Training Your Dog Barrel Running

Your dog will need to know a few things before Barrel Racing. Some will need Obedience training, some just need to know how to learn. Some will just need to be shown the pattern and off they go. For dogs and their trainers, running the barrel clover leaf pattern is not rocket science, but it does need to be taught correctly. Start with baby steps, as we call them. Train correct for correct results.

There are so many ways that the barrel pattern could be taught to your dog. There are so many different training ideas. I always say that "Every animals and every trainer is different. What might work for one, or one animal, may or may not work for another." The most important thing is to get help from a someone that knows how to train dogs if you run into problems or do not know where to start.

REMEMBER: Always, always have your dog go potty outside the training area before and after each training session.

We CAN NOT be held responsible for any accidents or injuries you and or your dog may occur as you train. Each dog and trainer are different. Be safe, be fair, take it slow and make it fun for the dog.

Below are ideas and information that we use to train our own dogs. It might help you train your dog too.

Basic Barrel Training

Frankie Jumping Through Tire Jump

I believe that if your dog is already Agility Equipment trained, it has an advantage. The Agility dog already understands, "over", "under" "around" and "through". It will work with or without you right with it. The Agility Dog can be "sent" to a piece of equipment to "work" that piece.

But if your dog is not trained to do anything, no manners, not tricks not obedience, it will need to learn to learn first. Your dog might be great at barrels, but needs to start with the basics, learning to learn. What is learning to learn? It is teaching your dog one thing, treating them with a "cookie" so that the dog will repeat the behavior for the bait. Once it learns to learn one thing, others and all following will come easier. Once the dog learns that actions bring praise and treats, it has learned to learn and is ready to move on to another step.

However,if your dog is already obedience trained and or it stays right with you, off you go, walking first, then running the barrels with your dog. Start slow. Teach little by little. Your dogs will learn better, faster and retain it longer if you take your time to train your animals right. Teach the entire pattern, not barrel by barrel. Set your barrels closer to begin with. Set them 10' -15' apart in a triangle. Give the command or cue you will use, such as "barrel", "good, next (or second) barrel", "good", "next (or third) barrel", "good". You might want to work with your dog on a leash (or off running beside you) to teach the "hurry" or "run" commands and or cues. What you do not want to do is to just give commands/cues that your dog does not understand. Teach what "hurry" or "faster" means, by teaching it separate before using it while the dog is working the barrels. Your dog may get confused otherwise.

Praise, praise, praise your dog. Give verbal praise and little, very small treats. Even if your dog only does mediocre at the barrels, still act as if it did well. Now when your dog does really well at barrels, big time praise. Act as if the dog just cured cancer.

Running The Barrel Pattern

Frankie Learning to Run the Barrels

For most of us, training the dog to run the barrel pattern will mean some foot work, and you can see from this photo, it may not always look pretty. Frankie, in this photo, is focused on my hand, treat, then what we are doing. There is a thin line between your dogs focus on the job and being focused on the reward for the job.

The important thing to remember is to teach the pattern correctly run. You do not want the dog to just run wild any which way around the barrels. Train your dog in the way that is best for the two of you. It might be showing the dog a time or two then sending it. It might take a mile around the barrels on a leash with you at the other end. Take the time it takes to get the behavior or pattern correctly run each and every time.

Setting Up Your Barrels

Beginner Barrel Set Up

When you set up your barrels/over turned trash cans/upside down bucket/or what ever you are using for training set them close together at first. I set mine approx 20' apart, set in a triangle. As your train your dog, and it starts running the barrels without you running with it, start moving the barrels a bit further away from one another. Little by little move your barrels to the distances that you will be competing at.

Consistency In Training


Not only must you be consistent in your daily dog training, but you must be consistent in how you train your dog. One of my pet peeves is the person that owns the poor dog that gets the same command for three different behaviors, like "down". "Down" should mean one thing, to "lay down". It does not mean get off the counter, get off the couch, get off of me AND to lay down. It means, "Lay Down". When you want your dog to get "Off" of something, use the word "off". I have seen poor dogs disciplined, again, because when told "down" while on the couch, they laid down. The owner, unaware of their mistake, corrects the dog for not getting off the couch when told "down". Not 5 minutes later, the same word "down" was used, for the same dog to lay down.

One word cues for one, or each, behavior. "Here" means to come to you. "Come" means to come to you and sit in front of you. "Sit" means to "sit". PERIOD. "Sit" does not mean to sometimes sit, sometimes to get off of something, and another time to come to you and sit before you as in an obedience recall. "Sit" means "sit your butt down". My point is, be consistent. Use one word for your command/cue per behavior. Train yourself first or too.

Once you have your basic command/cues, choose the commands you will use for Barrel Racing. It does not matter what the word is as long as you are consistently using it for the same behavior you want from your dog.

Honoring Other Dogs

Joy Paws Up

"Honoring other dogs" is a term you mostly hear in Hunting Dog circles and around people that Field Trial their dogs. But it is a term that should be used in every dog training circle. Honoring other dogs is when your dogs sits, downs or stands, at your side or in a crate or vehicle, and the dog is quiet and still while other dogs work. For some dogs this is quite hard. The excitement of it all, it wants it's turn, who knows, the dog might even think "I can do better then that,just watch me!"

At competition, Honoring Other Dogs is a must. A dog owner with such a dog can be asked to leave the premises if it is acting unruly, like a spoiled brat. (the same might be true if a competitor or spectator shows up to an animal event with a spoiled and or unruly child) It is not fair to the other dogs, especially the competing dog to have another barking and acting up during it's "run" (turn).

We teach our own dogs to honor the other dogs right from the start. They must sit for a "cookie" and wait to hear "just (then their name)". We reinforce this behavior when training tricks. Trick training is a great time to train this because you will watch/work one dog at time, but can have your focus on more then one dog as you train. First each dog is taught to honor one at a time, then worked together so that they learn to Honor the all other dogs.

Formal Training

There are now classes being offered for dogs to learn to run barrels. Classes are not just for learning to run the barrels. Classes keep the owners consistent with training, the dogs get to learn around other dogs, and you do not have to have a big yard or area to train in, just go to class.

Most classes such as this one ask that your dog is first obedience trained and has proof of it's shots. Some ask for a full health certificate.

Owners should wear comfortable clothing, and shoes they can run in. Don't wear your barn clothes, you might want to go out to eat after the class with a group, or someone might be taking photos for the Internet.

If you do join a class be prepared to get to class each time they have it. Be on time. Have your dog groomed, not by a groomer necessarily, but cleaned up and nails cut. BE ON TIME FOR CLASS! It not only interrupts the entire process, it can upset the dogs for another to come in in the middle of things. In fact, get there early. Walk your dog around. Make sure it goes potty, meets some of the other dogs ON LEASH, and relaxes a bit before class.

Classes are very good for a dog that will later compete. It gives them the edge of working around other dogs, people they did not know, hear new noises. Dog owners will learn the rules of the game more clearly, learn how the judges will perceive them, how to handle doggie situations and much more then the person thought when they signed up for the class.

The best thing about classes is that the owners will meet other people with the same interests. You never know when you might meet your spouse.

Cross Training


When you compete with your dog, friendly or in organized competition, cross training is essential. The more time you spend with your dog the better. The more commands that your dog knows, all the better. As someone that has competed with dogs and other animals in many types of events, I find Cross Training so important that I set up a page for just that, please see the menu at right.

Running & Playing

This is sometimes overlooked. For animals in speed events it is important for them to have a place to just run and play, usually with others of the same species. With people living in small areas and some with no yards at all, leash laws, this can be a problem for some. Do you have a Dog Park near you? Try going really early in the morning, as the sun comes up timing. Do you have a friend with a fenced in yard?


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