The Elements







The  Labyrinth:

Of all the elements in the “Playground for Higher Learning” the Labyrinth is probably the most iconic. Studies done by Anna Wise have suggested that going through the Labyrinth activates all four hemispheres of the brain for both the handler and the animal which helps explain some of the profound changes we have seen with this deceptively simple exercise.


What you need:

Poles of various material such as PVC pipe, half-rounds, guttering, ropes, painters tape if in a building.

The general size of the Labyrinth may be adjusted for smaller or larger animals and the pole lengths you have available—generally 8-10 feet for dogs.



  • Teaches obedience, focus and patience for dog & handler
  • Improves coordination, flexibility and balance
  • Provides a predictable exercise that can be used as a check-in as new layers are added (eg..bodywraps, or being handled by different people)
  • Helps introduce parameters
  • Promotes fun; which enhances learning.
  • Slows the process down requiring the nervous system to pay more attention.
  • Requires non-habitual movement
  • Helps animals become successful which improves confidence.
  • Handlers become clearer with their signals as they navigate, improving communication and cooperation.
  • Slow movement develops muscle at a deeper level than fast movement


The Labyrinth can be done  in various leading configurations.  Generally begin with one handler, with two points of contact for dogs.  Adjust leading positions as suitable to each individual animal.

Regardless of which leading position you choose you generally want to stop before each corner to regroup, refocus, and re-balance.  Requiring a slow, mindful, negotiation of the corners will mean that the animal will better use themselves and organize rather than just fall through the turn.

Give yourself plenty of room to ask for a stop before you actually get to the corner.  Remember that the signal has to go from your brain, to your body, to the animal’s body, then to their brain and back to their body before you actually see the response.  Pausing before asking again will usually result in a more responsive partner.  If you are in Homing Pigeon, the person on the outside asks for the forward signal, ideally towards the outside corner, while the inside handler waits for forward momentum before signally how much turn there should be.  Imagine turning a Tractor Trailer around the bend rather than a scooter.

If an animal is having difficulty falling in on one side, consider using  a variety Homing Pigeon to help maintain balance and create boundaries.  Does your dog have separation concerns?  Consider navigating the Labyrinth with the Bee-Line so they have the freedom to move towards and away from their “person” without feeling too controlled.

Be mindful of HOW your animal is using their body while they go through the Labyrinth. Do they bend the same left and right?  Does the speed and rhythm of their stride maintain through the transitions?  What does their posture do as they start and stop?  Notice how they track through the turns and whether they are able to shift their balance and reorganize.



With its humble beginnings as a first step to help horses become comfortable in the trailer loading process, the use of Surfaces in the “Playground for Higher Learning” and “Confidence Course” has grown exponentially. Now much more than a piece of plywood or tarpaulin, Surfaces of all kinds are used for horses and dogs alike.  The only limit is your imagination!




Some ideas:

  • Plywood
  • Wooden platforms
  • Tarp
  • Shade Cloth
  • Rugs
  • Canvas
  • Astro Turf
  • Rubber mats
  • Flat boards
  • Styrofoam
  • Cardboard
  • Mesh screens
  • Corrugated metal
  • Bubble wrap
  • Laminate flooring
  • Linoleum pieces
  • Foam of various density