Last night I dreamed that I was teaching a Beginners Agility class -- the first one where dogs begin working off leash. I was explaining to my students that the sport depends upon an unbroken connection between dog (D) and handler (H). So while D may be off of their physical leash, they are still very much on a psychic leash, fully connected to you AND in your control.
This psychic leash operates just like a retractable "flexi" leash, where D can go out far away and as D returns, the leash winds back into its casing. You are the casing, the psychic leash unfurls from your hand. And of course, it never gets hung up on poles or other obstacles but passes thru them like radio waves.
In my dream, I demonstrated myself and Maxie doing a flawless run and moving smoothly around a course, but since I can't do that yet, I am posting this video I took of Jane-Simmons Moak running a very difficult Excellent Jumpers course at the Hattiesburg trial I attended yesterday. Jane is a well-known author and perhaps the foremost expert in what she calls "distance handling". In this video, Jane sends her dog far away, with obstacles layered in between herself and D, and it seems almost impossible that D could know what she wants . . . . . . . but D does know, and doesn't have the slightest doubt about it either. It's truly remarkable. You can almost see Jane whipping the psychic leash around the ring.
Seeing this run is probably what sparked my dream. It was especially exciting because this run earned her team their MACH title, which is why she started running around the ring with a bar. Notice after the run, the "psychic leash" is no longer attached to the dog so he spins wildly and runs around like a maniac.
In my dream, after running Maxie flawlessly, I presented my students with the following exercises to help them envision the psychic leash:
#1 Practice the rear cross (RC) with D in a sit/stay, on leash, at H's left. Holding leash in left hand, H moves right to the end of leash, then back to rear cross behind D while shifting leash to their right hand, then stops to D's left, leash fully extended. D is now on H's right and the arm holding the leash has changed. Reverse. When D is comfortable with this and their head always follows you, perform the exercise off leash and at greater distances, walking then running while D sits, performing the same hand motions.
#2 Practice the front cross (FC) with D in a sit/stay, on leash, at H's left. Holding leash in left hand, H moves right to the end of leash, then front crosses (walks forward and left in an arc around D, making a 360 degree turn and ALWAYS facing the dog), while shifting leash to their right hand. D is now on H's right side and the arm holding the leash has changed. Reverse. When D is comfortable with this and their head always follows you, perform the exercise off leash and at greater distances, walking then running while D sits, still performing the same hand motions.
These are the same arm changes/hand motions you will use to direct D around a course. To everyone else it will look like you are lifting one arm then another, pointing at obstacles and paths, but you are really "extending" the leash as far as you want D to go, switching leash from hand to hand, and reeling it back into yourself when you want D to return to you. The trick is to remain mentally aware of the tension on the line, so D can tell by your pressure how far out to go, when he's reached the end of the line, when to return, etc.
Can you really "will" D around a course in this fashion? In the dream, it seemed you could. I'm sure there is a lot more to pulling and pushing, sending and calling than this, though. I want to learn it all.
Today, I tried #1 and #2 exercises on Max and Lucky to see if they really work, and they do! On leash. Off leash. Their heads turned in my direction every time. If I ever do teach a class, I will definitely teach a reliable sit/stay, front and rear crosses as described above, rewards for correct head turns, and the sense of being fully connected to your dog.