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  • Writer's pictureJenny Stamm

Crowd Control - Circle

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Service dogs must be trained in certain behaviors to help their specific disabled partner. If the behavior is triggered with a command (visual or verbal), it’s called a “task.” If the behavior is triggered via an environmental cue (a sound, a change in the partner’s body, etc.), it’s called “work.”

This is part of a series on various service dog tasks/work behaviors, their purpose, and how to train them. You can find a glossary of terms here and the whole list of behaviors covered (so far) here. There are so many behaviors and ways to train those behaviors, but I hope to cover the most important ones. If I’ve missed something, please let me know!

Crowd Control: Circle

Crowd Control is helpful for those with anxiety disorders, but it can also be helpful for those with chronic pain, where bumping people can be painful. Circle gains space all around their partner. One note: an over-the shoulder leash must be unclipped or slipped off before asking for a Circle. An around-the-waist setup or a traffic lead is more helpful if this is one of the tasks your service dog will perform.

In order to train a dog how to perform the task Circle, follow the below steps. Mark (clicker or “yes”) and reward for correct responses and only move onto the next step when the previous one is consistent and reliable.

1. Start the dog in their heel position and lure them around your front, marking and rewarding when they are on your other side, facing backwards. Continue the circle behind your back and mark and reward when they are back in heel position.

  1. Having your dog on leash for this behavior will help both with your leash control and so your dog doesn’t wander too far away.

2. Start the dog in their heel position and lure them in a full circle, around your front, then behind you, ending back in their heel position. Mark and reward for the full circle.

3. Add the cue (“Circle”) and then lure your dog in a full circle, marking and rewarding for the full circle.

4. Use your cue (“Circle”), then use your hand (a pointer finger or a flat hand, this will become your hand signal) to help your dog complete the circle WITHOUT a treat in your hand.

  1. If your dog is having trouble completing the circle without the lure, mark and reward for halfway through and then at the end. Do that until they can succeed, then go to the whole circle without the lure.

5. Use your cue, then your hand signal (the pointer finger or flat hand, moving from in front of them to just in front of you, NOT the whole circle), then mark and reward for a COMPLETE circle.

  1. You want them to be able to understand what to do on their own, first, so if they’re struggling with completing the circle (past your hand signal), wait 5 seconds after using your hand signal and then you can guide them around in the full circle. If you have to do this twice in a row, however, go completely back to the previous step.

6. Once they are completely circling you with just the cue and hand signal, you can work on separating the two. Say your cue, wait up to 5 seconds, then offer the hand signal.

  1. If they are struggling to complete the circle before the hand signal, pair them closer together again.

  2. Hand signals normally come easier for dogs, but if your dog is struggling with just the hand signal, then you can either use the hand signal and THEN the cue or, if that is still difficult for them, go back a step and work on that more before moving on.

7. At this point, practice putting obstacles (other people or objects) partly in the way of the circle. You don’t want them completely in the way, at first, just close enough that your dog may have to bump them or tighten the circle around you. This will help prepare your dog for crowded environments.

  1. Work at your dog’s comfort level. If they’re too nervous to circle you because something’s in the way, move that person/object further away so that they can succeed first.

8. As they’re succeeding with this in a quiet, comfortable environment, start generalizing the behavior to new places and, slowly, with more people around.

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