I’m sometimes disheartened by the trick and trap nature of course design in agility, and by the notion that ugly equals challenge. It is small wonder that growing majority of agility competitors in the U.S. are fleeing to CPE where they give out qualifying scores like popcorn.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not daunted by ham-handed flow-breaking challenges. I’m ultimately an architect of my dog’s performance and I know and use the theoretical and practical skills to solve nearly any sequencing challenge. That doesn’t mean I always do. I’m an old man with a fast dog and arthritic knees. A single misstep or an error in timing makes the entire engagement for naught in the all-or-nothing criteria of the International rules course.
At the end of the day, I’m never really hard on myself for getting it wrong. We’ll live to play again tomorrow.
The Europeans seem to be better conceptual agility course designers than Americans. I don’t sense the mean streak. They tend to provide better flow that gets the dog working at full speed, punctuated by the occasional handling challenge that will raise an eyebrow, if not the hair on the back of your neck.
In the U.S. on any given weekend you can see handlers fail with their dogs on some ridiculous challenge that looks like it was designed by someone who has never run an agility dog. I feel like saying to the judge the same thing I occasionally reply to those email scam artists who send out mass emails phishing to steal your money… “I bet your mother is proud of you!”
We’re beguiled and misled by the appearance of the athletic kid with long legs who runs in and forcefully hammers that square peg into the round hole; or by the master handler who eats sleeps and drinks dog agility every waking hour of every day. So he/she qualified. Does that mean everyone else is somehow insufficient and wanting? We can overlook the idea that the lady with creaky knees and the fast dog never ever ever was going to solve that riddle; and neither were 80% of the field. That much is preordained. The riddle was designed for that kid with the long legs or that master handler and even they had to be a bit on the lucky side to solve it.
Monday Morning Letters
The consumer is the ultimate arbiter of the evolution of the sport. That’s theoretical, I know. I’m a huge advocate of the Monday Morning Letter! Rather than fleeing to a low-end agility venue consider writing a letter to the head of your favorite agility organization sharing your experiences on the weekend. Heck, they don’t have much to do on Monday’s anyhow. You’ll be enriching their lives, in a way. If a rep has been inappropriate and rude to you, or if the course design was absolutely OMG silly, it is a good idea to share your observations. Often enough they would not know if you don’t take the time to tell them. And if they hear it enough they might start to believe that they lose even more customers if they don’t get it fixed.;
Be a squeaky wheel. Who knows maybe you can be a catalyst for change.
Too Broad a Brush
We remember those judges who are trick and trap artists and those who are rude and mean-spirited. In the long run, they’ll judge less because they’ll get fewer invites.
There are a lot dog agility judges out there who design marvelous courses that are thoughtful flowing challenges, appropriate by level, and just plain fun to run. I apologize to any and all of them who might feel I’ve splattered them with my critical paint job.
The Architect and the Manager
I’ll be unapologetic about the diatribe I offered above as I present to you below how to solve a butt-ugly approach to the weave poles. My mantra has ever been… “we train for ugly.” You have to admit, there’s plenty of ugly in the world.
In the perfect world we will train our dogs to understand his entry to the weave poles and how to collect himself when given an ugly perpendicular approach. In the sequence I’ve shown here we’ll get a good test of the notion and typically will discover that it’s a fairly low percentage that live in the perfect world.
You must recognize that the dog’s trajectory of movement over jump #3 in no way resembles an orderly approach to the weave poles. Often enough the handler will turn the dog towards the weave poles and then assume the more passive rol of horrified spectator to the dog’s performance. The perpendicular approach is a tricky bit.
An important rule of handling for the weave poles: If the dog requires a managed approach ~ then manage.
To solve the “managed” approach to the weave poles the handler must understand the dog’s path. Let’s figure it out together:
A good starting point for the analysis is the bits of the dog’s path that are known/given. The line through jump #3 (green line) is the trajectory of the dog’s initial approach. The line into the weave poles (red line) is the optimal line for the managed approach.
That means the handler is obligated to create a transitional line to connect the two widely disparate paths. It fits like a puzzle piece.
Seeing the shape of the dog’s path is critical. If you don’t see the dog’s path, how can you expect to conduct him upon it? Also, seeing the dog’s path will recommend the handling solution.
One possible solution is two Front Crosses (actually, it’s an RFP with a healthy transitional movement between the two elements of the movement.)
Finishing the Weave Poles
I shouldn’t leave this tutorial without noting the abrupt right-turning dismount to jump #5. In an ideal world the dog will be trained to finish the weave poles without regard to the handler’s antics. However we should not be surprised by a dog that stops working on the weave poles when the handler stops working on the weave poles.
An important rule of handling for the weave poles: If the dog requires management of the weave poles through completion ~ then manage! Support the dog until the job is done.