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Deceleration Drills

Motion is the primary thing that cues our dogs around an agility course. Simply put - when you're running forward, the dog should be running forward. When you're slowing down, the dog should be slowing down. When we need out dogs to make a tight turn, cueing deceleration is one of the first things we do.

When working on teaching the dogs to decelerate and collect their stride to make tight turns, we need to first teach the dogs how to do that on the flat. We want to build value for the dog stopping in heel position, close to our side. I will refer to heel position (sometimes called decel position), as the dog sitting or standing close to your side, facing the same direction as you. This should be practiced with dog on your right side and your left side. The dogs front toes should line up with your toes. They can be standing, but I prefer a sit as this will get us better deceleration in the future.

First teach the dog how to find heel position from in front of you. Working on the left side - have a treat in your left hand, step back with you left leg only (try to keep you other leg planted) and lure the dog to make a U-Turn to come back up close to your side. Give multiple cookies for them staying in heel position. Do the same on your right side, with your right hand signaling.

If they are not sitting straight or close to you, do this same exercise against a fence or wall so there is just enough room for the dog to fit between you and the wall. You can also have the sit on a platform at your side.

Next teach the dog to find heel position from behind you, this is the most common position we will be in when cueing deceleration on course. I'll refer to this a "decel position".

Leave the dog in a sit stay and lead out just a few steps. Stand still and give your release word. The dog should come up to your side and stop in heel position. If they need help, you can use a treat in the hand closest to them and give them a little stop sign to come to. We want to start to wean that lure out eventually so the dog will stop at your side even if your hand isn't down. Eventually I like to keep my hand up towards my stomach, then deliver the reward once the dog stops.

The farther you lead out, the faster the dog will be coming when they get to you. Adding distance to your lead out makes this harder, you want to get up to at least 20 feet.

If your dog is having a hard time decelerating, you can do two rewards - step back with the leg closest to the dog and give the first treat behind you. Then step forward and bring your feet together for the second reward. This will help them learn to slow down on approach and not over shoot their stop.

If your dog prefers toys, you can start doing this with a toy too. I hold the toy at my waist, make sure the dog stops in heel position, then give them the toy.

You want to build as much speed as you can on the flat, before adding this to jumps.

You can have them find decel position coming from a restrained recall, or out of a tunnel.

Using two or three jumps in a line, start to introduce the same concept with jumps.

Leave the dog in a sit stay before one jump. Lead out about halfway to the 2nd jump, stand still and release the dog. They should come into heel position and stop, reward for the stop at your side. If they don't stop, tuck them back into heel position to reward, then try again.

It's harder if you're moving when you release them then stop. But you want to do this to replicate movement through an agility course. Just make sure you stop soon enough that the dog actually has time to respond to your cue. You should be giving cues when you're dog is at least two strides away. You'll see an example in the video where I stop too late and Chip tries to stop but ends up wide.

You can begin to combine this with your wrap cue and reward after the jump.

This drill also shows adding a potential off course jump in, so the dog learns that a wrap cue always means "come through the gap".

You can randomize actually cueing the off course jump as a 180 shoulder pull.


Another skill that is helpful for dogs who don't favor collection, is rewarding them before take off.

Start with a low jump. Leave the dog in a sit stay, lead out and stand close to the jump wing. With a treat in the hand closest to the dog, release them and hold that hand towards the dog. You need to make it very obvious you have a treat in your hand, experienced dogs are going to want to jump. You can also start teaching this behavior a few feet farther away from the jump in the beginning.

I also cue a "sit" or a "wait" to help them anticipate slowing down and shifting their weight back. Feed them for stopping on the take off side of the jump, then with the same hand, cue them to take the jump (you can use your wrap word) and reward again after the jump.

Move the dog around to different starting angles, and increase the distance back from the jump.

You can make it more challenging by moving a few steps as you release them before cueing the stop before the jump...this will simulate the motion you will have through an agility course.

As you're having success, you can start to wean out the treat on the take off side. I make my signal look just like I'm going to feed them before the jump, but as they weight shift back, I just cue the jump and reward after it.

Don't stop feeding on the take off side all together, randomly still reinforce on the take off side.

You can then add more speed on the approach by having them wrap a previous jump or come out of a tunnel.

If your dog's strength is acceleration, deceleration is always going to need a lot of maintenance. These are drills you may need to revisit a lot!

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