Relative Directions vs Absolute Directionals

The Glossary of Dog Agility Terms describes two types of directional commands.

  • absolute directional ~ A directional command that directs the dog which way to move based on the dog’s position, regardless of the handler’s position; for example, Left and Right, which tell the dog to turn to his left or right, respectively.
  • relative directional ~ A directional command that directs the dog which way to move based on the handler’s position; for example, Come and Get Out, which refer to moving toward the handler and moving laterally away from the handler, respectively.

Most agility handlers have not endeavored to teach their dogs absolute directional commands; preferring instead to run with the dog and to direct the dog with close-at-hand movement. For dogs that are considerably faster than the handler, the ability to direct the dog with “Left” and “Right” commands, and arguably a good “Go On” are necessary for simple survival in the game.

It’s fairly easy to make a test of which system might be workable, given either system.

This is a pinwheel, with a serpentine jump on the corner. If the dog understands his absolute directional commands, then the handler should be able to give the command for the change of directions after jump #3 from just about anywhere. If the dog is limited for the most part to relative directionals, then the handler might have to reserve room to step up inside of the pinwheel to show the change of directions after the #3 jump.

The turn from jump #4 to jump #5 isn’t an automatic. The dog with powerful obstacle focus might be studying the #2 jump in that transition. And so, whether using absolute directionals or relative, the handler needs to give the directive to the dog to continue turning after jump #4 to get back into the pinwheel.

When using the relative directional to turn away the handler must be careful to be in the dog’s field of vision. The timing of the movement must coincide with the moment of the dog’s jumping. And, to complicate matters, the handler must reserve enough room to take a step to indicate the turning direction. The Tandem Turn is not an arm signal alone – if it is an arm signal at all.  It is more a matter of the rotation of the handler’s body and the step in the direction of the course.

This is a great illustration of the idea that the dog turns when the handler turns not where the handler turns.

We’ve moved the containment line slightly forward for the introduction of the movement. The handler should be careful to give the verbal directive “Turn” (or “switch”, “back”… whatever you’ve reserved to mean turn away from me) because as the exercise progresses to greater distances the verbal will be move obvious to the dog than the rotation and movement that the handler provides.

Good dog training is often based on patterning of a behavior. By doing the same thing over and over again the dog gets to be right and earns heaps of reward in the process. The dog’s success in this exercise should be taken with a grain of salt. The question will ever be whether the dog is repeating the performance because he’s learned the sequence; or is he indeed understanding the handler’s movement directive even as the distance increases between dog and handler.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What is the most commonly used agility term that is not included in the Glossary of Dog Agility Terms (

The best answer that includes an agreeable definition, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the March Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – March 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special03” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


8 Responses to “Relative Directions vs Absolute Directionals”

  1. Chris Mosley Says:


    • Adrienne Says:

      (Definition) The most commonly used obstacle. Consists of two uprights and a bar or bars that the dog must jump over.

      See also; winged jump, hurdle, tire, spread jump, wall

  2. Adrienne Says:

    Handler: The human partner in an agility team. Called a “handler” as their responsiblity is to direct the dog through the course correctly through the use of verbal and physical directions.

    Handle: To direct, control, manage. In agility refers to a human directing a dog by verbal or physical signals to take an obstacle, series of obstacles or the whole course.

    Dog: A four-footed canine companion animal that barks. In agility this is the agile partner of the team, the one that performs the obstacles in the order directed by the handler.

    Agility: An activity and sport pursued by a human-canine team. A series of obstacles is laid out by a judge (or instructor in the case of classes) the handler uses physical and verbal directions to guide the dog’s performance of the obstacles in the correct order.

  3. Erica Says:


    • Erica Says:

      Pronunciation: \ˈdam\
      Function: verb
      Inflected Form(s): damned; damn·ing \ˈda-miŋ\
      Etymology: Middle English dampnen, from Anglo-French dampner, from Latin damnare, from damnum damage, loss, fine
      Date: 13th century
      transitive verb
      1 : to condemn to a punishment or fate; especially : to condemn to hell
      2 a : to condemn vigorously and often irascibly for some real or fancied fault or defect b : to condemn as a failure by public criticism
      3 : to bring ruin on
      4 : to swear at : curse —often used to express annoyance, disgust, or surprise

    • Adrienne Says:

      If we’re going to define expletives I have a few to add! Though they are not nearly as clean as this! lol

  4. Betty Says:

    Yea!: verbal reward

  5. Adrienne Says:

    Are we even close Bud?

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