Flawless communication between dog and handler during an Agility competition is truly an amazing sight to behold. Not only are dog and handler successfully and safely navigating numerous obstacles, but they are doing so at speed, and often with a time limitation. Efficient communication is crucial on the Agility course, which means non-verbal cues are equally as important as verbal commands. Even subtle variations in the handler’s body positioning can cause great changes in the dog’s movement.
One such non-verbal cue in the handler’s arsenal is the reverse flow pivot (RFP). Here, the handler will turn in towards the dog to disrupt his or her trajectory (reverse flow) and then turn back (pivot) towards the correct path. For instance, in a “Jumpers with weaves” class, an RFP may be required to slow down the dog after a series of high-speeds jumps and turn towards weave poles. The RFP works on the principle that a dog will be attracted to the motion of his or her handler. When the handler turns back towards the dog, the dog’s first instinct will be to stop or slow down and reverse his or her own path. However, before the dog can reverse, the handler will have pivoted towards the correct obstacle, and the dog will be drawn towards the handler.
The RFP is a powerful tool for slowing down the dog and gaining his or her attention. An especially common use for this move is to help with obstacle discrimination, such as when a “trap” obstacle is placed in the dog’s natural flow. Additionally, for dogs who struggle with properly hitting an up contact, an RFP can be helpful, as it affords an opportunity for the dog to slow down and collect itself.
Agility handlers have countless creative solutions for communicating with their dogs while inside the ring. Understanding the natural instincts of a dog, such as the urge to follow the handler, is a driving force for effective and efficient handling. The development of greater communication skills between dog and handler is just one perk of Agility participation!