Some of the most fascinating maneuvers on the dog Agility course happen when a dog and handler cannot see one another. Here, the depth of communication between the team is most apparent. When a handler issues a command, but the dog cannot see the handler, this is called a beacon. An example is when the dog is executing the tunnel and the handler alerts the dog to his or her position on the course. Commonly, a beacon will be used to signify the handler has switched sides. The beacon is advantageous here because the dog is most likely to turn towards the side the handler was last seen, before the dog entered the tunnel. Doing so could lead to a fault, or at the very least, a loss of time.
Teaching your dog to respond to a beacon is quite simple. First, develop a command that your dog will easily associate with you switching sides after a cross. Then, practice issuing that command while your dog is in the tunnel, and eventually he or she will learn to look for you on the opposite side than would otherwise be expected. Be sure to practice the tunnel without issuing the beacon, to ensure the dog understands to only look for a cross when appropriate.
A mix of verbal and visual signals are important in dog Agility. The most versatile dogs can identify verbal cues, visual cues, body language cues, and a mixture of all three. Training your dog to respond when his eyes are not on you is extremely beneficial on the Agility course, and can give you and your pup a distinct advantage!