Timing of Discrimination Cues in Agility

A new to me student and I have been breaking down the challenges she’s had consistently with her dogs surrounding discriminations on the agility course.  A discrimination in dog agility is where 2 obstacles are placed rather close together and you have to communicate to your dog which one to take based on the numbered course.  Depending on the nature of the discrimination and the course path leading up to the challenge one obstacle may be more obvious to your dog than another, even if it’s not the one you want them to take.  Some dogs will also have a preference for an obstacle and be more likely to pull to a tunnel, weaves or a contact obstacle if you don’t give them clear enough information in a timely manner.

A challenge she’s had is the timing of cues.  When and how to give the dogs enough information so that the obstacle she’d like them to take is clear to the dogs far enough in advance for them to not question if the off course obstacle is the desired one.

So an exercise we did in our last lesson was to break down in slow motion some video clips of her with her own dogs and seeing where she cued on course in relation to where her dogs thought they had been instructed to go, along with breaking down in slow motion some clips with Zora and I running discrimination sequences.  It was an eye opening exercise for her.

I find such an exercise often is eye opening for many students.  Thinking about the discrimination and giving the dog information over 1 obstacle before the actual discrimination challenge.  Not waiting until the dog has already taken off, or landed and is approaching the discrimination to give the dog cues as to where you actually want them to go.  Thinking about how you can give the dog information as they approach the preceding obstacle so they take that obstacle in a way that sets them up for success with the discrimination.  Looking at how well it works, how clear and confidence building it is for the dog when the handler is clear in communication, along with how the dog slows, has to work to change path, guesses or goes off course when the handler is late or unclear in communication.

When you watch the video clips, where do you think Zora will be heading based on the information I give her vs where she actually goes?  Which ones am I cuing her on time, which ones am I early, which ones am I late, which ones do I micromanage and did I really need to?  A tip:  watch my feet, and my shoulders and arms.

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