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Handler Focus: The Next Step

This week we are continuing our handler focus training, asking our dogs to come "into" us rather than working away. Part two in a four-part series by Elizabeth Dott.

In last week's lesson, we started in a low stimulus area and worked out dealing with more distractions. We then added motion once the dog understood to drive to our hands. We have added a verbal command which means "come in." 

Now we will add more motion on the flat and work our dogs around equipment. This week's session begins with a bit of circle work. See video. 

You can begin with your dog on your left or right side. Start with a light jog, your dog following your hand low next to your side. Your dog should stay focused on your hand and match your speed as you make a large circle. Your dog will be on the outside longer path. As you circle, add some side changes and execute a few front crosses (turning into your dog as you change sides so that your dog is then following your other hand). Your dog should stay close to your body and not over shoot your hand. If your dog drives forward, slow down and get your dog back in position and begin again. If your dog is still having issues, take a step back to last week's exercises and remind him the reward comes when he stays next to the hand.

After you do circle work with your dog on the outside, begin with your dog on the inside and you will take the longer path. This is much harder if the dog is driving ahead of you. Your dog should be decelerating as you decelerate for the turns. If your dog is not reading your deceleration, you will collide as you make the turns and get a bit tangled up. (You can see this in the video.) If your dog is not reading deceleration, take a step back to last week's exercise, remind him to stay close to the hand and reward for coming into your hand. As you progress and the dog understands what you are asking from him, you can being to throw in a few side changes like front crosses.

Once your dog understands the circle work beginning at your side, add in some distance. Ask your dog to stay and lead out. Begin to move and release your dog. Your dog should drive in quickly to your hand and decelerate to match your speed as you begin the circle. If your dog is over-shooting your hand, take a step back and start with your dog at your side or begin motion after your dog comes to your side.

Note: When I do this kind of handler focus work, I like to balance it out with some targeted distance work. An example can be seen in the video posted with this article.

Once your dog has mastered this, you can begin to add in equipment. Set up some agility obstacles. Ask your dog to wait and lead out in between a few pieces of equipment. Release your dog and, using your verbal command and your low hand, ask your dog to come in to your side. Your dog should not opt to take equipment but to drive straight to your side. You can start off easy with a small lead-out between a wide space and work up to a long lead out where your dog will be required to bypass many obstacles to get to your hand. Start with no motion and then add in motion when your dog understands to come into your hand and not take an obstacle. 

Now begin your circle work around the equipment. This can be done very much like you did without equipment. If your dog chooses to ignore your close command and take an obstacle, stop and do a few without motion and then begin again adding in motion and then circle work. (See video.)

Remember to keep training sessions short and always positive. Reward often.

Next week we will add in equipment and begin sequencing. Until then, good luck and happy training!

This article is part of USDAA's Training Tuesday series appears on USDAA's facebook page. We encourage you to discuss this exercise on our facebook and to upload videos of your class or training group trying it out. If you have a facebook account, please join in the fun here:

Elizabeth Dott has been competing in agility since 1993. She owns Legendary Agility Training (named after her heart dog, Legend) in Altamonte Springs, Florida. She has competed at the national Level and has put several championships on her dogs over the years. She has also helped many of her students achieve their own championships as well. In addition, Elizabeth runs Legendary Dog Designs and makes custom collars and leashes with agility in mind. She can be reached for questions or classes at or through her website at


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