What is a Handling System?

What is a handling system? A handling system is the means of communication that you use to guide your dog around an agility course. It is a language that you both must understand. It is common practice for both the dog and handler to learn this language simultaneously. This, in many teams, this causes a decrease in progress and an increase in frustration during the learning process. The purpose of this class is to separate the two learners (human and dog), and focus on teaching the two-legged teammate the language, so that communication from handler to dog is more clear. 

Why do we need a handling system? We need a consistent way to communicate with our dogs on course. We need to be able to make reliable predictions about their behavior, and the dogs need to be able to rely on us for timely information that they know how to respond to! 

Regardless of the handling system you subscribe to, you do indeed use your whole body to guide a dog through an agility course.

Your dog is keenly aware of every movement your dog makes. It is the goal of this class to teach you to be aware of your movements as well, and what they might mean to your dog!

We are going to begin by unpacking our physical cues, and how dogs naturally respond to those cues. There are some movements that our dogs respond to that are not natural to us, and those are the ones we need to practice the most, and we will in this class! Over the next few lectures, I will explain each physical cue, and ask you to do a little bit of written work, so we know how to individualize your training plans! 

It is important to remember that your whole body is working together to create a balance in the combination of your physical cues, so, while I am going to be singling out the cues to draw a clearer picture for you, your physical cues are always creating a unique cue when combined together. There is no way to truly isolate these cues for your dog. For example, we train everything while watching our dogs, so it may be unintended, but where you are looking becomes a part of the cue for the dog. 

I think of every handling technique as a recipe, made up of all of our physical cues. When combined in a particular way, we create a particular result. If we combine those cues together in the same way every time, we create the same result every time. If we add more of one cue to mostly the same recipe, we will have mostly the same cookie, but maybe with a more intense chocolate flavor than before. Oh, wait. We aren’t talking about cookies. Shoot. Ok, back to dogs. If I change the intensity of one of my cues, I should see a slightly different result from my dog. 

My goal for you is to understand how each of your physical cues affects your dog individually, so you can understand how certain handling techniques (recipes) work in effecting your dog’s performance on the agility course. Different cue combinations (recipes) create different responses from our dogs. 

If this sounds tedious, don’t worry! I’m here to help you every step of the way, so that we can develop the right habits that you need to guide your dog through an agility course safely, confidently, and smoothly! If you do not already have a handling system, I’m here to share mine with you. If you do already have a handling system, great – I hope I can help you become more fluent in it! 

Each student will have a different knowledge and understanding of different handling systems. Each student will have different strengths and limitations with regards to their physical cues. I want everyone to focus on their version of these “recipes” and become fluent in their handling system so that your dog has an easier time following your cues on an agility course. 

Share with us in the discussion forum (and your homework thread, Golds) your agility experience and the handling system you currently use. And, if you’re new to agility, welcome! Tell us that too, and it’s ok if you do not currently have a handling system. We are here to build one for you!