Just like last weekend, I had planned to do a pre-write up ahead of time on what I thought would be the course challenges. But as I drove into town, I felt myself being transported back in time and forming some non-agility related preconceived notions.
Clovis is an incredibly cute town that hasn't been spoiled by time. Drive-up food places were abundant and so were ladies in old fashioned hair curlers. When I arrived around 7:30 p.m. on a week night, the town had a relaxed, sleepy appearance and I wondered if the agility trial was going to be the same way.
So out of respect for those attending, I decided to hold off judgement and relish what might come. Boy am I glad I did!
My first clue that Clovis and its residents were not lost in history was the nice hotel with all of the modern conveniences. My second clue was the amazing fairgrounds were the trial was located. This huge building holds rodeos, had a nice red dirt surface, stadium-style seating and HUGE swamp coolers that kept the indoor temperature very comfortable. Good thing because it was about 99 degrees outside!
The club and exhibitors were great. There were folks attending from Arizona, Texas and Colorado and the handling was very good. I was glad I didn't let the sight of hair rollers sway my opinion!
Excellent Standard was first and there were two main challenges and two minor challenges that caught my attention.
In the beginning of the course, I was surprised at how many dogs missed their dog walk contact. Jumping ahead, I want to add that after 2 days of contact observation, I came to the conclusion that in general the problem was that either:
- most handlers hadn't trained a proper 2-on-2-off,
- weren't consistent or clear on their expected criteria,
- moved forward too quickly in the training or
- hadn't properly proofed the behavior and
- therefore resorted to a deep threatening voice to 'make' their dog hit the yellow.
On the other hand, the weave pole performances were consistently solid and very nice to watch. After the poles, a few dogs headed to the a-frame, but most handlers opted for a front cross to push their dog to the teeter. Several dogs did take the off-course jump after the teeter and as expected, some dogs did go into the wrong side of the #6 tunnel. The next sequence was one of the major challenges on the course.
Most dogs were on the handler's left side coming out of #6 and handlers were well ahead of their dog. For the large dogs, the issue was the #8 panel jump which was knocked down often. Ironically, not one small dog (4-16"s) took the panel down. The rest of the course ran as expected all the way through to the #15 chute and #16 triple.
In this sequence, dogs were flying out of the chute and either taking the off-course jump or completely missing the triple. Most handlers did a front cross after the chute which had some dogs going behind their handler (between the triple and off-course jump) and others pulling in prior to taking the triple and heading toward #17.
Those teams that did successfully make the triple weren't out of the woods yet as handlers had to be sure to wait and pull the dog over #17 before focusing on the last jump. As I'm sure you've guessed, several dogs by-passed #17 and if they were clean up until that point, it certainly was a disappointment for those teams to NQ right at the end.
One of the things I love about traveling about is to see the different handling styles. The beginning of this course had handlers working the first sequence in such a way that I was a little puzzled. I hadn't anticipated the maneuver and I'm still not certain that it provided the dog with the best vantage point.
So here's the scenario with the handler's path shown in green and the dog's path shown in red. Basically, the handler lead out to past #2 and situated themselves on the right side of the #3 jump. This was obviously a practiced maneuver because once released, the dogs were clear that they were taking jump #1-2. However, every single dog landed very wide after #2 (probably because they were staring at the #9 jump) and just about had to face-plant to turn toward the #3 jump. To complicate matters, handlers then had to work to 'push' the dog toward jump #4 (presumably because they were staring at the off-course #7 jump). While most handlers did this successfully, it generally didn't come off as smooth or efficient for the dog's path.
The other area that caught handlers was the #11 jump. While working up to this jump, teams did a great job (awesome weave poles again) pushing their dogs through and were well ahead of them...maybe too much so because handlers started pulling down toward the #13 jump prior to dogs taking #11, which caused quite a few run-outs/refusals.
On the other hand, teams did a great job of working through the #13 - 16 sequence and finished with flying colors.