My three-stride theory

In his never-ending quest to make me into the handler he wants, Rush has always been very vocal about when he needs his cues. He barks at me if I’m late, or if I’m in his way. As a consequence, starting very early on, I have worked hard to understand exactly what Rush considers a timely cue. I have come to understand that he wants his cue three strides before he has to make a turn. He can make a turn with two strides’ warning, but then it might be a bit wide and I might get a bark.

As I realized this, I started watching what other dogs do and when other dogs need their cues, and I realized that–at least in my observation–pretty much all dogs want information three strides early. Now, with a smaller dog, the dog might take three strides between jumps, and in that case the handler can wait until the dog lands a jump before cuing the next jump. Most border collies take two strides between jumps–and those dogs want to know where they’re going after the jump before they take off. Rush–with his huge stride–mostly takes just a single stride between jumps, and so his cues need to be very early in comparison with the smaller dogs.

Now, once I developed this theory, I started (kind of obsessively) counting strides as I watch dogs run. I see dogs put in extra strides to accommodate their handlers really often. It’s easiest to see when you watch dogs run jumpers. In this video of Rush running AKC Jumpers with Weaves, you can see Rush take an extra stride between jumps–going wide once and taking a stride toward me the other time–twice. Why? Because I was late with the cue. Hint: watch the striding across the back of the arena (before and after the double) and compare that to the striding before the bright yellow jump on the left side of the video.

This theory–that Rush (and possibly other dogs too) needs three strides to make a turn without having to throw in an extra stride–informs my choices in handling a course. How do I give Rush the information he needs without confusing him?