Monthly Archives: November 2014

Memorizing the course and determining handling strategy: the walkthrough

A friend asked me about how I memorize the course, and that got me thinking. I still get lost from time to time, especially when I see the course as “not logical”–and I have no real idea why I consider a course illogical, except that illogical courses, to me, are the ones where the turns have no flow to them at all…

When I walk a course, my first pass through the course is where I identify my landmarks for handling. I’m going to use this course as an example (because I really like how Rush ran the course, and because I enjoyed running it). The judge was Lisa Dempsey. In this course, the landmarks were the first tunnel, the teeter, the weaves, the a-frame, the jump in the far corner (two out from the a-frame), and the last jump.

My description of this course is: curve to tunnel, loop to teeter, front cross line to weaves, front cross to a-frame, push to jump in corner, turn and sprint to the end. How did I arrive at that description? By working from the end to the beginning. Once I knew I would need to sprint to the end, that set my path from the weaves. Then I had to figure out how to get to the front cross I needed after the weaves…

Which brings up the question of flow… Flow, to me, is creating a path where the dog can run in extension, without drastic turns that run the risk of the dog sliding on the surface. It’s quite possible to have a course with a 180-degree wrap of a jump and have two paths for the dog, one that requires the dog to slow way down and another that allows the dog to continue to run. Sometimes the slow path is faster further along in the course–by setting a path that allows the dog to open up from that point–sometimes, not so much. In this course, the jump in the far corner after the a-frame–in my opinion–was best handled by turning Rush to the right, with him on my left so I could send him on to the jump early, and then start sprinting down that closing line. With a slower dog–Dancer, for example–I might have stayed on dog’s left past the a-frame and rear-crossed that jump in the corner.

A good chunk of my walkthrough is about working out my strategies for handling. With Rush, I usually need to have two possibilities for each turn in the course. On this course, I hoped to make the front cross before the teeter, but utterly failed to get there, so had to make it after the teeter. I also considered–and walked–a blind cross at the teeter, but felt that the strong left turn called for a stronger cross. I don’t like to rear cross the teeter, which I realize is a training issue. I just don’t want the dog (Rush or Dancer) distracted while doing the teeter, and I think rear crosses done after the dog starts the teeter are distracting to the dog.

I wasn’t worried about getting from the start to the teeter, because I have a solid leadout with Rush. I needed my leadout to set the path to the triple and then make sure he went to the tunnel, but once in the tunnel, I could just bring him around that curve to the teeter.

That left the middle bit: from the teeter to the weaves and the front-cross after the weaves. I knew I had no choice about that front cross after the weaves, and I knew exactly where the line was for that front cross. How to get there? I needed to trust Rush to get in the weaves and stay in the weaves even with me a good distance away and running for that front cross. That’s another training issue–and I train for that eventuality pretty much every time we train. Even so, you can see that I barely made it in time!

As for remembering the course when I run, I always take a moment to look around the course and repeat my handling strategy to myself before I take off the leash. Then I take a deep breath, blow it out, tell the dog to wait–and I start.

An interesting handling challenge

Judge Lisa Dempsey created a nicely nested set of courses this weekend at the Doberman AKC agility trial. The transition from Excellent Standard to Time to Beat (T2B) was pretty straightforward, making course-building go quickly. Here are the opening four obstacles of each course:

handling challenge


The left side is the Time to Beat course, the right is the Standard course.

When we were walking the Standard course, there was a lot of discussion about ¬†whether to be on dog’s right or dog’s left for the start. To me, there was no question: dog’s left. I knew Rush would look at me as he came out of the chute (obstacle 3) and I wanted him to see the left entrance to the tunnel, not the right. Big dogs ran at the end of the class, and I watched a lot of handlers lead out on dog’s right–and then watched their dogs make a swoopy turn to the tunnel, looking first at the handler, moving right, then left. At least a few dogs got the right end of the tunnel before the handler could redirect them. I ran the opening (obstacle five was the dogwalk, straight out of the tunnel) with dog on right–and Rush didn’t take a single extra stride from the chute to the tunnel.

I watched the course builders make the change from Standard to Time to Beat–and I saw them simply substitute the triple jump for the chute. And I saw them add in a jump, so that now the opening looked like this, with an off-course option right next to the triple:

handling challenge 2

It’s a little jump, a single-bar wingless jump, barely noticeable next to the triple jump. And it completely changed the handling. In Standard, I ran with dog on right, making a nice smooth arc to match the curve of 1-2-3, then rear-crossed the tunnel and ran straight to the dogwalk. I was concerned that if I ran the curve from 1 to 2 in Time to Beat, I would send Rush straight over that off-course jump. I also realized that he would see the tunnel as soon as he jumped the triple, and would know that was the next obstacle. By contrast, with the chute, the dog can’t see the the next obstacle until they’re out of the chute and check in with the handler.

I set Rush up straight with jump 2 and at an angle to jump 1, led out past the second jump in a straight line, dog on left, and released him from his stay as I ran straight from the point between the triple and the off-course jump. Rush landed the triple halfway to the tunnel and went straight in, even as I curved to the right to pick up a line of jumps across the top of the arena.

Weekend Results

Rush and Dancer and I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Mt. Hood Doberman Pinscher’s AKC agility trial.

Dancer had only one run, on Friday, where I discovered that she really hates jumping 20″ now that she’s been jumping 16″ in CPE. She stutter-stepped the approach to the triple so badly that three people asked me if she was injured (she also ran around the double). I scratched her from her two remaining runs, made the decision that she would be doing no more AKC, and got her a massage with Peggy Osborne, whom she adores. Peggy found a sore spot in her shoulder and also her usual mild soreness in her back. Dancer was clearly very happy with the massage, prancing proudly afterwards and letting me know she felt better. Still…. no more 20″ jumps for my girl.

The weather was very chilly, dry, windy, below freezing in the mornings. Rush loved it. He was fast and focused, and a bit of a brat. Friday, no Qs in Standard or Jumpers…. but a screaming fast run in Time to Beat, for first place in the 24″ class (27.47 seconds).

Saturday started with Excellent FAST; Rush Qd easily, with 77 points, first place (26.62 seconds)(and his Excellent FAST title). No Qs in Standard or Jumpers. Standard was almost clean: I was too far behind and Rush got an off-course at the second to last obstacle. And once again, a screaming fast run in Time to Beat, 25.98 seconds, for first place. More about the Standard and T2B courses in another post. Jumpers was a disaster. It started with jump, jump, jump, weave, then a sharp right turn to the next jump–Rush looked left instead of right as he finished the weaves, then ran through the weaves instead of wrapping the last pole. Between obstacle 4 (the weaves) and obstacle 11 (triple jump), he managed to get two off-courses, knock two bars, and chalk up four refusals. All of it my fault, because I was so thrown off by the wrong turn at the weaves. I guess that scenario is one more thing to train! (Hmm… I thought I had trained it. Who knew?)

Finally, Sunday was just two runs. Standard was challenging: it was what I think of as a sprinter’s course, where you run the entire course flat out, just hoping you’ll be there in time. The judge (Peter Liu) said he ran big dogs and had designed the course so the big dogs could stretch out and run. Rush did exactly that, and I did my best to keep up with him. He finished the 188-yard course in 43.65 seconds (and Qd with another first place, finishing his Excellent Standard title); keep in mind that includes a five-second table count and probably another three seconds for his stopped contacts. He was flying! (I don’t think the judge’s big dogs are as fast as Rush. Just saying.) From there, we went to the Jumpers course, where Rush again ran fast and furious–and I managed to direct him successfully, so that he Qd, took first place in Excellent JWW 24″ and ran the 172-yard course in 28.11, the only 24″ dog below 30 seconds.

I don’t generally think of myself as a competitive person, but this weekend there were a lot of faster, better, handlers with big Dobermans with stride lengths comparable to Rush’s. I enjoyed watching them run their dogs and seeing how they handled that big stride–and I was thrilled to find that Rush and I could compete at that level!

Wildly off topic–a feminist manifesto about shoes (and makeup)

This post has nothing to do with dogs, knitting, poodles, agility, or bicycling.

Yesterday I happened to notice two children, ages 9 and 10 or so, getting out of their father’s car and running into the store. One child–wearing sneakers–leapt out of the car and ran across the parking lot, shouting “come on!” to the other child, who was wearing a pair of cowboy boots that seemed to be too large. I could hear the boots clumping along and the expression on the child’s face spoke of frustration and discomfort. In a moment, her father passed her–he was wearing sneakers, too, like her brother–and the two males, one young, one not-so-young, waited impatiently at the door for her to catch up.

Her cowboy boots were very cute indeed. Pink leather with flowered tops. I’m sure she thought they were terribly cool. But… they kept her moving slowly, instead of easily.

A few days ago, I went to a party given by our corporate bankers at the Pittock Mansion. As is my wont these days, I wore a pair of sneakers, although I did make an effort with my clothing (I wore nice pants and a new pink sweater). Apparently this inspired a certain amount of envy in some of the women there, who quietly spoke to me about how jealous they were of my sneakers. I greatly enjoyed the freedom to explore the Mansion, walking easily up and down the marble staircases to try to understand how the house was put together.

I also noticed that none of the men there were wearing high heels or shoes that kept them from moving easily.

Last week at our store, I spoke to a mid-20s woman who was wearing a gorgeous pair of high heels. They were lovely; they made her legs look long and sleek; she appeared tall and elegant. When I complimented her on the gorgeous shoes (we were waiting for coffee together), she said her feet hurt but she needed to wear them for work. (I’ll note that my inability to tolerate high heels now is a direct result of the years I spent trying to look tall and slender by wearing 3-inch heels every day.)

Our culture seems to have built up expectation that women will wear shoes (and other pieces of clothing–don’t get me started on the anti-breathing device that is the modern bra) that hinder their ability to move quickly and easily.

On Facebook yesterday, I stumbled across an article on how men don’t wear makeup and women do. Men don’t wear heels and women do. These are both things that signal “I’m female” to the broader culture (pun almost intentional). They are also things that cost money (how much do those fancy cowboy boots cost anyway? did her father forgo the robotics class she could have taken instead?). It’s apparently not enough, societally, that women don’t make what men make? We have to buy shit that slows us down and wastes our money too?