07 April 2011

More Blinds, and a note on Jealousy and Reactivity

Today I did some dogwalk reps with Seri in short sequences with the bars on the ground (we jumped yesterday and have a trial starting tomorrow so we are not jumping today). I did some blind crosses in brave places yesterday and today, before and after jumps, around corners and such. I am getting the hang of the timing with Seri, and she's starting to understand that an arm change still requires her to take the obstacle. For now we will avoid truly difficult ones, but it seems to be working well for her - a side change in a high speed situation where I *don't* put pressure on her should be a good solution for handling her without knocking bars. I may be brave enough to do them in public this weekend;) I will bring the camera! On Jealousy; I watched some of the 26" dogs at AKC Nationals, and it makes me jealous. I've been doing agility some 19 years, and been competitive at it with several dogs - some faster than others, but I first made Grand Prix Finals in 1997 with an "off-breed". I generally stay on course and if we fault it is minor. I have been a good handler for many years, and I am rather quiet on course. I don't tend to have large, sudden arm motions or loud sharp commands (except when trying to be heard over Seri's barking!). Why? Because I've always had what I call "reactive" dogs. i don't mean reactive to other dogs, or reactive to outside stimuli, I mean reactive to me. If I change arms while they are jumping, or call their name suddently, or stop suddenly, or start suddenly, they will knock the bar. I do NOT believe this is a training issue. Let me stress that - 19 years of agility, and I've watched MANY MANY dogs doing this, and I do NOT think this is a training issue. You can HELP a dog be less reactive, but you can't change their nature. A dog is either highly reactive to its handler, or it isn't. You will know if your dog is reactive - you must have very good timing on your crosses, and serpentines; your instructor may tell you things like "don't say that over the bar" or "cue that turn before he takes off" or "stop waving your arms about!". If you don't think about those things, and your dog still doesn't knock bars, you probably don't have a reactive dog. Anyway, watching the 26" dogs run, I was struck by how many of those dogs were very forgiving to their handlers. This does not mean their handlers are "bad" or "sloppy", it simply means they have never been given a reason (by the dog) to NOT watch their arms/mouth while the dog is jumping. My dogs, over the years, have drilled into my head "cue it before the jump, then let them do their job!". And I'm pretty convinced it has nothing to do with my handling or jump training, although I do want my dogs to respond immediately. i have tried to train my dogs to ignore things while jumping, but it's just in their nature to respond immediately. Many of those great 26" border collies out there are just better at saying "OK, I'll do that when I land!". My dogs say "OK got it right NOW!!!" as they sail through the air, and so they shift weight and flail legs and bars will fall. My mantra is "No surprises while the dog's in the air". So I don't need to be completely silent and motionless, but I should not be introducing NEW information while the dog is jumping. I give that before takeoff. It is also, of course, the most efficient course of action, considering that is impossible for a dog to truly alter trajectory after they have left the ground (no propellors or jet packs).

Drifter, responding IMMEDIATELY and hitting the jump wing. Kept us from a silver medal. Sigh.

Anyway, I am totally jealous of dogs that are super careful of bars no matter WHAT. I am truly hoping Strafe is my Mr. Perfect who will allow me to run like the aggressive maniac I am from the get-go without plowing through things.... we shall see!


Sheltie Owner said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this post. I, too, have this exact scenario with my 16" sheltie. Any flinch from me while he's in the air, and the legs twitch or the shoulder moves, and down comes the bar. I've always watched your runs in appreciation of your efficient, quiet handling. I, too, hope that Strafe is a different dog for you. Different can be fun...not to mention educaional. ;)

christineleslie said...

I noticed the exact same thing and I too was envious:) I can't just run like "balls out" like I saw many of the 26 inche handlers doing as well as some 20'' handlers, half our course would be down. However I did think your runs were the more spectacular runs to watch and you weren't going "balls out"..