Dog Training – Directional Control

Sending dog away in direction indicated by Judge not less than fifty yards, stopping and redirecting not less than twenty yards. This exercise is included in both TD and PD stakes and obviously starts with a send away. At the end of the send away the dog has to be sent to the right or the left according to the judge’s instructions. Gundogs and sheepdogs are taught directional control as a matter of course.

I once had a Border Collie bitch which would do an about turn from left to right or vice versa when swimming a hundred yards away. But both gundogs and sheepdogs have a purpose in changing direction whereas we are teaching a dog to go in the direction we want for no particular reason. Against that you do have the advantage of being able to stop the dog and redirect him with hand signals. A sheepdog must change direction as he runs and once he is ‘on’ his sheep should never take his eye off them.

My wife and I usually teach this exercise with the help of food and many successful gundog trainers do the same. This gives the dog a purpose in going in the direction you want.

Sit the dog in a convenient place and let him see you put out two pieces of food, one to the right and one to the left of him. Now go to a position facing the dog and about five to ten yards from him. From this position encourage the dog to go for the piece of food on the right or left, whichever you say. When he has eaten one piece encourage him to go for the other one. Use ‘ a word of command (Right and Left are as good as any) and simultaneously give a clear signal to the right with the right arm and vice versa. One often sees handlers signalling a dog to the left with the right arm across the body which is very confusing for the dog. If your dog won’t concentrate but simply bolts for the piece of food he fancies put him on a check cord in the early stages.

We also teach our dogs to jump up onto a box, garden seat etc. from varying distances and angles. They quickly learn to move from one to another in response to a hand signal. This is a variation of the circus trainer’s system of having each animal on its own pedestal. The point is that the dog has somewhere to go instead of simply going nowhere. One need not use boxes, mats or pieces of hardboard on the ground will do. Once he has learnt to move in various directions in response to commands and/or hand signals the ‘props’ can be dispensed with. Sometimes we start with the dog on a lead but with some dogs this is unnecessary.

Another method which I have seen used successfully is to work the dog along a fence or wall. Start with the dog on a lead facing the fence and send him forward. Follow at the end of the lead and, when he reaches the fence (he cannot go any further forward) encourage him to go along the fence to tight or left. As soon as he gets some idea of what is wanted remove the lead. The advantage here is that the dog cannot go forward but having been taught the send away will try to go somewhere. The fence acts as a guide and prevents the dog from wandering off willy-nilly.

An old gundog trainer once showed me how he taught directional control with three tennis balls and a racket. He sat the dog some distance away facing him. Next he batted one ball straight over the dog’s head. Then he hit the other two balls one to each side of him. He then sent the dog to retrieve, indicating which ball he wanted. Almost invariably the dog will go for the last ball to fall but in the initial stages is always stopped and sent for one of the others. With a keen dog he would use a line to prevent it going for the wrong ball.

As soon as the dog would go for each ball as directed he would go out without the dog, bat out the three balls or even more, then take the dog out and send him in various directions. We have tried this method with several dogs and found that they quickly learn to go in the right directions. It has the advantage that the dog is being rewarded through its instinct (the greatest reward of all) and therefore puts some enthusiasm into it. It is also an excellent test of control. The disadvantage for Working Trials could be that some dogs might tend to go out with their noses down searching for a ball.

Most people use hand signals in directional control although most dogs will just as readily respond to words of command. For sheepdog Trial work hand signals are never used, although most shepherds use them in practical work. In giving hand signals remember to make them clear to an animal much nearer the ground than you. Use the right and left arms for right and left signals and never cross the arm over the body.

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