Flatwork: Foundation for Agility


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What’s it about?

Flatwork isn’t about the obstacles; it’s about what happens between the obstacles. Your dog spends more time between the obstacles running with you on the flat than he does performing the obstacles. It’s on the flat, after all, that you set up your dog’s approach to the next obstacle. It’s on the flat where you as handler do most of your job guiding the dog. Performing flatwork successfully requires excellent communication
between dog and handler.

Flatwork is also about developing a communication system with your dog as you teach him each agility handling maneuver without the distraction of obstacles. As you follow this training program, you will develop a set of cues and movements that indicate specific behaviors to the dog, and you will become aware of exactly what your body is really “saying” to your dog. Flatwork is your agility foundation, teaching you how to handle and how to make all your body language clear, consistent, coherent, and timely while also teaching your dog how to take direction and stay with you on course.

About the Author

Barb Levenson has been training dogs for years and opened her own obedience training school in 1991 in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She added the sport of agility to her school in 2000 and a couple of years later began teaching the classes herself. Barb’s approach to both agility, and obedience has her marching to a different drummer, in part shaped by her equestrian experience. She believes that the best way to develop handling skills is “on the flat”—away from the equipment—and incorporates ideas from the horse world. Barb also believes that a strong foundation in obedience sets the stage for a solid relationship with the dog that is critical to enjoying and succeeding in agility. And that means training and refining the communication—especially body language—between dog and handler. To date she has competed with eight dogs and has titles in obedience (Canadian and American), agility, and herding.

When was it published? Reprint 2018

Who published it? Dogwise


~~When people think Agility, obstacles and jumps are the things that immediately come to mind. Most do not consider that the time your dog spends on the flat in between actually makes up the majority of all courses

In this book, Barb Levenson, an experienced dog trainer who has titles in obedience (Canadian and American), agility, and herding, teaches us agility handling manoeuvres without the distraction of obstacles. Levenson describes flatwork training as developing a communication system between you and your dog, allowing you to develop a set of cues and movements that indicate specific behaviors to your dog, and also allow you to make sure your body language is clear, consistent and coherent at all times.

Flatwork is hugely important and provides a good solid agility foundation that is sure to help both you and your dog achieve the skills needed to excel later on.

Levenson begins by explaining why we should teach the dog a default position, similar to the ‘heel’ position that competitive obedience trainers use.  She then considers the dog’s focus and comments on how we can use flatwork to teach the dog to be able to switch focus between the obstacles and handler. Levenson looks at the influence of handler body movement and body position, focusing on upper body, head and shoulders, feet and hands. She then provides us with some thoughts on reinforcing, discussing luring versus reinforcing, the importance of where you reinforce your dog, as well as reinforcement speeds.

Chapter two moves on to straight line heeling for agility, which Levenson describes as crucial for later training, with the majority of courses including straight lines to a turn. She gives tips on how to practice without your dog and explains the process of teaching straight line heeling. Levenson then looks at schedules of reinforcement, before moving on to how to cue fast and slow pace heeling. She shows us how to teach a fast and slow pace as well as offering advice on how to deal with dogs that become aroused or reactive.

Chapter three looks at teaching movement of the hindquarters. Levenson explains that dogs have very little back end awareness but it is actually essential in giving the handler better control over the shape of circles and tight turns that the dog negotiates on course. Levenson shows us how to use the body language of pressure before sharing the steps to begin teaching rear end awareness. She comments on how to use shaping to teach this behaviour as well as useful tips on honing your clicker skills, and important guidelines to bear in mind before you begin. Levenson then moves on to teaching your dog hindquarter rotation and how to understand shoulder cues.

Chapter four considers circle work for agility and Levenson comments on why circle and bending work is crucial for the agility dog. She begins with large circle work, showing us how to teach the dog to be on the outside and the inside as well as introducing changes of pace.  Levenson then covers the same exercises but on a small circle.

In chapter five Levenson provides us with some advanced flatwork for agility exercises, including the figure of eight and serpentine.

Chapter six moves on to front and rear crosses, changes of side and changes of lead. Levenson explains the important of changing leads, comparing it to leading legs in horses. She then shows us how to teach front and rear crosses on the flat, breaking it down into small steps.

Finally in chapter seven Levenson focuses on looking ahead, providing us with exercises to help the transition from flatwork to sequence and course walk. These exercises include straight line work, straight line to turns, circle work and crosses and lead changes, as well as some final thoughts.

Essential learning for both the beginner or more experienced dog, flatwork foundation teaches your dog how to follow your body without the distractions and interferences encountered on course.


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