Does your dog have a CUE… or NO Clue?
As you may know, I have recently returned from the FCI Agility World Championships in Sweden. When travelling home, I decided I wanted to document my experience as a way of running a ‘clarity check’ for Momentum and me as an agility team. No matter what you have accomplished; it is always a good thing to evaluate your dog’s current understanding. This blog covers how I break my clarity check down to give you ideas on how you can do this exercise for yourself.
Earlier in the week, I did a live chat on my Facebook page with my debrief on the Worlds. There are always going to be lessons from big events, and that’s a good thing. No matter what I am doing, I go in with the intention of being the best that I can be at that moment, and any lessons help me be better. It’s a mindset and attitude that I have always had …. we never lose, we either win the class or win the lesson.
I think it goes back to what your identity is. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stepped to the line at a world championship, and every time I’ve learned a ton. Part of my identity is that I am a lifelong learner. If my identity was being the fastest runner in agility, I’d be disappointed constantly as there are some amazing fast runners in the sport! But, being a lifelong learner means I can learn how to move as fast as I can. And even though I’ve won a lot of gold medals, my identity is not that of the gold medal winner, it’s always about being my best for my dog and how I can get better. The mindset I have about learning not only helps me be at my best for my dogs; it helps me be at my best for you as an educator.
Today I’m sharing about how I broke down the “clarity check” for Momentum and me. Even though the focus is agility, it has application for many dog sports and also for around our homes. We always need to make sure our dogs are clear on what we are asking them to do, and that they have the confidence from the layers we have put in to grow their understanding.
For some context, below is an image of what a dog might see on an agility course when he is running at speed … look at how many options there are, and this is only a few, it could be more complex if you put in a full course of obstacles. It’s our job as the handler to make sure our dog has total clarity about where he is to go, and how to prepare his body. If our dog does not have clarity, there will be wide turns, knocked bars, frustration, anxiety, and even injury if he is reacting to our late handling information … and that is no fun for our dogs or for us!
When you look at the diagram above, are you clear in how you would cue your dog on any of those paths? It likely will be one of, or a combination of a verbal cue (and this might be a single word or a continuous cue), a physical cue, or a motion (acceleration or deceleration) cue. Is every cue distinct, so your dog knows what you are cueing? For example, if my verbal cue for the dogwalk is exactly the same as my cue for the A-Frame… that may someday lead to confusion if my dog had a choice between the two of them and my physical cues were not clear (or I was far behind). Next, decide if your dog has independent understanding. How far away can you be and your dog understands? Does he understand if you are moving in the opposite direction of the path you want him to take? Does he understand if you are out of position, or running from behind?
Does your dog have crystal clear understanding no matter what? For instance, I had to rely on my dog having crystal clear understanding at the World Championships in Sweden where I had to get her to go to the back side of a jump after a straight tunnel when running from behind.
With new challenges, new agility course trends, and our dog’s getting faster and faster… I want to share with you the latest training information so that you and your dog can have crystal clear understanding on course. Clarity creates effortless teamwork.
Taking stock of what you have is the first step forward in bringing your agility dog the clarity he needs to perform at his best for you. I broke my ‘clarity check’ down into a booklet that we shared with everyone as part of our free online agility workshop.
We run free online agility workshops every year, and have a free Facebook group for agility enthusiasts.
Everyone is welcome to join no matter if you are new to agility or experienced … and if you are experienced, it does not matter what handling system you use.
In our recent free online Verbals in Agility Summit, we looked at the evolution of verbal cues (I even shared some historical footage of me running agility), how you can really break down your own clarity check, and three strategies to both dramatically and immediately improve your handling.
I also demoed how to teach a verbal cue in agility. To make it super interesting and more like real life for some of you newer to agility, or those of you who are experienced and teaching new folks, I decided to not use one of my already trained agility dogs for this particular demo. Enter “Tater-Salad” a 17 month old rescue Bulldog cross. He had been with us only eight days having arrived needing some manners and re-training after he misbehaved his way out of his last forever home. He is a blank slate of behaviour who likes to bite, run away and resource guard his toys. Tater rocked being a demo dog and you might see more of him in the future!
Today I am grateful for all the fantastic volunteers at the FCI Agility World Championships. Just everything you can think of was done… they were amazing and it was a fabulous event.