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Verbal cues in agility

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As the sport is changing, things are getting harder, our BCs are generally fast and I'm starting to add lots of verbals to our box of tricks. Europe is getting ever fancier meaning it will trickle down to us eventually. I'm still relatively new to agility though, and I'm trying to figure out what I'll need eventually. So what kind of verbals do you have/are training/want and what do you think is needed at the higher levels (challenge classes, national/regional level and internationally). Yeah yeah, some people can make where they need to be, handling, lalala, but this is a verbal discussion :)/>/>/>/> Just figuring out new ideas to train.


Right now we are working on...


Far - backside if the jump.

Check - wrap left

Dig - wrap right

Woah- don't take that obstacle, look at me for further direction... gamblers thing

Yes, go- yup that's the one, usually heard after a woah in gamblers

Switch - verbal flick, contact to tunnel, although it could come in handy at other situations I haven't thought of yet... ideas? (I could see it of use in gamblers)

Left and right - haven't started training these two yet as I really don't know my criteria, what I'll use it for... how do you define left and right? Is it a general hey we are going left, or is it a hard left turn... check and dig are wraps, you turn in the air, but left and right Im lost on the exactness of it..

Go - go forward, stay on that line till I tell you otherwise, no matter how far away I am.

Out - going around an object

With me - ignoring those close jumps, wacky long lines, discriminations. Snooker type of thing. Stay running with me till I cue an obstacle.

Target - 2o2o the contact

Gogogogogo - boot it fast


And his start line stay, his release, his obstacle names (which I don't use unless I have to)


How about you guys?

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I find that my body motion and cues far outweigh the verbals, but I do train some verbals. About once a year, our agility class does a "Run Silent" class where you have to try and run the course without saying anything other than your command to start and the command to stop at the bottom of a contact (if you use one). It is pretty impressive to see the dogs respond - much, much better than what I thought would happen when we first tried running silent.


I train many similar cues as you have listed, but have not yet tried to train going to the backside of the jump. I have done a little left/right training, but am still undecided if I really need those commands or should I just rely on my body movement.


For me, left/right means jump and turn 90 degrees, whereas cik and wrap (corresponding to your check and dig) means collect and jump close to the standard to turn back about 180 degrees. The main reason I use cik and wrap is to try and get my dog to collect, otherwise he extends over the jump to take a wide turn (and maybe an off-course jump) or he cranks his body around- which I try to prevent to reduce wear-and-tear on his joints.


I trained switch to mean turn in the opposite direction you are going - i.e. if he is curving right, he should start curving left.


As you say, some people can get to where they need to be to indicate the course to the dog, but I am quite frequently behind my dog so I also welcome the ability to use verbal cues. I do love my dog because he is so attuned to my body motion that IF I can correctly time my turns and decelerations, etc., he responds beautifully. It seems that I often spout verbals to try and recover from my mistakes.


It seems like you have covered most of the handling cues that I can think of, but I am sure that more experienced handlers can add something.



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Or a course map example of where you would use it. I'm in the run silent and speak when you NEED to. Verbal cues to me are I guess pre cues of what's coming and how to prepare for it. I also use the verbal when I'm messing up on course, but I'm talking about cues that you would plan to use, on a walk through etc to give more information to the dog.

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I tend to mess up verbal clues, saying tire when I mean tunnel, etc, so I try to use verbals for encouragement and speed and for more complicated maneuvers (back for a back side, out or with me to distinguish between two close obstacles.)


In my last class we did something similar to Jovi's run silent, we did run without arms, keeping your hands in your pockets or behind your back. It amazing how much you can do with just your shoulders and feet.



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Like others, I mess up my verbals all the time calling "tire" instead of "teeter", "tunnel", or "table." So I really agree that verbals are not hugely important. If you follow Awesome Paws Handling System, Mecklenburg places verbal cues as the least influential cue of all. Even Greg Derrett in his second DVD "Great Dog. Shame about the Handler" states that he uses very few verbals. (He uses only directional [left, right], "go", and the dog's name, if I recall correctly.) Now interestingly, Susan Garrett who is heavily influenced by Derrett uses quite a few verbals in her handling; she's pretty vocal about the fact that as she ages, she's not able to get ahead as often as she likes.


I'd like to make the claim that verbal cue usage should be inversely proportional to your desire to get ahead. When I watch my classmates, more often than not I see the same people run a whole course from the rear- and more often than not I hear the same thing from my instructor when she says to them- "You had PLENTY of time to front cross right there, you just don't want to." Most agility courses wrap back on themselves somewhere and where it does is a great place to get ahead, even when you're used to handling from the rear. I went to a Steve Schwarz seminar where he said, "My absolute goal is to handle from the front. But that requires me to handle smart, to train distance, and to have the nerve and confidence to attempt those front crosses even when I'm not sure I'm going to make it."

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In my last class we did something similar to Jovi's run silent, we did run without arms, keeping your hands in your pockets or behind your back. It amazing how much you can do with just your shoulders and feet.




I love running silent. It made me realize what a detriment I was to my dog with my (lack of) handling skills. I, also, am amazed how much they hone-in on your feet.

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Do/you have a video example of your switch in action? I quite like what your describing.


I wish I had video of 'some' of my agility runs. A lot of them - I am happy that they were NOT taped. (yes, I know I should have the bad ones too - for the 'learning experience', but... :P ).


I can try to explain how I trained it. I went to a workshop with a top NADAC trialer, and one of the skills we worked on was the 'switch'. Although the obstacles tend to be further apart on a NADAC course, the same switch command has helped me on tighter AKC courses too.


Set up three jumps which will direct the dog on either a left or right curving path. Then set up a jump such that the dog has to change direction to take it, and follow it with a tunnel. Make the curves and change of direction gentle at first for training.


Assume the first curve is going to the left (counterclockwise) and the 4th jump and the tunnel curve to the right (clockwise). Stand on the left side of the jumps. Start the dog through the jumps. Just BEFORE the dog takes off for the third jump, call 'switch tunnel' and start crossing to the right for the tunnel (essentially a rear cross before the 3rd jump). Reward the dog as s/he comes out of the tunnel. (The tunnel is used because most dogs love the tunnel and it is easy to direct them to it.)


What is happening: The dog is on its left lead to run in the counterclockwise direction. It must change to the right lead to take the 4th jump and tunnel. By saying 'switch' and starting the rear-cross before, not after, the 3rd jump - the dog should change to the correct lead while in mid-air. (I know it sounds a little unbelievable that the dog would switch leads in mid-air, but hey, it seems to work.)


I have noticed many people who use the switch command will say it much later than I do [after the 3rd jump (in the example above)], and this is probably a result of how they train. I am not saying that one way is better than the other, but what I described is how I was taught. It also works well for my dog since he has such an extended stride that if I was to wait until after the 3rd jump to 'switch', it would be too late to get a smooth change of direction.


I am not sure where I picked this up, but I will also swing my left arm towards the right when I say 'switch'. (using the set-up described above) It's almost like I am pushing the dog to the right.


This was one of the easier skills that I have trained. When I see a sequence where I use the 'switch' command, I have to think hard about exactly where to say 'switch' since the command is used one jump before where the switch actually happens.


Not sure if this helps, but if I wasn't clear, let me know what needs to be clarified, and I will try my best to explain better.



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I have really cut back on my attempts to teach verbal cues. My focus has become about my handling and the consistency of those physical cues. I have been taking Daisy Peels online handling class and a lot of those exercises are about staying silent and using your body for cues. I have found it fascinating what I can do with no hands and no words. I have trained with a couple of really good trainers who also use Linda Meckelburgs handling ideas and their emphasis has been to use your physical commands for control and voice for reinforcement. For example calling your dog before he comes out of a tunnel so he knows where you are. Linda M. makes use of a jump command to reinforce forward motion to a jump. I do use a verbal as a reinforcement for contacts.


We do have a couple of basic commands, close and out which work for USDAA gamblers and close is very helpful in chances. I don't use switch but have seen it used very successfully in NADAC, and unlike left/right you don't have to remember which way you are going, just that you want to go the other way!


My reasons for all of this are that I run a very fast and very big border collie with a huge stride from out front if I can :lol: ... And there is no way I can remember a course, remember my plan and even attempt to get anything other than the most basic words out of my mouth when running flat out. If I ever go back to NADAC then to be successful in chances I would need to add verbals... But at the moment my goals are to win USDAA tournaments .....


I tried training Slyvia Trkmans cik/cap for turns and on course even just in practice I could never remember which was which, so now I train tight turns using my body much less confusing for both of us, they might not be as tight but at least he knows what we are doing!!!

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I'm not a quick thinker and it takes too long between the thought of using a verbal cue and it coming out of my mouth - hopefully the right word but not always. Hence I don't use a lot of verbal cues, but on the other hand I can't run either, or control my physical cues precisely so if I ever get a fast dog again I will have to work hard on both.


My daughter can run and also uses a lot of verbals with her fast collie - the reason being that his mind does tend to wander and verbal plus body language keeps his attention better than either alone.


Her fundamental cues are Back for Left and This for Right and she adds on whatever she needs at the time eg a left wrap is Back Get, right wrap This Get. (She uses Get It to reward with a tug and has trained wraps with a toy so it has contracted to Get.) Wrong end of the tunnel is This or Back depending on which direction he needs to turn in to be facing the right entrance, followed by Tunnel etc.


If whatever cues are planned for right and left are causing problems for the handler, practise using them in daily life. Walk around the house using the appropriate cue each time you turn.


I trained our mongrel initially with very little more than her name, come and go and the odd obstacle name. My daughter runs her now and uses far fewer verbals than with her collie, even though I have added a few to the dog's repertoire in the last couple of years. The reason I no longer run her is that she was too fast for me and as courses got more complex the further up the ladder she got my lack of verbals made it very difficult to control her.

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I taught Boots 'Left/Right' and Renoir 'Switch' similar to what Jovi described. I changed Renoir to one word for meaning turn away b/c he is so much faster than Boots that I struggled getting the correct directional out in time and Renoir is not very forgiving if I am late with commands. I also use my off hand which has worked very well for me with both dogs.


I start by teaching this skill on the flat, I begin walking a straight line with my dog, on say my left hand side, I then take a treat in my outside hand (in this case right hand) and use it to lure the dogs nose away from me, I give it to them when they are at about 45 degrees away from me, thus rewarding the turning the head away from me. I then finish the turn and am now walking the opposite direction with the dog on my right hand side. After the dog gets the idea that my outside hand means to turn my head away then I will then toss toys so I can reward for turning away from me and keeping a path with distance away from me and begin to add a word into it and then introduce obstacles.


As I side note, I also use this command for discriminations for the away obstacle which has worked quite well for both of my guys.


As far as verbals in general go, I try not to say much, I save verbals for sending, directionals, contacts, weaves.

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I use most of the ones Chantal mentioned. I use a switch command as Jovi describes as well, although I call it turn. Funny story, at a national event about 10 years ago, someone in the crowd came up to congratulate me after my run and said they were curious how my dog knew which way to turn from a simple "turn" command. lol I explained it just meant turn away, i.e. switch leads.


Some more I use...


"tight" as my dog goes into a tunnel to mean don't come barreling out, but look for me for more direction upon exit. Very useful for tight turns out of tunnels. I've been told my dogs come out of the tunnel and often don't even put a foot down before they're on the aframe (or dogwalk) beside it.


"again" for back-to-back obstacle performance for gamblers.


"wrap" to wrap a jump standard towards me.


"in" and "out" for obstacle discriminations.


"look back" is look behind you and take that obstacle. handy in gamblers when something's gone wrong. very easy to teach with a toy.


My dog's name before an obstacle means add a stride and check in.


Most of these are also accompanied by body movements/motion, but really each supplements each other and ideally each could work on its own.

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A note from a beginner:


I really struggle with verbal cues.


I've been doing agility for 2 1/2 years now. Meg and I are *FINALLY* coming together as a team (in class at least). Long story short, Meg lacked confidence and focus. That combined with my very novice handling skills meant agility was just 'ok' for Meg...until recently. This past summer, Meg decided that agility is not only worth her time and focus, but its also really fun. :D This makes us both very happy; I love agility but was considering quitting until I got another dog. Now we both love it!


What this means for me is I get to work on my handling skills now, instead of spending half our run just trying to keep her focused. It also means I'm behind her more now instead of ahead and we're having to put our verbal cues to work.


This new challenge is great, but my brain just doesn't work fast enough to keep up with calling out cues. I've always been a quiet person partly because the connection between my brain and mouth is just slow. I know what I want to say, but it takes time to form the words and by the time I've got it, I'm too late.


Unfortunately, I do have to call out many of our obstacles when Meg is ahead of me (anything that is not a jump) or she'll make up her own course (which usually means she'll head for the nearest A-frame or Dog Walk). I really struggle with Teeter, Tunnel, and Tire (often cue-ing the wrong thing) but she's gotten used to it and will just take whatever "T-" obstacle is in her path.


I can't think fast enough for 'left' and 'right' cues so we use switch (turn away from me), here, out, wrap (which is wrap towards me), and hey (check in). Something we need to add is a cue for 'wrap away from me'. I use 'bottom' when I want her to stop on a contact and wait for me to catch up.


That's about all I can handle for verbal cues I think. Meg could and would certainly be happy to learn more, but I'd just make a mess of them on the course, frustrating both of us.


I think you really have to know your dog and yourself when choosing just how much you want to use verbal cues. For Meg and me, the fewer verbal cues the better off we are because I'm not fast enough.

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There are ways to handle from behind without using to many verbals. I was taught an amazing way to handle a serpentine from behind by a trainer who I think learned it from Stuart Mah. Sorry I can describe it but it was using your arm to direct the dog. What fascinated me was that even though I was behind he was still reading my arm and body signals.


According to the trainer the serpentine trick only works with dogs that will drive forward on their own, but it was so cool to play with and it was instinctive to him. ( obviously he already knew what a serp was) I have never actually used it on a course, but I filled it in my mind I now have it for an emergency situation if I can not get where I planned to be, although normally when we are at the point, it has all gone to hell already :D

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Chantal, if you can remember all those verbals while running a course, my hat is off to you. I find that a "go" and the dog's name, and maybe an "up" for contacts serve me well. I will try to an "out" -- turn away from me to the new pups, but really, that's all I can count on remembering when I'm running. For the rest of it, lateral distance is extremely helpful.

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