Arms With Attitude

It’s interesting that similar concepts and foundation methodologies have occurred in so many different places during the development of our sport. It’s almost like all of these different people had the same marvelous idea all at the same time.

There’s another way of looking at it. It just could be that our dogs have been neatly training us. The thing that works in California is the same thing that works in Texas, Ohio, England, Finland… and Japan. And the reason it works is the propensity of the dog to understand something that is natural to him. So the innovators who show this bit of foundation genius or that, didn’t so much invent it, as discover it through simple observation and under the careful tutelage of the dog.

Arms and the Object of Focus

In our discussion of the matter of the dog’s focus I don’t believe I have for awhile talked through how we use our arms to communicate simple information.  This is a simple system based on the dog’s natural inclinations and understanding of our movement and habits.

The “attitude” of the arm refers to the height of the lifted arm and the degree of the angle created by the lift. A high attitude is at shoulder height; a low attitude is against the pant leg.

I apologize for the following crude and quick drawings. I kept waiting for the art department to come up with some proper illustrations… but then I remembered, I don’t have an art department.


As the handler runs lifting the arm and pointing forward is a basic cue for the dog to stay in obstacle focus and, frankly, constitutes permission to work at a considerable distance. Don’t get me wrong here. The arm is not the primary cue. Consider it a detail and confirmation of the more abiding cues (running, for example is the most important cue).

Note that the arm stays arrow-straight and points on in the direction the dog is to move if not directly at the obstacle the dog should move to.


Now the handler slowing down, presumably in anticipation of a turn draws his arm down so that the hand is about belt level. However the arm stands out away from the body. The arm remains arrow-straight and points directly at the obstacle the dog is next to perform.

Again we ask for the dog to be in obstacle focus. But clearly we’re giving other cues. Indeed the dog might take a little steam out of his movement in response to the handlers braking movement.


To draw the dog into tight handler focus the lead hand should drop flush against the handler’s body. When conducting a tight movement in redirecting the dog we want the dog watching us closely. Now the lead hand probably becomes the predominate cue.


Oh yes, and by the way. We also use our arms to keep our balance when running. Pointing the way for the dog and keeping balance at the same time is an important skill worthy of practice so that you can maintain your dignity while playing the game.

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 “Arms With Attitude”

  1. Shaping « Bud Houston’s Blog Says:

    […] draw the dog tightly around the handler’s body. I teach a simple expression of the lead hand (see When the arm is up the handler asks for obstacle focus. When the arm is down the handler asks for […]

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