More footwork. I’m on a roll.
An about turn is a right turn that keeps going – your speed through the turn and the direction of your gaze tell your dog where it will end. You can turn 90 degrees to make a right turn, 120 degrees for a #1 glove, 180 degrees for a formal about-turn or #2 glove, 235 degrees for a #3 glove from the right, or rotate a full 360 degrees to continue moving in the original direction.
If you’ve trained your dog to respond to very small changes in your behavior, then not a whole lot. Can your dog follow you? Small changes in your upper body and where you are looking will tell your dog whatever they might need to know. Are your feet directly under your body as much as possible? The closer your feet are to each other, the easier it is for your dog to stick with you without getting kicked or pushed out by a wayward toe or heel.
When pivoting and practicing continuous motion, it shouldn’t matter if you make your turn into your dog (to the left) or away (to the right) – if you are turning on a spot and if you’re upper body remains aligned with your feet then your dog will respond accordingly. When working into the dog (left), I turn much more slowly to allow the dog time to back up and pull their rear end in.
Once again, success with my footwork assumes that your dog follows some part of your upper body and knows how to control their rear end. No footwork will matter if your dog is not responsive to what you are doing.
Ideally, you should be able to “change your mind” at any point in the middle of a turn, and your dog should be ok with that. For example, if you start an about turn and change your mind – completing a full 360 degree turn, can your dog work with that? If they stay aligned at each step of the turn they will be able to succeed.
I see no benefit to pre-cuing so that my dog knows what direction I plan to travel next. If my dog is following me continuously, then they will be successful, and they will be less likely to anticipate and lose points for surging through the turns.
In this video up to 20 seconds, I demonstrate some footwork without a dog. Note that I show you a right turn, an about turn, and an ‘endless’ turn – both to the left and to the right. I try to keep my feet under my body and my shoulders aligned with my feet. I do look slightly in the direction that am planning to turn, and I also look straight ahead again when I plan to continue on forward. This head cue should be so subtle as to be almost unobservable on a video. I will also move more quickly to the right and possibly slightly faster for an about turn than a right turn – but not necessarily. Sometimes it helps if people look at their right foot when making right turns or about turns, and their left foot when turning towards the dog. If you look towards your dog (on the left) when you plan to turn to the right, you’re providing very confusing signals to your dog and it’s very likely that your upper body is signaling a left turn when your feet are going right. That’s a problem.
Next I add Lyra to the picture and I work right turns, right about turns and endless right turns. Note that after working to the right without balancing it with work to the left, her butt starts to come out a bit at 27 seconds. As a result, I would not normally do a heeling pattern of this type with Lyra; she needs plenty of left turns, left pivots, and various other moves that ‘pull’ her rear end in to maintain balance. After I add in a left about turn, you can see that she remembers that she has a rear end (from 35 to 41 seconds). To reinforce “butt in” I send her to her toy after a spin to the left.
To cement a dog’s flexibility, I suggest training your dog to be able to change direction mid-turn. This gives the dog a lot more to think about than trying to outguess the handler. You can see how I train that from 45 seconds to about 1:10 – note that I start with simple pivots left and right. When I combine them, switching back and forth from a left pivot to a right one and back again, I choose when to change direction according to the dog’s behavior – if she begins to forge to the right then that is the moment I will change to a left pivot. If she begins to lag to the left then I’ll switch to working to the right. And if she is close to perfect, then I work more to the right, because it is more fun for her to push through a right turn than to pull back on a left turn. Great left turns are really quite difficult so I tend to minimize how much I ask there. Eventually, your dog will stop anticipating what you plan to do and will simply follow you, paying careful attention. For the life of the dog, you will maintain balance by working in this manner when heeling.
Finally, I end with Brito. Brito can do right turns reasonably well. His about turns are a bit weak because he sometimes swings wide. To fix that, I’ll use the footwork that I showed you in the video on right turns – I’ll complete some percentage of a turn to the right, and then I’ll pull one step to the right before going back onto a straight line. I make the choice to “pull” according to his behavior; the moment I think he might go wide is where I add my pull. Brito is not ready for change of direction mid pivot, so you’ll see that I do more of a serpentine move with him so that he can begin to learn what I’m looking for. You can see this from 1:31 to to 1:38. Note how I am also teaching him my left turn footwork with the “pull” in the center of the serpentine. When he can consistently complete a serpentine with his rear end tucked in and driving forwards to the right without forging, then I’ll combine those into the left/right pivot combination.
Have fun! Next blog will move away from footwork for a bit and when I come back to it we’ll talk about halts.