Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Time for a Re-Think

A few nights ago, I was clipping articles from back issues of Clean Run, and I found an article by Allison Bryant entitled "Going with the Flow" (Feb., 2006).  The flow Allison is referring to is the ability to deal with missed obstacles and off-courses so that your dog doesn't realize a mistake was made. 

Many handlers have difficulty coping when "their dog makes a mistake."  I put quotes around those five words because 99.9% of the time, the handler is responsible for any mistakes that are made.  But what about when the dog jumps a contact zone?  Knocks a bar?  Has the zoomies?  Yep, even then--chances are mistakes are either the result of handling errors or training shortfalls.  Believe me, I know.  Running my Airedale was usually an exercise in futility, and I dismissed him as being impossible to work with.  However, in moments of rationality, away from agility equipment, I realized even back then that I was responsible for his mistakes.  If I had been a better trainer, Max would have run agility with more focus and we would have been a much better team.

When a mistake is made on course, many handlers will just bring the run to a grinding halt and go back to where the mistake was made.  Patti Mah likens it to being taken to the principal's office.  In my distance training with Belle, I usually break off the exercise, call her to me and play for a second or two and then restart in a logical spot.  In trials, I try to ignore any course mistakes and just keep going.  Another way to handle mistakes, one advocated by both Patti Mah and Allison Bryant, is to loop back to a logical spot on the course, taking  a few obstacles along the way to maintain a sense of course flow, and try again.  The goal being that your dog never realizes a mistake was made.

Last night, I went to the Quad Cities to play Extreme Hoopers.  I thought I was being pretty good in training to not make Belle feel like she was being taken to the principal's office when I messed up.  However, last night caused me to re-think that big time.  The first course ran pretty well, except that I wanted to try handling the circle with significantly more distance than was needed and got some rather unexpected results.  I included an approximation of my line in the course map below.  (As indicated by the red dashed lines, the handler is not allowed to go on the other side of either wing of the circle .)
The second course though was a real bear for us. 

I had abandoned my attempts at extreme distance before we changed courses, so I really was expecting this to go smoothly, with the two biggest challenges being the send from #6 to #7 and making sure Belle didn't take the off-course #11 when she exited #7.  NOT!  The problem for us turned out to be the turn to #4.  After entering the circle Belle turned right toward #9 or worse stopped in the circle unsure of what to do.  

I didn't know what to think since I felt my handling was indicating I wanted a turn away from me, but obviously Belle was not getting the message.  So either I was not doing a good job handling or there is a major gap in Belle's training in regard to what my turn cues mean.


  1. Let me start out with that I have never tried extreme hoopers, so I certainly don't profess to have any expertise in that game. I do, however, have several gates made to the specs on the NADAC site, and use them as training aids and as challenges in some courses.

    Although the gates are made using standard, rather than privacy, lattice, they do obscure the picture quite significantly for the dog if she needs to look through them to see your cues. You can pretty much work out the distances where Belle would be unable to see your shoulders and arms without being obstructed by the gates. So, perhaps she couldn't get a clear view of your cues.

    She obviously is a smart dog and, if she had trouble seeing the cue, probably defaulted to assume that she should go to the same hoop as in the first run, which is the #9 in the second run. And as we both know, when the dog gets unsure, things fall apart and the dog gets confused and stressed, wanting to do right, but unsure of what to do.

    So, don't beat yourself up about your handling or worry about some major gap. It may just be a visibility issue.

  2. You may very well be right. Your comment jogged my memory. In one of the Extreme Hoopers runs at the August trial, I completely lost sight of Belle after she exited the circle on the far side. Perhaps Extreme Hoopers is not a good choice for extreme distance.