Let's talk about your agility handling plan.
When you walk the course and make a plan, how often do you execute the plan exactly as you rehearsed?
Do you often have a wide range of handling plans and you'll decide when you get there?
Or maybe you have every intention of sticking to the one & only plan you have, but something unexpected always occurs and you have to try and save the run on the fly.
You are the leader on the course. You're the only member of the team that got to read the map and pre-plan how to make it around the course. It's your job to know how you will direct the dog from point a to point b, 15-20 times around a course. Your dog wants to go as fast as he/she can for you, so he/she will need to know those directions in a timely fashion – that means, we don't have time to be thinking about what to do throughout the course, we need to already know what we are going to do. A more proactive approach to handling, rather than reacting in the moment.
I want to unpack how these two situations above are different, and how they might be helping you or hurting your competitive success.
Multiple Handling Plans… “if I'm here, I'll do this and if I'm there, I'll do that…”
When we have plan A, B, C, and Z, we are opening ourselves to playing it safe and always falling back on what you're most comfortable with. And, hey, that's fine! It's comfortable for a reason, so why not just plan that to begin with?
If you're trying to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try plan Z, then go for it. Make it your one and only plan, and see how it goes, even if it doesn't guarantee success. You're getting a huge mental win just for trying. And you never know, it might just work perfectly. Trust your instincts.
Worse than playing it safe would be indecision entirely. Complete and total paralysis in the moment and you forget the course or handling options altogether. In that moment, you've left your teammate with no information, and depending on your dog's temperament and learning history, could be causing all sorts of problems: randomly grabbing obstacles, refusals, dropped bars, barking, spinning, biting, sniffing, slowing down, etc.
Helpful: Multiple handling plans can be helpful, because you can analyze *why* each of the plans will work, and then make a final decision based on your goals for the run, but still, just choose one 🙂
Hurtful: Multiple handling plans can cause paralysis, leaving the dog without information – a potential punisher that we want to avoid at all costs!
Survival Mode… “I just couldn't get there, so I had to improvise…”
This happens to all of us at some point. I believe there is a valuable skill to having something unexpected happen on course and still being able to communicate with the dog seamlessly, never breaking the information/feedback loop for the dog. I also believe this is a learned skill and happens with time and experience, and from a partnership with each dog you run agility with.
More importantly, we should be looking at *why* something unexpected happened and how you can learn from it for the future. If you are consistently out of position for front crosses, review the video & find out why! Has your dog gotten faster in the last few months? Are you not sending as far to that tunnel as you planned in the walk through? Take data and find evidence and update your “clean-run-rulebook” that you have with your dog.
With my oldest dog, Smack, it is truly a surprise when something doesn't go according to my plan nowadays, and I'm so surprised, that I typically can't save the run like I could 2-3 years ago. It's a different mindset of how I run him now vs 2-3 years ago, I was still in a reactive state, therefore able to react in the moment if things went haywire. Now, I'm in such a proactive zone, it takes a lot longer to turn back into my reactive state, and often times it's too late and I can't save the run. I can't say if my clean run rate is drastically different from one state to the other, but the runs feel differently 🙂
Helpful: Survival mode is helpful when you're trying to survive a course. Team events, a title run, a qualification you need to advance to the next round at a national event; You're sticking to the plan, but just “awake” enough to react in case something goes differently than you planned.
Hurtful: You might not be trusting your instincts and your dog enough to really turn off your brain and let the magic happen. Maybe you aren't there yet, maybe you just need more practice and experience with your dog to really believe in the plan.
What's stopping you from sticking to your plan?
What key piece are you missing from your agility puzzle right now? Let me know in the comments below, and tune in to my webinar on August 1 to get more tips and insights on putting together a plan and sticking to it!