Teaching Lateral Distance Skills

You know in dog agility “Distance Work” is really a misnomer and a miscomprehension. You seek in your training to teach independent performance. That means that the dog knows how to do an obstacle without the fussy-fussy micromanagement of the handler.

An important skill for the dog to learn is the performance of the technical obstacles while the handler works at a significant lateral distance.

For the sake of clarity and definition, the “technical obstacles” are the contacts and the weave poles.

Lateral Training for the Teeter

The teeter can be a formidable obstacle to teach a dog to understand without the handler getting all tangled up in the context of presentation and performance. Overcoming initial fear of movement and clatter can be a notorious complication to the training objective.

In all lateral distance training the basic methodology is for the handler to work farther and farther from the dog at a lateral distance.

An Intro Example

In this YouTube video a young dog is introduced to the training steps. Note that this video is not full of instant success. That’s not the way it works in the real world (unless the dog is a mutant, as some are):

You’ll note in the video that the handler even at a distance has a gravitational attraction to the dog. The handler might play with running forward to keep the dog working straight. But this beguilement might convince the handler of success, even though the dog is still on the gravitational tether.

An Example with a More Experienced Dog

Lateral distance exercises belong to the foundation training for a dog. But foundation should be reinforced over time

Our more experience dog was pretty solid in the video. Note that the dog trainer incorporates other skills into the basic lateral-distance-training objective. The handler uses a Back Pass to sling shot the dog; and sending the dog forward to jump.

An Example with a Crazy Red-Headed Dog

Dogs whose brains are constantly exploding from exuberance can be a training challenge, even when they have heaps of experience. But even the crazy red-headed dog needs basic reinforcement of skills, possible more so than a steady-betty kind of dog.

You’ll note with dogs that work for food the “reward” is but an eye-blink. When using a toy reward, however, the dog’s trainer might have significant interruptions between reps, especially when the dog has a robust playful agenda for the toy.

Proofing the Skill

In NDAL league play this month, we are playing a game called Time Warp. The course looks like this:


In this game, the dog earns a bonus for the performance of the teeter at a lateral distance to the handler. Indeed, the handler must be on the other side of the dogwalk to earn the bonus.

I will use our league courses to design training objectives for my own dogs. And in this case, as I was the game designer, the design of the course dove-tailed very nicely with my immediate training objectives.

Following is a YouTube video of my old boy Kory who has amazing independent performance skills running this course:

It’s worth noting that Kory was trained to his independent performance skills.



Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. Visit our web store: www.dogagility.org/newstore. You’ll find in the web store The Jokers Notebook, a series of comprehensive training workbooks intended to teach a dog powerful skills of independent performance.

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