Cuing Direction is a major part of the Tell > Trigger > Target vaulting process. It tells the dog, clearly, where the disc will be caught.
Knowing the general area where the target is going to be is an important piece of intelligence for the dog, and team to have. It sets up the play and puts dog and handler on the same page before any action takes place.
This intelligence dramatically simplifies the vaulting process and removes gray areas that are present in the multitude of vaulting variations. The dog will have a clue as to where the disc is going to be before the disc is thrown and that is independent on the body position and actions of the handler.
How It Works
Cuing Direction starts with a neutral position. In order to draw attention to where the target will be, the dog and handler should be waiting qiuetly in a neutral position. Some dogs will be barky (We run Aussies and know what that is like), but both dog and handler must be lucid and capable of rational thought. So keep that in mind…
Verbal THEN Physical
The weak cue is always followed by the strong cue. Another way of thinking of this is the conditioned stimulus followed by the unconditioned stimulus. Verbal cues are, by definition, conditioned cues, and the presentation of a target that the dog wants is, by definition, an unconditioned cue. Always give your verbal cue before your physical cue.
The verbal cue will tell the dog what type of vault we are doing. We use “Top” for a linear vault, “Rebound” for a reverse vault (flip off the handler’s body), and “Stall” for a Stall on the vaulting platform or obstacle.
The physical cue will be a slow, easy movement of the target to the approximate place where the disc will be caught and a moments hold in that position.
A linear vault will have the verbal cue given,”Top,” while dog and handler are in a neutral position followed by methodically moving the disc to approximate the catching location as best the handler can. The target is held there for a moment then slowly brought back to a neutral starting position.
A Neutral Position is Key
Both before and after the directional cue is given, a neutral position is key. This neutral waiting position is critical to a clean cooperative start. If the dog is dancing around in front of the handler while the cue is being given, or if the handler doesn’t settle into a neutral position before getting started, a clean cooperative start is not likely to happen.
Just chill and let the situation chill before and after the Cuing of Direction.
A good, stable neutral Wait is the key to creating team movement. It allows the handler to lead effectively and the dog to respond to the Trigger.
Replace the Directional Cue With Disc Placement
Do your best to actually cue or draw attention to where the dog will pick up the target and make the catch. Your dog should be looking for the disc where your directional cue indicated.
Ideally the placement of the disc will be exactly where your directional cue was or the trajectory of the dog on the way to make the catch goes through your directional cue position.
Handling Strange Positions
Replicating the disc placement might not be entirely possible without a bunch of moving around or contorting the handler’s body, making a neutral Wait a difficult prospect.
It’s cool. Do your best to approximate it. Your dog will figure it out. Resist the urge to move too much. It is easy to trigger team movement or flatwork principles while trying to directionally cue the dog. A rough approximation is fine.
Sometimes you will have to Cue Direction in front of body even though the catch will be made behind you. It’s cool. Just insert the cue into the dog’s trajectory and let them know the direction they need to go to make the catch.
Problems with Cuing Obstacle
A standard convention in disc dog vaulting is to Cue Obstacle. The handler hits the obstacle with the disc to tell the dog what part of the body to leap from.
This convention creates several problems and solves none.
The dog doesn’t need to know what part of the body to leap from, as it is kind of obvious given the presentation of that body part by the handler and the location of the disc.
It Makes You Late
In addition to no benefit, the tapping or drawing attention to the body part with the disc (or even another hand) reduces the time to make the throw, making the throw “late”.
Used as a cue, timing is not really a problem, but rarely is this used as a cue. It is more often than not used as a trigger. The idea is that the dog is supposed to go when the body is tapped. The time taken to tap the body and then make the throw is too much for a trigger and so the throw winds up “late”.
Distracts From the Target
The obstacle is a given. It is a tool to get the target. It should be picked up and assumed while keeping the eyes on the prize. Drawing attention to the obstacle during the vaulting process pulls the dog’s focus from the target to the obstacle.
Puts the Face On the Obstacle
In addition to taking the eyes off the prize, tapping the body part with the disc puts the target on the obstacle. But the target is not on the obstacle and will be caught nowhere near the obstacle. The dog puts its face on the target. Putting the target on the obstacle draws the dog’s face to the obstacle. Last time I checked dog’s don’t leap with their faces.
Does Not Communicate Where
Tapping the obstacle tells the dog nothing about where the disc is going to be caught.