25 March 2011

Flying Blind

For about 6 months now, I've been trying to polish and improve my handling by watching a lot of video of talented and accomplished european handlers. In watching these handlers run balls to the wall around their wonderfully challenging courses, i have noticed that many do things differently than we do. This has led to small but significant changes in my handling, especially with Seri, who has been a bit of a challenge for me with her extreme acceleration and big jumping style, and tendency to knock bars when I put pressure on her by facing directly into her.

My handling is generally based on a couple concepts. One is that when I am moving forward, the dog should generally parallel my mine, and take obstacles that are in their path. This applies whether I am in front of or behind my dog, or directly next to them. It also applies no matter what speed or distance I am at from my dog. The exceptions to this are twofold - one is when I face towards my dog, and the other is when I send them out laterally from me. When I face towards my dog, she should respond my coming towards me, and seeking to avoid the "invisible wall" formed by my body. This is how I get collection and show the dog which direction to head next. This is the basis of front crosses and lead-outs with my dogs, and they should never go behind me when I face into them. I have taught Seri the exception to this being when i do a behind-the-back wrap over a jump, but she is not allowed to go behind me except when cued to wrap a jump wing by me standing in front of it and giving her the arm/shoulder cue.

Seri is very prone to knocking bars on front crosses as well. Generally when I bring the "wall" into play, she backs off and decelerates, but she is poor at timing it, and often does it in midair, knocking the bar. So i have been considering adding blind crosses, because it takes away the pressure and the "wall" element. I wanted to make sure I could do it without "eroding" my handling though. I did this first blind cross for the first time on Wed with Seri. It is a bit frightening at first (Seri is VERY fast), but it worked great...

First, how to use parallel driving and the wall to get the backside of a jump.

First, I use the parallel line of my motion to drive the dog past the wing.

Once the dog is committed to passing the wing, I turn in, using my "wall" show the dog to come in over the jump.

Once the dog is committed to jumping, I drive forward and reset my parallel line again.

The blind cross version starts out the same way - driving my dog forward past the wing.

Once the dog is committed to passing the wing, I drop my right shoulder and arm back dramatically and call my dog's name to draw attention to it. There is no wall involved, but I have enacted a side change, which moves my dog's line over to the other side of me...

and I can reset my line earlier and be farther ahead of my dog. I have only had to turn 90 degrees rather than the 270 degrees required by the front cross.

Next a "normal" front cross. First I use my line of motion to drive the dog toward the first jump.

Next I turn in towards the dog before the dog takes off, to show them the new direction using my wall. This tells the dog to decelerate and turn in front of me. I call this moment "putting pressure on the dog" because usually the handler is making eye contact and the dog is pressured to slow down before taking off.

Once the dog is committed to the turn, I set my new line and allow the dog to reaccelerate. Note that with a well-trained or experienced dog, the actual turn and moment of "pressure" can be very quick, and the handler can rotate right around and set the new line. With an inexperienced dog, or a sequence requiring a lot of collection, the "pressure" moment is extended.

The blind cross sequence again begins the same way, using my line to drive the dog forward to the jump.

Next I drop my right shoulder and arm and call the dog's name to draw attention to the side change again, immediately setting the new line for the dog on the new side of my body. No "pressure" moment here, no strong deceleration cues. Like a GOOD front cross, again you must be ahead of your dog. The side change cue SHOULD be given before the dog has committed to a trajectory on his jump so that he can alter his takeoff slightly to land on your right.

In sum, I may begin trying more of these with Seri. They are hard for me to wrap my head around at speed yet, but they do work, and if I am driving forward, my "wall" isn't in effect anyway, so I'm not convinced it will erode anything. My dog is bright enough to know the difference between a forward cue, and me facing into her... One thing to watch is that I must always give a strong side cue if I do anything that could be interpreted as a blind cross by the dog, such as a sharp post turn. We shall see, a whole new journey for me - I have been rather strongly opposed to blind crosses for a LONG long time. I remember them being in fashion, falling out of fashion, and now coming back again here in the States, and until now, in my 19 years of agility, I haven't been willing to try them because they've always seemed inconsistent. But many people in Europe have MADE them consistent, and if the cue is given quickly, there's no reason it shouldn't be...

1 comment:

Monique Plinck - Criterion Agility said...

Really enjoyed your post today and hope to hear more. With 15 ortho surgeries behind me I am ALL FOR BLIND CROSSES.
I find it difficult to time some of them since, as you stated, you do need to be as far if not farther ahead of your dog than needed for a front. And up until now...I have only executed them as the dog is committed to an obstacle