These days I am teaching a handling system that I call “Gather and Go”. There are a small handful of people in the world today that actually understand it. The upshot of the system is that the handler is not a constant micro-manager and releases the dog to work at an appreciable distance and manages to get in a key/control position at precisely the moment required. This system is the wily old cuss’ answer to competing with the young long-legged handler with a fast dog.
I’m a long-time fan of the USDAA. But don’t you know, the course design philosophy of the USDAA these days seems to require a fast young long-legged handler (with a fast dog). There are so many points of micro-management that there don’t seem to be great opportunities to release the dog to work while giving the handler a chance to get control position.
Okay, that was a whiney-butt moment to be sure. At the end of the day I have to go back to the simple premise… train, don’t complain. I’m not giving up on the old man’s handling system. I need to sharpen the criteria for performance in training.
At any rate, I look to the USDAA to give training suggestions for those things for which I need to be prepared. Following is an excellent example.
This is a course from the USDAA SW Regional at Bay Team on September 2, 2011. Other courses from this event and scores and placements from the competition can be found at http://www.usdaa.com/article.cfm?newsID=1882.
Part 1 ~ Start to #3
My distance plan will be to manage the transition between the #10 through 12 jumps (both a, and b). So I intend to layer to the opposite side of the #7 jump, the tire, and the #5 jump while my dog finishes the dogwalk.
Early in the course the course designer plays a reoccurring theme. The first two jumps are presented at an aggressive slant. The handler really needs to take this slice, because if the turn goes too big and wide between the first two jumps, then the #20 jump will be opened up as a wrong course option.
My opening would be to leave my dog, dog-on-left taking a bending position (near the teeter). Bending is the reciprocal of the Post Turn. The handler is on the outside of the curve, rather than on the inside. The step needs to be well timed. Step too early and the dog runs around jump #1, or drops the bar. Step too late and the turn works too wide, opening up the wrong course option.
Part 2 ~ #3 to #5
This theme is revisited on the approach to the #4 jump. If the handler brings the dog around for a squared up presentation, then the wrong course option to the 12a/12b jump is opened up. The handler must take the aggressive slice.
My handling would be dog-on-left after the A-frame. There’s a real danger here. If the dog comes out of position before the handler has a position forward, then the dog might very well curl around the handler’s position, earning a refusal at jump #4. I also want to be close enough to the jump to sell the wrapping turn away. Of course I’ll rely on an absolute directional: “Left.”
After the turn at jump #4 I have to work my dog back in towards me to open up the approach to jump #5. If I push too early he might slide past that jump, for a refusal. Again, I’m in a bending position.
Part 3 ~ #5 to #8
Please note that the approach to the #7 jump is also an aggressive slice. But the handler could open up the approach a bit here without worries of a wrong-course option.
My handling plan would do exactly that, I’ll allow him to curl a bit towards me after the tire. Note that my position will be back towards the #5 jump. My dog needs me for the dismount of the dogwalk… not for the approach. The turn on the flat between the tire and jump #7 has to be an absolute directional: Right!
Note that the position of the #6 on the course map is probably misplaced. I assume the approach to the tire is as drawn with the dog’s path. I was just being faithful to the only drawing I’ve seen of this course.
Part 4 ~ #9 to #12a
This is the downfield technical consideration that has dictated the positioning of the handler. The handler needs a position between the #11 and #12a.
Note that the position of the #10 on the course map is probably misplaced. I assume the approach to the jump is as drawn with the dog’s path. If the judge really intended the blind/managed approach from the backside; there would be an extra technical mention in the discussion below.
In my handling solution I’d look for a keep it simple approach. The drawing looks a little complicated. That’s because there are two crossing patterns in this four-obstacle sequence. I show the handler here holding dog on right from the collapsed tunnel to jump 12a. I’m going to stay on the opposite side of the jump, pushing my dog into a tight right turn, and then draw him back over the jump. I suppose the handler could just as well do a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #11 and be on the inside of the turn through jump 12a.
It will be important to keep the turn wrapping tightly over jump 12b to pull the dog between the #12 jump and the #11 jump and shovel him forward to the #13 jump.
Part 5 ~ #13 to #17
In this section of the course the designer was a little playful with the weave poles. The telling bit will be in the wrap from jump 15b and redirect to the #16 weave poles. In the best of worlds we have trained our dogs to get the entry to the weave poles no matter what the presentation; and then trust in our training. An important reminder: If the dog requires a managed approach, then manage.
I find a note of optimism in my handling plan… I’m really hoping I can outrace my boy to the end of the #15a weave poles in order to pull back for a pre-cue presentation of jump #15b to get a tight wrap. If I’m behind… I’ll opt for a right turn on the #15b jump… and it’ll be messy and cost an extra second or two.
On the dismount of the #16 weave poles I have to push out to create/open up the approach to the #17 jump. It is a blind/managed approach; and the handler absolutely must have a presence down in this corner.
Part 6 ~ #17 to #20
The closing to this course features another blind approach, in the transition from the teeter at #18 to the pipe tunnel at #19. There are no fewer than five obstacles that figure more prominently than does the pipe tunnel. Note that I’m counting the wrong end of the pipe tunnel as one of the five.
And in the transition from the #19 pipe tunnel to the last hurdle on course jump #2 figures as a wrong course option.
In my handling plan I get to the teeter with dog-on-left. After the #17 jump I’m giving a turn (towards me) cue so that my boy doesn’t slice forward for a wrong course at jump #2. This means I’ll have to Back Cross the teeter. I’ll rely on my dog to get and hold his 2o2o finish just so I can slide into position, blocking the approach to the wrong-course pipe tunnel. I’ll draw him tight across my body and find the tunnel. I’ve been working on tunnel/contact discriminations. And I really want to get through this moment without handling or micro-managing the approach to the tunnel.
The send to the tunnel is important… because I’ll want to hold my position near the exit to bend my dog promptly towards jump #20, and without even the appearance of a collision that straightens him out.
All foregoing dialog describes maybe 40 seconds of pure assault on a course that has terrific flow… except for a couple small bits: that one little loop de loop moment at the top of the course; and the curious weave jump weave transition on the right side.
It is typical of USDAA course design that jumps will be set at aggressive slicing angles that invite the refusal when the handler is inattentive or gives a mistimed step. Also, we should look for more of the blind approach puzzles in course work.
You’ll note also the use of combination obstacles in the #12 and #15. This is surely reserved for the International class.
This was an absolutely relentless course that requires constant attention to presentation and pressure. The thing about competing with the kids, of course, is that many of them can race their dogs from point to point and engage in constant micro-management with only a bit of loss in terms of speed and performance.
A course like this demands a certain amount of management because many of the transitions are either without logical flow, or obstacles are set at an aggressive angle of presentation; so there’ll be only modest opportunities to release the dog to work.
And yet the mission of the gather and go handler is to identify those control positions on course and find a way to be there at precisely the right moment; and take even the small opportunities to release the dog and steal a second or two from the micromanagers.
Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston BudHouston@hughes.net. The Country Dream web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore.