The Rally Master class has lots of fun signs, including the sidestep front signs! I like to teach my dogs to move laterally (sideways) in both heel and front as I feel it gives the dogs a better understanding of the heel and front positions. Once a dog understands where the position is, I add all sorts of different movements to challenge the dog and add some fun!
Start with Solid Fronts!
I don’t start a lot of lateral movement until my dog can comfortably and successfully do a front without a prop. I do a little bit of finding front from different angles, but when I get to the extreme stuff I add props back in. At this point the dog understands front reasonably well and has a lot of reinforcement history on the behavior.
Once my dog understands lateral movement in heel and lateral movement in front, I start playing some front games. I start pretty simple with identical props in front and see if my dog can go from one to the other and sit in front. The possibilities are endless with this game – you can use four props and do ¼ circle fronts, or ½ circle fronts, or increase the lateral distance between props.
When my dog is comfortably finding front from different angles with props, I start the fun stuff! It’s important that we break these steps down so the dog can be successful. I find that most dogs are used to us pivoting slightly in front as we tend to do that when we train, so that’s where I start.
Pivoting in Front
At first I stay in place and just pivot a bit either right or left. You’ll find that your dog will move much more easily in one direction than the other. This is normal and you just need to work the hard side a bit more.
As you work through these exercises, remember to keep treats in both pockets and reward in the center of your body! I usually bring my treat up near my face with both hands and bring it down to the dog, feeding as high as I can right next to my body.
Once my dog is doing well with pivots, I start taking a small step back as I pivot. That starts around :22 in the video. This will start to prepare the dog for more lateral movement, while still keeping the pivot that they understand and that will help move their rear end.
Add More Lateral Movement!
The next step is to add in more lateral movement. The pivot part of this exercise really helps the dog understand to move the rear around, so I keep that element in there for now. You can see how I follow some of the lateral steps with a pivot. When I first start adding lateral movement, I move backward and laterally at the same time, because that’s easier for the dog.
What I am attempting to mark and reward in this video of young Excel is moving his hind end the correct way. This is his first time working on lateral movement in front, and I wanted to show him it’s about his butt! I don’t really care at this point if his sit is crooked, and sometimes I reward before he even sits, so I can really break out that rear end movement. Excel reminds me once again how much value he has for getting into heel, as he tries to offer that when he’s confused. If you’ve done a lot of work with your dog in heel position, you might run into this too. I just cheerfully help him find the right place.
Work One Direction at a Time
When I am first teaching this concept, I find the dogs catch on more quickly if you only work one direction at a time. For example, I will spend a session only working on left pivots, take a break, and in the next session only work right movement. The break between sessions doesn’t have to be long, it can be a simple play break or working on another skill. You’ll quickly find out which direction is more difficult for your dog, so you can spend extra time on that side.
Keep your movements small at first and reward effort! This will show the dog what exactly you’re looking for. If you can click or otherwise mark the rear end movement, your dog will catch on more quickly. Build on success and soon you and your dog will be doing lateral fronts like a pro!