I intend no criticism of Cesar Milan. While he is a bit hard-handed for my liking, he brings basic dog training discipline to befuddled dog lovers. To his credit, Cesar has the good grace to sound slightly embarrassed when he calls himself “the Dog Whisperer.” After all, dogs don’t whisper.
I don’t much buy into the concept of the dog training “guru”. The mysticism of the magic touch is largely fabricated mythology. In the sport of dog agility most so-called gurus work with Border Collies, a breed whose capacity for compensatory learning is plain awesome.
Beyond the perennial flash-in-the-pan agility expert there is deeply entrenched permanent agility guru caste. They’ll sell you books, handling systems, online training adventures, and seminars and private lessons.
Oh, everybody needs to make a living. I’m not going to begrudge.
Don’t get me wrong. The agility savant with 10,000-hour-eyes is a great resource. But he/she’s a coach, not a guru.
The National Dog Agility League continues to grow. It’s a fun concept. Each club or franchise puts up the same courses each month… and we roll up all the results as a single competition. Team scores are comprised from the scores of the top five dogs in a club. Obviously the more dogs the franchise runs, the better are the top five scores. Contact me if you’d like to play.
This is a fun romp. I confess to being the designer. And don’t you know I believe in my heart that any course designer visualized himself (or herself, as it were) in the context of performance. And so it’s natural that we each will design to our own strengths and shy from our weaknesses. That being said, this is a course that is subtly challenging and is an interesting test the handler’s skill as architect of the dog’s path.
The calculus of the opening has all to do with getting the dog into the proper entry to the pipe tunnel at #10. And so the handler may study the opportunity to have dog-on-left at the weave poles. With this in mind, there’s plenty that can go wrong with the opening. The handler may not put sufficient pressure on the #4 jump; and may fail to pre-cue the left turn after. And after jump #5 the dog is presented with a wrong-course option at the #16 jump. And back-crossing the weave poles (if that’s the plan) might bobble the entry.
Having survived the opening sequence into the weave poles the handler should attempt to turn the dog neatly at the #7 jump. A wrong course beckons at jump #12. But more problematic is that the dog’s path through jumps #14 and #15 clearly presents the dog with the wrong end of the pipe tunnel at #16.
The handler might consider a vee-set approach to the #9 jump that changes the dog’s trajectory through the jump so that the correct tunnel entry is presented. This is a moment that begs for considerable precision.
On the dismount of the dogwalk the handler will conduct the dog on a long and flat serpentine of jumps. Note that the weave poles are powerfully presented to the dog as a wrong course option after jump #13.
Through jumps #14 and #15 the dog will be in considerable extension. Thus jumps #15 to #18 should not be taken for granted as the dog’s turning radius may affect a loopy wobble, or might resolve to a neat and clean line if the handler manages to pre-cue the turn.
Seriously, if you’ve survived all that has gone before, the least you can do now is tag the yellow paint on the downside of the A-frame and, as the handler, give convincing pressure through the final jump.
The Agility Model
The original invention of agility was based on a somewhat flawed model which has cascaded into a grossly expensive hobby.
The game as it is played today is an interesting commingling of equestrian sports and American-style obedience titling. The failure of the model is that a Champion never actually has to win anything. It’s all based on performance against a standard.
The typical scoring basis for agility is Faults, Then Time. This too is probably flawed because it doesn’t deliver an accurate comparison of performance. Think about it, an amazing dog with wicked skills misses a contact by 2″ and receives a score of “E”… as though he never existed. And the award goes to a compliant dog of moderate pace that is dragged around the course Velcro’d to his handler’s hip. Were the scoring basis Time, Plus Faults (and the fault for missing the contact is a reasonable deduction in time)… then the truly agile dog would earn the higher score. The performance that makes the heart soar should take precedence over the irrational standard.
You’ll be happy to know that league play in the National Dog Agility League subscribes to the Time, Plus Faults scoring basis.
Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. You’ll find in the web store The Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.