Peripheral Vision. You have it. Are you using it effectively on course to guide yourself and your dog along the lines? Every handler has been told to look at the dog, look at the line, see the dog, see the line, look up, look down, what are you looking at???!!!!! Huh? It’s confusing for sure.
Agility has shifted greatly from its beginnings of “point to point” handling, that is, the handler looks at an obstacle and goes towards it, shows the obstacle to the dog, and indicates to the dog what it should do, to “line” handling. Line handling requires the handler to “look” (we’ll get to what that means in a bit) at the bigger picture, draw the line for the dog (using a combination of handling elements) and relies on indirect sight of obstacles. Dogs, being curious, tend to pay attention to what WE look at, and they use that information to help make decisions about where they should go on course. Line handling supports what I consider to be the “Big 3” questions … do you see where your dog is coming from, where it is going to, and where it is on the continuum of the line? With course design and evolution, it becomes increasingly valuable to use peripheral to help answer the Big 3. (My course on “String Theory” has been effective for those who want to know more about “seeing” their dog 😉 ).
Before anything else …. disclaimer alert …. I am NOT an eye doctor (nor do I pretend to be one while teaching or handling). I am concerned about teaching more than how to do a front cross, and that requires supporting handler mindset, physical capabilities, skills and emotional control. “Dr. Google” (and your eye doctor) has a wealth of info to consider. To save you some time, below are a few items I encourage teams I work with to see on their agility journies 😉 .
Field of Vision (FOV) includes the entirety of what you (or your dog) can see. Placement of eyes in the head is a determinant of the range of field of vision in both humans and dogs. Humans can see up to 180 degrees (most of us don’t, we are at a fair 100-120 degrees) while dogs (depending on the breed) can see up to 270 degrees. Dogs with eyes placed more “front” (Pugs, Boston Terriers and Papillons, for example) have less than 270 degrees by virtue of how their eyes sit in the head. Dogs with eyes that slant to the sides (Border Collies, Malinois, some terriers for example) have a large field of vision that helps them in doing what they were bred to do. Think about what your dog sees. Really sees. It’s NOT the same as your point of view or field of view, and honestly … what is more important in this game than knowing how to navigate the information your dog is using to make its decisions? Unless you do, you put yourself at a disadvantage, as agility courses look like wonderful adventures to our pups! Wearing glasses can impact your FOV. Good as your eye doctor may be, there’s always some part of the lens that doesn’t get the prescription and that creates a “blind spot” so to speak. Some athletes who must wear glasses have found that contact lenses can improve their peripheral, while others have found that they can train themselves to run without glasses (be careful!). If you wear bifocals, trifocals or have astigmatism, you may already be aware of how those lenses impact your FOV.
Central (Direct or Tunnel) Vision is what you see when you look ahead. It’s a more pin-pointed view. You might say it’s like looking at something with blinders on. Have you ever seen a horse wearing blinders? It keeps the horse from seeing what is around it that could cause it to lose focus or become alarmed. Keeps them looking straight ahead. People who wear multi-focal lenses know to “point your nose at what you want to see,” and this is similar to what tunnel vision is. If this is you, you’re already aware that your peripheral vision is not being used fully when you handle.
Peripheral (Indirect or Edge) Vision is seeing items on the edge of your field of vision. Peripheral vision is what you use most often when driving your car, it is what helps you avoid those pesky little deer and other critters that like to jump in front of your car as you drive. Peripheral vision is (to be a bit cliché) one of the first things to go as we age, and through aging, you can lose up to 40% of your peripheral range. As we age up in this sport, it’s worth working on as a skill to improve, because it IS possible to improve with eye exercises and attention. Peripheral vision can decline due to chronic illnesses and disease (migraines, cataracts, glaucoma to name a few). Signs that peripheral vision is declining may include not being able to see well at night, seeing halos around lights, bumping into things that should be in our central vision field, blurry vision.
By virtue of the rods/cones and whatever else makes up a dog’s eye, they have a very strong central (forward) vision field. Ever notice how your dog turns its head to look at you? That’s in part because if they don’t do that, they can’t see you clearly 😉 . This is why your instructor should be telling you to position yourself ahead of your dog, physically and laterally … it’s not because we like to see you run faster, it’s so the dog can see you as you give it information.
On the other hand, humans have good peripheral vision. We can clearly see our dog in our peripheral if we are close to it as we handle. (If you’ve worked with me, you know I call that the “obedience handling” method, and you KNOW that I’ll try to discourage you from doing it … for the sake of your dog!) So, think about this as you step to the line … dogs often miss the “obvious” because their physical make up supports them seeing what is directly in front of them more easily than what is around them. You as the handler, need to remember this, and act accordingly. Examples? Startlines with your dog beside you give less quality information to your dog than leading out. Walking/jogging beside your dog in the weave poles provides a minimum of information. “See” what I’m talking about??
The balance of vision. There is give and take in your vision, depending on the situation. Situations that you face and your response to those situations can indeed have an impact on what you see. Based on your emotional responses, your short-term FOV can decrease. Anyone who has run Snooker successfully has likely run somewhat in “Tunnel Vision,” as seeing the Big Picture can get you a lot of off-courses!
As “threats” (otherwise known as arousal, excitement, nerves) increase, so does tunnel vision. This applies to both the handler and the dog. Equally, as confidence and clarity increase, so can peripheral abilities. Let’s break that down ….. as your dog gets aroused (either before or during your run) you may have noticed your dog taking off courses when you KNOW you have indicated the turn/obstacle, etc. And, that’s when handlers yell, “Bad dog, why does s/he do that?” Or worse, you get complacent and give up trying to understand the issue and find a solution. Hey, we’ve all been there, we’re all in the same boat at some point. Getting out of the boat is what matters, so, give some thought to your pre-game dog in order to affect your in-game performance. Your dog may not see your cues because of its aroused state. It’s not a “bad dog” at all, it’s a dog whose tunnel vision may be on hyper-drive. BE CLEAR. BE CONNECTED. BE IN POSITION. BE CALM.
On the human side of the team, when you get aroused (excited, feeling emotionally unprepared, scared cuz you WANT that Q dammit), the changes to your physical state can cause your peripheral to lessen, as you go into a pseudo “flight or fight” mode. You can’t “see” what’s next, because honestly, your vision becomes more pin-pointed the more aroused you get. If you’ve ever finished a run and said, “I didn’t see that jump/tunnel/off-course,” join the club. As tunnel vision increases, peripheral decreases. BE CALM. BE CLEAR. Get your Agility Mindset right.
The good news is this …..you CAN train your peripheral vision, and it doesn’t cost you anything but time and persistence to do it. I’m adding a few video links to give you ideas on the very simple things you can do to help see what you need to see. I am not affiliated in any way with the presenters on the video links, they are being provided as courtesy from “Dr. Google” and are meant to help jumpstart your journey towards seeing what you need to see.
Working on your mindset so that you can say “It’s like me to be calm” can support your mental game. That’s another topic, happy to chat with you if that’s your need. You CAN improve your understanding of and ability to relax, to focus, to be the best handler you can be for your dog. While the sport of agility indeed is about doing a great front cross or two, training to see the WHOLE of agility (mental, physical, emotional and skills based) will really help you move forward in the game, and that’s what I like to work on with myself and with clients.
The bottom line about vision …. remember Diane’s Big 3 … if you can say YES to knowing where your dog is coming from, going to, and where it is, you are seeing the Big Picture. And that, puts you on the path of success. Peripheral and central vision CAN and DO impact your performance. Challenge yourself to see the line, and the big picture as you run towards your dreams.