Thursday, December 5, 2013

Teachable Moments

I was looking for a sequence with a minimal amount of setup work since it is always windy out in the field this time of year.  Brrrr.  I chose this simple exercise from Linda Mecklenberg's Feb., 2013 column in Clean Run.  Never in my wildest dreams did I realize it would give us so many different things to work on with Willie.

First, there is the backside of #4.  We've done a little bit of backside work, but not a whole lot because I don't want him to default to the backside of a jump too easily.  The object of this sequence is to handle #4 in at least three different ways.  I tried pushing Willie to the back of #4 around the wing closer to the tunnel and then pushing into the gap between 4/5.  This proved to be somewhat difficult for Willie because he still doesn't understand collection.

Then I tried pushing him to the backside of #4 around the wing closer to #5.  Much to my surprise, this was made getting to #5 easier for him since he was forced to slow down (collect) for the wrap.  Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a third way to handle 4/5 yesterday.  But I think it might be possible for the handler to get to the take of side of #4 and handle from that side.

Because of his speed and size, Willie defaulted to the correct side of #2.  So I was really shocked when this turned into a major sticking point for Belle--she defaulted to my side of the jump.  Hmm.  I spent several minutes showing Belle the difference in my signals when I wanted her to take the jump going away from me and when I wanted her to take it coming toward me.  Then I brought Willie out and worked on showing him what it looked like when I wanted him to take #2 from my side of the jump.  There's that hard to grasp concept again, collection.  Once he got the idea of coming to my side of the jump, I started asking him to wrap it and go back into the tunnel.  Surprise!  He took the jump first, which gave us another skill to work on.

We quit for the day at this point, but in addition to wrapping to the tunnel, there are several other choices:
  • the other end of the tunnel
  • either side of #4
  • either side of #5
  • the gap between 4/5

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Mental Game

Just a few random thoughts for today's Dog Agility Bloggers Event, "The Mental Game."

First and foremost, it is a GAME.  Games are supposed to be FUN.  Fun for you and fun for your dog.  Nothing brings me down so much as watching a handler blame his dog for mistakes on course.  The mistakes are almost always the handler's--either she messed up her handling or she hasn't proofed her dog sufficiently, or Dog forbid, she did a crappy job of teaching some aspect(s) of her dog's performance.

In the same vein, don't beat yourself up over handling mistakes.  Jot it down and come up with some ideas to work on your skills so that you can handle the sequence, trap, whatever better the next time you see it on a course.

Use the course maps to memorize the sequence of the courses before you walk if at all possible.  If you can, watch while the course is being built to mentally test how well you've memorized the course.  Then you can spend your walk through time on analyzing what your dog sees and planning your handling.  Even after all these years, I'm not terribly good at estimating where my dog and I will be relative to each other, so I usually try to have a Plan B.  One thing that I used to overlook frequently was where to set Belle at the start line so she would be able to see me and the obstacles between us.  Duh! 

Unlike many handlers, I usually don't use all the walk through time allotted.  Sometimes, that bites me in the butt, but usually it works for me.  Once I've decided on a plan and know where the control points are and how I'm going to get there, I try to get to them once or twice and then I get out of Dodge.  If I'm running early in the order, I want to spend the time with my dog.  If I'm running later, then I have plenty of runs to watch to see if I missed something.

Plan your run, and run your plan.  Well, usually, but sometimes I see another handler do something that is much more logical, efficient, elegant, whatever, than what I had planned.  I'm not above giving it a go without having walked it.  However, I will rehearse the move mentally.  If subsequent handlers do the same move, I have an additional chance to mentally work on my timing.

Above all, have fun and make sure your dog is having fun, too!