Mastering distance handling in dog agility

dog agility distance handling

Do you want to learn more about distance handling in dog agility? Ever wonder how successful distance handlers can steer their dogs to perform such intricate patterns, without having to run hard to keep up? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

We at OneMind Dogs have based our teaching method on dogs’ natural behavior. Our philosophy is simple: don’t worry about teaching this language to dogs. They already master it! Instead, we focus on empowering you to discover and nurture the seemingly magical bond between human handlers and their canine teammates. This bond is achieved via body language cues and understanding agility from your dog’s perspective

You might be worried that your dog needs extensive verbal cues or an overabundance of specific training before successful distance handling can be accomplished. Even your dog’s breed may have been incorrectly assumed to be a limiting factor in mastering this skill. Yet, here’s the big secret: With the right foundations, all dogs can do agility from a distance.

Throughout this article, we will elaborate on busting these myths, sharing effective tips and techniques for novices or experienced handlers towards mastering distance control in dog agility.

Keen to learn even more about distance handling? Check out our free webinar!

Why is distance handling useful in agility?

You may wonder what makes distance handling a skill worth mastering. Well, quite a few notable reasons illustrate the beauty of remotely handling your agility dog.

Firstly, contrary to popular belief, agility doesn’t always require swift running by handlers. Distance handling benefits everyone but is extremely handy for those restricted by physical disabilities or age. You may not be able to run as fast as your dog, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be highly successful in agility!

The real magic lies in the confidence and independence forged during effective foundation training. Training dogs to focus on obstacles and commit to taking them independently, without being constantly physically guided, allows them to grow in confidence. The more you put value on obstacle focus for your dog, the easier distance handling becomes later on.

Let’s also not overlook the competitive edge effective distance handling brings to the table. Some agility games truly test this skill set by incorporating obstacles that require handlers to instruct their dogs from afar. Staying on top of such challenges bolsters your team’s performance and gives you more options on the course!

Watch the video below to see OneMind Dogs handling techniques used at a distance:

What are the dog’s rules for distance handling?

To excel in distance handling in agility, you need to understand the game’s rules from your dog’s point of view. Understanding these basic ‘rules’ is becoming essential, with modern agility courses trending towards faster speeds and larger distances between obstacles. 

Based on natural instinct, the OneMind Dogs method embraces and uses the dog’s rules to handle them naturally through the course. You can learn all about these rules and how they affect distance handling in our online theme “Distance handling with Janita”. We also apply the basic principles of the dog’s perspective in all of our handling techniques, by breaking techniques down into seven handling elements:

  • The handler’s movement
  • Positioning in relation to the dog
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • The direction of the handler’s chest
  • Foot positioning
  • Hand signals
  • Verbal commands

These elements act as key pillars, supporting the bridge of effective communication between you and your dog. This knowledge aids you in fine-tuning your movements resulting in perfect rhythm on course.

As such, training equates to embodying these rules consistently so that they become second nature. It’s about creating a coherent language that syncs harmoniously even from a distance.

The importance of foundations in distance handling

The foundation skills we discuss are an integral base to makingdistance handling in agility easier for you and your dog later on. Whether you choose to handle from a distance or not. Handling at a distance effectively requires your dog to feel comfortable with specific behaviors, such as running forward eagerly, away from you, and beyond you. They should also remain committed to an obstacle despite distractions or different early directional indications by you.

To facilitate these foundational skills, several exciting exercises come in handy. Some of them include practicing ‘Obstacle offering‘ where dogs learn to enjoy tackling obstacles independently. ‘Send forward on a row of jumps‘ enhances confidence in working independently and passing the handler. Exercises focusing on ‘Keeping commitment’ towards obstacles independently are also extremely important to allow the handler to leave early and have time to negotiate the next part of the course.

You can find these Agility Foundation exercises and more on our website – along with expert tips to make them easy for you and your dog to learn.

Using rewards to build your dog’s distance skills

Speaking of rewards, we believe in rewarding your dog with whatever they value the most. When you’re training, don’t feel the need to use one type of reward over another for any reason other than your dog’s preference. You know what your dog loves most and by using that to reward strategically in a way to achieve your training goal, you’re more likely to get results! For distance handling in agility, it is key to reward your dog on the desired line, to build value for working away from you.

Firstly, identify what type of reward your dog absolutely loves. Some dogs might drool over smelly meaty treats, while others may find diverse toys fascinating. Some might even adore sincere praise and pats from you!

Once the ‘what’ is decided comes the ‘where.’ Here’s an insider tip: remember to reward your dog right after they complete an obstacle. Ideally, try to reward them along the intended line right after their last performance in a sequence. Keep moving toward the next obstacle while rewarding your pup for its mastery of the last one.

Lastly is ‘how,’ which again varies based on training stages transitioning from preplaced rewards to dropped ones thrown onto targeted lines at progressed phases to help your dog learn.

Using tools to help train distance skills in agility

There’s no denying the gratification that follows successful agility distance handling. Getting to that stage more easily can be achieved with training aids like nets and guide wires which can play an instrumental role in your dog’s understanding! 

Nets, or a simple section of flexible garden fence from your local hardware store, could easily metamorphose into excellent training aids! These tools are quite handy when directing your dog’s focus toward the correct obstacles. 

Place nets at strategic points, with rewards adding even more information and value for your dog. Doing so helps keep their focus on the intended line or highlight target obstacles in particular directions. This coordinated approach encourages dogs to independently stay on their lines, bringing you closer to achieving those dream distance runs! Just make sure to fade the nets quickly so your dog doesn’t begin to rely on them. 

Distance Handling on The Agility Course

Once you’re equipped with the essentials of distance handling, it’s time to implement these on the real battlefield – the agility course! Your first play is to draft a stellar handling plan. A well-planned handling strategy focuses on your dog’s line and anticipating critical points. Identifying these crucial junctures prevents off-course moves or refusals and ensures flawless performance.

All of the OneMind Dogs handling techniques can easily be used at a distance once your dog has solid foundations and a desire to complete the obstacles. Once you understand how to use your handling elements to give your dog information, you can use them in the same way from a distance! As the distance becomes larger you can modify the techniques a little bit to make it more clear for your dog when you can’t use your position as a handling element. Learn more in our free Distance Handling webinar!

Verbals for Distance in Dog Agility

As we’ve been saying throughout, our dogs are incredibly adept at interpreting our body language. However, they are also pretty good listeners, especially when you are behind the dog. Our founding coaches have been teaching and training agility for many years and they have noticed that generally, dogs understand verbals much more easily when the handler is behind or at a distance. When the handler is running close to or ahead of the dog, the dog is so focused on the handler’s movement that they find it more difficult to react to verbal commands.

So what verbal cues are we talking about exactly? Let’s look at OneMind Dogs’ very own leading coach – Janita Leinonen. She uses a blend of simple, versatile verbal cues including obstacle names, momentum directives like ‘Go Forward,’ braking hints like ‘Collect’ and even something as basic yet important as the dog’s name for redirections.

Much like everything else in agility, timing holds paramount significance with verbals. Their efficacy lies in well-timed execution; You need to give cues for the next line already when the dog is committed to an obstacle, at least a stride before the dog takes off. This gives your dog time to adjust their striding and take-off to respond to the verbal.

Where Do I Start?

The road toward distance handling in dog agility may seem challenging initially, but it becomes an enjoyable learning experience with the correct mindset.

Before you start using distance handling on course, focus on the basics: the foundations! Teach your dog to love obstacles, drive forward from you, and change the lead leg away from you. These elementary capabilities form the core of efficient distance-handling skills. Reward milestones reached during these sessions and gradually increasing complexity levels while introducing intermediate challenges and maintaining motivation curves upwards.

Finally, never forget that you’re not alone on this ride. Here at OneMind Dogs, our community is brimming with handlers like you – learning, progressing, and enjoying each step toward mastering distance handling. Ready to get started? Kickstart your training today with our online Agility Training program.

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