Technical in Tyler, Texas

I’ve finished my first day judging in Tyler, Texas. As usual it’s an absolute delight to judge down in this part of the world. There is a fairly large contingent over from Shreveport. And, I got to meet Marcus Topps and his BC girl Juice, a couple of rising stars in the sport. More on them later, I suppose.

I want to share with you parts of a Masters course I put up this morning. It was quite a technical course. And technical seemed to be the theme of the day. Tomorrow’s courses are I think considerably gentler.

Opening

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In case you don’t really see it, jump #3 is the problem jump. If the handler draws his dog in a straight line through the first two jumps there’s actually a possibility of a refusal at jump #3 as the dog blows by the run-out plane. Here’s the real irony of this observation… it just about the one fault that I did not call on this opening.

What I saw for the most part is handler’s trying to draw the dog hard to the right after jump #2 in order to open up the approach to jump #3. I was very generous in not calling a approach refusal at jump #3 for handler’s who created a completely wobbly approach.

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You’ll note that if the handler draws the dog hard to the right he immediately fixes on the pipe tunnel and then it’s a piece of work to get him redirected. It’s entirely possible to draw the dog so deeply that it makes more sense to turn him to the left after jump #3 though it represents a considerable waste in time and real estate.

Mostly the faults we saw in this opening were dropped bars at jumps #2 and #3 as handler led out to strike a flat-footed pose and frankly hadn’t much productive to do at all but startle the dog into handler focus when he should have been smoothly focused through the jumps.

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The bolder and gutsier strategy was to draw subtly after jump #2 and simply attack jump #3 the consequential path really favored the wrong course entry to the pipe tunnel but for the most part the gutsier handlers were in position to draw their dogs back to the correct entry. Well, that is not to say that we didn’t get wrong courses into the wrong end. The mechanics of the front cross tell the whole story. The Front Cross is one of the most common movements in our sport. It is also probably the most flawed of our movements. It’s the flail you know. It looks like a big ham-handed precue. The flail only serves to make the handler slow and late. Sometimes you just don’t get to be late in dog agility.

Ongoing

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The next part of the course really wasn’t terribly technical.  It’s predictable enough that the most common faults in a sequence like this are dropped bars and missed contacts. Okay, we had at least one on & off the table as well.  In general this is a pretty good scenario for performance of the weave poles. The dog gets a straight approach and the handler probably needs a Front Cross on the dismount so he’ll be less inclined to pull the dog out early than if it were a Post Turning kind of sequence.

But the dropped bars… what I’ve noted here in east Texas is a round & soft sleepy dreamy kind of approach to turning sequences to jumps. I teach a push the line and show the sharp corner kind of game with jumps. Think of it this way… the corner is a well defined event and frankly constitutes the handler’s timing marker for change of direction. If you look at the sequence like an “S” or a series of undulating curves, it blunts the precision of the timing moment. And most errors on course are timing errors.

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The bit off the table was, again, a technical moment in the course. I draw the intro lines simply because it’s my own belief that handling the dog is predicated on an understanding of the dog’s path. If I don’t see the path… how can I really direct the dog?

I wasn’t terribly surprised but was certainly somewhat disappointed by the number of handlers who decided to conduct their dogs through this sequence with fast dog handling (behind the dog and pushing). I had an interesting conversation with USDAA judge Jessica Ajoux on the drive from the airport at Shreveport. We were talking about the difference between fast dog handling and slow dog handling. She basically said that she preferred behind and pushing because her dog is fast enough that she sees no real sense in pushing forward of the dog for Front Crosses.

But you know, I design sequences like this because I know precisely how to punish the fast dog handler with a lazy disposition. Behind the dog and pushing is a lot like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. I know if feels pretty cool when it’s working… and yet it is far too easy to lose that card into the wind so that it goes nowhere near the hat.

Consider that you have your dog on the table. As the judge give his tedious and predictable table count the handler might easily improve his real estate to have a Front Crossing position on the landing side of jump #12. Indeed, if you use a precue Front Cross this is certainly the time for it. The precue not only sharpens the turn but saves the torque and pressure on the dog’s legs in landing as he comes up over the jump already cued to the turn. It also puts the handler on the inside of the turn allowing him to be precise in his presentation of the direction of the course.

I did promise that I’d mention Marcus Topps again. Everybody tells me how fast this kid is (indulge me while I call a 30 year old man… a kid). Okay, he ran a bit, but he was never in a terrible hurry. Mostly what he did throughout the day (pretty much acing whatever interesting riddle I put out there)… is find the bold position forward of his dog to give precise directions.

Finish

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Frankly, if the handler was in a behind and pushing posture coming off the A‑frame there wasn’t going to be anything automatic about this closing. Jump #18 served up a raft of refusals because handlers pushed into the Tandem prematurely. It’s a long flat subtle approach to jump #18. It needs to be handled that way. If the handler shows a hard turning movement the good dog will take it as shown. It’s a little problematic to get to the landing side of jump #16 for a Front Cross. If you can, you should.

I was watching a lady with this terrific Beardie who pretty much nailed this entire course… and then let up on the approach to the tire… and her dog rain by it, earning a refusal on the last obstacle. She also found a way to NQ her dog in the Grand Prix qualifier (next course). So by the end of the day when we ran pairs I was wondering at the back of my head what she would do to find a fault. I was delighted to see that she nailed her very technical first half of the Masters Pairs course… and then her partner took an early wrong course.

The Whole Enchilada

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This was the overall course, in case you were wondering.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

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