Over the years I’ve toyed with the idea of a “Fast Dog Trap” in my course design. The question is: if designing for a Masters Class should you design with a presumption of mastery? What I’ve learned is that this kind of design just gets you in trouble with handlers with great dogs because their dogs won’t be able to bail them out when the test is really of the handler’s analytical understanding of the challenge and the keenness in their handling to pull it off.
I could write a considerable essay on the subject; but not today.
With my young boy coming up, I’m thinking quite a bit about the Fast Dog Trap. The allure is to design for simple sequencing in which the challenges are obvious ham-handed bludgeons. And so I should be able to rely on a simple set of handling skills and look plenty good while doing so. But what am I going to do when I step on to a course designed by Scott Chamberlain or Tom Schulz? I just won’t be ready for it.
The price of handling skill is practice.
Over the next eight months or so I will endeavor to practice with my dog (and so inflict upon on my students) a variety of devilish challenges that require both analytical solution and handling skill.
By the way, did I mention… Kory is a lot faster than me and seems to want to work at a brisk pace?
The challenge in the opening of this course is somewhat subtle. The 180° turn from jump #1 to #2 pins the handler at the top of the course and pretty much takes away the lead-out option (in the direction of the technical challenge, at any rate).
The approach to the #4 pipe tunnel is the trick. Ostensibly it’s a straight line (that’s what the illusion suggests anyhow) from jump #2 nice and neat down into the pipe tunnel. The caveat I’ll throw in here is that a dog ahead of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position. So if the handler has dog-on-right then the dog favors the left side of the pipe tunnel as he curls back. If the handler has dog-on-left the #5 jump opens up for the dog.
Earlier on I suggested that the straight line from jump #2 into the right side of the pipe tunnel was an illusion. I need to draw a dog’s path or two to illustrate my point. The black line in the drawing demonstrates the path of the efficiently turning dog. The red path shows the route of the dog that might have required only another 5′ to negotiate the turn after jump #2.
The black line path favors the wrong course entry to the pipe tunnel more than the correct entry. The red line path makes the wrong course entry to the pipe tunnel a near certainty.
Whatever actually works is right. What I should really like to do is find four or five solutions that will work, and practice each of them. The key to success in dog agility is to have a broad repertoire of skills that are practiced to the extent of fundamental mastery.
Should I say it again? The price of handling skill is practice.
The first part of the puzzle is figuring out a way not to be trapped by the 180° turn through the first two jumps in the sequence. This drawing shows the handler sending the dog from a modest distance to do the first two jumps without supervision or micromanagement. This gives the handler a brief forward advantage simply in order to change sides to the dog.
Having the forward advantage is one thing. What do we do with it?
By the way, I’m expecting that for all the “forward” advantage I get with Kory, I’ll be behind him by the time he gets to the landing side of the spread-hurdle at #3. If there’s an element of this opening that will be challenging it will be for him to bring the #2 jump into focus. At 13 months old he probably has less obstacle focus for jumps than for any other obstacle. We will give this opening (and just the opening) considerable work. It’s my job to build that obstacle focus in him.
What I’m showing here is a combination movement that I call the Post & Tandem. This is not to be confused with a “shoulder roll”; a contortion of the handler’s body to which I do not subscribe and I do not teach my own students. If a Post & Tandem fails it is invariably in the Post. So let me walk you through this.
After jump #3 the handler shows a simple Post Turn. He will turn to address and present the #5 jump as though it were the next obstacle on course. As the dog turns away from the wrong-course entry to the pipe tunnel and take a stride towards jump #5 the handler will pitch back (this is the Tandem) to show the change of directions to the correct entry to the pipe tunnel.
In the drawing I’ve actually exaggerated the dog’s path. The movement doesn’t really have to use up such a big piece of real estate. But trust me on this point, it’s better to use up too much real estate than too little.
If a single simple movement has a single timing cue; then a combination movement must have a combination timing cue (one cue for the first part of the movement; another cue for the second part of the movement.) The trick to having perfect timing is to understand that timing isn’t about time at all, it’s about physical events and where the planets align in space.
Another possible solution is to use a Rear Cross at jump #3 (a spread-hurdle) to effect the change of directions after jump #3. An important attribute of the Rear Cross is that it creates a tightened turn on the landing side of the jump. Of course the handler is faced with another turn, chiefly by use of a Tandem, after jump #3 as the #5 jump again has been presented as a wrong course option.
It is not my intention to turn this into a lesson on the Rear Cross. That will have to be reserved for a separate discussion. There’s plenty that can go wrong with a Rear Cross. There probably is no movement that NQs more teams in competition than this. I consider the Rear Cross quite advanced, in spite of the fact that terribly novice handlers adopt it as a routine tool in an otherwise shallow repertoire of skills. Ideally the handler will have taught the dog a pre-cue to the intention to change sides and directions when the Rear Cross is done at a hurdle. What more often happens is that the handler gives a startling and unexpected physical cue to the turn and change of sides when the dog is gathering to jump or on the approach to the jump.
Having established that the straight line down to the correct entry to the pipe tunnel was a complete illusion, I need to back up and suggest that the handler can take some initiative to actually make the line straight. In this drawing I’m showing the handler using a squaring Front Cross to create the straight line. This is a special use Front Cross for this kind of application.
Also, I suggested that a dog forward of the handler will tend to curl back to the handler’s position. This is one of the Laws of a Dog in Motion. However, I always tend to mumble under my breath the observation that “nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of a well trained dog.” In this scenario if you have a good well-conditioned Go On, then the dog might be sent neatly down to the pipe tunnel even though the handler is going to be left way behind (in the dust).
By the way, when I practice this I’ll be ready with a well timed “Left!” if my dog begins to curl to the #5 jump after the spread hurdle at #3.
Now that we’ve established that the handler can reset the line to make the approach to the tunnel square; there’s more than one way to accomplish this. In this drawing I’m showing the handler doing an RFP to draw the dog in after jump #2 to set the corner of approach through the spread-hurdle so that it’s a nice straight line down to the pipe tunnel at #4.
Note: The RFP is a combination movement: Front Cross to Front Cross.
In the timing of the second movement, overdrawing the corner of approach will be more successful than not drawing the corner of approach in enough. Does this observation require a lot of analysis and discussion?
That’s the Theory!
I knew while writing all of the above that I was not exhaustive in my analysis. I didn’t talk about the possibility of a Get Out in the transition from jump #3 into the right side of the pipe tunnel; I showed the square at the top of the key as a Front Cross and not as a Post Turn; and I talked about no slow dog handling movements (forward and pulling) in the transition to the tunnel after jump #3 like the Front Cross, a Flip, or an RFP. I think I even left out a couple more besides!
But my discussion gives me an interesting variety of training possibilities with my dog; and a basis for discussion to my own students who’ll be subjected to this tomorrow. In theory, theory and practice are the same thing; however in practice, they are often quite different.
Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest
Here’s a riddle for you: If you don’t know what it is then it’s really something. If you know what it is then it can’t be much at all. What is it?
The first correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the March Jokers Notebook.
Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – March 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/web-store/ . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special03” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.