Perfect Timing


The essence of timing in dog agility is in the handler’s understanding that all timing is dictated by event, by where everything is in space. Understanding event timing becomes clear with some practice; or, the handler might learn the important lessons in a series of $20 a minute lessons. And, if not too dense, the important matters of timing can be learned without great expense.


We could say that a “corner” is an event. When the dog gets to the corner, we show the turn. If the concept of timing gets fuzzy, it’s usually related to the idea of the dog’s commitment to an obstacle, or even to a path.

Handlers who want to cheat the turn will often be disappointed because their desire represents an undisciplined attitude and practice contrary to the obvious facts… what constitutes good timing.

Compound Movements Have Multiple Cues

The most common compound movement is a Reverse Flow Pivot (RFP). An RFP is a combination of two Front Crosses. It is used to draw the dog towards the handler’s position and reset the dog’s line. It starts on one lead hand and resolves to the same side.


This example shows the opening of the 2002 USDAA Grand Prix Finals course designed by Tom Schultz. The handler, in this example, executes an RFP on the landing side of jump #2. The RFP seems a bit of a gratuitous movement. But the handler simply wants insurance against an off-course at the teeter.

What are the two position cues for the two Crosses in the RFP? The handler must know his cues, or he has no basis to expect good timing!

The cue for the first movement is when the dog comes up over jump #2; ideally the movement begins when the dog is at the top of the arc of him jump.

The second cue is the precise moment the dog turns his head and takes a stride towards the handler’s position. The handler must snap the second turn and step into the blocking position on the A-frame. The RFP is a double edged sword. If the handler’s timing isn’t nearly perfect he can cause as much trouble for the dog’s path as he sought to avoid.

Timing of a Turn at a Jump

This discussion is spawned from a disagreement I had with Tammi McClung during a quick lunch at the USDAA judging clinic in Leesburg, Virginia in January of 2003. It’s a small “teaching” point for agility students. I probably should have just agreed with her and let the moment pass. But the fact that I teach so much has made me a bit of a nuisance in that it’s my training philosophy to always make the correction.

We agree that teaching students matters of timing is important. In the illustration below I show a dog’s approach to a jump, the arc of his movement over the jump, and his path away from the jump on his dismount.


Here’s the question. On the line are shown seven distinct positions, labeled “A” through “G”. If a turn follows the jump, at which point should the handler show the turn to the dog? To be clear, if the handler were doing a any kind crossing movement or change of direction, this point would be where the dog is in space the very moment that the handler begins the movement of his cross or turn.

Tammi’s answer (at lunchtime) was “B” and said so in a confident and convinced manner as though it were an obvious thing. Here comes the part when I should have shut up. “No,” I said, it’s “D”.

Okay, okay. I’ll admit this one thing. There are certain dogs for whom “B” is a dandy answer. Let’s call these dogs (if we need a quick category) forgiving dogs. These are dogs that will almost certainly always keep up the bar without regard to the handler springing on them a change of direction at the moment they are confronting the bar of the jump. I have no scientific basis for offering what the percentage of dogs might be that are “forgiving”. But it is really quite small (say 15%).

So forcing a turn when the dog arrives at “B” is the thing taught by the smart alecks, that is, those who excel in competition, win national tournaments and championships. It is easy to explain why the smart aleck will say “B”. If he did not have a forgiving dog, then he would not be a smart aleck.

When the bar drops it is 95% of the time a handling error. If the dog is not a forgiving dog, the handler should wait to show the change of direction at “D” or, one could argue, somewhere between “D” and “F”. But the closer you get to “F” the closer you get to being late with the command to turn.

From the point of view of the agility teacher, we should observe and understand the type of dog being asked to jump before instructing the student on precisely when the cue to turn should be made. Let’s avoid telling the student inane and frustrating things like “you’ve got to teach your dog to jump!” Do you really know anybody who has taught their dogs to jump? It would be better for the handler/student to understand the simple discipline of jumping. It might be up to the instructor to spot the “type” of dog.

I’m forever reminded that there really is no one right answer for all dogs. As soon as there is some concept for which I convince myself that this is the way to deal with that. Then along comes another dog who defies convention and statistical measurement.

It may be that the handler should really understand the propensity of his or her own dog in the timing of the turn at a jump. I find this quite an obvious thing. If the dog drops bars if the handler shows the turn before the dog gets to position “D”, then the handler should impose on himself the discipline not to show the turn until position “D”. If the dog is a forgiving dog and will keep the bar up when the handler shows the turn from position “B”, then by all means make that turn early because contests will be won and lost on the saving of fractions of a second.

Post Script

Without recognizing the positional cues that dictate matters of timing the handler has no chance to have good timing. Practicing movement under the orchestration of cues will help build the necessary muscle memory to make timing natural and fluid. Working from cues is a discipline. It is not enough to know the cues. The handler must abide them.

I’ve made no attempt in this discussion to expound at any length on matters of obvious timing. But they warrant a mention:

         Give the command for an obstacle at the moment the dog’s nose is pointed at it (not earlier, and not later)

         Allow the dog to finish his work on contact obstacles, weave poles, and jumps before turning in a new course direction

         Work on the same obstacle on which the dog is working

Examples of handling movements were not intended to imply that these were the “one right way!” Anything that works is right. Examples were intended only to illustrate matters of positional timing.

Note to Dave

The Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewing Co was really quite excellent. It had a smooth dark flavor without a hint of a bite. Though they’ve added cinnamon ginger and honey accent, at no time does it overpower the hops of the beer. Just between you and me and the wall, I approach seasonal and holiday beers with great trepidation, because so often the beer is corrupted with tastes that spoil the brew. Thanks so much. This was a very thoughtful Christmas present.

Another Note, to Wayne

Now I feel guilty for not making public acclamation of the Rev Wayne Van Deusen’s gift to me of Brouwerij Westvleteren a damn fine beer, lighter than expected, and probably more expensive than necessary. Thanks Wayne. You’re a mentsh.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

One Response to “Perfect Timing”

  1. dave Says:

    You’re welcome…I’m glad you liked it. I have heard from some people that the Christmas Ale has been inconsistent this year, but I have yet to experience a bad one.

    And yes, many holiday beers are gross.

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