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The Small Dog Mafia, Part Two

In Part Two, we look at how the Small Dog Mafia approaches running a course, and teaching your small dog how to become a "mafioso!"


A Course for All Dogs

All of the Small Dog Mafia members disagree that small dogs can't do gambles. Some of the dogs, like Sparkle and Poppy, prefer their personal space and kick it into high gear when the buzzer rings. Others, like Honey and Flint, required more training to drive away from their owners. Yukari Nishimura, who has trained her MinPins Belle and Simba to be successful gamblers, said that untrained it can be more challenging for small dogs than big dogs, but once they learn sends, small dogs can be successful distance dogs.

But once they have a set of gambling skills down, are USDAA Gamblers courses equally challenging for both big and small dogs? 

Jim notes that, "big dogs obviously have physics on their side when being sent away. For a fast, 26" jumping dog, its stride length and momentum make a 20-foot send to a tunnel (or any obstacle) usually a fairly simple task. It's commitment point is further from the obstacle than a small dog, which are generally not as fast and will take more steps than a big dog. The flip side, though, is the re-direct at a distance. A faster, longer-jumping dog may only have a split second to respond to a cue, where a dog taking more steps can have more time to react." 

Debbie Ogg agrees, having trained two Corgis-Reno and Porsche-in the dark arts. She says that some gambles are "flow gambles," whereas others are "handling gambles." A flow gamble is one that primarily requires a send, whereas a handling gamble primarily requires the dog to listen and redirect. In her opinion, "handling gambles are easier for small dogs, as they have more steps to figure out what needs to be done...But small dogs can be taught to be very good at flow gambles, and it helps with their speed on regular courses, too, as even small dogs are generally faster than their handlers. It does introduce some additional risk that they will go off course, but I personally find it much more fun." 

Lisa and Arlene also noted that some gambles can favor a longer-strided dog, whereas others require more trained skills and redirects. Arlene does recall, however, that when she was competing with Scully in the late 1990's and early 2000's, USDAA Gambles were less technical and required a farther send away, making it more challenging for small dogs than large ones. Arlene notes, though, that their training has improved for gambles. "We used to have a move called 'bowling for gambles' where we would bend over and swing our hand past the dogs head as they crossed the line."

Outside of distance handling, the Small Dog Mafioso noted that the dogs in the mini height division have the same time in the opening for point accumulation as large dogs, and the same point requirement. Several found the point accumulation to be a challenging component, having dogs successfully complete the gamble but not accrue enough points to qualify.

Making Your Dog a Mafioso (or Jedi Master)

How do you start?  Jim says that you first need to find someone willing to spend the time to teach distance handling. "It is a specialized skill," says Jim, "and most instructors focus on the handling skills required of non-gamble courses."

When running a course, Jim and several of his students noted, "an important factor is for handlers of small dogs to have the discipline to stay committed a longer period of time to their dogs performance [of a gamble]." For example, says Jim, "there is a lot of focus these days on teaching collection cues...where there can be a lot of extension requirements of the dogs in Gamblers. In Gamblers your real estate is often condensed, so your use of space is critical. A lot of handlers "overrun" their dogs in gamblers since most of their other training revolves around getting to a position ahead of their dog."

All Fun and Games

In addition to being successful at Gamblers, all of the Small Dog Mafia members enjoy the class. Arlene enjoys the strategy element: "figuring out the best way to handle it, then going out with my dog and having my plan work." Debbie agrees, "I like being able to design a nice flowy course for Porsche. I love to show off her skills. It is very rewarding to be able to get a gamble that relatively few dogs got."

There has also been a good amount of friendly competition among the Small Dog Mafia. While typical "head to head" competition at USDAA trials are in classes like Grand Prix, DAM Team, and Snooker, the competition for Top Ten Points in Gamblers can infiltrate the local shows.

At the last trial of 2012, Laura and Otterpop, Gail and her Corgi, Gwyny, and Arlene and Sparkle were all in contention of finishing as the #1 Gamble Dog of their jump height for the year. This added excitement to the class, and in the end, Otterpop was #1 with Gwyny and Sparkle tied for #2. 

The Small Dog Mafia also enjoys surprising newcomers to the area with their skills. Arlene notes, "it's a lot of fun when we get a judge thats new to the area. They are blown away when the entire 8" class nails the gamble." When the small dogs run first, they can also fool the other handlers into believing that a challenging gamble is easy, by all successfully completing the task at hand. Jim, as an instructor, is "very proud when I see them nail a gamble that most dogs are struggling to get. It is a real testament to the time and effort they put into training their dogs to that level."

Click on the logo below to see a video of the Small Dog Mafia in action!

Tamar Fuhrer lives in the Los Angeles, California area, where she works as a Transportation Planning Manager for Metro, Los Angeles County's transit agency. She began training in agility in 2012 with her first dog, All-American, Murray (affectionately known in the Southern California area as "The Murr"), and quickly became hooked. Murray recently earned his PDCH and is relieved to never have to see a table again. She is also enjoying training Riff, her young Lowchen, who thinks life is a big frat party with everyone invited.   

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