How Handling Systems are like Spandex

Thursday, May 14, 2009

We had a full day of handling here yesterday and another one planned for today. Double box times two! Yesterday was a group of mostly high drive dogs, 11 of the 14 being over-the-top Border Collies.  For the most part, all of the dogs worked very well.  However, at the end of the day, I had to give the group, a little collective smack down. I was a bit miffed at the fact that of all the dogs working, there were only 2 that had a solid start line (one of which was one of my instructors).  

Even if you are a lightening fast runner, having a dog that you can count on to wait at the start line will be a benefit to you throughout your career. I personally believe that the lead out is critical to a dog learning that your body position remaining motionless in a certain spot, translates to an upcoming turn.  This understanding of “positional cues” is an important part of Greg Derrett’s handling system, thus a solid start line is a big help when running in Greg’s system.

You may notice that I rarely talk about handling on this blog. Handling systems are definitely a matter of personal choice. I have been a fan’s of Greg Derrett’s system since my first introduction almost 10 years ago. However, I don’t write much about handling here because I want this blog to be a welcomed source of dog training to everyone. Handling discussions have the potential to divide people into defensive positioning of “us” against “them.”  Although, I am thrilled with the results I have gotten with all of my dogs while  following Greg’s system, I respect the right for all to handle how they feel is best for the dog.  

Handling system preferences have definitely created some “cliques” at agility trials. It is so easy for innocently intending comments to be overheard and turned into fuel for such a climate. It is my wish that this attitude doesn’t prevent anyone from learning from the information that I share here or in my newsletters.   Don’t get me wrong, I have very strong opinions when it comes to my own handling choices, but, just like wearing spandex, it is a matter of personal preference and that has got to be okay.  

At the risk of sounding altruistic, I will tell you that my vision for this blog is to create an atmposphere of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness.   I want it to be a place for anyone (regardless of handling preferences) who is interested in good, science-based dog training, to ask questions, share their thoughts and collectively help dogs everywhere to be better understood. To this end, handling discussions will be kept to a minimum, however I will occasionally wear spandex as I type.

Today it is Feature’s 2nd birthday and I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have her influencing my dog training and my life.



  1. Hard to believe Feature is two already! Happy birthday, baby girl!

  2. Thanks for today’s blog Susan… there is a whole lot of room in this world for inclusive, though-provoking discussion. I have no doubt that the science of learning/teaching/training will remain my most fave subject until I am 6 ft under– blog baby blog!

    Happy b’day Feature! Hope you have extra fun today 🙂

  3. Wow, two years old- Happy Birthday Feature.

    One of the problems that I had when I first started in agility was the vast amount of information on agility and the many different approaches. I haven’t been at this long however even at the baby level there is polarization as to what system is the best and system bashing happens. An open mind and a sense of humor will get your further in this sport then anything. Well that is my opinion. I am glad we have this resource, thanks Susan.

    PS: I bought a WII last week!

    Judith Batchelor

  4. Happt Birthday Feature, give my grandchild a hug from me.
    Lets hope her little brothers and sister grow up to as lovely as her.

    Nicola G

    • Feachy says thank you gramma Nic!

  5. Here are some rules which I never allowed my 11 month old BC to reward himself without his release word:
    -breaking a sit to go outside
    -leaving a crate
    -breaking a sit to play
    Here are some things which I allowed my 11month old BC reward himself with at least more than once:
    -jumping on people
    -pulling on a leash
    -humping people
    Guess what I now have?…a humping and jumping on people,leash-pulling puppy who has never broken a sit. Handling systems aside, dogs will do what is re-inforcing, you have said that 1 million times. I have living proof. Happy Birthday Nader, you are also living proof of how great & consistant training reflects itself. Even if you are a nut.

  6. Happy Birthday Missy Fea!

  7. Happy b-day Feature!

    Just have to share this story to some fellow ‘tuggers’. Today I had a breakthrough with my 4 year old (food only motivated) dog. I’ve been playing a lot with her for the last couple of weeks, just little sessions and today it was like she really got it and she was tugging like it was her last day on earth. I was so thrilled, but then a man approaches me (total stranger) and starts reprimanding me for playing tug of war with my dog, telling me all kind of horror-stories, that it’ll turn her in to a crazy aggressive Cujo (shes a 9 pound mininature pinscher). I do know that none of this is true and that he was just a jerk (with some old school ideas on dog-training), anyhow I’m devastated, mostly because he ruined our first perfect tug-moment. Hopefully more will come…

    So maybe handling systems are like spandex, but opinions on tugging apparently aren’t, at least not here in Denmark :o(

    • How sad! Heres to many more successful and memorable tug sessions for you and “Cujo”!

  8. Loving the spandex analogy. 🙂
    Happy Birthday Feature!

  9. It is all about the crate games that helps getting those start lines. I spent this winter every Saturday afternoon having DVD Training parties with my training buddies.
    Happy B-day Feature.

  10. Happy Birthday Feature!!!!!

    Not only are you blessed to have Feature but we all are as well! She continues to teach you which you pass on to us. We pass these wonderful lessons onto our dogs and human students.

    In fact, we are all blessed with having whatever dog challenges our own dogs are facing for the wonderful lessons they teach us that we can then pass along. Dog training pay it forward at its finest! LOL

  11. To celebrate I’d like to see a “Say Yes” product, I have in mind a T-shirt (with a little stretch Lycra in it, natch) which says “Have you got Crate Games?” across the front, and “Say yes!” somewhere on it

    • It would be even classier with the words in a speech bubble, coming from that photo of Feature with a cigarette and sunglasses on…!! but this is a matter of personal choice!

  12. tee-hee..the spandex comment was funny. I really enjoy your blog and your books and am trying to teach the 2×2 method to my dog now. Although I am following a different handling method – I still reap MANY benefits from your experience, enthusiasm and wit!!

  13. so if you choose not to use any handling system, and just winging it every time…. is that like streaking 🙂

  14. I read Shaping Success – that’s great! Especially here in Russia – we still has tons of correction-working trainers but it’s started to change – thank you very much for the inspiration!! But I still have a “sore question” – what was the sequence you couldn’t do with Buzz when Greg Derrett helped you? 🙂

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