When a student posts a video or asks a question that touches on a broader topic, Dawn and I will elaborate in A NOTE TO EVERYONE. Below is a note I wrote on April 4 which Dawn thought was a particularly clear way of describing a way of thinking about handling.
A NOTE TO EVERYONE: Dogs mirror handlers’ motion, so in order to support different styles of jumping, the handler needs to create distinctly different “pictures” that dogs can see early enough that it influences how they approach jumps. Handler motion, speed, and body language should communicate when the path is continuing forward after a jump (cueing the dog to jump in extension) and when the path is turning after a jump (cueing collection). These cues need to happen as early as possible so dog can adjust their striding while approaching jumps.
If dogs don’t know where the path is heading early enough, they will jump in their default style ranging from extreme extension (leading to off-course obstacles), extreme collection (leading to hesitation, stutter stepping, then sometimes over-jumping out of necessity), or a “neither here nor there” style of jumping which can lead to too much handler focus and subsequent bar knocking since the dog is waiting to see from the handler where the path is heading while approaching the jump (or even while in the air) which can cause bars to come down due to the dog trying to shift gears too late and not having time to adjust their trajectory.
Over time, dogs that do not get information early enough may shorten their running stride (adding extra strides) and jump with a shorter arc because they have become accustomed to waiting for information from the handler. Other dogs will not wait for information and will guess where the path is heading (and which obstacle is next) on their own. I personally prefer my dogs take an off-course obstacle vs. wait for me since their motion will be more fluid and natural because they know where they are going even if I didn’t tell them but both scenarios are the result of dogs not getting timely information from their handlers.
An easy way (in my opinion) to think about giving timely cues is to focus on “the path” your dog needs to run which includes obstacles along the way vs. thinking about “the obstacles” your dog needs to take. Thinking in terms of the path vs. the obstacles can help handlers support their dogs entire path, including approaches to jumps, trajectories over jumps, and landing in the direction they are heading next. A handler who supports the path is often supporting 2 (or more) obstacles at the same time with a combination of motion, speed, position, verbal cues, and body language. But it’s not as complicated to do as it is to write about! All handlers do it sometimes.. just some do it more often than others.
Below is a perfect example of what a dog looks like when she knows where she is going before taking-off. You can see Breezer looking at the path vs. at Dawn and that she sliced the jump with nice extension (vs. collection). You can also see that her feet will land facing the direction of the path. You can also see how Dawn’s motion, the direction her feet are facing, the rotation of her shoulders, and the position of her arm all create a singular clear “picture” of the path ahead.
You can test how timely your cues are (and practice supporting the path) by running your dog through sequences or even full courses with just wings (or jump stanchions) without bars or NADAC style hoops if you happen to have some on hand. You should be able to easily see when your dog “knows where she is going” by her acceleration and running full-out when the path is heading straight or gently turning and by her slight deceleration and collection of her stride before a tight turn. Oh.. and it should be equally easy to see the moments when your dog is waiting for your cues. 🙂