Handling system preferences have definitely created some “cliques” in the agility community. It is our wish that everyone can benefit, learn, and enjoy the system that we’ve developed.
Our system is based on the best a variety systems consisting of turning and handling cues including motion, position, and commitment point the dog has to each given obstacle as well as the path we want the dog to travel to obtain the tightest, fastest and most efficient line. We find this system is easy to tailor training to the needs of the individual dog and their handler.
So what does this all mean?
Motion is a key to cueing your dog extension or collection. The acceleration or deceleration of the handler is the cue. IE the handler speeds up and the dog speeds up and goes into extension while the reverse is true with the handler slowing down or stopping, the dog will go into collection. This means that the handler who is looking to get the most speed out of their dog will attempt to keep their dogs in extension, using full strides, until the dog approaches a turn where the dog should receive a deceleration cue from their handler indicating collection for the turn. Therefore the dog needs the turning information AS they arrive at their commitment point.
So what is commitment point? To me, a dog is committed to an obstacle when it sees the obstacle I am indicating. Once committed, few dogs can successfully adjust their direction (the dog’s late reactions are often a common cause of dropped bars). So if the dog isn’t taking the jump on their path to the next obstacle, the handler is stuck adjusting the dog’s direction after the dog lands, as a result they are getting a wider turn or risking an off course or worse a “call off”. The most successful handlers consider the dog’s path through multiple obstacles. These handlers cue the dog to turn right before they commit to the obstacle; so the dog takes the obstacle ready for the turn toward the next obstacle. Similarly, if the dog is to continue forward and not turn, the dog should be taking the jump knowing that no turn is required thus in extension.
Position of the handler will affect the path the dog takes. This concept is so simple and yet so powerful. I feel many people overlook its importance. We use what we call the Rule of Wings to determine handler position. There is an article on this topic located under the “Instructor Corner” on the Dogwood website that explains this in more detail.
Good handlers are not just concerned with giving timely direction cues; they let the dog know how much effort is needed to accommodate each obstacle. If you want the dog to turn tight over a jump, then the dog needs to know that it should take the jump turning and with some amount of collection. The opposite is also true; a dog driving to the next obstacle can be cued to take the current jump in full extension to the next obstacle.
To me it is about being a proactive handler. It is as simple as always letting the dog know where they are going, asking for the appropriate amount of collection when needed and being consistent with your cues.