Acceleration and Deceleration are movement cues that our dogs respond to naturally. If you take your dog to a park and start running, your dog will run too! If you slow down, your dog will slow down, add strides, and check in with you to see what you are doing. Our goal is to turn this natural response into a conscience response on the dog’s part, and then use these cues deliberately on course to get great drive and great turns out of our dog.
As with any maneuver, I need to give my dog the information he needs before he has committed himself to an incorrect response. For a decel, this means cuing the deceleration just before the dog gathers to jump. This allows the dog to choose a tight arc (taking off and landing relatively close to the jump) and angle his jump (to wrap toward the handler).
The decel cue should ideally occur in the dog’s take off zone. For a small dog, this may be just six inches back from the jump. For a larger dog, this maybe be several feet. Under no circumstances should you step PAST the plane of the jump. This is an acceleration cue and your dog would be correct to ‘jump long’ or jump in full extension. This will cause him to land further out from the jump and therefore turn wide. In theory, this is easy! In practice, handlers have a hard time keeping their feet still. Many handlers will unconsciously take one last step forward right as the dog is about to take off, as if they don’t trust the dog to take the jump while they themselves are stationary. This is where video review will greatly improve your deceleration cue.
Timing vs Position
If you cannot get to the perfect position at the perfect time, timing trumps position. Your dog has fantastic peripheral vision and can perceive your decel cue, even if you have ended up behind your dog. You must slam on the breaks just before the dog gathers to jump. If you are still racing to get to your ideal decel position, you are, in fact, giving a very strong acceleration cue.
Teaching your Dog
I use three jumps in a straight line to introduce my dog to the deceleration cue.
- First, I will race my dog over all three jumps. This sets up a contrast (the acceleration) to the decel that will come next.
- Next I will lead out into my perfect decel position at jump two. I am now training myself! I have taken out my movement allowing me to start in perfect position.
- I release my dog who will take jump 1 and 2. When he realizes I’m not coming, he will (eventually!) turn back toward me. I reward this response with a treat or tug.
- I repeat this for several repetitions. I should see my dog start turning tighter and tighter; after all, the reward is always back with me and taking the jump long just delays his reward.
- Once my dog has figured out that he should tightly wrap the jump to get to his reward quickly, I add in handler movement.
- I lead out slightly so that I can get to my ideal position at the ideal time. This makes the exercise much more difficult for my dog as I am now showing acceleration first, and then giving a decel cue. It also makes the exercise much more difficult for me! I must now get MY timing right in order to show my dog the proper decel cue at the proper time.
- Once I am comfortable and my dog is responding well, I will randomize acceleration through all three jumps with deceleration at jump 2 (both a lead out into decel position and running into decel position). This actually solidifies my dog’s understand since the contrast helps him pick up the physical differences between the acceleration cue and the deceleration cue.
This video demonstrates how effective these cues can be once your dog is responding to them consciously. You can clearly see a difference in striding and arc when the handler is accelerating vs when the handler is decelerating. Video your acceleration and deceleration cues. How well does your dog understand these cues? Post your videos!