“Hi, my name is Dudley Shumate and I am directionally-challenged”.

Yup, it’s true!  All my life I have struggled with maps and turns, how to get from A to B.  Heck I even hafta ’make the ’L’” to be 110% sure of my left v right now that I don’t wear a watch anymore!  Was thinking about reading maps and getting places while doing the last marathon drive from a teaching gig. Learning the best route and then ‘tweaking’ in response to circumstances and situations applies to driving my van and it also applies to navigating an agility course with my pups.  It is impressive how consistently I make the SAME ERRORS doing both!

When I am driving somewhere that’s a fair distance, I plug in the address to my GPS, then I don’t really look at the map and I sorta pay attention when the voice tells me to do something.  This works pretty well most of the time until the GPS has the wrong information from guess who!  In my eagerness to ‘get going’ I will often put in the destination address incorrectly.  Or I will get distracted by my phone and miss the verbal directions.  My GPS can only go by what she’s told so I have on more than one occasion gotten somewhere to then wonder, “What the hell am I doing here?”.  This question is then followed by REALLY looking at the address.  “Ooooooh”.  More coffee please.  Recalculating.

This SAME EXACT THING happens on course too! I will try VERY HARD to focus on the map and too often my mind creates a different flow.  Why?  My brain thinks of something more challenging? Interesting???  I really don’t know!  I will walk this NEW plan and make brilliant handling choices.  Pups eagerly follow timely, well-executed cues flawlessly on our way to a beautiful run that is unfortunately incorrect and an elimination.  I KNOW I DO THIS and try hard to pay attention and I STILL DO THIS sometimes! What the heck??

It is my largest challenge in agility (and traveling!) at the moment: knowing exactly where we are supposed to go. My van is happy to do whatever I ask. My pups equally so!  What I am finding helps me in both regards is a bit of a different way I am communicating with all mine, but especially Bird and young pup TastyKake doing courses and sequencing.  With both these gals I am thinking more BEFORE we run and then often actually moving less once we are in flow. Interestingly enough, the more I plan on how to use every single bit of motion to mean something, the more I really focus on what my body and cues are saying. This has an uncanny way of helping me realize when I am incorrectly taking obstacles numbered 1, 2, 3 and then skip directly to 11!  By spending more time truly concentrating on how every step, every rotation, every focus point gives information, I find it is EASIER to know where to go and even more importantly, I am able to communicate more clearly.  I am on a quest to get rid of distracting, frantic motion!  My ultimate goal is a ‘cue haiku’ with every step, word, movement and focused attention point conveying information about ’what’s next’.  When I get it right, it is phenomenal what my girls can do!!  When I get it right I KNOW where I am supposed to go!

For many of you this might not exactly be revealed truth. Maybe I am just late to the ‘how to pay attention’ party.  But next time you find yourself wondering how the heck you are going to make that front cross, STOP!  You are jumping ahead of the route to an arbitrary point.  Go back.  Think about each step of the path and when the pup needs to know where to go.  Where are you TRULY when turns and changes of path direction happen??  Find that first.  How to communicate becomes much, much more clear and if you are at all like me, you even start learning courses correctly! J