By George, I think he’s got it!

Rush’s first trial is coming up in a week and a half (CPE, and he’s entered in level 1) and I’m trying to fine-tune a few things. I want to make sure his contacts meet my standards (I actually have a sticky note on my computer screen reminding me what my criteria are!); I want to make sure he knows the table, the chute, the teeter, and the weaves; I want to make sure his startline stay is solid.

I’m also working on the “avoid embarrassment” group of behavior: does he come to me to get his leash put on? Is he likely to get the zoomies and cruise around the ring for 15 minutes refusing to be caught? Does he walk nicely on leash at my side, at least mostly? Does he leave my fingers behind when he takes a treat from them?

So today I went down to the barn to work on a few things. I did a quick run through on all the obstacles. His contacts were excellent. In fact, his a-frame was so good–he flew over the top and then ran into a low-on-the-ramp two-on-two-off–that I had a momentary thought of trying to train a running a-frame right then and there. (A friend said (months ago): “wait until he’s stopping reliably in competition for at least a year, then add a different command for a running a-frame.” It sounded like fun, doing it that way. I’m following her advice.) He took the chute without any hesitation. His weaves were enthusiastic and rhythmic.

I worked some on distance skills. I’ve been struggling and struggling with distance skills for Dancer, for years. In NADAC, where distance skills are crucial at the highest level, we’re just not there. I thought about how I trained distance with her, and I thought about a skill I’ve been working with Rush (that I taught Dancer and then forgot). I’ve taught Rush to go away from me to go around a cone. Debbie uses the cone to teach the dog to go the back side of a jump (a skill you need for some courses in USDAA and AKC, where I don’t compete much).

Today at the barn I was working on sending Rush around the cone from 20 feet away, and I noticed him glance at a tunnel as he came around the cone. The next time I sent him around the cone, then called “tunnel” and signaled it–and off he went in a lovely straight line, didn’t come in to me at all, right to the tunnel. It was reproducible, too. It worked in both directions.

Rush seems to be understanding switching between obstacle and handler focus. He’s finding a line and following it, with just the minimum amount of attention to me to ensure that he’s taking the line I want. I’m giving him very simple lines right now, to encourage this skill.

At this point, I decided I needed to let him run a bit. I set up a big circle of five jumps and a twenty-foot tunnel, at distances ranging from 15 to 20 feet. He was thrilled to run and jump around the circle; he did both leads equally well. When I hung back in the middle and the circle and just walked, he ran fairly collected, with one beautifully measured stride between each jump (two hits of the front paws); when I pushed him a bit, he bounced the closest jumps (just one hit of the front paws).