As a dog and handler duo advances through class levels, they will eventually be faced with a difficult decision: how to approach a series of obstacles that the handler cannot easily lead the dog through? When obstacles are clustered together and there is little room for the handler to wedge him or herself between jumps, tunnels, and A-frames at an appropriate speed, the handler must begin to train his or her dog for distance control. Here, the handler will provide commands when situated far from the dog, sometimes even behind other obstacles. An instance such as this is called “layering,” which describes when the handler directs the dog from the outside “layer” of the obstacle cluster. This technique is advantageous not only for the handler’s comfort, but also because having the handler too close to the dog in an obstacle cluster can cause the dog to “push in” and take the wrong obstacle in an attempt to be near the handler.
To develop good layering skills, the handler should begin by teaching his or her dog the “push out” command, which signals for the dog to move away from the handler. A strong push out will help the dog understand to not take the obstacle closest to the handler. Oftentimes, the handler signals the push out with a straight arm, extending out past the body and parallel to the ground.
Cultivating good distance control takes a lot of practice and patience. Once your dog has mastered the push out command, you can begin practicing layering by standing a few feet further from an obstacle than you normally would. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog, and eventually place a second obstacle between the two of you. Besides helping execute clustered obstacles, layering is a good technique for handlers who struggle to get around the course while staying in front of their dog. Adding layering to the advanced handler’s collection of skills is indispensible for high-level classes, and will also vastly improve the level of communication between a dog/handler team!