“Wait until your dog is committed to the obstacle before you move.”
“Your dog needs better commitment.”
Commitment is a huge buzzword in dog agility but what exactly does it mean?
Imagine that you’re invited to a 4th of July cookout and you must RSVP to attend. You confirm by email, buy some groceries to make your famous side dish, and decline invitations to other 4th of July events. These are examples of mental commitment to the cookout. However, there is no physical commitment until you load up your car, back out of your driveway, and arrive at the cookout.
After you decide to attend the cookout (you’re mentally committed), you can still change your mind and go to a 4th of July weekend agility trial instead. However, once you arrive, it’s a little awkward to walk out of the cookout. After all, your side dish is in your hands and you’ve left your dog and agility gear at home.You’re physically committed.
Likewise, when your dog approaches any obstacle, they transition between mental and physical commitment. Somewhere in there, we find the sweet spot for agility.
Far too often, handlers wait until physical commitment to begin moving or cueing the next obstacle—this is too late. In the video below, I illustrate the difference between mental and physical commitment on a lateral send before a serpentine maneuver. When my dog has landed off the preceding jump, I cue the jump where the lateral send in going to happen. I use an inside arm plus a verbal “jump” cue, and watch for my dog to see the jump I am presenting. Once I know he sees the jump, I begin the lateral motion away from that jump before physical commitment. He needs to see the lateral motion away from his current line before he takes off in order to know how to perform the jump. If I wait until after he takes off, how is he to know to jump the inside edge of the bar on the correct lead? Waiting until physical commitment also limits my ability to get downstream.
Be sure to watch the video to see 3 different timings of cues: before mental commitment (too early), after physical commitment (too late), and after mental but before physical commitment (just right). If you find this helpful, please share with your friends and students!
PS We’ve also discussed physical vs mental commitment on this podcast. Enjoy!