Balancing cues is a good way to test your dog’s understanding while forcing you to organize your cues.

In any given agility course, we ask our dogs to go over, around, and in between jumps. It’s our job to provide the information our dogs need to stay on course. Clear, consistent cues result in tighter lines, faster course times, and most importantly, less wear on the dog’s body. The goal of the following drills is to teach and practice cues through contrasting skills (e.g., acceleration and deceleration).

Balancing cues is a good way to test your dog’s understanding while forcing you to organize your cues – both physical and verbal.

Before you practice each drill, make sure you’re clear on the following information.

What are the cues that tell the dog to perform the correct behavior?

For most skills, there will be multiple cues—verbal, position, motion, etc. For each exercise, I provided my own cues as an example, but you should use the cues consistent with your handling system.

Where should I place the reward?

The key to these drills is to reward in position. So if you’re rewarding acceleration, you’d want to throw the food or toy ahead on the dog’s line. If you’re rewarding deceleration, you’d want to deliver the reward close to your body. Remember to break down the drills and reward after completing a key part of the skill (e.g., coming over the middle jump in the serpentine). Don’t always reward at the end of the sequence. Rewards work best if the dog gets immediate gratification in position. So if you’re training on grass or dirt, where it would be hard to throw food, you might try throwing a frisbee with peanut butter or canned food that the dog can eat without you having to run over to open a treat bag.

A Few Things to Remember

  • Vary the distance between obstacles so that these drills aren’t static. This may also be influenced by your dog’s skill level. For instance, if your dog has a weak 180, you’ll want to decrease the space between the two jumps to make it easier in the beginning.
  • Reverse all of these drills so that you balance working your dog on the left and right side.
  • Practice some repetitions where you isolate cues (e.g., just give the verbal cue) so your dog doesn’t think the behavior should only be performed when all cues are given at the same time.

Authored by: JoAnna Lou
Photo credit: © iStockphoto.com/cunfek
JoAnna Lou competes in agility and rally with her Shetland Sheepdog. She supports her canine hobby with a career in professional training and development at a New York financial firm. This article was originally published in the March/April 2012 issue of DogSport Magazine and is used with permission.


BAS-180s-serpent-graphic

180s

Your Cue(s): Arm closest to the dog is extended as you turn on the dog’s commitment to jump 1
Reward Placement: Throw the reward on the dog’s line between jump 1 and 2 (for staying on the correct path) or deliver the reward after jump 2

Serpentines

Your Cue(s): At the dog’s commitment to jump 1, run to the left upright of jump 2 and hold up the opposite arm
Reward Placement: Deliver the reward after jump 2 (for coming in) or throw the reward on the dog’s line after jump 3 (for completing the exercise)

Threadles

Your Cue(s): At the dog’s commitment to jump 1, run to the gap in between jump 1 and 2. Stop, face the dog, and hold up the opposite arm.
Reward Placement: Deliver the reward after jump 1 (for coming in) or throw the reward on the dog’s line after jump 2 (for completing the exercise)


BAS-270s-threadles-graphic

270s

Your Cue(s): Arm closest to the dog is extended as you turn at the dog’s commitment to jump 1
Reward Placement: Throw reward on the dog’s line after jump 1 (for staying on the correct path) or after jump 2 (for completing the exercise)

Threadles

Your Cue(s): At the dog’s commitment to jump 1, run to the gap in between jump 1 and 2. Stop, face the dog, and hold up the opposite arm.
Reward Placement: Deliver the reward after jump 1 (for coming in) or on the dog’s line after jump 2 (for completing the exercise)


BAS-accel-decel-graphic

Acceleration

Your Cue(s): Movement in a straight line towards jump 4, Verbal “Go”
Reward Placement: Throw the reward after jump 4 on the dog’s line (if your dog is curling in to look at you, ask a helper to throw the reward)

Deceleration

Your Cue(s): Decelerate as you approach jump 3 and the dog commits to the jump
Reward Placement: Deliver the reward with your hand at the upright of jump 3

“Reverse all of these drills so that you balance working your dog on the left and right side.”


BAS-right-left-straight-graphic

Right, Left, and Straight

Your Cue(s): Verbal “right” or “left.”
Reward Placement: Throw the reward on the dog’s path as they exit the tunnel


BAS-front-cross-graphic

Straight

Your Cue(s): Movement towards jump 2
Reward Placement: Throw reward on the dog’s line after jump 2

Front Cross

Your Cue(s): Standing stationary next to the left upright of jump 2 and performing a front cross at commitment to jump 1
Reward Placement: Deliver the reward before jump 2 (for changing lines) or throw the reward on the dog’s line after jump 2 (for completing the exercise)

Right, Left, and Straight

Your Cue(s): Movement towards the jump
Reward Placement: Throw reward on the dog’s line after the jump


BAS-push-throughs-graphic

Straight

Your Cue(s): Movement towards jump 2 (be sure to set the dog up so that both jumps are on the dog’s line)
Reward Placement: Throw the reward on the dog’s line after jump 2

Push Throughs

Your Cue(s): Movement towards the space to the right of jump 2 (be sure to set the dog up so that jump 1 and the space to the right of jump 2 are on the dog’s line) and/or the verbal “Back”
Reward Placement: Throw the reward on the dog’s path just as they round the upright of jump 2 or (for going around) after jump 2 (for completing the exercise)

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