I really enjoyed all the “Fancy” classes this weekend presented by judge Leslie Bickel. Casa de Canine offered both the MC Biathlon and individual classes over the last 3 days, so there were challenges a'plenty! Today's MC Standard course had a fun opening that led to multiple handling options:
The initial decision the handler had to make was what path they wanted the dog to take from 1-4. As I stepped out both paths and looked at the natural line my dog would take (she was jumping 26″, so make your own individual conclusions with your dogs and their natural tendencies), I personally felt one was the best choice to have a very fast, efficient line from 1-3, but did not result in a great approach to the #4 A-frame. The other choice did require a full 360-degree turn for the dog, but did allow the dog to land #2 and immediately transition into a straighter (safer), and faster approach to #4. While I normally will always choose the more flowing path for my 26″ jumping dog, in this instance I felt it would be both faster and safer to go with the latter option. Here are the paths I drew out in my mind and the differences in distance:
The downside of the latter option was the proximity of the tunnel opening facing the dog as they were being pushed to the backside of the left wing of #2. There were several handlers who tried this path, but lost their dogs in the tunnel. This is one of the reason so many handlers decided to take the alternate path. I heard more than once while walking the course, “I can't push my dog on that side, he/she will for sure take the tunnel!”
In these scenarios, the dogs who do take the off-course tunnel do so not because they are being naughty, but because they don't know the jump even exists! Think about how you trained your dog to send to the backside of a jump. Where are you usually located? Are you physically taking your dog to the backside of the jump versus pushing/sending them more on their own from the landing side? Here is what handling that way would look like to the dog on today's course:
Of course these dogs are going to look at the tunnel- the handler is blocking the jump so the dog doesn't really see it. In addition, the handler isn't connecting with the dog- the focus is all forward (eye contact, hands, etc). There is no reason for the dog the think he/she isn't getting a send cue to the tunnel.
Instead, one of my big rules for backside sends is always letting my dog see part of the obstacle I want her to take, even if it is a piece of the wing, at least she knows there is something with which we are going to interact. Also, this is a skill where the dog can't just assume he/she knows what comes next. It required connection in cuing. Here is how I positioned myself:
Here, I shift to the right so that my dog sees the wing (but does not have access to the jump). I begin by giving a recall cue, so my dog is immediately coming to me, instead of defaulting into obstacle focus, which could lead to her taking the tunnel. My eyes are focused on my dog, insisting she remain connected with me so she receives the send cue to go to the backside of the jump. Also, I teach pushes as a 2-part skill. 1) push to the backside 2) take the jump. Once my dog owns both of those responsibilities fairly independently, I am free in my handling to leave as soon as I see my dog is committed to going to the backside of the jump. In today's sequence, as soon as I gave Solei her “back” cue and saw she was going, instead of post turning all the way around to my right as she was taking the jump, I was able to immediately move to my left towards #3 and picked her up on my left as she landed.
Just as they say football is a game of inches, so is agility! Just a slight shift in your initial positioning can be the difference between a clean run and an E! 🙂