Monday, February 20, 2012

A Frustrating Week

Despite the beautiful weather we've had last week, it was a rather frustrating week for me.   I "enrolled" in one of Silvia Trkman's handling classes a couple of weeks ago, and I was finally able to set up the first course last Tuesday.  To my dismay, I found myself unable to successfully handle one of the sequences in one of the two ways Silvia recommended.  After trying my best, I finally had to accept the fact that I am just not fast enough to get ahead of Belle in this particular sequence.  The best I could do was handle it from behind--a real time waster, but at least it enabled me to complete the sequence.

After struggling with a highly technical European style course, I decided it was time for a change of pace and set up a NADAC Jumpers course on Thursday.  Since I wanted to practice bonus lines with Belle, I opted to use hoops instead of jumps.  Here's the course:

On Thursday, we made three attempts at the bonus line, and I made mistakes at three different spots.  On our first attempt, I messed up at #10 to #11 by getting a little too far ahead of Belle and failing to maintain pressure on her line to #11.  On our second attempt, I was late turning Belle from #6 to #7.  I thought we had nailed it on our final effort, but I was way late in cueing the turn from #17 to #18.

On Friday, however, the big problem was turning Belle left from #5 to #6.  I spent hours studying and comparing video clips, trying to figure out why we were having so much trouble with something that gave us no problem the day before.  I finally decided that several different things were happening, and it was not necessarily the same thing every time that caused Belle to turn in the wrong direction.

My first thought from watching the clips was that I was dropping my right arm after calling for the switch from #4 to #5 and then pushing it out again to get the turn to #6.  But when I looked closely at Thursday's video, I found I did the same thing and Belle had no problem turning in the correct direction.  Another thing I noticed on the Friday morning video was that Belle was on her left lead (the lead that would naturally carry her to #6) coming to #5 and was actually changing leads when I gave my cues.

I also noticed that sometimes I was already moving left as Belle came through #5 and sometimes I was facing #6 and not really moving very much.  Unfortunately, that alone did not seem to determine whether or not Belle made the correct turn at #5.

I tried using different verbals:  "out," "get out," "left," and "switch."  "Switch" was most definitely a wrong choice since Belle immediately switched and turned right.  The one time I used "left," it worked, but then I erroneously said "left" two hoops later when I wanted Belle to turn right.  Since she turned in the correct direction despite my error, I'm going to assume that right and left don't really mean that much to her.  I even went out on the course and pretended to be Belle and tried to determine what combination of cues would make it clear to me that I was to turn left after #5.

When I went out Friday afternoon, I was able to consistently send Belle from #5 to #6 by making a conscious effort to not drop my arm after calling for the switch between #4 and #5.  Although other movements on my part may have been causing the miscue in the morning, the act of concentrating on keeping my arm out caused me to move more fluidly.  Now if I could just get my timing right.

Saturday afternoon I went out and tried running the course backward.  We weren't very successful with that either.  I was really discouraged when we tried the course as it was designed--once again I had trouble getting Belle from #5 to #6.  We did finally get through the entire course, but that was more due to Belle than to me.  I decided to end on a successful note (for my benefit), and just run the course without trying for the bonus.

Here's some of the video from Saturday.

Postscript:  I finally figured out what was going wrong in the opening.  It finally dawned on me that from Belle's point of view there was no "switch" involved going from #4 to #5.  It was really a "go" for her since there was no other logical obstacle in the vicinity.  Because Belle is very responsive to the "switch" command, using "switch" at #4 set her up to turn away from me after #5.  On most of our attempts, I was unable to over-ride the switch with an "out" or my body movement.  (I don't consider Belle to be linguistically gifted.  However, unlike many agility commands, "switch" is a word she basically only hears in a set context-namely when I want her to turn away from me-and she is very responsive to it.)

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