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.


(upbeat music) - Welcome to Bad Dog Agility (dog barks) 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 host, Jennifer, Esteban and Sarah. - I'm Esteban. - And I'm Sarah, and this is episode 295. Today's podcast is brought to you by the Westminster Kennel Club. - The Westminster Kennel Club has announced that the Ninth Annual Masters Agility Championship will be held on January 22, 2022 at Pier 36 in New York City. 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 mop title to enter the regular class or a pop title to enter the preferred class. They must have the appropriate title at the time of entry, entries 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 in their height classes. Per New York city regulations, everyone

in attendance must be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to enter the venue. Entries close December 22nd and check out our show notes page for a link to the premium and all the details. - Westminster puts on a fantastic trial, and if you're thinking about doing it, I highly recommend that you enter. - Today's podcast is also brought to you by 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 for the new Teeter Teachit and other training tools and toys. Use discount code BDA10, to get 10% off your order. That's - 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 your 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 take. 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 dog is, 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 they're, it commonly breaks down in very common situations where if they were anywhere near 100% verbal, in theory it would, never 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 dog 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 in the communication between handler and dog, and so sometimes dogs have been better and then the handler would be like, "Whoa, this is kind of magical," "I'm just going to 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 time I'm going to say like A-frame or weave," "I'm going to 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 jump. And

so the corollary to that then of course is, there's a whole bunch of people out there who are calling out jump when it's not actually providing a cue for the dog. It is 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. - Oh, that's a very good way of putting. - Right. I think there's a lot of people that are, think that their 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 many dogs, confirmation of what the dog already thought based on all the other cues that we give our dog. - Oh, that's 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 helps them very much. I just think that that is not the majority of handlers. - 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. - Yeah well 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? - Right. - How verbal do I want my dog 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 train to that level. Right. - Right. - And so that's the first thing I think you need to figure out, like, where do I need my dog 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 weave, if I am 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 handler and different angles of approach for the dog. But in every case, I need the dog to enter the weave post correctly, wrap that pole, right? Pole number two, to 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 post, 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. But this is like a case where that's no longer true. The dog should be weaving, even though you are pulling off laterally, for instance. - Right, so then let's get to the question. Well, when do we want to call the weaves? Right, so I think 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 weaves they're going to take the weaves straight on, okay, but it's the only obstacle on the course. And now we stand, let's go with 80 feet away. Right, and we say weave. 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 people advertising their online courses and whatnot. And the dog, the, you know, they try and send them out and the dog will like go and there's nothing in the immediate area in 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 trainer is like, "Oh, silly boy," "he's just making my verbal skills look bad here," "let me just tell you again." And they send the dog again, usually with different body language, which right away to me tells me, you know, probably not 100% 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 weaves 80 feet away. We can look at that and say, "Aha, I see the weave

post there." But the dog is not used to that, right? They've done agility 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, - I take five strides and 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 have verbal weaves, you go and look for it, and there's nothing else to clutter up 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, 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 weave? - Right. - And so I think this

is a really cool thought experiment here, so what are your thoughts? - 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 a, and put in all these ex 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. - Correct. - 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? - 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 take off. - 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? - 20. - Probably 20, right? But I

think the truth is there could, 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 like, at least double, possibly quadruple, maybe a hundred or more cues, 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 jump and take it. So let's just call that one cue, but now that, whether they jumped straight or turn right, that's two different queues. So you're doing something else with your body. So you're providing a turning cue, right? That the dog is taking a combination with the take this obstacle cue, right? So there's a combination there, and

now you're heading for the next jump, which is just obstacle number two, let's say it's a wrap back. So you wrap back and that you do a full deceleration to get a full wrap there, So again, they have a queue to take the jump, 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 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 wrap, 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 should be me giving you instructions on the phone because this, - Why is that? - Because this happens in real life. - Hey, hey, hey. - 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, goes 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, good light," then I'll get there, and then I'll tell you where to go next. - Right. - 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, 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? - Yes, yes,

yes. - They've gotten so good. - But they weren't this good to begin 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 right or three lanes to the left or you know whatever. - 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 agility example very quickly. Stay with me now people stay with me. We've got 20 feet in front of us to jump 20 feet after that we have a pole entry, okay? So now we know we're going to tell them to go straight. - Right. - Right. - Correct. (Susan laughing) - Correct, yeah, yeah. So our motion, right? There are probably other things with the verbal,

or if it we're going to be pure verbal, I would say, "Over." which says, "Okay, that's the light we're going to." - Right. - But I might say, "Go on." Which means go straight. Or if I were verbal, I would say "Over, left." And then weave, if there were a turn "Over, right, then weave," if it's a 90 degree turn to the weave, but since it's a straight,

I would say "Over, go on, weave." 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, a lot of my handling in that case depends on my position in motion as the handler, but if I'm very far behind and I'm "purely verbal" or disenchanted, because I can't be in

the "proper position," right, or call, I would 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. - 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? - Yeah. - 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 obstacle. - Right, so you need that extra cue. So let's say it's a right turn, a 90 degree turn in the weaves. If I say "Over," the dog goes forward on the jump, and I say, "Weave," right? In theory, the dog is going to take the jump straight and look for the weave forward. They're

not going to know to turn their head to the right and look for the weaves. - And then they'll have to scan, that takes time. - Right, right. - You might get a spin, a wide turn, exactly. So you have to position them like the really good GPSs do today. - Yup. - Position them by telling them, "Okay, we're turning at this jump," 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 "weave, weave, weave" because now they should be able to see the weaves wherever they are. - Right. - Right. - So I call this stacking, like cue 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 him about the weaves. - Yeah, 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 weaves." I think it's a lot like when you tell your friend, go through two lights and then you'll be there, The hospital will be right in front of you. - Can't miss it. - You can't miss it. - And in this case, what does the dog have to do? Well, the dog has to, those two jumps are basically in the dog's

way in order to get to the weaves, which they can see, because let's be honest, if your dog were as amazingly verbal, as you thought, if I put two jumps between me and the weaves, the dog and the weaves, and I say, "Weave," - He should go around the jumps. - He should go around those two jumps and then go into the weave entry. - Exactly, which is

very, very few dogs are going to do. - That's right. So 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 at home versus at an actual trial, and then 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? - We've covered I think verbal cues in a very theoretical way, right? - And

cuing in general actually. - 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 1B, 1A is really how verbal do I want my dog to be? How verbal do I need my dog 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 if I'm not going to provide the weave cue, if they aren't already kind of looking at where the weaves are or 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 weaves. - Right. - 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 cues need to be earlier than you think they do. - That's right. - There are very few people that have perfect timing and 99.9% of people, their, the timing, the way that they're wrong

is that they're too late. - Yeah, if you, - Like there're very few 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." but it's, you know, and so in that point, your cues really aren't doing anything at all. - 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 stopped the video and

froze whenever my verbal came out, it would always be late on jumps. - Yeah. - So where would they be really strong? It's every specialty obstacle, right? The dog walk, the running dog walk, 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 watches me is that my handling queuing system is much more weighted toward body motion. - Yes. - Position, yeah. - Yup. - And then creating those kinds of lines with the dogs, as opposed to verbally manipulating the dog, independent of my position. - Right. - Yup. - And then that's, and kind of to circle back to where

we started it 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 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, you know, think about your timing, think about how you do it. Watch a video of yourself and listen. - Yeah. - 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 obstacle, then your cue was too late. It didn't tell them to take the obstacle if they're already preparing, right? So 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, and the Westminster Kennel Club. Happy training. (upbeat music) - Thank you for listening to Bad Dog Agility. We hope you enjoyed today's episode. For more information, updates and links to all our socials, just

check out our website, If you haven't already signed up for our email subscription, we would love to have you join the BDA community. Until next time, take care. (upbeat music)

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