It is the handler's job to guide the dog through the agility course. I want to share some tips for viewing the course from the dog's perspective, to help handlers make more realistic choices for their handling strategies.

The more you know about how your dog navigates the course, the better you can predict what your dog needs from you, and the easier it is to build a handling strategy.


1. Know your dog's path

This seems simple enough, to know which obstacles the dog has to take and where he has to turn, but the more you know about your own dog's path, the easier it is for you to plan a strategy for him. I like to know the following things:

  • where will my dog take-off?
  • where will my dog land?
  • how much space will he take to change directions/turn?

Take a look at the example below. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th obstacle are the same, but the first obstacle is different in each scenario, changing the take-off, landing, and correction stride. This means, in each situation, your dog will likely need different information for the 2nd obstacle to know where the 3rd obstacle is.

varying approaches to obstacles change the dog's takeoff, landing, and correction stride.

varying approaches to obstacles change the dog's takeoff, landing, and correction stride.

2. What does your dog see first?

As my dog's guide, I want to control where he is looking with my handling. I want him to always know where he is going, so my handling goals are to keep his gaze on either the correct obstacle or me/my hand.

Let's look at the same example from above, with a small addition, and this time, notice what the dog will see *first* as he is landing the 2nd obstacle. How does change how you might handle the situations?

manage what obstacles your dog sees with your handling choices

When a dog can see the wrong obstacle before he can see the correct one, he needs information from our handling to know exactly where to go.

3. Understanding how dogs choose which way to turn

I try to simplify the topic of “lead changes” to my students when I teach. Simply put, dogs are naturally going to want to turn towards us rather than away from us. We teach them how to turn away from us, but, anytime we can be on the same side as the turn, it is less of a conflict for the dogs.

When possible, I choose handling strategies that keep me on the same side the dog is turning towards. In the image below, I've placed pink handlers on the inside of the turns, and pink dogs representing the relation between the handler images and dog images. There are many different handling strategies one could use to support the dog's path and direction of the turn. Which ones would you choose? How was they change with each different approach to the 2nd obstacle?

When possible, your handling position should support the direction the dog is turning in.



Want to learn more?

You're in luck! You can join me on August 1, 2019 for a webinar all about Agility Course Analysis, where I will share tips on course memorization, the course from the dog's perspective, how to choose your handling strategy, how to use your walk through wisely, and how to compare your run to your walk through predictions!

Register here: