November 12, 2021

Episode 295: The Timing of Verbal Cues

In this episode (30:26)

In this episode, Sarah and Esteban discuss the timing of verbal cues.

You Will Learn

  • Whether or not you need verbal cues.
  • Why it’s important to know how verbal your dog really is.
  • When to give verbal cues.
  • Common mistakes people make when using verbal cues.

Mentioned

Welcome to bad dog agility, a podcast helping you reach all of your dog agility goals, whether it's competing under the bright lights of the televised finals at Westminster or successfully navigating a homemade course in your own backyard. We'll bring you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. Are you ready? I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm ready.

The show starts with your hosts, Jennifer Stevan and Sarah And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 295 today's podcast is brought to you by the Westminster. The Westminster kennel club has announced that the ninth annual masters agility championship will be held on January 22nd, 2022 at pier 36 in New York city. And I've personally competed at Westminster twice, and I loved it running in the nationally.

Televised finals is one of my favorite agility memories. You know, I didn't win, but I know someone who did Well, it was incredibly exciting to win the 16 inch division three times and be the overall winner. It's not just the wins that make it so exciting. It's being in the city, running on those courses under the lights. It's just truly a great event.

So for 2022, your dog will need a mock title to enter the regular class where he pop title to enter the preferred class. They must have the appropriate title at the time of entry and trees are limited to 350 dogs and will be first received and entries open on November 17th at 7:00 AM. Eastern time, typically Westminster fills on the first day. So you want to be mindful of the opening date.

Westminster is going to make a $5,000 donation in the name of the masters agility champion to the AKC agility training club of their choice or the AKC humane fund. $1,000 donations will be made in the name of the highest scoring all American dog, as well as each of the four remaining first place dogs and their height classes per New York city regulations. Everyone in attendance must be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to enter the venue entries closed December 22nd,

and check out our show notes page for a link to the premium and all the details Mr. Paisano, fantastic trial. And if you thinking about doing it, I highly recommend the janitor Today's podcast is also brought to you by HitItBoard dot com and the Teeter. TeachIt an easy to use tool that controls the amount of tip on your Teeter. So you can introduce motion to your dog in a gradual way,

go to HitItBoard dot com for the new Teeter, teach it and other training tools and toys use discount code BDA 10, to get 10% off your order. That's HitItBoard dot com today. We're going to be talking about the timing of verbal cues. And I think before we even get into the timing of verbal cues, we kind of need to talk a little bit about verbal cues in general.

How big of a part do they play in your handling with your dog and how verbal is your dog? Really? Yeah, because the more verbal your dog is, and the more important verbal cues are in handling, then the timing becomes absolutely critical. Like it's something that you really need to pay attention to. You need to spend a lot of time thinking about and you have to get it right.

But I think for the majority of people, I think verbal cues are overrated. That's my hot tape. People are really obsessed with them. And right now it's very trendy and popular to talk about verbal cues and when to do them. And Hey, my, my daughter use has a verbal for this, that, and these 50 things. But I find that in practice dogs simply are not as verbal as we believe them to be.

And that even dogs with very strong verbal understanding, like the, there, it commonly breaks down in very common situations where if they were anywhere near a hundred percent verbal in theory, it would, it would different break down. Right. So I think people tend to overrate it a little bit. And I think what that, the first thing that does is it takes a lot of pressure off people,

right? So a lot of you out there right now, maybe thinking a couple of things, number one, you may be thinking, well, I need to get a lot better with my verbals because today's agility game is all about verbals, right? And we're not going to be able to have the success that I want my daughter to have unless I can master this.

And so then if you're having problems mastering yet, what are you telling yourself? I can't succeed in today's agility. Right? So I think that is just false. Right? I think it's a very popular thing. It's very overrated. But the fact is if you ran silently and you know, we used to do this, like back in the day,

like more people did this back in the day, but if you ran silently and I mean, literally did not say anything and you just got around the course, like your dogs could do agility really, really well. And the point of that was back in the day that when some handlers shut their mouths and the dog no longer had to try and work to distinguish like what was a cue and what was praise and what was no,

don't go in there. And that kind of thing, right? It really cleaned up a lot of the understanding and the communication between handler and dog. And so sometimes dogs had been better than, than the handle would be like, well, this is kind of magical. I'm just gonna not say anything. And then from there you maybe add a couple of critical things because there are discrimination spots,

for example, you know, tunnel right next to an A-frame. And so handlers are like, okay, well, every, every time I'm going to say like a frame or weave, I'm gonna say a couple of things. But the first verbal cue that most people drop off of their handling is the jumping cue, right. For every single job. And so the corollary to that then of course,

is there's a whole bunch of people out there who are calling out every, when it's not actually providing a cue for the dog. It's not part of the dog's understanding of what it means to be a cue. Right. And I think the, I kind of wanted to, to say what you were saying another way, which is, I'm not sure necessarily that verbals are not helpful,

but what I think is true is that the number of people who think they have verbals is way more than the number of people who actually have verbals. That's A very good way of putting it, Right. I think there's a lot of people that are, think that their dog dog knows it better than they do. And really there's a lot of the handling that is filling in the gaps.

The verbals can almost be for, for many dogs, confirmation of what the dog already thought based on all the other cues that we give our dog. Exactly what I was going to say. The verbal is a confirmation queue, more than anything else. Right. And I think that there are some spectacular handlers who do have verbals trained to a ridiculous degree and it,

and it helps them very much. I just think that that is not the majority of handlers. Right, right, right. So the first thing you have to do is be honest with yourself about how verbal your dog really is and how well they understand the verbal cues. And what that means is how well do they understand the verbal cues in the absence of the supporting physical information,

Even before you try and figure out, well, how verbal is my dog, ask yourself this question, how verbal do I need my dog to be, how verbal do I want my daughter to be? And usually those two are going to give you the same answer, but you know, there are people who want their dog to be more verbal than they really need it to be.

But you want to train to that minimum standard, which is, you know, what is required of the courses that I typically run on. Right. And kind of trying to that level. Right. Right. And so that's, that's the first thing I think you need to figure out, like, where do I need my daughter to be really verbal?

And so to me, it's completely legitimate to say, I need my dog to be verbal in certain situations. So what might those examples be? Well, I would argue spots. Like whenever I say we've, if I in the middle of a front cross, if I'm behind the dog, if I'm ahead of the dog, if I'm to the side of the dog,

these are the weave entries are one of those spots where I can be in different positions with different lines of motion for the, for the handler and different angles of approach for the dog. But in every case, I need the dye to enter the weave post correctly, wrap that pole, right. Pull number two, to get, get into the next space and successfully finish the weaves independent of my emotion position,

arm movement, all of those things. Right? So of all the obstacles we pose, one of the most independent, independent of the handler, like my ability to influence the dog when they're in the weave poles, it's one of the biggest places where the dog is most independent, right? So I feel like that's a great spot where you need a verbal,

and if I can say my verbal cue for the weaves from far away or early on enough, like that becomes a very powerful thing because it gives me a lot of flexibility to move on and do other things. Right. And then theoretically, you're the, the handling that happens after the word weave comes out of your mouth should not affect the outcome. The dog should be weaving.

It doesn't matter if you're pulling away. Like normally if you run, you know, 90 degrees away from your dog, your dog should come with you. Right. This is like a case where that's no longer true. The dog should be weaving, even though you were pulling off laterally, for instance. Right. So then let's get to the question.

Well, when do we want to call the leaves? Right. So I think we, here, we need to set up a little bit of a thought experiment. So let's say that our dog was facing the entry of the weeds. They're going to take the weaves straight on. Okay. But it's the only obstacle on the course. And now we stand now let's go with 80 feet away.

Right. And we say weaves, so we need to ask ourselves, can the dog see the weaves? Yes. Right. I think probably, maybe, but they're not going to recognize it in that spot. So every once in a while, you'll see demos from instructors and, and, and people advertising their online courses and whatnot. And the dog,

the, you know, the try and send them out and the dog will like go and there's nothing in the immediate area and the immediate area, meaning 25 feet or less. Right. They like run straight for like 20 feet. And then they like do a spin. Like I haven't found the thing and I should have found it around about here. Right,

right. Right. And then the training is like, oh, silly boy. Just to make it my verbal skills look bad here. Let me just tell you again. And they send the, send the dog again, usually with different body language, which right away to me tells me, you know, probably not a hundred percent verbal, but what I'm saying is the dogs do what dogs are used to doing.

Yes. Right. So I think that has a big impact on how we want to train them. Okay. So now we have that thought experiment, right. Where just because the dog should be able to see it, right. Like you, and I know that we put the weeds 80 feet away. We can look at that and say, hi,

I see that we post there, but the dog is not used to that. Right. They've done. Agiley thousands of times. And they know that there's a rhythm to agility where the next obstacle is approximately 20, 25 feet. And probably they're not measuring it. It's more of a timing thing. Like every Day I should be at my thing. Right. If I turn here,

typically there's a job or a tunnel or something else that I also need to take. Right. The dog's always ready. They start to get a rhythm or feel to it. Okay. Now, so there it's purely off the verbal. Right? Right. You're like, I verbal weaves, you go and look for it. And there's nothing else to clutter up there,

their selection. There's only one possible obstacle. Now let's say the dog is 40 feet away and halfway between the dog and the weave entry. So at 20 feet. So this is pretty normal spacing. We're going to put a jump straight on. Right. So now you say jump, okay, they're going to go look for the jump and it's within normal range.

Right. So they'll probably be very successful here. When do we say we've right. And so I think this is a really cool thought experiment here. So what are your thoughts? So, so my thoughts are, you know, in general, I always want the dog to know what's next, at least one obstacle before, because if you just think about a single jump in isolation,

right, there are a lot of ways for a dog to take a jump. They can take it straight on in extension. They can take it straight on with and put in all these X or put in like the extra stride for a full wrap, right. To come back towards the handler. They can take it and turn 90 degrees. Right. They can take it and turn 90 degrees left.

They can come at it at a slice. There's lots of different ways to take a jump. And what comes after that obstacle is what determines the right way to take that jump. Right? So if I have a jump and then weaves, I don't want my dog to put in an extra stride and turn 180 degrees back to me because the weaves are straight ahead.

So the dog needs to know before they take off, because once they take off, their landing is determined. They need to know before they take off. What the next thing after the thing that they're about to do is, but it's not even good enough for it to be like before they take off. Because even whether you put in that extra stride,

that decision happens, you know, a stride before that. Right? So now we're saying, if you want the dog to take the jump and then the weaves at like, and take the jump in the best way possible, they need to know at least like two strides before taking Aha. And now you've uncovered an interesting truth of agility. So if I asked you there's 20 obstacles on a course,

how many different cues are you giving your dog? And I think a lot of people are going to say what it's funny, probably 20. Right. But I think the truth is there could pro it depends on the dog. Right. And it's hard to know exactly what's going on in their head, but the answer is going to be more alike, at least double,

possibly quadruple, maybe a hundred or more accused. Right. So to go over and then turn right and take the next jump. If it's a 90 degree turn, it's probably a couple of things right there. It's the dog gets information to move toward the first job and take it. So let's just call that one cue. But now that whether they jumped straight or right,

that's two different cues. So you're doing something else with your body. So you're providing a turning cue, right. That the dose is taking in combination with the take this off stuckle queue. Right? So there's a combination there, and now you're heading for the next job, which is just obstacle. Number two, let's say it's a wrap back. So you wrapped back and that you do a full deceleration to get a full wrap there.

So again, they have a queue to take the job, but they also have a cue to wrap back immediately. So now what we've done is we've taken two obstacles and provided four cues. Right. And we're assuming that there aren't other cues, right there, aren't other things that your dog is looking at or thinking about, or that you're preparing them.

So in a, in a macro big view kind of way, there's four cues already for the performance of two obstacles. So in a lot of beginners minds, or even veterans, they say, you know, I said over and over, or I said over and dig, dig, dig for the rat. Right. And I'm providing one cue and then a second cue,

but really right. You've at least concretely provided like four different cues to get the performance of two obstacles. So those are two different things, right? It's a very fine distinction. I think now either some people at this point are like, wow, this is amazing. I'm really starting to get it. And now I'm rethinking how I give information to my own dog.

Or you're still a little bit of lost and you don't know what the heck these people are talking about. Let's talk about driving. Okay. You're driving through a small town. You've never been there before. Right. I'm giving you instructions on the phone. You got the phone on speaker, it's your cell phone, right? Your map, isn't working,

you know, Google maps isn't working. Okay. So really this, It would be me giving you instructions of the phone because this, because this happens in real life several times where I am on the phone, telling you where you are and where to go. Okay? Okay. So let's do that. Let's do that. If you say, Hey,

there's an upcoming light and I want you to go through it. Okay. That to me is not a great cue. Right? Why is it not a great cue? Because I can go through the light generally. Let's say it's a standard four way intersection, three different ways. I can go left through it. I can go straight through it. I can go right through it.

So you want to say, what do you want to say? You want to say, go left at the light, go straight at the light. Go right at the light. Right? Correct. Okay. And then, so that's number one, right? So that's the information that we need to give to our dog, but a lot of you are out there and you're just telling your dog go to the light.

You're not telling them to go left right. Or straight. You're just saying, go to the light and go through the light, take the light light, then I'll, I'll get there. And then I'll tell you where to go next. Okay. So you've got a problem and you've got the dog, that's doing obstacles one at a time and frequently curls back toward the handler for the new information.

Right. Okay. Very common among beginners. Yeah. It reminds me of about like one thing that I really appreciate it. I just have been traveling for college visits actually. And I appreciate that my GPS says, get in the second lane from the right. You know, it like tells me not just like what's upcoming, but which lane I need to be in to accomplish the next thing that's coming up.

Right. They've gotten so good, But they weren't this good to be in with because they didn't initially do that. So in the old first generation GPS You'd be in the far left lane, they would Tell you, they would tell you to go left or right. Or straight. Right. But when would they tell you? It was often like, it was enough time to make the turn if you were already in the appropriate lane to make the turn.

But if you weren't, you were scrambling to get over three lanes to the rider, three lanes to the left or So good handlers will get you in the correct lane. But to me that implies a second cue that is different from go straight left or right. Okay. So now let's back up to our Julia example. Very quickly stay with me. Now people stay with me.

We've got 20 feet in front of us jumped 20 feet after that we pull entry. Okay. So now we know we're going to tell them to go straight. Right? Right, correct. Correct. Yeah. So our motion right there, probably other things with the verbal, or if we're going to be pure verbal, I would say over, which says,

okay, that's the light we're going to write. But I might say, go on. Which means go straight. Or if I were verbal, I would say over left. And then we've, if there were a turn over right then we've, if it's a nine returned to the weeds, but since it's a straight, I would say over, go on.

We've do you see how that's different than if I were, if I could be ahead. Right. And I didn't have the directional cue, my body did that. So now my lot of my handling in that case depends on my position in motion as the handle, if I'm very far behind and I'm quote unquote, purely verbal or disenchanted, because I can't be in the quote unquote,

proper position, right. Or calm, I would call it, call it better, better to call it the more common position to help your dog, which is just to stand next to where you want them to go. Right. It'd be like talking to your friend, Hey, come to me. I'm over here. I'm waving at you right now.

I'm in the big pink clown outfit. You can't miss me. I'm on this street park right here in front of me. That's what we're saying. But now your friend in the clown outfit is behind you and they're telling you to get to a spot. Right. So they no longer have the ability to say, come to me. So then they have to be more verbal,

right. Go straight. And then when you see X, Y, and Z, maybe the weave poles go and do that obstacle. Right. So I think that the guiding principle here for everybody is that you want your dog to know what they're doing after the thing that they know that they're doing. Right? So like, that's your guiding principle. If your dog,

your dog needs to know before the jump, what the next thing is at the very least which direction it is. Right. If they're going to turn, because it affects how they take the Right. So you need that execute. So let's say it's a right turn, a 90 day return in the weeds. If I say over the dog goes forward on the job.

And I say, we've right. In theory, the dog is going to take the jump straight and look for the weeds for it. They're not going to know to turn their head to the right and look for the Weeds. And then they're gonna have to scan the, that Takes time, right. That you might get a span, a wide turn.

Exactly. So you have to position them like the really good GPS is due today. Yep. Position them by telling them, okay, we're turning at this job. Okay. And now as you're taking off or you're over the bar or the latest I want to do it is when the dog is just landing. I want to be saying we've we've we've because now they should be able to see the weeds wherever they are.

Right. So I, I call this stacking like Q stacking. So especially when there's no turn and there's several obstacles and there's like a really good target obstacle. Like I would say that anything specific, like weaves tunnel contacts, right. Where there's only one of them out there. Generally, I view those as like really good target obstacles. So if I've got,

if the dog can see that my target obstacle, so let's say it's weaves. If he can see the weaves in the straight line, but there's two jumps in front of them. I will go ahead and say like over, over weave, that way the dog is seeing the weaves and focusing forward. And you know, so I will stack those cues.

I won't wait for him to do the first jump. Then tell him about the second. Then tell them about the week. I don't even know, you know, in that spot, like they're consciously thinking, oh, okay, well clearly I'm taking two jumps and then the tunnel or, or we use, I think it's a lot, like when you tell your friend,

go through two lights and then you'll be there. The hospital be right in front of you can't miss it. Right. And in this case, what does the dog have to do that? Well, the dog has to, those two jumps are basically in the dog's way in order to get to the beads, which they can see, because let's be honest,

if your dog was amazingly verbal, as you thought, if I put two jumps between me and the weeds, the dog and the weeds, and I say, we've, he should go around. He should go around those two jumps and then go into the weaving, which is Very, very few Dogs are going to that's. Right. So what you're,

what you're beginning to understand is that dogs are highly contextual, that they can consider the fencing of the ring, the orientation of the obstacles. They will have some memory of the last time they performed a jump. Now they've done three obstacles in a row that aren't jumps and they get this sense. This need that maybe there should be a jump coming up soon.

It feels weird if there isn't, they can distinguish between gamblers courses and jumpers courses and standard courses. We all know that because some dogs run better in standard, faster or faster in jumpers that they don't like standard equipment. Right. So dogs can know all of that from a variety of visual cues, but mostly handling cues provided to them from their handler.

Oh, by the way, aren't there dogs who can tell when their handler is in practice and then home versus at an actual trial. And then the, the handler acts differently. And so the dog responds differently. Right. And so dogs are so contextual. So let's bring this all the way back to our verbal cues. Right. Covered, I think verbal cues in a very theoretical way.

Right. And cuing in general. Yeah. Yeah. Right. So, you know, number one, you want to think of how verbal is my dog, really? But even before that, so if that's one, B, one is really how verbal do I want my dog to be verbal? Do I need my daughter to be right? So then you figure out how verbal your dog actually is.

And then we work on timing. And so we've got this idea where timing should be kind of when your dog is moving in the direction of the correct obstacle, they have some chance to see it. Right. Right. So I, if I'm not going to provide the weave cue, if they aren't already kind of looking at where the weeds are, should be,

I usually need to do some other cue, like turn to me, come to me, turn away from me, whatever, some other cue before I can give that weave cue. So that might violate the principle of, oh, well, it's always, you get them at takeoff of the obstacle before the week. Right. Cause there's one more cue you need to provide.

So here's, here's my, here's my tip, right? Is that for 99.9% of listeners, if you're a little bit confused about this and you're like, what's the one thing I should take away from this. I would say, without seeing you or your dog, I'm going to feel pretty comfortable saying you're accusing to be earlier than you think they do.

But right now I, there are very few people that have perfect timing and 99.9% of people there, the timing, the way that they're wrong is that they're too late. Yeah. The people that are too early and I'll be more specific than that. If your dog is landed or just landing or about to land, then your verbal cue is not so much a cue as confirmation.

Right. And I think that is like the number one problem that I see people make the majority of people who are out there running, they have this habit and it's almost like muscle memory of giving the cue as the dog is doing the obstacle. It's almost like a tick in the brain. Right. Cause you were seeing the dog jump and you're saying jump right.

Or the other thing that I see handlers do a lot of times is they say jump as their dog jumps. So like literally as their dog starts to take off. So maybe they're not over the bar, but as they start to take off, they say jump clearly that did not tell the dog to jump. The dog is literally already gathering to take off.

Right. And so again, the dog is queuing off of all of your motion. And what you said was just confirmation that they were right. If you said something else, maybe they would go like, oh wait, you know, I thought I was doing a jump. That is, you know, and so in that point, your, your cues really aren't,

aren't doing anything at all. Right? And so I will freely acknowledge this, that the vast majority of my verbal cues in particular jumping is late. Right. If I took a video and I marked like physically stop the video and froze whenever my verbal came out, it would always be late on jumps. So where would they be really strong? It's every specialty obstacle,

right? The dogwalk the running, dogwalk the, A-frame the weave poles. I think there, you would find that my cues tend to be extremely timely with deadly accuracy, getting it right. Almost every single time. I think that's what you would find in my handling and what this tells you or anyone who watched me is that my handling queuing system is much more weighted toward body motion.

Yes. Position. Yeah. Yep. And then creating those kinds of lines with the dogs, as opposed to verbally manipulating the diet independent of my position. Right? Yep. And then that's and kind of to circle back to where we started at all. A lot of times that's when people discover that their verbals are not as strong as they thought they were was that now they,

they need a particular verbal and they realize that they've been giving verbals late all along. And that this verbal that they have developed is not helpful to them because they're not giving it at the appropriate time. And that comes all the way back to your initial point. The timing is extra important if you actually need the dog to be doing the verbal first and not the body language.

So, so, you know, think about your timing, think about how you do it, watch a video of yourself and listen. Yeah. And, and I think this is where, you know, things like slow motion analysis are really helpful because you need to pause at the moment that you say the word and see what your dog is doing. If they are already physically preparing for the,

the obstacle, then your, your cue was too late. It didn't tell them to take the obstacle if they're already preparing. Right. So that's, that's the it's earlier than you think. Yeah. All right. Well, that's this week's podcast. We hope that gives you a lot to think about, about verbal cues. We have a couple of other kind of related podcasts that I will put into the show notes about verbal cues and queuing in general.

And we'd like to thank our sponsors HitItBoard dot com and the Westminster kennel club. Happy training. Thank you for listening to bad dog agility. We hope you enjoy today's episode for more information, updates and links to all our socials. Just check out our website, www dot bad dog, agility.com. If you haven't already signed up for our email subscription, we would love to have you join the BDA community until next time,

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