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Do Agility Dogs Really Understand Verbal Cues & A New Home for Handling360!

Posted on 02/11/16 41 Comments

Today was meant to be the day we released video four in our latest Handling360 video series…but alas…things didn’t go as planned. We set our sights (and sites) on tomorrow. I would personally like to thank you for your patience and promise video four will be worth the wait!

I did say that for the first time in 13 months, registrations for Handling360 would be opening today…so here is a sneak peek. A few months ago we set off to “renovate” our Handling360 website. We polled our students and got some amazing feedback. Renovations were in full swing and then I decided… why renovate… lets just re-create. So we do have a brand new website… I can’t wait for our entire community to see it. The requests came in from our students and the Say Yes team did everything in their power to make each one of them come true.

Here is a screen capture of our “Course Library.”


The site is fully mobile responsive so working on your iPad or iPhone now is a breeze. While in the library if you hover over a course icon a description will appear for you


…click on the course you want, and all of the lessons from that course appears. See how once you’ve marked a lesson complete, it turns blue ready for you to “review” and any lessons you haven’t taken yet are still in red, making it easier for you to see where you left off.
prep school

You can clearly see the last lessons you worked on and the progress bar along the top indicates how far along you are in that particular course. And you’ll notice below the progress bar you can just go to your next lesson or last lesson from within the lesson you are working in! How COOL is that!

verbal fun

Okay, I didn’t write the blog post in order to be a “tour guide” but I had to do a little reveal…couldn’t resist.

In video four of our current free series, I demonstrate two more predictive verbal cues that we teach in Handling360.  So here’s a little sneak peek of those two cues and a few more. I’ve said it many times that I believe dog agility is more fun when the dog knows where to go before the handler tells him…and the best way to accomplish that is with predictive cues.

Sometimes I get push back about the verbal cues we use. There is the belief that agility dogs function best when you only use your body, motion or position to cue what you want.  Some even believe that an agility dog running flat out towards something is not going to “listen” to verbal cues, that ”drive” will kick in and the dog will do what he wants. Sounds reasonable…even when I type it.

Here is what I know: I know for sure that an agility dog will NOT listen to any verbal cue he has not been trained to WANT to listen to. I guess that’s why they call it “dog training.”  Think about this, would a puppy with no training at all, come back the first time you called if it was in the midst of chasing a bunny?

Aaah no!

But does that mean a puppy can’t be inspired aka “trained” to want to come back when called when chasing a bunny?

Aaah yeah!

Of course this is the same for our agility dogs. Just like training a recall, the training of predictive verbal cues is very strategic. And the cool thing is it actually trains your dog to listen to your body cues better as well. It is like one sets of cues “backs up” the other!

So since I did promise you “something” today I thought it would be fun to play this game…

Here are seven pictures. See if you can “match” the cued response I am asking Swagger to perform based on what I am doing in the picture. I did give you two that were pretty easy. For predictive verbals cues to be most effective in agility, the dog must know what to do without the aid of your body tipping him off. Which picture do you think represents each of these cues.


Picture 1 is:

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Picture 2 is:

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Picture 3 is:

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Picture 4 is:

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Picture 5 is:

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Picture 6 is:

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Picture 7 is:

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I actually didn’t shoot this video meaning to be THIS critical of the nuances of my movement. Maybe next time I should do this from a chair to really proof Swagger’s understanding!

The key for handling is, I rarely if ever handle my dogs without the assistance of my physical cues, although I do have students who do. I am blessed with the fact that I still can “run” as a handler …although some would disagree that what I am doing is actually the same gait that some like Lisa Frick is using to handle her agility dogs :).

When you combine the strength of my dogs’ understanding of my physical handling cues with that of my verbal cues, you can see how much easier the process gets for dogs to be able to know where to go before I actually tell them!

Here is a video that I lifted those screen images from so you can see those cues in action.

If you want to confirm the pictures are what I say you can just check the time codes on the bottom of each picture. 🙂


1.  A cue that means take the jump with a collected your stride and turn tightly back towards me = Picture 6

2. A a cue that means take the jump and with less collection, turn towards the handler, and take the next jump you see in your path = Picture 3.

3. A cue that means take the jump with a collected stride and turn tightly AWAY from me = Picture 7

4. A cue that means take the jump with an extended stride and power off towards what you see next = Picture 1

5. A cue that means take the jump but then come off of the line of what you see next = Picture 4.

6. A cue that means come off of the most obvious side of the jump you see and drive away from me to the back side and take the jump =Picture 2.

7. A cue that means threadle off of the most obvious side of the jump you see and drive towards me, in preparation for taking the jump from the back side = Picture 5.

So, how did you do matching the pictures? Was there any physical signs by me that helped you? Clear to see that Swagger sure knows what my verbal cues will be predicting for him isn’t it!

Video four in our series WILL be out tomorrow. In closing let me just say that I love to produce these video series and share my knowledge with the entire dog loving world. However, this series really is a part of our Handling360 program. As a reminder, public access to our current video series will come to an end soon. If you feel your agility handling can benefit from this four part series, click this link now to watch the first three episodes while access is still open to all.

Today I am grateful for my amazing team that I get to work with every day. I love that they are as dedicated as I am to the vision of helping dog owners world wide be better understood by their owners. Love that I get to work with these 9 amazing people every day!


  1. CritterCat says:
    Monday, February 27, 2017 at 6:04pm

    Good article.

    My comment about verbals in agility is this. Early on, I found myself unreliable about what comes out of my mouth when adrenaline flows. Teeter becomes tunnel becomes table; Climb it becomes Jump. Etc. Despite strong verbal training, my dogs took the correct obstacle. Also, my dogs reliably took the correct obstacle with no verbal at all. So, my observation is that dogs have a hierarchy of communication. You can certainly train a verbal. However, if your verbal is in conflict with your body language, the non-verbal cue(s) dominates. This is why I focus on body cues in my handling.


  2. kim says:
    Saturday, July 2, 2016 at 10:36pm

    just moved into a house with two dogs and i have two cats .how do i train the dog to not eat my cats ,she is a big aggressive dog .we have to seperate the animals in the house .Any help would be greatly appericated.


  3. Celine says:
    Friday, February 19, 2016 at 11:55am

    I really enjoy your 4 videos and the live video. I learn already so much.
    I was not sure to take the handling 360 because right now i’m doing recallers. Thanks Susan to have answer my biggest question : is it time to do handling 360 now ?
    And after your answer i decide to wait for handling 360, my dog is not really advance in recallers. she have to progress more on her self control and with distraction. She doesn’t love yet to tug so we’re working on this.
    but next time if she’s better advance in recallers i will join handling 360 for sure !!
    I already see difference in my dog with recallers program and i really want to see her more enthusiastic for agility !!!


  4. Maxine Wilde says:
    Thursday, February 18, 2016 at 11:49pm

    I was excited about signing up until I found out the price is quoted in USD. I am from Canada why is the price not in Canadian dollars? We Canadians have been really hit hard by the cost of the American dollar.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at 3:14am

      Maxine we too are Canadian and used to have a Canadian merchant account however as our global popularity grew it became increasingly more difficult for our international clients to deal with a Canadian merchant. We even changed Merchant providers and that did not help. Since the US currency is the most internationally accepted currency we changed to US funds and the issues stopped. I can appreciate the challenge with our dollar being weaken right now, however it wasn’t that long ago when the Canadian dollar was stronger than the US dollar! We try to help by absorbing all of the Canadian taxes for those purchasing from Canada.


  5. Mary Pat says:
    Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 2:28pm

    I’ve loved the free videos, and Shaping for Success, and I think I can now afford Handling 360. Yay! I have a question though:

    I have some equipment, one jump and a six pole weave set and a PNU. I am in the process of building three more jumps and a teeter board (not a full teeter). I also have a cheap rather flimsy tunnel that I’m not sure I want to use. I don’t mind building equipment, but it will take a while to afford supplies and build them, especially the larger pieces. How much is this going to hamper me if I sign up? It will make it a tight budget, so can’t buy a lot of things right off the bat.


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 2:34pm

      Mary it sounds like you are set for the first few classrooms in Handling360. Look for “used tunnels” or “tunnel sales” If you can one or eventually two tunnels…you will have what you need. Until that time see if you can’t rent time at places where there is more equipment than you have. Welcome to Handling360, I know you are going to love it!


      • Mary Pat says:
        Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 2:37pm

        Thank you Susan! I’ll start searching for used equipment. 🙂 I’m excited… I’ve wanted to joinyour classes for over a year or so. 😀 I love your methods and attitude.

  6. Debbie.F says:
    Saturday, February 13, 2016 at 4:34pm

    The course looks fantastic and I would love to be able to sign up ,sadly with a husband in recovery from throat cancer, problems of my own and living on disability benefits ( which we could be losing soon anyway due to all the new benefit changes)there is no way I can afford to pay that kind of money. I enjoyed and have seen the benefit with my 2 agility dogs from viewing the 4 free videos and I thank you so much for that….maybe one day I’ll be in a better financial position. Thank you


  7. Samantha says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 9:57pm

    I quit half way through (although I was correct to that point) and the reason why – most of the pictures mean nothing to me without movement. Some of them could be depicting the start of a rear cross, for instance, but you can’t tell that by a still picture. That would make a big difference in the correct answer. Aren’t dogs really look at movement and changes in movement anyway and if body position and arm position don’t match up I think acceleration and deceleration still win out in the end?


    • Susan says:
      Sunday, February 14, 2016 at 4:25pm

      That is the point of the pictures Samantha. I actually got more than half of my answers wrong when I tried to “guess” as well. Dogs do respond to our different physical cues, but in the case of our Handling360 dogs the pictures combined with the video in this blog clearly show that they also be trained to respond entirely to our verbal cues.


  8. Heather says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 3:59pm

    Hiya, I’ve been watching your 4 free videos on handling 360 and I’m really interested in joining. It seems a very complete comprehensive course. I have 2 questions though

    I currently do ‘agility for fun’ classes, will having my dogs going to agility already ‘spoil’ the training

    The fact is I’m not interested in competing seriously, been there done that in other areas of life. I started agility because I have 2 nervous reactive chihuahuas and I was told it would help build confidence and my bond with them. I really do think it has – but considering that I’m not going to be competitive and I’m using it to build confidence …is this the course for me

    I should add I’m disabled, walk with a crutch – so I’m never going to be fast lol


    • Susan says:
      Sunday, February 14, 2016 at 4:32pm

      Great questions Heather and my answer is it sounds like this course is exactly for you for the following reasons;

      1. Your dogs need more confidence.
      2. You are looking to have the maximum amount of fun in agility
      3. You are disabled.

      1. Dogs need more confidence = you need a program designed to help bring out the confidence of your dogs. That is where our “success paths” and in particular the success path to inject more joy comes in.
      2. You are looking to have the maximum amount of fun = our entire program is a series of games that are layered one on top of the other to bring out the natural drive of the dog. Training made up entirely of games = Fun for dog and handler.
      3. You are disabled = Our system is heavily reliant on predictive verbal cues from the handler. This means it doesn’t matter how far behind you are on course, you can relay on your dog’s independent performance and reliance on your clearly trained verbal cues to overcome your challenges.

      And finally to let you know we have loads of people in our program that have no intention of every competing in agility… however they love the dog training that happens as they piece together the layers of our program.

      Hope that helps. Just contact us at [email protected] if you have more questions.


  9. Heather W says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 2:13pm

    I knew I couldn’t really see the difference and that I wouldn’t given that we were instructed to look at your physical cues. I guessed anyway and did terribly. I don’t know if I should admit publicly after my previous statement that I’ve already taken handling 360. I’m back again for another round. Too much information for me to get through in 1 year. As always an excellent value. Excited to see the new site.


    • Susan says:
      Friday, February 12, 2016 at 3:48pm

      The key is Heather it SHOULD have been a guess. And if it is any consolation to you, I did terribly as well!!!

      The point was Swagger didn’t need my physical cues to do what I wanted done because he understands my verbals so well :).


  10. Kathy says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 11:45am

    Very difficult to interpret the stills, tried to read what the dog was preparing to do. You could definitely see extension, collection. Subtle shoulder position helped with physical cueing. I have tried a few verbals in training and I do know the dogs listen to them. Some more than others. With a fast dog, I firmly believe they are a necessity; but, I don’t really understand how to train what I would like to teach them. I am 58 and I don’t run fast enough to stay ahead, so verbals are very important for me and Tucker. He is so frustrated with me…………. I am looking forward to Handling 360.


    • Suzie Melton says:
      Friday, February 12, 2016 at 3:03pm

      Agree! I am 66 and getting slower with every trial! I’m also a retired speech pathologist and believe that the verbals can be taught and should be an integral part of agility training.


      • Susan says:
        Friday, February 12, 2016 at 3:48pm

        How cool would THAT be to have a speech pathologist join us for Handling360 🙂

  11. Anne Miller says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 10:55am

    Love the look of the new site!! It looks so user friendly – Great job! Can’t wait.


  12. Carol R says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 9:36am

    The new site looks awesome and the ability for it to track our progress through the lessons will be an amazing plus. As someone else mentioned, I can also ditch all the spreadsheets I made ( that didn’t work) to track our progress.

    For new folks coming into the fold, welcome. Your dogs will thank you.


  13. Jane Gray says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 9:06am

    Great demo of the handling cues. It sure looks like a bit of magic, but I know it is just great dog training & since you are also a great human trainer, I’m confident we’ll get there too. That threadle is just too much.

    I think you should give folks a sneak peak at one of the CW lessons. How you break it down and explain things for different levels is jso helpful for me.

    Can’t wait to get into the new site & look around. It looks very nice. Maybe I won’t need all those spreadsheets I made up after all. 😉


  14. Riitta says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 8:23am

    Great demonstration of how important and valuable our verbal cues are. Only got the threadle cue right. lol


  15. Lamolina says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 7:44am

    SUSAN!! You totally got me here!! I thought I was supposed to find the difference in your body cues in the pictures and was completely and totally lost, as I couldn’t see any 🙂

    Just a little side note – I am in the office on a computer without loudspeakers, so cannot hear tone. Very revealing to watch the video without being able to hear the verbals.


  16. Fuzzy says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 7:40am

    I have loved all your videos and love all the posts…. sadly 🙁 cant do H360 was out of my price bracket last time so that makes me sad…. but have learned a lot about predictive cues and am using them with my dog
    thankyou for helping those of us on tight budgets by offering these free videos
    Fuzzy in Oz


  17. Debbie says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 4:56am

    So am I correct in reading there are 7 verbals cues for jumping?


  18. Liana Doyle says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 4:01am

    I didn’t get anything but like the video. Really looking forward to joining Handling360.


  19. Cathy says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 2:59am

    I have never done agility before, but would LOVE to. I’m a bit scared when I hear technical terms like threadle. Will the technicalities be taught in Handling 360?


    • Susan says:
      Friday, February 12, 2016 at 3:48am

      Yes Cathy, we actually do. New for 2016 is the addition of what we call “Success Paths”. You would join our “Success Path for those Brand New to Agility.” Recognizing you are new to the sport. we make sure your agility journey is one of confidence, joy and success!


  20. Monika says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 2:59am

    how do you cue in the last clip? Isn’t jump supposed to mean to power throught the next obstacle also? You said jump, than lalalala to go to the back of the obstacle, shouldn’t be here a different cue when the dog goes over the first obstacle and then has to do something other than power through the next?

    Thanks 🙂


    • Susan says:
      Friday, February 12, 2016 at 3:49am

      Good catch Monika! There is a wee technically. It lies in the difference between “Jump” and “Jump-a.” The “jump-a” becomes “Jump-a-la-la-la” It takes the dogs a bit to pick it up…but as you can see once they do it is golden. Also if those jumps were closer together I wouldn’t cue “jump” over the first one…but rather cue my dog to jump and left turn (hup left).


      • Monika says:
        Friday, February 12, 2016 at 2:12pm

        Thanks 🙂
        Yeah, that makes sense.
        So sad I can’t join H360, will try to do my best with the info I got from the video series which is awesome 🙂

  21. Roxanne Davis says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 1:14am

    I don’t really see what you are communicating to the dog in the still shots. Looks like a bit of magic going on. 😉 But, I am hoping that h360 will enlighten me.


    • Susan says:
      Friday, February 12, 2016 at 1:23am

      Exactly Roxanne…the pictures show you NOTHING! And that is the point…my body was relatively still …and my dog was performing only on verbal cues. The video is far more telling the the stills.


  22. Alaska says:
    Friday, February 12, 2016 at 12:04am

    “A cue that means take the jump but then come off of the line of what you see next”

    This seems like an odd cue. It tells the dog where NOT to go, but it does not tell the dog where to go instead.

    Wouldn’t that waste a few milliseconds as the dog stutters or slows while waiting for new information about where to go next?

    I tried to look at the clip (#5) for more understanding, but I think that clip might be missing from the video. I only count 6 clips in the video, not 7.

    Interesting blog post. Thanks!


    • Susan says:
      Friday, February 12, 2016 at 12:42am

      Great question Alaska, but actually no, because the “come off of the line” part is for the SECOND obstacle! How many people use cues that tell dogs to do THIS jump and then as you head towards the NEXT jump prepare to do THIS. I follow it up with another verbal that will compliment this cue.


  23. Anne says:
    Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 11:15pm

    Looks good, can’t wait to see live.


  24. tanya says:
    Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 11:11pm

    I see one of the components of class is the triple double. I have a giant breed who has endurance /joy of at most 2-3 tunnels per day with heavy reward. Is there a tunnel substitution we can make for the drills? Thanks


    • Anne says:
      Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 11:19pm


      I only have one good tunnel, so have used cones and puppy pen panels for my dog to drive around and back. I set the cones as the inside of the tunnel and then use the panels to shape a slightly rounded path.


      • Susan says:
        Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 11:45pm

        Brilliant Anne! Plus Tanya you may find with some of the games in H360 your dog’s drive for tunnels will increase.

  25. Jeffreyscott says:
    Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 10:45pm

    Now how cute is that webpage! Love it. ????


  26. Janie says:
    Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 10:34pm

    The new site look awesome!! Can’t wait to see it!!


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