You've started agility with your dog or perhaps gotten to the point where your dog has the basics down, but you still have to refine your handling. Part of agility is learning to handle your dog properly, and that means communicating what you want your dog to do. Once the dog has the basics down, most errors that occur are handling errors. As a handler, you need to learn how to communicate what you want your dog to do. One way to do that is to practice exercises that teach you how to handle your dog.
Learn Your Dog's Style
It may seem odd to consider, but each dog has his own way of running the course. Some dogs need little guidance; others need the handler right there. By watching your dog and how much he cues off you, you'll be able to see how much handling your dog needs.
Set up two hurdles side by side and direct your dog to the right hurdle. Watch your dog's reaction as you send him to the hurdle. Does your dog leave your side or does your dog expect you to run or walk with him to the hurdle? This will show you how much "hands on" handling you need to do with your dog.
Inside and Outside Lines
There are two lines you can take in an agility course: the inside line and the outside line. The inside line is often the shortest distance between obstacles. To get a feel for the inside line, line up the course's obstacles in a horseshoe shape and start at the left end of the horseshoe. If you as the handler stay to the right side of the left obstacle and continue on the right side of the obstacles as you run your dog through it, that is the inside line. The outside line, therefore, is the left side or outward side of the obstacles.
In most cases, you need to take the inside line, but occasionally, you need to take the outside line. Try handling your dog first using the inside line and then using the outside line to get a feel for handling each side. If you have a very fast dog, you'll have to slow him down while you take the outside line. Likewise, if you have a slow dog, you may have to slow down on the inside line (or speed the dog up).
Crossing Behind and Crossing in Front
In most cases, handlers always want to take the faster inside line, but the inside line often switches sides, depending on how the course is laid out. Few courses are ever as easy as a horseshoe; instead, they twist and turn and cross paths with the course later on. To get better as a handler, you must learn to switch sides effortlessly, and that requires you to either cross behind your dog when you send him to an obstacle (if he's really fast) or cross in front of your dog when he is committed to a slower obstacle, such as the table, weave poles or a contact obstacle (seesaw, A-frame or dog walk).
Try making a course in an "S" shape where you'll be starting on the inside line and crossing over in the middle of the "S" so that you will stay on the inside line. Try first with a fast obstacle such as a hurdle, tunnel or series of hurdles in the center of the "S." Send your dog over the hurdles and cross behind the dog so that you switch effortlessly from inside line to inside line.
Next, put a slow obstacle in the center (weave poles, table or contact obstacle) and continue with the dog until he gets to the downward edge of the contact obstacle, the second to last pole of the weaves, or the count for the table is at three. Cross in front of the dog and send him onto the next obstacle.
Practice each until the movement is fluid.
- Introduction to Dog Agility, 2nd Edition; Margaret H. Bonham; 2000, 2009
- Having Fun with Agility; Margaret H. Bonham; 2004