I first wrote a draft of this post about three months ago, but I was struggling with phrasing and my own understanding, so it’s been “just a draft’ for a while. Sometime back in January, I started noticing that an agility run with Rush no longer seemed always hurried or frantic. Unpredictably, in some runs but not in others, the run would go by as if in slow motion. I could see every paw land, I had time to make minor adjustments in handling or turn Rush before he took that off-course jump. I couldn’t figure how to force time to expand, but when it did, I felt amazingly competent. I had so much time to get where I needed to get! I knew exactly where Rush would be!
It is my habit, after a day of competitive agility, to review the successful runs–or the more-successful bits and pieces of less successful runs–as I fall asleep, and so for months now I’ve been working out what I do that makes time expand. It’s certain kinds of courses, at this point: courses where the flow and curves of the course are familiar, where the challenges are those I’ve trained and really know how to handle, where Rush and I have developed the teamwork we need so that I know just where he’ll land when. Jumpers now falls into this type of course, mostly because I’ve studied Rush’s jumping so much that I could put an X down on the ground to predict where he’ll land and be correct throughout the course. Knowing where he’ll be lets me know exactly where I need to be, and knowing where he should be means I know when I need to correct my position to put him there, and knowing that without having to think too much about it? That, it turns out, is when time expands.
As a result of studying Rush’s jumping so carefully–and I’m beginning to study movement between other kinds of obstacles as well (how many strides does he take in a tunnel-to-tunnel sequence, for example?)–I’ve started to watch the striding of other dogs as well. I’ve developed a theory about striding and when the dog needs to know the upcoming obstacle or obstacles, when the dog needs to know his path through the course. I sit in the bar-changing chairs at many trials, and what I see, over and over again, is that a dog wants to know three strides in advance where he’s going. It’s why smaller dogs can be easier to run–more strides for the same distance. When a dog knows where he’s going–he’ll accelerate down the course.
I’ve really been focusing with Rush on keeping my body language very clear. If I use verbals, I want my running, my shoulders, my hips, my direction–everything!–to say exactly the same thing as my words. Mostly, I shut up, because making sure I move correctly is hard enough without talking too! As Rush learns teamwork, he’s able to work while farther away from me–and running him becomes easier, because time expands when you need fewer steps to get to the same place.