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Change sides (“side”)

Extract from Aunty Kaye’s Doggy Dictionary of Training and Behaviour

This means asking the dog to move from heel position to the handler’s right side. It is a command or signal given in formal training.

By convention, the dog walks on your left side, known as the heel position. This can become such a habit that the dog is almost incapable of doing anything else. Actually the dog can learn to walk on the other side, but this may be a challenge to traditionally trained handlers, who tend to believe that the heel position is sacrosanct. The exercise of changing sides is taught to Royal Netherlands Police dogs. It has a very practical purpose. The police patrol on bikes and their dogs heel beside them but are taught to come round to the right side to avoid obstructing the footpath if a pedestrian is approaching. This snazzy little manoeuvre is well worth teaching if you ride or walk with your dog along the local bike path.

You may wish to teach it if you do Agility with your dog, because your dog should be able to cope with being on your right or left side as you approach an obstacle.


One comment on “Change sides (“side”)

  1. We had an interesting discussion in the Saturday 2pm Class. Janet said that in Agility class the handlers were advised to bring the dog across in front of them to change sides. I have always done it by bringing the dog around behind the handler. This is the way the Netherlands Police do it, because they are on bikes and moving, so the dogs would be in danger of going under the wheels if they crossed in front of the bike. Janet’s reason was that the handler shouldn’t lose sight of the dog and the dog shouldn’t be wandering off, because the environment is very distracting. I can see the need for caution, but I think it does show a lack of faith in the dog, and in the handler’s training ability. I commented that historically “heel” meant just that – the dogs walked at the handlers’ heels, i.e. behind them. They were expected to follow.

    The other issue is that the dog is in “heel” or “close” position, which requires a high level of attentiveness, and then can be lured around (and when the lure is dropped, cued around) to a new position, also requiring close position and attentiveness. So i don’t really see that there is much danger of losing attentiveness.

    I would start off teaching the dog to change sides in a less distracting environment than in the Agility ring. I usually do it on lead, so the handler has to change the lead from her left hand to her right hand behind her back. Obviously, the dog is not going to wander off under these circumstances. The other way, which is generally easier if you have a food motivated dog who will follow a food lure, is to have the dog off lead and lure him. Start with the lure in your left hand, drop your left hand down to your side, “pick up” the dog’s nose at this point, and lure your dog by moving your left hand behind your back. The trick now is to change the food from your left hand to your right hand, while in the middle of your lower back, making sure the dog notices, and bring the dog around to your right side with a right hand lure. Deliver the reward when your dog is in place.

    If you have a toy-motivated dog, you can lure with a toy, but this needs more handler skill and co-ordination. You get a more stylish and quick movement, but the dog can also become rather hectic and make more mistakes. The general aspects of the exercise are similar to the finish to heel from the front position, either by going around or by swinging to heel.

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