When Debi Hutchinson came to Dogwood Acres to present a two-day seminar on all aspects of Agility Handling and Training, without question the one thing that more participants commented on above all the other great information was her start line routine. Without an absolutely clear and consistent start line routine, the dog will always have an excuse for breaking and the handler will never be able to know with certainty that they have a clean start to the course.
There are six clear and specific steps that, if followed by the handler, will show the dog without question when they need to “amp up” and when they will be released to run at full speed. Dogs love consistency – BE PREDICTABLE!
Here is the step-by-step routine:
1) Bring the dog in and square up with the handler’s back to obstacle #1 at the angle you want the dog to take it. (Allow sufficient distance for the dog to get up to speed before breaking the timer “eye”.) Expect the dog to sit in ‘front’ position.
2) Upon hearing “Good Luck” from the judge, remove the leash / collar from the dog and give a “stay” (or “wait”).
3) When taking a lead out, keep an eye on the dog to ensure no movement. If the dog does lift their butt or start to ‘scoot’, stop and use a negative marker (like “oops”) to get the dog back in their sit position.
4) At the lead out position – stop, turn back to the dog and raise the hand which will be “leading” the dog from their current spot through #1 on the course. This is not a release – don’t let the dog interpret any motion as the release!
5) Take a breath … clear your head and know where you are headed!
6) Release the dog with a VERBAL cue – remain motionless until AFTER giving the cue and the dog starts in motion.
To highlight the importance of this routine, consider that when a dog “gets away with” an undesired behavior (like breaking the start before being given the cue to start – and then having the broken start reinforced with the reward of getting to run the course because the handler doesn’t want to blow the entry fee), the dog will ATTEMPT that same “reinforced and undesirable behavior” 25 more times. Figure the cost of all the entry fees needed for those 25 attempts and perhaps developing an absolute start line routine is worth the effort!