Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When Aglilty Class is FUN!

Every agility class is fun, but some are way more fun than others. Last night was one of those. It was Nedra's Monday Night Competitive Handling. 9 of us were there (Cheryl H,  Lisa, Nedra, Georgie, Loralie, Michele S., Sandy R, me, and Sheryl Mc came with Charlie to observe--all of us competitors at various stages. Everyone was in a jovial mood, despite the heat.  Excitement was in the air, with talk of recent successes and upcoming competitions. Everyone gathered to walk the course and discuss different handling options, watched each other's runs with interest, felt free to make constructive comments from the sidelines, and even jump up and demonstrate another way to handle a section to get better results.  People cheered each run at the end. I felt watched, mentored, cared about, and listened to, and that's what made it FUN!

The course was short but challenging. Each part of the course could be handled in several different ways. Here's the course layout, and different ways to handle the opening sequence. The dog's path is red.

D = Dog
H = Handler

I began with the LOP (Lead Out Pivot), (purple H), which worked well, but you have to get D to take the A-Frame from a  distance because H is stuck behind the dog walk.  Actually, my first try from this position was a simple left arm rotation to the tunnel, which also worked.

Clearly, the orange path is the shortest for H, but who would ever think D, seated behind Jump 1, would respond from that position.  I didn't dare try it at first.  Could wee little Maxie even see me behind the tunnel and the dogwalk?  But when I did it, Max took the 2 jumps and ran right through the tunnel with lots of speed and no hesitation.  Then galloped over the A-frame, then followed me to 5.  It was amazing!

The Send (green H), which I never practiced until this week in my yard, also worked amazingly well.  (It is harder to send D away from you than to call D to you. You have to somehow let them know what you are sending them to.)  In this case, I just said OVER, OVER, TUNNEL, A-FRAME, as I was running behind and away from Max, and he did it.  I was afraid that by diverging from his path, I'd call him off and he would just follow me. But he didn't.  Man, dogs are smart!

Or did he just MEMORIZE THE PATH?  Because by this time Max had done the sequence 4 or 5 times, and maybe he had the path memorized.  This was discussed: some trainers never repeat a sequence because they don't want their dogs memorizing anything.  How can you know if they are following your commands or operating from memory? Others believe that dogs should practice the same skill over and over in case they encounter it later they'll know just what to do.  One thing for sure, I'm not sure who's right.

We practiced other sequences, numbered different ways, that held different challenges, such as flipping the dog off the dogwalk into the central tunnel, wrapping around 7 in either direction to get to 8, and other things, but I don't have time to illustrate those.  This is enough for me to remember the evening.

So, I woke up elated! I feel the call of victory and a new certainty that Maxie and I can eventually earn our Excellent Titles.  Novice and Open are much easier because you can make up to 3 mistakes, but in Excellent you have to run clean -- no faults allowed.  Even though we've been taught to shoot for 80% accuracy in training, in Excellent competition it's one mistake, you scratch. Can't go back and erase.  "But judge, we only knocked one teeny weeny little bar.  The other 20 maneuvers were Perfect."  Don't we get something?  No, better luck next time.

"But judge, we only knocked one teeny weeny little bar.
The other 20 maneuvers were PERFECT."

With another couple of months' practice, and training myself to get up earlier in the morning thanks to Shery, I think we'll be ready to compete at the Kiln, MS trial in October with more confidence than I have right now.  We need 2 more Open JWW legs to get our Open JWW title, so that's my next goal.

For example, during the past 2.5 years of training with different instructors I've been taught to call the A-frame different things: A-Frame, Scramble, UP.  (Lately, I've been using UP, with an arm pointing up.  It's very effective and only one syllable to remember, but before that I used Scramble!)  At one point last night my brain got so scrambled I recited all 3 names as Max scrambled up the full-height A-frame, confusing him so bad he couldn't make it to the top.  It was funny, but illustrated the importance of getting your particular choice of commands fixated in your mind and sticking to them.  During a competition is no time to be fishing for words, or wondering where to put your arms, shoulders or feet.

I also notice that, at age 3, Max is maturing.  He is faster, more sure of himself, and has more focus.  Michele S. mentioned that agility dogs tend to reach their peak performance beginning at about age 5.  I hadn't heard that before but if it's true, I have a lot to look forward to.  I simply have to stay healthy for another 7 years at least (no more twisted knees, cat bites or anything else), so I can experience that peak.


Anonymous said...

Well, you and max are doing great, no doubt! Keep up the enthusiasm and keep having fun! Georgie

Missi Roland said...

thanks for sharing..I am looking for some fresh ideas for a class I am teaching and I am going to use this :)