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Masters Challenge: What's the Challenge? Part 2

More on preparing for Masters Challenge courses. By Stuart Mah.

This is the second article in a two-part series about preparing for Masters Challenge courses. Click here for part one.
OK, so we have a dog that has the skills to be able to collect or extend, bring the rear up under the center line, change propulsion, take directionals, and to interpret body cues and verbals. What other skills might be valuable? To answer that, we merely have to look to the games classes to see what might be necessary. Wait a minute? Gamblers? Why not? Consider when we have to send the dog over a jump to a tunnel that is 20' away all the while staying behind a line that some judge put on the ground. The dog has to focus on the obstacle and take it while the handler is behind. How does this apply to MC classes? Consider the following sequence. 

Figure 3

A handler that has to be close enough to "support" all the obstacles is at a disadvantage. The #8-#10 sequence essentially pins the handler at the bottom part of the course so that the handler has to run almost all the way to the #11 tunnel. This puts the handler at a disadvantage in the #12-#14 sequence. Sure a handler can run all the way to #11, making a late front cross at #12. The turn to jump #12 might be wide but the handler can still get the job done. But this puts more stress on the dog since he has to crash halt to turn hard only to turn hard again to #12. For the most part, it is slower and less efficient that what it could be, particularly from #10-#11 if the handler isn't fast. Instead of driving to the tunnel, the dog runs at the pace of the handler. What if the handler had the ability to send the dog to certain obstacles, like this tunnel? 

Figure 4

Wouldn't that free her up to set up the front cross in a "more timely fashion?" It would also allow the handler time to set up the turn to #14 more easily. It would also be less distance to run for both dog and handler so there wouldn't be a waste of time just getting the dog to do an obstacle. Wouldn't it also be a little safer since the dog wouldn't have to keep crash halting every time things get too technical? It would also get the dog less focused on the handler going from the tunnel over the jumps since the line of flow would be set more easily by the handler as a sequence from #11-#13 as opposed to as each individual obstacle. What if you have to bypass an obstacle by running through a gap? 

Figure 5

Consider the same course, but now the handler has to go to the other side of the tunnel at #11. If you had a dog that could run closer to the handler and pay attention while the handler is moving at speed, wouldn't that be a faster way of getting by an obstacle as opposed to having to stop and walk through a gap or "heel" the dog by? Maybe that's why it's important to have developed some skills that are used in the game of Snooker. Handlers well versed in this game can get the dog by obstacles quickly and cleanly, minimizing the amount of time the dog has to watch the handler. In this case, the skill might be "close" or "side," meaning that the dog doesn't take an obstacle until the handler says to do so. It seems much easier to teach the skill rather than to constantly scream "Come" or "Here" and having to creep along. Is this faster and more efficient? Sure. The dog wouldn't always have to spin and turn and guess which obstacle is next. Is it safer? Yes, because the dog wouldn't necessarily have to "interpret" what the handler's intentions were, turning back all the time to look at the handler and potentially colliding with an obstacle. In this example, having a "close" command would tell the dog not to take the extended spread backwards, a potential safety problem. 

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.... (Wayne Dyer, American Motivational Speaker)

Up to this point, we have talked about the skills for the dog. What about skills for the handler? Are there any? Yes, and surprisingly, it isn't just about just handling or choosing which "handling maneuver" to do. What about if the handler can see the course differently? In this case, is the handler able to see the lines of flow that are in a course? What? Lines of flow? In a MC course? Sure. Take the course from Figure 5. Typically handlers are more worried about the handling maneuver, whatever it is. The problem with that is they focus only on the immediate problem, not the entire picture. 

Figure 6

Figure 6 shows what is a typical dog path by a handler attempting to either front cross at #12-#13 or pull the dog through the gap and then cross behind at #13. There is a lot of maneuvering that the handler has to do to get the sequence done correctly. What about if, instead, the handler considers more than just the immediate obstacle? Armed with better knowledge about how courses are designed and how dogs move, might it be an advantage to show the dog "the line" rather than just the immediate obstacle? 

Figure 7

Would it be faster? Absolutely. Running 81' as opposed to 70' for the same sequence should be a no brainer. Is handler timing less critical? Probably; once the handler sets the line from #12-#13 the dog should be able to take over, making handling less critical. Is it safer? Judge for yourself. Not only is it less hard turning, but the handler doesn't potentially get in the way as much, reducing the possibility of collisions between dog and handler. 

Are there other skills than just the above examples? Answer: Yes, absolutely, both for the dog and the handler. Too many for the scope of this article. Hopefully, though, this has given readers some idea of where their training (and their dogs' training) should be taken to ensure the success and safety for both. 

The will to succeed is important but what's more important is the will to prepare.... (Bobby Knight, Basketball Coach, Indiana University)

Stuart Mah has been one of the nation's leading and most innovative agility personalities for almost two decades. He is also considered one of the foremost authorities on course design and course analysis. Stuart has been a 9-time member of US international agility teams. He is also a 16-time USDAA Grand Prix of Dog Agility and Performance Grand Prix finalist and 6-time AKC finalist. His dogs, which have included Shannon (a mixed breed), Alley Cat (a Pembroke Welsh Corg), and Qwik, Leia, Recce, and Ares (all Border Collies), have earned the highest titles in several agility organizations including 6ADChs, 3 MACHs, and two Lifetime Platinum Achievement awards. Collectively they have earned 5 individual national champion titles (USDAA and AKC), 2 national team titles, and several world championship titles. Stuart has judged for all of the major US agility organizations. In 1991 he was inducted into the USDAA agility Hall of Fame and in 1995 was the USDAA's Agility Person of the Year. He was also designated as an Agility Pioneer by USDAA in 2005. He has served on agility advisory boards for both USDAA and AKC. Stuart has written articles for numerous national and international magazines and is a regular contributor to Clean Run Agility Magazine and Agility asopis, a European agility magazine. He is also the author of several books on agility, including "Fundamentals of Course Design for Dog Agility" and "Course Analysis for Agility Handlers." He has also worked on agility-related projects with television and media groups such as PBS, Animal Planet, and National Geographic.


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