01 Feb 2009Steve Schwarz

As dog trainers and handlers we talk a lot about “cues” and “cueing” our dogs. As more people are evaluating Handling Systems a lot of the discussion centers around what constitutes a cue and the specific actions taken by the handler to cue the desired behavior by the dog.

A common misconception is when someone says they “cued an obstacle” the cue is always a verbal command. But cues can take a number of forms: direction of motion, hand signals, body position, handler’s gaze, acceleration/deceleration, distance from the dog, and verbal commands. The primary difference between Handling Systems are the emphasis placed on the types and timing of cues used to communicate with the dog.

IMHO the definitive discussion of cues for agility is Linda Mecklenburg’s 2005 CleanRun article “Achieving a Balance”. Fortunately Linda has posted a reprint as a (PDF) on her website. Linda has refined her discussion of these cues over the years but the basic concepts are still valid and apply independently of the “system” being used.

I have to admit when I first read that article in 2005 I knew it was important but I didn’t really understand it all. It can be a bit dry and technical for an agility article. It wasn’t until I worked with trainers who could speak in those terms did it all click for me.

So I’d strongly recommend anyone interested in understanding how we can cue our dogs in agility to (re)read Linda’s original article.

2020-Mar Updates

Since I first wrote this article, Linda has published the definitive text on dog agility handling: Developing Handling Skills for Awesome Agility Teams and it includes a full training program built around the cues. She also has a “cheat sheet” overviewing the cues on her website.

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