Handling Notes for Agility Beginners

There is a well known saying: “less is more”.

This is definitely true for agility (or any dog sport) when it comes to talking. Constant chatter reduces the effectiveness of your words. The more you speak the less your dog listens, so it is important to refrain from being verbose.

Speak only to your dog when you need to give him:

  • information such as: jump, here, out, etc.;
  • encouragement;
  • or to prevent a mistake.

The rest of the time, let your body do the talking.

What do I mean by body do the talking?
The direction of your feet, where you hold your hand, leaning forward or back, is your back straight or twisted, are you standing square, or one foot in front of the other? Your dog receives so many cues from your body language. These cues will either make you a fantastic team, or confuse the hell out of your dog. In order to become a fantastic team you need to not only understand, but to also pay attention to the cues you are giving your dog.

Let’s look at these one by one.

  • Direction of your feet

The direction your feet are pointing tells the dog the direction you are heading and as your team mate, where they are heading. If your feet point in the direction you want the dog to head fantastic, if not, one confused dog heading off course.

  • Where you hold your hand

Which hand are you directing the dog with? The one closest to them or on the one other side to them? When your dog learns to follow your hand they will always be on the side your outstretched arm is allowing you to direct them easily around the course. If you use the opposite hand are you:

      • Trying to get the dog to cut across in front of you?
      • Head out in a diagonal away from you, or are you wanting the dog to stay where he is?
      • And how long can you remain twisted before you hurt yourself or your dog?
  • Back Straight or twisted

If your back is straight you will be looking forward, however, if you are twisted around you will be doing a leadout with your dog, or informing them of a quick, upcoming turn. A straight back tells your dog it will not be turning straight away, and to follow forward in the same direction you are facing. With a lead-out it is obvious to your dog that you wish them to go over/through the obstacles between the two of you and then follow in the direction your feet are pointing. A slight turn of your torso tells your dog to head forward and then turn in the direction of your body’s direction.

  • Standing square or feet offset

If your feet are together you want slower, controlled take off speed, offset feet tell your dog you are getting ready to take off at a run.

These body signals and more tell your dog what you expect from them; where to turn; how fast to move; when to stay close and focus and when to run ahead to improve their time; which obstacle to choose when you have two close together; etc.

As the human member of your team it is important that you learn to use your body to give your dog as much information as possible and leave your verbal cues for when it is important. This is something you can all learn, and we will help you as much as we can. Over the next few weeks you will hear us repeating the same words to
inform you of when you are not using your body correctly to help your dog.

And don’t worry, we will also let you know what you are doing right, only fair to give you positives as well as where you can improve after all!