Even if you don't run with your dog, teaching them "Left" and "Right" can be fun and beneficial. However, these are pretty important things for your dog to know, when they are your running partner. Even more so when you are a competitive canicross team.
You're running down a trail and it forks off in two directions. If your dog dosent know "Left" and "Right" you can lose valuable time trying to get them to go down the correct path. Before I taught this to my dog, he would either choose a path on his own, or look back at me for direction. Either way, we would lose time. If he chooses a path and it is wrong, I have to correct him, there is a moment of confusion on his part, then he has to catch up, going down the correct path. If he looks back at me for guidance, he is slowing down.
I quickly realized I needed to remedy this problem. As with most aspects of training, I forwent any standard training methods and developed one on my own that I knew would work best for me and my dog. My methods are mostly tailored around the fact that my running partner is a Weimaraner and has the personality of a hyper three year old that just drank a redbull. That is fairly easily countered, however, by the fact that his bond with me is stronger than with any other dog I've ever had. He wants nothing more than to be by my side 24-7.
Any good trainer will tell you that training your dog needs to meet the specific needs of you and your dog. What works for one, may not work for another. Thats why I developed this method. My dog and I are very different from many others. Also, our goals in training are canicross specific. What I teach him are things that will make him a better runner and partner.
People often see competitive canicrossers with highly trained dogs, but they don't heel. They always pull on the leash. Well, pulling is exactly what he is supposed to do. It would be crazy to ever teach him not to, even when just out for a walk in the park. His job is to pull, and to pull as hard as he can.
Back to "Left" and "Right". This is what worked for us and it just might work for you too. There are three main motivatiors for a dog. Treats, Toys, and Praise. Some dogs only like one, some like all three. Mine only like treats and praise. He couldn't care less about toys. So our training is all about treats and praise.
To begin the training, I have him sit. I then stand behind and slightly over him with a pocket full of treats. I take out one treat and hold it in my open palm, in front of and to the right of him. My empty hand is in the same position on his left side. I tell him "Right" and allow him to eat the treat out of my right hand, and give him lots of praise and pets when he does. That step is repeated several times, then we switch to the left hand. Hold the treat in open palm in front of and to the left of him. Empty hand in the same position on his right side. Say "Left" and allow him to take the treat from my left hand. Lots of praise when he does. Repeat several times.
Once he has mastered that and you can switch back and forth between left and right, you do the same thing but with two closed hands. One contains a treat and one doesn't. Tell him which hand to choose and if he gets it right he gets the treat and praise. Repeat one hand several times, switch to the other, then mix it up. When he is good with that one do it again, but with empty hands. This takes out the possibility of him just smelling the treat in your hand.
If you want to advance this training even further, you can use two cups. One ten to fifteen feet in front of him and to the left, one the same distance and to the right. I still stand behind my dog during this step because when we are running he is in front of me. Meaning, this command will always come from behind him. Place a treat under one of the cups. Tell him the command and point to which one has the treat. Again, if he is correct, treat and praise. After several repetitions, take out the pointing and just tell him which cup to go to. Several more times that way, then dont put a treat under the cup. Just tell him which cup you would like him to go to. Correct responses are always met with treats and praise!
When you have mastered these methods, its time to hit the trails. Start by walking down a familiar trail that has an obvious fork in it. When you approach the fork point to one of the paths and give the corresponding command. Repeat several times mixing up the direction you choose and eventually taking out the point and only using the command. Now, in your normal running gear, on the same path, approach the fork at your standard pace. Give the command for the path you want and relish in the accomplishment that you have both achieved when he goes down the correct path without slowing down or looking back.
It is a great feeling to teach your dog a new command, especially when it is one that most dogs don't know. Now go run and enjoy your time with your super smart running buddy!
Running is Better
When You're Together