This article was originally written as a response to a discussion on Facebook, about the European style course that somebody posted, with tons of people commenting on how impossible the course is to run for 1. big dogs, 2. short handlers, 3. old handlers. It sounded like in order to get the World Champion, the best would be to measure the dogs and handlers and let the tallest handler with the smallest dog win as everybody seemed to think that big dogs can't turn tight and short handlers can't get to places.
I guess you guessed that I disagreed.
I've heard it a million times already: "I'm not fast enough for my dog!" And they were right: they were not fast enough - because they were not moving!!! The length of their legs and their age never had anything to do with it: no legs and no youth will help you be in time if you're not moving, but instead stare at the dog and watch him land... - By the time my dogs land, I'm not only turned, but already way ahead, probably at the next obstacle already! And no legs will help you catch me!
Don't stop and stare... ... Trust your dog, show and go!
So no, it's not about the length of the legs. It's about trusting your dog, teaching him a good commitment, sends and distance skills and then just showing him a jump, trusting them they will take it and MOVE at the next spot you're needed. Landing is not your problem. If you saw your dog taking off, then don't worry: s/he will land, no dog ever got stuck in the air. Seeing your dog's take off point also tells you exactly where s/he will be landing, so there is really no reason to stay there and stare: landing is not your problem - take off is. So take care of that take off and then take off to help with the next take off - your job there is finished as soon as you see the dog is committed. At that point, he should also already know where the next obstacle after that one is, so you're really not needed there anymore.
It's also not about the youth. I was 20 years younger 20 years ago (go figure!) and was running slower dogs as I do today and on MUCH easier courses as today and yet I was never able to get anywhere. But being addicted to learning and always searching for the ways to improve our current performance, I've learned some important lessons in those 20 years I do agility - and they allow me to be faster every next year. I might be older, but I'm smarter!
When I first started in agility, we only knew rear crosses: we handled everything from behind – for years! Handling from behind is still the easiest for me and I can handle everything from behind. But I handle 99% from in front now. - Because I learned that it's faster, clearer and more efficient that way. I saw my first front cross ever on my first World Championships in 1997, went home to set that exact situation at home and executed first front cross in Slovenia. Front crosses made me much faster as a rear cross automatically puts you behind the dog - and that's exactly why I learned to avoid them.
Then, I learned about a blind cross and how bad it is - but then observed handlers in my seminars and learned it's just another myth as those who though that blind cross will take you to hell had more problems with having their dogs come to the correct hand after tunnels for example (you can do as many front crosses as you want when the dog is in a tunnel - he won't see you!) while those who were doing blind crosses too had dogs with much better understanding of hands and had LESS confusion. So we mastered the blind crosses too and guess what - it made me even faster! And even more: it taught me how much faster I can get to places if I don't need to circle my feet around and ever since, I'm a big "no feet turning " fan and hey - it put me in a completely another gear again! You can't believe how much faster you can run if your feet are facing the right direction!!!
Together with teaching independent turns through cik&cap - and the commitment and distance skills that come with it - feet turned in the right direction all the time will definitely take you to places soon enough IF of course you trust your dog and run instead of stare.
Speaking of handling myths: never take your eyes off of a dog??? Yeah right. If you trust your dog enough and know where he will be landing and he knows where he is going next, you can of course take your eyes off of your dog! It's all a question of training your dog to the degree that you can trust him and knowing exactly where he is without staring at him. Staring and babysitting will never get you anywhere, no matter how long or not your legs are or how young or not you are.
Never take your eyes off the dog? Why not, I know exactly where she is landing on her ciks. And she knows exactly where to go next. And I know she knows it.
(photo by Walter Hupfer, https://www.facebook.com/agilityfotos)
And oh: big dogs can't turn tight??? In my experience, and turns are certainly my major focus when watching agility, the tightness of their turns is not related to the size of the dog AT ALL. Actually, I see WAY more wide turns with little dogs as they are often not trained for turns so well, as I see with big dogs. Most dogs won't turn tight naturally, regardless of their size, but they can ALL learn how to do it through training. And yes, maybe untrained small dog will turn tighter as untrained big dog, I can believe that – but I can assure you that a trained big dog can turn MUCH tighter as an untrained small dog!
So... No excuses – your dog CAN turn tight and you CAN get to places. It's all within your reach, you can do it – you just need to go for it! And those who go for it will win - no legs and no size of a dog can help you if you don't believe in you, in your dog and in your training. That's the whole secret of winning World Championships – World Champions come in all sizes, but what they have in common is that they train to the degree that they can trust their dog and then just go for it.
Still not sure? Join October Foundations Class that is starting next week and see how much easier it will be to be fast enough then!!!