Michelle Blumenthal Says:

    Bud –
    Have you started teaching Kory 2×2’s yet? If yes, how’s that going? I’m mentally preparing myself for it – Jive is 15 months old this month and I, like you, have been loathe to rush her into the weaves. I don’t even want to own that DVD until I am ready to train it for fear that I may be tempted. I’ve been skipping the parts of agility classes that include gates and channels and wires and such, hoping that 2×2’s is all that “they” say it is. The marketing material for that DVD is persuasive – but I’m not actually looking to train her to do the weaves in less than 2 weeks – I still want it to be a fun and meaningful experience for us. Anyway, I was just curious about your progress.

    I was also wondering what equipment you are using to train it. I have an old set of 6 weave poles that I was going to chop up and reweld into 2×2, but now I see that Marsha/ Missy have a full set of 2×2’s available for $100 (still waiting on info about shipping to St. Louis).

    I know you hear this all the time, but, I certainly wish you weren’t 10+ hours away! I do enjoy every word of your blog and use it as a constant reference and inspiration when my training ideas get tired. Angie Fink and I actually set up your exercises whenever we get the chance. Last weekend we took a detour and I designed a handling exercise called “The Shot Bar” that was truly educational and provided plenty of hilarity. If you ever publish “Agility [Drinking] Games” we have something to add to it.


    • budhouston Says:

      Yes, I’ve been teaching Kory to weave. I’ve been doing 2×2 *and* wired weaves. He’s a complete freak… and learned to weave in about three days. Oh, the job’s not done yet. But we’re off to a fantastic beginning… probably better than I’ve ever done with a dog before.

      Good to hear from you Michelle!

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