Tuesday, January 19, 2010

CATCH-2 Django

When Django earned his CPE C-ATCH agility title this past July, I was very content and proud. He is the first dog that I have earned a major title on, and I was satisfied with our accomplishments, was enjoying our teamwork together, and did not have any big ambitions for any titles beyond that. I knew that as long as his health allowed, we would continue trialing and hopefully that may mean more titles as I hope to still have many runs left together with him, but I was done striving. Instead, I decided to focus on being the best team we could be.

If Django is anything in the agility ring, it is honest and forgiving. Consequently, I've been able to "play it safe" a lot of the time in ways that I couldn't with a very high, fast dog like Maebe. Django and I have a lot of clean runs and get a lot of Q's, and even place a decent percentage of the time, but I know I was babysitting to his weaknesses rather than training and improving them. I felt myself doing this especially as I was grasping for those last few C-ATCH legs back in the spring and summer, and I knew that wasn't really the type of trainer that I wanted to be. Plus, I wasn't really challenging Django to meet his full potential.

After we earned his C-ATCH, I decided to stop worrying about qualifying, and instead to test my training and challenge him. I stopped finding ways to avoid off-side weaves at all costs, I ran faster to encourage him to drive harder towards me through the course, and I tested how far I could be from obstacles.

I pleasantly discovered that we kept Q-ing. In fact, our Q rate increased and we even had a few perfect days of trialing in the past few months and began placing consistently, often even taking first. He also was getting faster, and not petering out by the fifth run of the day. We got three traditional Jackpot legs in a row, which was previously unheard of for us. Suddenly, I found we were entering this past weekend's trial needing only one more Standard leg for a CATCH-2, and having two opportunities to get it that day.

So, old habits die hard, I found. I approached the trial feeling very relaxed and unconcerned about finishing the title, but as I walked the first course, I started to feel my nerves get a bit rattled. The course was a nice one that we should have done well. But, I found myself worrying about his A-Frame contact so got right to the end to slow him down to hit it, then promptly forgot what I was supposed to be doing next. In the half-second pause I took to re-orient myself, Django got tired of waiting for direction and took an off course jump. I apologized to him on the course for screwing that one up, then just had fun as we finished up the course.

The second run went much better. I took a deep breath before leaving him at the start line, and the opening went very smooth. Once we got past all the tricky parts though, and were almost in the home stretch, I did shift back into baby-sitter mode, and did some awkward handling to play it safe. But, he earned his Q and still took first place even with the time I took to over-handle the last few weaves and jumps. All in all, it was a nice run and I was very proud of him.

I'm happy to be back in "non-striving" mode though. We ran the last two classes of the day using the "no hand-holding" philosophy again, and he ran fast, clean, and had some brilliant weave entries. In doing so, Django taught me another important lesson - that once the training and team-building effort has been put in, you need to trust your dog, and in effect, yourself.

Here's Django's title photo, courtesy of Raymond Dutton. As always, Django is not real sure what all the fuss is about and is just wondering when he is going to get his cheese.

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