This question is from one of my patrons:

Hi Megan! You mention using proactive cues to tell our dogs where the course is going. Many I know are physical. Can you share what verbal cues you might use along with our well versed wrap cues? For example, a 180 turn. And do you use any verbals for rears or reverse spins? Thanks.

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ll be approaching my answer from the lens of using physical/motion-based handling systems. Communication systems where physical cues weigh more than verbal cues to the dog. If your communication system puts more weight on verbal cues, then everything needs to be on an independent verbal cue, in my opinion.

My ideal handling system is one in which the handler has a clear understanding of how their physical cues impact the dog’s behavior on the agility course. A handler that takes the time to learn how dogs best communicate will have an unlimited number of ways to cue things for their dog.

Once the basics are taught with what the dog naturally understands in mind, you can start thinking about your overall big picture with that particular dog. Ask yourself:

  • What kinds of courses will I be running (what organization)?

  • What are my goals within those organizations?

  • Which elements of those courses do I feel like I won’t be able to effectively communicate with physical cues alone?

I believe that verbal cues should be sprinkled on top of a solid base of physical cues. This solid base paired with independent obstacle performance will get the majority of teams very far in their agility careers.

It doesn’t make sense for a handler that will never (rarely) see backsides or threadles on course to spend precious training time on teaching these independent verbal cues. There ARE physical cues that make sense to the dog with very little training.

It doesn’t make sense for a handler that is almost always ahead of their dog to have independent verbal cues for slight left/right and tight left/right turns. Physical cues are more than enough.

When it *does* make sense to add a verbal cue is when it will be MORE FAIR to the dog to have a consistent verbal cue that is trained to override the physical cues. For example, if a handler is not able to provide the lead change info to the dog in time the majority of the time (based on courses they’re expecting to see), then an independent jump threadle may make sense.

It *does* make sense to teach independent obstacle skills, which does include some verbal cuing. Obstacle discrimination, for example, is not always easy to handle with physical cues.

It *does* make sense to teach verbal cues when you need to add support to a skill that is naturally a weakness for your dog. For example, my dog, Shock, struggles to look away from obstacles in order to come into my line.  I taught her a “look at my hand” cue to help draw her focus away from obstacles when necessary.

In short: Train the verbal cues that will make running the agility course more fair for you and your dog (you’re a team). I would rather take the time to train a verbal cue to fluency than fight my physical limitations for the length of the dog’s career.

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About Synergy Dog Sports

Committed to providing a supportive learning environment for learners at both ends of the leash, Megan works with each team as individuals, bringing them to the next level no matter which path you choose to take with her: in-person classes, seminars, online classes, or 1-on-1 coaching.