At a local trial a couple of weekends ago I noticed something. I spend a lot more time STANDING in certain places during the course walk than actually WALKING. Reminded me of my good friend, teammate and someone I greatly admire, Stuart Mah. Ages ago during course walks I would see he was frequently just standing somewhere, by the teeter or at a tunnel. Back then I wondered why on earth wasn’t he WALKING?!??!! Never did actually ask and I don’t know his reason, but I think I know mine. J
For the longest time, I felt the need to run FAST FASTER FASTEST on course! Always on the lookout for where I could get ahead of my pup and get in that front cross. The walkthroughs were mostly about finding ways to ‘beat’ the dog. This was with the best intentions. I wanted to be sure I could help show my pup what’s next and that was the only way I knew how. This style of handling served me well for many years, my pups and I having the good fortune to win on many different playing fields.
The walkthroughs were pretty much all about ME and where I wanted to be.
Happily, things have changed. I have come to the realization (finally!) that the sport isn’t about RACING THE DOG. The sport is about me and my pup RACING THE CLOCK. Together. As a team. All my pups run faster than I do, react more quickly than I do and are the half of the team actually executing obstacles. The only thing I do better than my pup is know the course. This ‘better late than never’ understanding has vastly changed how I think about communication.
Now when I approach a course the very first thing I think about is what’s the best/fastest path for the dog. Then I identify where the turns are on this ideal path. Then I consider where I can REASONABLY expect to be when the pup needs this information. Only after that whole calculus do I begin to consider handling cues. This means during my course walks I spend more time thinking about what the pup sees, where the pup will be, how I can be the best, most useful partner and navigator.
There are no extra points for front crossing an entire course!
Handling can be anything as long as it is clear, consistent and on time. The constraining factor, what there is only ONE of, is that ideal path for the dog. So I start there, and then choose the simplest, most efficient handling that gives my pup the info when she needs it.
There are no extra points for the fanciest maneuvers!!
I find these days I spend a lot of course ‘walking’ time actually standing at the turns and imagining where pup, obstacle and myself will be in relation to one another when pup needs information. And that’s how I know what handling to choose. Do I always execute flawlessly? Heck no. But I am a much more effective handler now that I think this way instead of from a handling standpoint first. A little Bird who flies has taught me how to ‘walk’. J
Photo Credit – Marti Touchstone