Our sensible weekend was a great deal of fun. The thermometer on R2 read 28 degrees when we left home Friday morning so I’m really glad we didn’t try to be tough and camp, although the weekend ended up being overall warmer than expected. Staying at the Motel 6 didn’t provide any good stories — although they tell me I was at the QUIET end of the building and missed the dumpster diving and the late night sidewalk cook-out.
The only bad thing about the motel (and I hesitate to call it truly bad), was that they’ve upgraded the rooms and replaced the carpet with laminate flooring. Good from a cleaning standpoint but bad from an old-dog-trying-to-jump-onto-the-bed standpoint. Jamie really had a hard time getting onto the bed as his hind legs went out from under him on the smooth floor. That would be enough for me not to stay there again if he was with me.
The courses were consistently beautiful all weekend long, not a single “OMG did you see THAT?” course among them. Phoenix and I were 2/6 for the weekend, with one Standard Q and one JWW Q. Of course, they were on two different days.
Being the slow learner that I am (i.e., have to make a mistake, learn from it, then go out and make a brand new mistake), I have come to the reluctant but obvious conclusion that I suck at analyzing courses. With Connor and Jamie, this didn’t matter so much because let’s face it, they weren’t fast by anyone’s definition and I had plenty of time to fix things in mid-run before they got totally screwed up.
Phoenix has taken that handling approach, chewed it up, thrown it in the dust and stomped on it. With him, the margin of error is a fraction of a second and if he’s already committed to a wrong course, there’s essentially no turning back. I’m not big on screaming at him for a call-off (although I admit to doing it from time to time) because A) it means I wasn’t doing my job in the first place B) it makes me sound really stupid and C) he probably isn’t going to listen anyway.
But I always seem to realize, while he is sailing over an off-course jump or into an off-course tunnel, that once again, I am at the wrong place at the wrong time saying the wrong thing.
Maybe it’s not that I’m so bad at analyzing courses, it’s just that I’m not always in touch with the reality of finding the best way of handling them for me and Phoenix. I can see how I WANT to run the course (with my perfectly trained and highly skilled dog and my impeccable handling) but that’s not always the same thing as how I SHOULD run the course (with my dog who is extremely athletic but probably only moderately skilled and running with a handler who frequently leaves much to be desired) if I want to have a snowballs chance of Q-ing. Sometimes I think I need someone to smack me upside the head and say "What are you thinking?" BEFORE I commit some kind of handling stupidity during our run.
I walk the course and I hear a dozen different ways to handle any given part. Cross here. Cross there. Blind cross. Don’t cross. Get lateral distance. Stay close. Layer. Don’t layer. It seems like I choose the wrong approach about half the time but it always seems like the absolute right approach at the time I decide to do it. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off just doing the opposite of what I think is the “right” way.
I tend to watch people whose dogs have the same running style as Phoenix and follow them when I walk a course (great, I’m turning into a psycho agility stalker). I don’t necessarily want to copy their every move but I am definitely interested in their approach. It’s great if I can watch a number of dogs run before we do but seems like most of the time these days, trials start with big dogs and I end up being one of the first to run in the 24” class. So much for being able to learn from others’ mistakes!
One thing I try to do on every course is have a "looser's challenge" — if we have already NQ'd, I'll try something I would never dream of trying if we were still Q-ing at that point. Amazingly enough, sometimes these work really well and it's good to know, hey, we CAN do that.
I know even the "super" handlers don't make the right decisions about every single course and it's encouraging to see some of the top people in the game make less-than-ideal decisions, too. They just seem to make them a lot less frequently!
We have another agility trial this coming weekend and I'm looking forward to yet another opportunity to practice better course-reading and decision-making skills. Not to mention a projected abundance of goodies - since we were restricted on bringing in "outside" food to last weekend's trial. But first I have to replace all the Halloween candy I snuck out to the van to eat.