Teaching Position using an X Pen

canine freestyle moves database


An X Pen is a wire paneled pen where the panels are clipped together allowing each panel to rotate around its hinge in a 360 circle. Some X Pens include gates like the one shown, some do not.

X Pens come in various heights and usually are sold with 8 panels. You need an X Pen tall enough to discourage the dog from jumping out.

When the X Pen is opened up it can be re-shaped into a variety of configurations.

One such configuration that is extremely useful in dog training is a v-shaped corridor, where the corridor is wide enough for the dog to enter and back out, but cannot turn around in without touching the sides. This sets the dog up to move straight, that is, enter the X Pen straight and back-out of the X Pen straight. The length of the corridor should be longer than the dog’s body length.

The X Pen can also be used for shaping circular movements, forwards and backwards, clockwise and anti-clockwise around the handler.

The various “heel” positions can be taught using an X pen. Through careful layout of the X Pen, positioning of the handler and width of the corridor, you can set up the dog to always come in straight to a body target and be marked for the same position every trial.

You can reward in position as well as toss a treat outside the X Pen so the dog leaves the X Pen and sets himself up for another trial. Initially, tossing the treat to the side where the opening is, makes it easy for the dog to re-enter the X pen once he has got his treat and turns around to return to position. By tossing the treats in various directions around the X Pen (i.e. in directions around the face of a clock) the dog learns to approach a position from various angles and straighten his body so he can enter the X Pen straight and hence position himself straight.

Judicious use of the X Pen is much more reliable and accurate than the “Squaring the Dog” method for teaching the dog positions, but it is not as efficient and reliable as rectangular platforms, which are by far, the most superior technique for teaching positions.


  •  For dogs that have never been crate trained, allow the dog plenty of time to become comfortable moving forwards and backwards, in and out of the X Pen as well as being confined in the X Pen. The X Pen needs to be a “safe place”.
  • For dogs wary of the X Pen set it up so that the sides are not close to the dog and move the dog in and out of the area enclosed by the X Pen, rewarding the dog while in its confines.

·        Make a game out of it by tossing treats in, allowing the dog to go in and find the treats. Make sure the dog does not slip inside the X Pen and slide into one of its sides resulting in frightening the dog through making noise or even knocking the X Pen over and having a part of it fall on him.

·        Place your X Pen configuration in a place with plenty of room around it so that the dog can comfortably approach, enter and exit the X Pen.

·        When starting to teach a position in an X Pen configuration, toss the treat to the side where the opening is. This makes it easier for the dog to simply turn around and re-enter the X Pen without having to think about it.

·        When the dog is comfortable entering and leaving the X Pen, start tossing treats in all directions around the X Pen, gradually having them fall further and further away from the opening. This is to teach the dog to move into position from any direction. The dog approaches the X pen from all directions, but once near you, the X Pen guides the dog into position so the dog learns to put himself into that position the same way every time.

·        For a given position you may need to start with a very simple X Pen configuration and as the dog becomes comfortable moving in and out of it, change the configuration to hone the precision of the position.

·        With some positions the dog may initially move out of position after the click to make eye contact from a position he is used to. Reinforce in correct position. Eventually he will learn to remain in position because that is where the reward will be delivered.

·        With the dog in position you can click, then treat, just for him maintaining position.

·        Don’t introduce the position cue until the dog can attain correct position 80% of the time. Say your cue when the dog has got his treat and starts to turn around to return to position.

·        Note: If the dog does not make correct position after giving the cue, DO NOT then lure the dog into position. Simply toss a treat outside the pen to reset the dog and do some more silent training.

·        When you have the cue working well in one direction, turn the X Pen 90 degrees and train that position again, lowering your criteria for the change in context. Repeat, turning the X Pen 90 degrees twice more.

·        Videoing the different aspects of the X Pen layout and then observing yourself and the dog you can easily see weaknesses in the training, how the dog is coping and how effective the X Pen layout is for the position you are training.

Using an X Pen to teach position is similar in concept to using square platforms for teaching position. It is not as efficient as the platforms are, because, for example you can set up 3 platforms for teaching front position and move from one platform to another. With the X Pen there is no such versatility.

For each “heel” positions the X Pen is shaped to enable the dog to approach the handler straight and stand straight “next” to the handler as dictated by the layout of the X Pen. (Here “next” implies, side, front or rear of handler.) You are only limited by your imagination and the number of X Pens you have.

To illustrate the use of the X Pen in teaching the dog a position, Face-to Back, will be used here. Position is taught before you start moving with the dog in the given position.




How to train


For this, the X Pen is configured into a U-shape (V-shape can also be used) with the sides placed to form a corridor or chute via which the dog approaches and stands centred behind the handler.


1.   Set up the X Pen in a U-shape so that you can stand at the closed end and have the sides form a corridor that is longer than the dog’s body length and narrow enough for the dog to stand centred behind you. Stand facing forwards.

2. With your hand behind your back either lure with a treat or encourage a nose touch to the hand. The dog will come into the chute, approaching centred behind you. As soon as you feel contact with your hand, click and treat.

3.  Toss a treat outside the confines of the X Pen. Initially make it simple by tossing the treat straight out behind you, so that the dog can come straight back into the chute without having to think about how to get in.