In dog agility most folks are familiar with the concept of a lead out. For those uninitiated, a lead out refers to the stay that you ask your dog to do at the beginning of the course, before the 1st obstacle so that you can then walk away from your dog. The use of a lead out though is more, vastly more, than just being able to demonstrate your dog has the control and obedience skills to hold a stay while you leave them at the start of the course. Though often that is all that folks use a lead out for.
I’m sure many of us in the agility world have fallen into the rut of asking our dog to stay, walking away from them to around obstacle 2, then releasing the dog to run. Maybe it’s because that’s the way we were taught to do a lead out, or because it harkens back to obedience class, or maybe it’s because we never thought any more about it (or sometimes because we’re so relieved our dog was willing to stay at all! 😉 ) But in those cases you’re likely selling the benefit of a lead out short.
A lead out stay is a fantastic asset to an agility team when used correctly. Which in my definition is the lead out stay allows you, the handler, to move to a position on course to maximize the information you can tell your dog even before they take the first obstacle on where the course is going to go. When the course allows, an effective lead out not only cues the dog of the path for the first sequence of the course, but places you in good position to clearly and efficiently cue your dog to the transition and path for the second sequence.
I think of a lead out as “an opportunity to position yourself for sequence 1 plus sequence 2 of the agility course” which for many courses could mean simply by planning your lead out position well, you’ve easily communicated to your dog enough information to get through obstacles 1-6, which is sometimes 1/3-1/2 the course already!
If you’re finding you’re consistently having your dog stay, then moving yourself to between obstacle 1-2 or at obstacle 2 or any other set pattern, maybe it’s time to start thinking about what the lead out is doing for your team? And if there are ways you could improve your communication and path through thinking outside the box with your lead out position.