The Importance of Flat Work in Dog Agility
If you’re a beginner to dog agility and were asked how many times you have worked on your weave performance, contacts or table performance you might be able to give an approximate number. However, many beginner and even intermediate handlers would not be able to say how much time they have put into circle work, shadow handling or flat work. In fact, many may not even know these all refer to basically the same thing. If this is you then you need to read on.
Let’s be honest, the equipment in dog agility is what is most appealing to us and we love teaching it to our dogs. Yet, flat work is even more important and is where most problems stem from in a botched agility run with off courses, dropped bars and wide turns to name a few.
It really doesn’t matter how well your dog performs the teeter if you can’t get him in position from the previous obstacle to take it properly. And while your dog may tear up the weaves, if he isn’t solid on his approach and entry he will miss it under the right conditions.
Your job to your team is to get your dog not only from start line to finish line, but to set your dog up properly for each obstacle approach, execution and exit that will line him up for the next obstacle. It also includes getting your dog over a jump in proper frame to keep bars up. Even if you are only doing dog agility as a hobby, it is only fair to your dog that you set him up for success and keep him out of harm’s way.
As the old adage goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” you simply need to start practicing your footwork and working with your dog on the foundation flat work and make it a part of every training session. A great place to start is with circle work. In this exercise you will teach your dog to shadow your movements and follow your leading arm.
With your treat bag or dog’s favorite toy you will start on either your right side or your left. At first you will lure your dog with toy or treat in your hand on the same side as your dog. Making a small circle just a little bigger than a pivot, have your dog follow you at your side. Treat from that hand when he finishes the circle or more often if your dog is having problems. Be sure to work in on both sides and do about 10 repetitions then quit for the day. Try to open the circle up every day.
When your dog is consistent with a circle about ten feet across you can slowly start adding speed every day or if your dog is catching on you can add speed each circle until you are able to run the circle with your dog at your side both directions. At this point you will want to add stops, starts, accelerations and decelerations.
Start at the slower speeds and accelerate, rewarding your dog when he speeds up to stay with you. Then try decelerating. Reward when he checks his speed to stay with you. If he drives past simple withhold the reward and start over. If your dog is having problems show them the treat as you are slowing until they understand. Then you can add the stop after a deceleration. Mix them up so your dog has to work at staying at your side.
Repeat the process with the dog to the inside of your circle. This will be harder as he will have to go slower to stay with you as well as turn out of your way. You may need to put a lead on your dog at first until they understand how to stay with you and out from under you.
When your dog is doing consistent circle work you will be ready to add simple crosses such as the front cross. Remember to get your footwork down first before adding the dog so one of you knows the drill and can be a consistent leader. You can never do too much foundation work, body awareness exercises and tricks. They all help to build your team’s timing, trust and communication. Then the obstacle work will be safer and more enjoyable for both of you.