Connection doesn’t necessarily mean staring at your dog. In fact you don’t even have to see your dog the whole time. From her point of view, you are connected when you are aware of her location, and she knows which side of you to stay on.
Your dog needs to see the side of your face, showing her which direction to go in. If you show the back of your head you disconnect the two of you, so your dog doesn’t have a clue where to go. She will end up running after you, trying to see your face to reconnect, rather than focusing on her main job – performing the obstacles.
Your dog gets more communication from the direction of your head than from your arms!
If you try to keep fixed eye contact with your dog, eventually you have to turn your head to see where you are going, and if this puts your dog behind your back, it will break the connection and trigger her to run after you and turn towards you to see where you’re looking. Your dog needs the connection to know which way to go next.
As dogs try to run where you are watching, often it is best to focus on your dog’s running line, beside yours. This way you can see the next obstacle and also maintain connection with your dog.
You’ll know what’s about to happen next by looking at your dog’s eyes
Dogs always go in the direction that they are looking, so watching your dog’s eyes and seeing where she is looking, usually tells you where she will go next. This may give you time to react and correct your handling if she is about to do something you don’t want.
By looking at the right obstacle, your dog tells you that she is committed to the obstacle. When you see this, you can move forward on the course and give your dog information on which way to go after the next obstacle. If you don’t have a connection with your dog, it’s obviously more difficult to have her commit to the next obstacle which will result in more refusals, among other things.
Make direct eye contact when you want your dog to focus just on you, or to come towards your hand, like for a Lap Turn.
Another high-risk area for connection loss is in specific handling techniques when your dog needs to pass behind your back such as during Blind Crosses. At the moment where your dog passes behind your back, she can’t see your side profile – just the back of your head – so it is critical to reconnect with her at the point she lands from the jump.
The Front Cross also often causes connection problems. After finishing a Front Cross, you may focus too much on checking where to go next and turn your head away from your dog. He loses the connection, and may refuse or make a side change, due to a lack of information about which side to go on. On the other hand you might sometimes focus too much on looking at your dog when he is behind you. If you can’t properly see where you are headed, you may have problems moving effectively in the right direction.
Often the best way to maintain connection and also move forwards, is to look at the intended line of the dog about three feet alongside and ahead of you. You use your peripheral vision to stay on the right line and stay connected with your dog.
Keeping the connection can be as simple as turning your head in the direction you want the dog to go next.