We spent Saturday with six other handlers and their dogs, listening to twenty-three year old Anthony Clarke tell us how to improve our handling. This young man has been in the sport for eighteen years. Yup, he got his first dog and started doing agility when he was five. Saw dog agility on the TV and said “I want to do that.” Having parents who were dog trainers didn’t hurt, and he’s a natural athlete having played professional football (that’s soccer this side of the Atlantic) as young teenager. He’s also a good teacher. Thoroughly engaging too, or I might have remembered to pull my camera out at some point in the day to record him coaching a bunch of women (with one or two exceptions) at least twice his age. He certainly could have been my grown son, grandson were I from a tribe of early-reproducers.
Anthony would set up a course, we’d walk it and run it as though at a trial or run-thrus – the best way we could figure out; then he’d bring us all into the ring and talk about the handling decisions we’d made and how they impacted our dogs. Then we’d walk the course again to practice some of the “moves” he’d suggested, and then each of us ran it again with our dog and got Anthony’s attention to help us correct places that were not working so well for us. And then he’d gently say, “And now, go do it from the beginning.” And it always worked better that time. The word on the street was that he would run us to death, so I was prepared to gasp, but it wasn’t that bad. Though my left hamstring might say otherwise, I’m alternating hot and cold as I write this.
For me one big message was about taking my time in certain places. I was not much of a runner when Chico and I started this sport, and he was a younger dog, so (I realize) I am left with the feeling that I always need to run as fast as I can, and that really isn’t true now. I’m faster and more skilled at getting to the right place, and Chico can work at a little more distance from me now. Plus there’s this whole, he’s not always motivated and engaged at trials thing, that slows him down. Maybe it is happening because I have been unclear on course at trials. That run back in July that was so good was all about connection, I even wrote about the amazing and continuous connection (read that here).
Anthony also pointed out something that I’m sure I have been told before, but wasn’t able to learn at the time I was told it: when the dog comes out of a tunnel, they can’t see super well for a fraction of a second, so making sure the handler has eye contact with the dog or making some sound to let the dog know where she is, keeps the dog from slowing down and looking around to figure out where to go. A moment of eye contact allows you to direct the dog better. “Connect and redirect” was Anthony’s phrase.
Another interesting this was, maybe because it is printed on my checks that way, I became Anne for the day. I’m usually Annie unless I am using my photo ID for something. It was different. Made the whole thing feel more like primary and middle school, when I was Anne for a while before a teenage reversion to my childhood nickname of Annie. What that has to do with Chico, I can’t say, but what’s a blog for but musing in public?
Here’s a picture of Chico, just to pretty up this post.