SO MANY WORDS!
There is one issue that crops up for new handlers who start training for agility more than any other. “How do I tell my dog to do that?” or “I forgot what to say there…” are pretty common phrases when working with newer handlers. If you find yourself befuddled, in a quandary, or otherwise dazed and confused this journal note (and the supplements to follow) should be of great comfort and assistance to you.
First – Know that you are not alone! Unless you are paying attention at the gas pump for the “word of the day”, the typical adult just doesn’t add to their vocabulary like we did when we were younger. Fun fact (based on real science): From ages 6 – 8, the average child is picking up about 6 – 7 words per day. There are really only 6 or 7 words you NEED to get around an agility course … so I’ll let you do the math between learning your Agility vocabulary and what a first grader does on a daily basis. (I’m grinning right now and you should be too.) The word “equals” comes to mind. (Again – SMILING!) The bottom line, while it may be a little uncomfortable at first – you’ll get this.
Second – Your dog would prefer if you “shut up”. Kind of harsh, I know, but it’s a memorable way for you to keep the lines of communication working most effectively. Dogs are OK with verbal cues, they learn them and will work for them. Traditional behavior trainers typically put words to everything and that’s probably best for non-agility situations (think “Sit”, “Down”, “Roll Over” and “Speak”). In the split second world of navigating an Agility Course at 6 yards per second, sometimes the words get in the way. The good news is that there’s a great safety valve in place if you find yourself at a loss for the correct word … and that is YOUR DOG WOULD PREFER THAT YOU SHOW THEM WHAT TO DO RATHER THAN TELLING THEM. So if you can’t think of what to say, fall back on SHOWING them where to go or what to do next!
The fact is, great agility handlers ALL show their dog what to do and just use the verbal cues for “special occasions”. One of our newer students here was watching some of the more experienced teams and observed that we use verbal cues to handle by exception. We use a verbal when the course says the dog is supposed to do something that isn’t obvious or when we handlers don’t think our ability to show will be sufficient to convey the message.
Finally – There’s no law saying this is all you can use or that you even MUST use these exact words. It’s not “My way or the highway” around here … if one or more of these terms are already in use for something else between you and your dog, alternatives are perfectly acceptable. Just be consistent so your dog knows what you want when you use a specific term. More terms can be taught and used, I’m just a simple man who has figured out what I believe is the simplest way to get around a bunch of sticks pretty efficiently.
So with all that “warm & fuzzy” in place – here’s the most essential Agility Glossary:
- Wait or Stay … don’t move. Most use this at the start of the course to get a “lead out”, but it can also be used on contact equipment or any place else you get totally lost. If this were Driver’s Ed, you would have just learned how to apply the brakes.
- Go On or just Go … proceed to the piece of equipment directly in front of you. There’s a lot to this which goes beyond basic handling and deeply in to working with your dog at great distance. For now, just consider it your dog’s “Gas Pedal”.
DISCRIMINATIONS (These are like “lane changes” in Driver’s Ed)
- Here … close to me. When presented with a choice between doing one of two things, you are telling your dog to do the thing that is closer to you. This is also used on Barrels or any other solid object in “real life” to tell your dog to come to your side of the thing you are approaching.
- Out … away from me. Yep, it’s the opposite of Here. When presented with a choice between doing one of two things, you are telling your dog to do the thing that is farther away from you. Also used on Barrels to get the dog to go to the far side of the object, rarely used while the dog is on leash as getting the dog to “Out” around a tree or post while on a leash usually ends up poorly.
DIRECTIONALS (These cue a “turn”, just like a turn at an intersection.)
- Tight … Turn toward me. Note that we don’t use right & left. Absolute turn names can be taught and used if you like but a RELATIVE turning command is usually easier to work with in the split-second environment of an Agility run. You are telling your dog to NOT go straight forward, but instead to make a turn in your direction.
- Switch … Turn AWAY FROM me. Yep, it’s the opposite of Tight. This is the least natural thing for a dog to do, but once trained it’s one of the most funnest things TO do whether you are on a course or just playing around and want to show off while around non-agility dog people. The switch cue tells your dog to NOT go straight forward, but instead to make a turn away from you and go do something off in the opposite direction.
One of my first goals for training videos is to demonstrate and visually explain each of these terms. Keep an eye open for those videos here in the Training Journal. I hope this written reference is helpful to you. Most importantly, though, please remember: Your dog wants visual guidance every bit as much as verbal, maybe more.
Cue the band “Walk the Moon” … Shut up and dance with me!