Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chances - more than just a chance!

It has been hard for me to handle (no pun intended!) my abysmal Q rate in Elite Chances since December 2008 when I moved Feisty up to Elite.  I have had 16 NQs (at least that many that I recorded).  That was hard for me to take given that I teach and train distance from the time they are puppies, I have a lot of experience handling distance type classes and Feisty prefers to work away from me and loves NADAC courses.  So why was this class so challenging for me? 

For awhile I chalked it up to Feisty's quirks.  The first quirk was that she literally would balk at the gamble line.  I was able to recreate this in front of Susan Perry at one of her distance seminars.  So I spent some time working with her and a line on the ground and just getting her to ignore it whether I was doing distance or not. 

Then I moved Sinco up in April 2010 and we had 9 NQs with no Q and I was really feeling challenged.  When the going gets tough for me in dog training I can get pretty tough.

I had made notes of why we NQ'd on most of the runs.  It was never just one thing.  It was either my late timing of cues, my poor body position, my dog's lack of training for a specific skill or my dog's lack of attention.  So I decided to focus on the specific skills and started to focus my short training sessions with my dogs on improving their ability to turn away from me and find various obstacles, ability to comprehend directionals such as "right" and "left" at a distance.  Their independent obstacle performance on weaves and contacts was pretty good.  I did work on their ability to find hoops at a distance however.

My discouragement in my own inability to qualify in Elite Chances was so bad that when I decided I wanted to go to Championships this year I moved Feisty and Sinco back to Open so we could have a better shot at getting the two Chances Qs we would need and since we had 0 Elite Chances Qs.  In one weekend both dogs earned two Open Chances Qs.  This bolstered my confidence.  After that I moved them both back to Elite and  I went to Des Moines and Feisty came as close as she ever has to earning an Elite Chances Q and Sinco was wilder than I expected.   The following weekend I was in Gillette WY for a NADAC judging clinic and funraiser.  It really helped me to get some insight into the course design philosophy for Chances and to build some courses and discuss the tests and design.  Then at the funraiser both Sinco and Feisty earned their first Elite Chances Qs.  I was starting to feel like the training was paying off but I found myself paying closer attention to my handling and being more careful and thoughtful in my walking of the course. 

This weekend Sinco earned her 2nd Elite Chances Q and it was a beautiful smooth run - I was where I was supposed to be and she was taking direction beautifully - she came in and went out and did a difficult discrimination at speed. 

Now I don't pretend to think that we have it mastered but I do feel like I've made strides.  I do think in analyzing this over the last few weeks the one thing that needed to happen for me is that I needed to remember that my dogs work distance well because I trained it.  Sinco in particular is not a natural distance dog so she needs a lot of confidence to work away from me and she wants me to be perfect in my timing and position.  Feisty is a natural distance dog but that gets in the way at times because she will lock on to obstacles and if I break through her desire to grab an obstacle it is often hard to recover because she comes off the line/course too much.  So it adds a level of difficulty with her to keep her on course from the very beginning and not let her lock on to the incorrect obstacle. 

I also have to remember that training versatile agility dogs requires that I have to work harder to maintain the different skills they have and to maintain a balance.  This is one of the challenges I like in doing different forms of agility.

Now I'm looking forward to trying "EGC - Extreme Games Classes" tomorrow where there will be some different kinds of distance and handling challenges.  I've taught my dogs distance using gates as youngsters so I will find out how much they remember about them!  I am looking forward to another type of agility training challenge.

It is a good reminder that there are a lot of skills needed in agility and I need to remember to continually hone those skills and do tune ups on those that are most needed for a given type of agility.

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