by Heidi Peterson
The NCA DDX test is an advanced draft test consisting of 11 challenging exercises. It showcases the bond and high level of teamwork between dog and handler. The one exercise that everyone seems to have the most trouble with is the Directed Figure Eight, where the handler directs the dog through a figure-8 from behind the cart.
To start training this exercise you will need to break it down into pieces. First you need to get your dog comfortable with you behind the cart, and teach him to move forward when directed. The dog should also have a solid stop command, stopping within 1 or 2 steps.
There are several ways to teach them to move forward. I start by using target plates with treats. I space them out 10 feet apart in a straight line. I then get behind the cart and tell them “go” and direct them to each target plate. Over time, I will treat every other target plate, then every third, etc.
Once they are moving forward reliably, start taking them for walks around the neighborhood with you behind the cart. At first, only go in a straight line and get them comfortable with you in that position. Remember to throw stops in there randomly.
Another method of teaching “go” starts with walking beside them hooked up. Tell them “go” and start falling back, but not too quickly at first. If they keep walking, run up and treat them. Over time, keep falling further and further back to where you are behind the cart as they are still moving forward. Always remember to treat and praise them. You can also use a combination of this and target plates simultaneously.
Teaching "Go" Style 1:
Teaching "Go" Style 2:
As a separate exercise, you can also start teaching them the directions “left” and “right.” Stand behind the cart and have them step to the left or right in the direction indicated. You can use a long lead to help facilitate and guide them in the direction you want them to move. I have used horse reigns for this, as well.
Remember, each dog is different. I have taught some dogs to take one step at a time for a controlled figure 8. For others, I needed to teach them an “around” command to get them to go around the object at their speed. Needless to say, I prefer the one step figure 8, but some dogs just don’t know how to do things slowly.
For the step command, start by standing in front of your dog and teach them to take only one step to the right or left with you. One steps can help you keep control of your dog’s turns when you are in a tight spot. Once they are doing that reliably, stand behind the cart and ask them to take one step in whichever direction you ask. Once they take one step, treat them. Do this multiple times to get them to understand the idea.
Teaching "One Step":
For those dogs who like to move fast, teach them the “around” command and practice it A LOT. Use different objects, and watch the cart wheel placement to see how tight your dog actually turns.
The other crucial thing to teach them is to back up with you behind the cart. Backing up could save you in a test at some point. It can put them in a better position to go around the figure 8 object, or keep them from exiting the oval prematurely.
Working on "Stop" and "Back Up" from behind:
Once you have all the pieces trained separately, then it’s time to put them all together and tweak it. I will take cones with me on our walk. I will stop, put a cone out, and have the dog do an “around” or a directed figure 8. I will also use trees and other objects I find along our path to work with.
Random Directed Figure 8:
I have been known to talk and sing to my dogs while behind them as it lets them know I’m there. If you start this training with a very young dog, it is so much easier. When you go on normal walks, have them start walking in front of you for 10-15 steps at a time. Make sure you put a name to the exercise such as “go.”
The most important thing during this training is to have fun! If you get frustrated, stop and move on to something else. Come back to it later. Remember, each dog is different and will learn at different rates.