More deliberate practice

As Rush is getting older and more reliable, I find myself training him less and training myself much more. He turns seven in mid-May, and he’s absolutely in prime fitness, fast and confident. He loves agility, and delights in teaching people–not just me–how to handle.

My biggest problem in agility these days is not in planning how to run a course, but in execution of the plan. When too many handling moves happen too fast, I get confused and my handling falls apart. If Rush would just run more slowly, it’d be much easier… but of course he’s not interested in running slowly! I think of courses with “too many” moves as “pile on” courses. Things just pile on until I fall apart.

Having identified this problem, the next question was “how to address this handling issue?” It’s not an issue of learning how to do a rear cross or a Ketschker or a backside-to-blind-cross; it is an issue of planning and responding while I’m running. I have to be fully in the present and be executing the plan for the next few obstacles at the same time.

In keeping with the reality that deliberate practice is more successful than just running courses and seeing where things need work, Daisy and I have been creating what I think of as “nasty little sequences.” They’re short, they’re easy to set up, and they’re hard. This week, she set up this sequence. Now, this is not a sequence that you’re likely to encounter in competition (at least not in a local competition), but it absolutely requires precision handling–and precision handling is where I struggle.

Sequence by Daisy Peel

Sequence by Daisy Peel

It took me about twenty minutes to determine just how to get Rush to the weave entry without him taking that off course jump. Rush clearly thought it should be a 180 turn and then the weaves. I tried dog-on-left to 4-5-6. I tried “here, here, here” and a threadle arm with dog-on-left to 4-5-6. I tried a blind cross between 4 and 5, putting dog on right, and ended up so far behind that Rush came between the two jumps and took the off-course jump going toward the weaves. What worked for us, in the end, was a blind cross after 5, putting dog on right, and then sending him to the weaves. Of course, that’s an amazing weave entry, and I was so astonished when it worked that I cheered and he came right out of the weaves.

But how was this course a “pile-on” course? Well, things kept happening. I worried about the turn from 2 to 3 and spent too long making sure he went in the tunnel, so I was late signaling 4. I signaled 4 and then pulled him to the wrong side of 5. I got excited about making the blind cross successfully and forgot to tell Rush to weave. In short, I didn’t move on to the next thing as soon as I could.

When I finally got Rush into the weaves successfully, I was so thrilled, in fact, that I sent Rush to the wrong side of jump 7, forgetting entirely that it was supposed to be a backside. Then I forgot the threadle to 8 because I was so thrilled to get the backside of 7.

All of that is about one specific diabolical little Daisy sequence. But what is happening, as we do these diabolical little sequences every single time I work with Daisy, is that I’m getting better and better at not screwing up, even when things are “complicated”. Sunday, in fact, I went to a UKI trial and we had this run. We were the only dog to get through the course clean!