Sprint and I completed our debut strategy back in September at the West Coast Open. Those first 13 days had 6 different ring configurations with 3 different running surfaces at 4 different locations/facilities. My focus during those 13 days was 100% on her experience both outside and inside the ring.
I think of competing as a concept and agility skills as a separate concept. Sprint learned the ins and outs of competing separately but alongside the ins and outs of agility starting as a young puppy. It wasn't until she knew both concepts that I began bringing them together in training situations, and when she began competing, my goal was to produce the same performance in competition that I have in training. That goal was met!
That means that moving forward, I'm moving into what I refer to as “Spring Training” in my competition year. Following a debut, this spring training may last another year or more. My focus during this time is to add skills to our toolbox that are necessary for our success, test those skills in competition, and return to training for 3-6 weeks to refine those skills before entering another competition to test them.
We had our first Spring Training competition on Halloween weekend, and unfortunately, it was cut short after only 2 runs (of 9 over 3 days) due to some torn pads. I did gather information during those 2 runs that informed my training as I prepared for our next test, which was November 24-26. This test was of 12 runs over 3 days: (1) Premier JWW and (2) Standard, (3) Novice JWW and (4) Standard each day.
Our first run is here, Premier Jumpers. This course gave me plenty of opportunity to test our main focus for the past two months: her ability to collect on course! It was tested here in many ways:
⭐️ the weave pole entry
⭐️ the purple tunnel exits
⭐️ the backside slices
⭐️ the wrapping lines
⭐️ the line after the orange tunnel
The design was lovely and I was so excited to run this with Sprint.
She aced absolutely everything. She blew me away at how well her training was showing up at the competition. On #10, I chose to test her commitment to the slicing line, and in my excitement, I told her “go” as she landed, which really changed her line over #11, causing her to miss #12 when I said “tunnel”. It never occurred to me to stop her and “fix” it for a couple of reasons:
1) Sticking to my handling plan is a high priority for me and my mental game and how I measure success on course.
2) Sprint followed my handling exactly as I executed it and it's my job to make sure she trusts me and knows that I will always tell her where to go. By breaking flow, I could have sent her a different message, and potentially caused her to question me in the future.
That #2 point is the focus of this post. The less experience a dog has with you, the more important this is. If a dog is constantly stopped for following your handling, they *may* begin to question following you. If a dog is stopped for following your handling, they may become frustrated, and other problematic behaviors can start to emerge.
The next time you make a handling mistake, whether in class or in competition, I want you to consider continuing as if it didn't happen. Observe how it felt to finish the sequence or course without breaking the flow, finishing on a strong note, and rewarding genuinely for the efforts that you both made.
Other handy resources:
Here are relevant pieces of content I've made on these topics: Sprint's Debut
Well then, welcome! Make sure you check out my free online course, Plan with Excellence, to get all sorts of insights on planning your training sessions to maximize your success.
FOUNDER, FOSTERING EXCELLENCE IN AGILITY
I have been training in agility nearly my entire life. With seventeen years of experience, I have had the opportunities to work with hundreds of dogs within a large variety of breeds.
I began my agility journey with an American Eskimo and a Westie. In 1999, I began competing with my first Shetland Sheepdog, Buddy. Buddy’s lesson to me was about connection and bond. While running him, I knew that agility was what I was meant to do.
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