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Choices, Choices, Choices

Deborah Davidson Harpur shares and analyzes a training course she designed for her students. Try this with your own class or when training by yourself.

ffThis course was a "handler request course." What I mean by that is that the handlers told me what elements they wanted to work and I incorporated their requests into the course design. The first request was a "full speed discrimination." The second was "serpentine with a tight off course exit." The third was "a discrimination where you needed to push past an obstacle and end up on the opposite side after you took the correct obstacle." The fourth was "a tight turn off or onto a contact obstacle" and the fifth was "a tight handling sequence that was not a box."

I address the full speed discriminations at #3#4 and again at #4-#5. The serpentine with a tight exit is from #6-#9. The discrimination where you have to push past something and end up on the other side can be found at #9-#10. The tight turn onto a contact appears at #15-#16 and the tight handling sequence that is not a box is from #17-#20.
I chose to break the course up into sections #1-#6/#6-#13/#14-#20 and then the whole thing. I wanted to verify that how to handle each skill was thought out by each handler and confirm that each of them came up with multiple options to handle the same sequence.
In section one (#1-#6), the most common handling error was #3-#4. The single bar jump forced handlers to either send to the tunnel from #3 and cross to #4 with the jump to their right, or they had to run in and pass in front of it, keeping the jump to the handler's left. Most people that were experienced sent and passed behind that jump (layering it keeping it on their right), but newer people or those with Velcro-type dogs had to run in closer to the tunnel and handle with that jump on the left. Of course I made everyone try it both ways. How to get the dog in the tunnel and not on the dogwalk was a concern of many as they knew they were immediately turning to the left to get to the A-frame. Often they would turn early, stop short, or end up flat-footed trying to block the dogwalk. Many found the most successful way was to just keep pushing towards the fence and cueing the second tunnel very early.
The next issue to address was how to handle #4-#5. You have lot of options. Your options narrow down once you have made your choice at #3-#4. The really fast dogs seemed to do best with a rear entry up the A-frame, but remembering not to drive to close to the A-frame and doing a poorly executed cross was an issue for some. Many found a blind cross (crossing in front of the dog, turning your back on him in the process) to be the way to go and some preferred a front cross (crossing in front of the dog, facing him in the process). Which do you prefer and why? Now, try the sequence. After trying it, which maneuver do you prefer and why?
Our next section featured a serpentine. Remembering that a serpentine is anywhere you could logically put in two front crosses, some handlers surprised me and actually did just that, and successfully. Often people see a serpentine and think they have to handle it all from one side. Sometimes that is to your advantage, sometimes not. The most common error when handling it as a serpentine (with no crosses the dog on your left at all times through #6-#8) was over accelerating and sending the dogs to the backside of the single bar jump to the right of the #8 instead of pulling through to the weaves. The other issue was that the handlers blocked the dog from getting into the weave entry. Yes, there were many who did terrific on that, but I truly expected that to be a no brainer. See what I know?
Going from #9 to #10, every handler had the dog on their left in the weaves, except for those who got in the way of their dog and tried to save it who then found themselves in quite a pickle trying to get to #10. Some pulled into the #10 and then rear crossed (crossed behind the dog) the tunnel and kept the A-frame on their right so they'd be ready for a front cross at #11 (this seemed to be the most successful way for most handlers), a few were able to front cross in front of the #10 opening, keep the A-frame on their right, and then be ready for #10-#11, and a few sent to #10 ran with the A-frame on the left, beat their dogs out of the tunnel, and either did a front there or did something I can't even describe except as high speed heeling to #11. From #10-#11, the most successful way was a front between #10 and #11 with a post turn at #12. However, some stayed on the landing side of #11, had the dog pass in front of their feet, and then ran between #11 and #12. As expected, I made everyone try every way possible and decide for themselves which they would choose in competition.
The last section started at the end of the teeter. For most doing a front cross at the end of the teeter and pulling dog into tunnel on their right, rear crossing the next tunnel, and calling up the dogwalk while standing about where the number #15 is on the map worked best. But a few sent to the tunnel with the dog on their left and ran like heck to get to #15 and then pulled their dogs up the dogwalk. Which do you choose? 

Our next decision-making spot was at the end of the dogwalk. Do you have an excellent rear crossing dog? Do you have a dog that leaps off the dogwalk and runs long? Does your dog have a stop at the bottom? All these issues were considered before handlers chose which way to get their dog over the #17 jump. For fast dogs with running contacts, the rear cross over #17  (handler on dog's right until the dog committed to jump then switching to the dog on the left) and then another rear cross at #18 was the answer. For dogs with stopped contacts, many front crossed at the end of the dogwalk, putting the dog on their left when going over #17. Some chose to pull and do a rear into the #18 tunnel while others did a front cross. 

Choices were aplenty for #18-#19 you can blind cross between tunnel and tire, you could front cross, or you could rear cross. Try them all. Keeping in mind a late rear cross would turn the dogs towards the table after the tire and a poor front cross would slow down the dog and eat up your time. Placement of the cross was important in this class because there is a 10' fence on all three edges of this field with the only non-fenced side being the left hand side of the map (-30) most people handled the last jump on their left. As a bonus, many let their dogs enjoy a tunnel afterwards, however, that was not encouraged because, if you are in a team relay, the hand-off point could have been right there after #20 and if your dog decides to take an extra item, you could face hearing an elimination whistle. Keeping things like this in mind is important.
After all those sections were completed, we ran the whole thing and we had a 96% success rate. How awesome is that? I hope you will be in that 96%
Try the variations below for more practice!

Deborah Davidson Harpur has been competing in agility since 1999 and is known as a handler of a wide variety of breeds of all shapes and sizes. She offers agility training classes in the Port of Los Angeles area for both recreational and competitive agility students. You can find her on facebook at or read about her dogs at


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