November 18, 2020

Episode 268: Are You Using Too Many Call-Offs?

In this episode (20:04)

In this episode, Jennifer, Sarah, and Esteban explain what “call-offs” are and how they impact our handling and our dogs on course.

You Will Learn

  • The definition of a “call-off”.
  • The pros and cons of call-offs.
  • The difference between proactive and reactive handling.
  • How various dogs respond differently to call-offs.


- You're listening to Bad Dog Agility, bringing you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. (bright upbeat music) - I'm Jennifer. - I'm Esteban. - And I'm Sarah. And this is Episode 268. Today's podcast is brought to you by has the innovative training tools you need for agility. Having problems with a dog walker a frame? The HitIt Board can fix

that. Your dog doesn't like tugging? They'll love the TugIt. Can't move your aframe around by yourself? The Move It can, go to and use discount code BDA10 to get 10% off your order. That's - Today, we're going to ask the question, are you using too many call offs in your agility handling? And first, Sarah, what exactly is a call off for people who don't know

what that is? - Well, that's the phrase that we use for when your dog is headed for an off course. And you yell their name really loud, or scream calm, and you barely get them back in time, you don't get the off course, you save the run everybody's happy, clean run, maybe even a first place but there was that moment in time where your dog was sure they

were going elsewhere and you had to scream really loud to get their attention. - I thought everybody knew what a call off was until I was talking with Jennifer Crank, who lives in Ohio. Sarah and I are down here in Texas. And now we think maybe this is a Southern thing. Jennifer, do we not have call offs in Ohio? Is everybody just that good at agility up there?

- Yeah, when the question came through, it was a question submitted to us. And we discussed it for a podcast, I was like, "A call off, what's a call off?" And I guess it's just not a term that we use a lot. But what you described Sarah, exactly the scenario that you described, super common, dogs headed towards the wrong obstacle, handler screams something, their name or a specific

word, to get them back on course. I don't even know what we call it, I'd almost have to think that through like, kind of more of a redirect, we have a tendency to scream like a lot of people around here, they wanna go, "Hey" they go, "Hey, hey, hey" like call the dog in that manner. But I guess I haven't ever used that term call off in a

teaching scenario. We're all about telling them where to go not about where not to go. So we're tryna be proactive on that. - Yeah and I think you've gotten right to the key point here. And that is the difference between proactive and reactive handling. So as both of you have explained very well, if your dog is headed in the wrong direction, and now you are having to make

an adjustment. This isn't something that you walked or really planned. The dog's headed the wrong way, you need to throw in a little something extra, usually you're gonna call the dog's name apparently, in Ohio, you're gonna yell, "Hey, hey, hey" and you're gonna hope that you can get the dog back on course. So you're reacting to something unexpected that's happened. That's a deviation from your plan, the plan

that you walked through, and also carefully thought about in advance. When you're proactive, and the dog always knows where they're going, you have a very smooth run, there isn't going to be that potential fall off course. If you planed everything right. So I think that's the first thing understanding there's a difference between proactive and reactive handling. Well, it turns out that I think there's some very fundamental pros

and cons because the question is this. If we're all sitting here, the three of us and we say, "Okay, calling off your dog "that shouldn't happen. "We should all be proactive handlers." Well then, why does it exist? Why do people need call offs? Why does the terminology even exist? I think one obvious reason is, well, you have beginners, and they're not very good at being proactive yet. Their

reactions, aren't there, they're planning isn't that good, their dogs get into sticky situations, because they can't see them in advance. They don't have that experience. Okay, I'm gonna give you that. But then what about the other group of people? So we all know handlers who have probably had half a dozen dogs at this point been in the sport 10, 15, 20 years and are very, shall I put

it call off heavy in their handling style. so what's going on there? Why is this persisting? - Well, I think that people... I mean, it is a fast paced sport. And so I think that people will get into a situation where the run kind of starts to get away from them. Their dog is going faster than they anticipated or they aren't able to keep up and things get

more and more and more frantic as they go through the course. So the first turn maybe goes pretty okay, at obstacle three. The second turning obstacle six things are getting a little hairy. By the time we get to obstacle nine on a jumpers course they are barely holding on and everything is reactive. - Hmm, okay, go ahead. - Those can often be the runs that from a spectator

standpoint or from your friends or from the crowd that people will constantly reinforce you for because they're really exciting to watch. You're on the edge of your seat and the crowds going crazy and your friends come, "Oh my gosh, great save. "That was an amazing save." Where the same dog going out there are not the same dog, a different dog on the same course is going out there

really smooth, really proactive, very clear there's no adrenaline pumping. You watch that and you're like, "That was nice, golf clap." Compared to, at Westminster when Pink was headed towards the wrong end of the tunnel, because I was late and I had this remarkable save. And everybody was like, "Whoa!" going crazy, which I think for a lot of people, that reaction from spectators or friends or whatever can be

reinforcing to them. But beyond that, I think what can be reinforcing is the queue. So if what you've been doing is working, and you're talking about people who have a history of this reactive handling, I mean, they're so consistent with being late that they have to name how they say that with the term call off. I mean, basically, we are so consistently late that we had to put

a name to it called a call off that it's clearly working, because if it wasn't working, they would be changing what they're doing. So when you talk about call offs, being like, showing up over the history of one particular handler or a dog, it's working, it's getting reinforced both whether it be from the crowd, or friends, or people being really excited about that run, or even the queue.

But we gotta ask the question of "Okay, it's working, but it's working for what? "It's working for the queue? "Is it getting you the fastest time? "Is it getting you the fastest dog? "And more of all is it getting you the happiest dog?" 'Cause think about it from the dogs perspective, if everything's happening late, if I'm headed towards what I perceive to be the correct obstacle, and the

handler goes," No, no, no, no, no, no." And then I have to turn I mean, you're basically telling me that everything that I think I'm doing right is wrong. That's wrong, that's wrong. It does not maliciously going towards the off course. They're not going, "Hey, let me see what happens "if I do this." They're going because that's genuinely what they think is correct. And then all of a

sudden, they get hollered out often and like a negative, "Fluffy, get over here." Not a, "Hey, Fluffy, come on over." If they're getting yelled at for doing what they think is right. So, we really gotta watch it. Yeah, maybe it's working, but is it really the best option for the dog? - Yeah, I think that's such an insightful thing that you're pointing out here, there's just so much

positive reinforcement for the queue, it affects so many different behaviors for the handler for us as handlers, to get this qualifying run to get the ribbon, to get our double Q's to get our qualifications. You can't win if you don't run clean. And so there's a lot of incentive for us to do that. And definitely the way the audience responds can be a part of that. I think

of a football game where a receiver catches a touchdown pass, they catch a nice and clean yeah, there's gonna be lots of cheering. But imagine if that guy bobbles it, and it bounces off a couple of helmets and up in the air, and then he catches it. Well, that's the kinda thing that's going to become a legend. - Right, right. - They're gonna show that for the next

30 years on highlight. - Player of the day. - Yeah, yeah, play the year, they're gonna win an SP. So those are really high profile. I wanna talk a little more about what you were saying about how the dog can now start to feel that they're wrong. Because here's where a dog personality really becomes important. There's some dogs, that it doesn't bother them so much. They're headed the

wrong way and you yell at them to come, they're gonna come and they're gonna come as fast as they possibly can. And they're going to continue to run agility as fast as they can. But there are other dogs who are gonna take be wrong very personally. We usually call these dogs sensitive dogs. Nowadays, a lot of people talk about dogs having big feelings. And these are dogs that...

Yeah, they don't really appreciate being told one thing, and then being told something else. They're very sure they're on this line to the tunnel, because you in fact, put them on that line to the tunnel. And now that they're about, one third of the way to the tunnel, you're changing their line, and you're changing it in a very loud way. Which as Jennifer pointed out, can be construed

negatively on the part of the dog. And what that really does here is erodes the dog's trust in your ability to handle. And so Sarah, if you're that kind of sensitive dog what is the one response that you might have? How are you going to adjust the way you run agility in the future? - Right, well the faster I'm going towards that off course tunnel the harder it

is for me to change my line. So one very obvious thing that I can do is, why don't I just... "You handler are a little frantic, "why don't I just bring the whole pace down a little bit? "Let's just do this whole thing a little bit slower. "And then you can get your commands out, "and I can go to the right way, "and we get the queue and

we're all happy. (chuckles) "And I get my treats?" And this is the best response for me to keep things, positive and happy and to not get myself in trouble. When I go fast, I get into trouble more often than when I go slow. - Right, right. And I think that's one of the really insidious things that people don't notice that's happening. Ways that they are actually making their

dogs slow. They blame the dog's personality a lot, certainly personality, drive motivation that's intrinsic to a dog. Those are all factors. And those are factors that often we can't change very much as trainers and handlers. But we can certainly teach our dogs to respond to our handling. And this is one of those ways. They're gonna over respond in a bad direction. And that bad direction is going to

be a drop in speed. I think you will also see in some dogs more checking in especially as they clear a job, they will hit literally head check, especially when they head towards things like tunnels. And you can see differences there. Okay, so now we know what call offs are, we've kinda defined the problem. We've shown you how they're good. You may be saving your runs and getting

cues but how even that good can be kinda bad. - Yeah, and I think actually, once we got Jennifer, talking about it and not thinking so hard about the name, it just came out. She called it a save. She said I had this really great save with Pink. That's what she calls the call off, the save. (all mumble) - Yeah, that's right. Now that you say that I'm

like, "Yeah, that's exactly what I... (chuckles) - 'Cause it has all the implications. - Correct. - To have to save something means it was in jeopardy. So there we go. Call off, save, same thing. - Right, okay good, I like that. That's a very good... Okay, so, before we end this podcast, I just wanna talk about one more thing. And it's the different kinds of runs that we

have. So we have games and organizations and I know (indistinct) you're huge games fan. I'm the opposite of the games fan. I'm like, "Show me the jumpers, show me the standard run. "And that's all I wanna do. "I'm gonna do my two runs and that's it." And so games, the game, I'm thinking of here, sometimes Gamblers Share, but mostly, I'm thinking of Snooker. Snooker type courses, where there's

a lot of what we would call a call off and what you might call saves, it's a game that's a little bit harder to do. And I've told beginners who are really struggling with their handling, where they're very reactive, and the dog is very confused and it has a dramatically negative impact on their speed and performance and agility to the point where the dog is like, "I don't

really wanna be here. "I don't wanna do this with you." Like, okay, let's just maybe for several shows, let's stay away from the stickers, let's stay away from the gamblers. Let's get the dog in a rhythm where everything is very predictable and help them out. What are your thoughts on this coming from both the beginners perspective, but also the expert perspective, especially with respect to these games? -

I would say and as a whole, I 100% agree, I really think as a new team, sticking with a number course where you can prioritize communicating to the dog where you want them to go, and not focusing on where you don't want them to go. I think that's how a lot of times people think about Snookers, they're like, "Well, don't take that jump and don't take that jump

"and don't let them go there." Focus on telling your dog where to go not on telling them where not to go. Now kind of looking at it from a more advanced stage, I think there can be some initial confusion when we talk about call offs and somebody might be out there listening to this thinking, "Well, what about a bypass "getting my dog to run past an obstacle?" But

training a bypass, having a specific skill, that means see your dog, don't take that obstacle or run at my side, kind of sloppy tapi hit your side, to me is very different than a dog who gets on the line for the wrong obstacle and then has to be redirected off. So in the case of Snookers if I have to go from one jump to another and I have

to ask my dog to bypass the tunnel, I'm not going to let them head there and then call them off of it. So that would be like the call off for the save. My dog would set it. I'm gonna communicate to them from the time they take off for the jump that we are in no way shape or form going towards the tunnel. So there never should be

a redirect. The dog should be on the line or on the task at all times. So can you do Snooker? Can you do games fast and efficiently without call offs? Absolutely, but it does require a greater skill set. Because you have to have the ability to run with the dog at your side, you have to have the ability to go greater distances. So that's just most things that

you would have to train. So can you do it? Absolutely, but it's gonna require a greater set of skills in your toolbox. So I 100% agree that starting with, the standard, the jumpers, we're generally speaking, if you can be proactive in your handling, the dog will land in front of the next obstacle. So in Snookers, that's not always the case, you can have perfect handling, and the dog

can land and have to navigate around something. So it just requires a greater skill set. So don't confuse a call off, which in my mind, is the dog headed for the wrong thing and you reactively say, "No, don't do that" with a bypass, which is information given proactively, that you do not want them to take an obstacle. So I think that's kinda where you're looking at the difference

and where there could be some confusion, and that greater skill set needed to go into those games. - Yeah, those are great points. And I think, for those of you out there who didn't know what a call off was, and now you realize that maybe you're doing quite a bit, there's no need to feel bad about it now that you're aware of it, you know that it's something

that you're mostly gonna work to eliminate in your handling by being more proactive, rather than reactive. - Right and that was kinda one thing that I wanted to say in wrapping up is that, a call off is just an indication that for whatever reason, your dog didn't know where they were supposed to go, or not just that they didn't know, but that they thought they knew, but it

was wrong. And so that can happen to anybody, because you just make a mistake on course, or you didn't see the trap that your dog sees. You didn't realize how much your dog was gonna be taking three straight jumps straight towards the tunnel, and they weren't supposed to take the tunnel, and you didn't recognize that as a really, really big trap for your dog. So in that case,

the learning there for you is on kinda the course analysis side. But if you are a handler, who routinely course after course, has two to three call offs every single run, then I think, rather than just saying, "well, this is just a random mistake" you have to look and say, "My timing is probably off across the board. "My timing, across all of agility, "I am not giving my

dog the information when they need it." And a lot of times that is because you have a really, really, really fast driven dog, who is going to make decisions early and be very confident in themselves. So when we talked about the two different personalities of dogs and we said these call offs can really hurt the personality of... I mean, can really hurt the dog that has that softer

personality, and they start slowing down well, the flip side is you may end up kinda in this escalation of call offs with a really confident dog. Because they decide so early, and they're so sure of themselves, and they don't have that dip in confidence. So you need to take a look at your handling and see how you can figure out what changes you need to make to your

handling to give your fast driven dog information in a more timely way. - And I will say that if you feel that the handling was on point, you were told by your instructor that your handling was good, your timing was good, your execution was perfect yet your dog's still headed to the off course and you still needed to call them off, make sure you evaluate the trained skill

as well. So I would say that most of the call offs that I see are timing with the handling. But I have seen scenarios where the handler is pretty good the timing is good, the detail is on time but maybe in the case of like a U shaped tunnel discrimination, the trained thredo verbal isn't solid enough. So I don't want you to think that it's always timing, it's

probably timing, but as Sarah just commented on, there's something they're not clear on and if it's not you in the moment with your timing, do evaluate what is my dog's understanding of that skill where it needs to be. And I think that can be tough for people because they might be great. Their instructor might say that timing is great and then they go, "Well, my dog was just

being bad." Well, your dog is lacking the understanding and you're gonna have to go back to foundations on do they understand what that verbal means or do they understand what that set of cues mean? So in case that situation happens, be prepared that there's possibly a hole in the training of the skill or timing of the handling. - Exactly, all right well, that's it for this week's podcast.

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