Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Groundspeed / Tight Turns

My two dogs are examples of each.  Riff has shown some decent groundspeed, and Keeper specializes in tight turns.  I used to think Keeper was both tight and fast, but Riff changed my mind. 

Keeper is good.  She is still moves along at a respectable rate.  She's does not reluctantly trot, for instance.  She does not mosey along, looking at distractions.  (Personally, I would quickly find something else for my dog to do, if he moved that slowly on an agility course.)  She is actually running, and running with  enthusiasm. 

And she used to be fast, I think.  At least, people told me she was fast, when she was younger...and I thought of her as fast.  She looked fine in videos, and she won her fair share of classes (especially Gamblers), considering she was my first agility dog.  Admittedly she wasn't all that great in the weaves....her shoulders convinced her she needed to keep her head up and her front feet together...and nothing I tried ever changed her mind.  That's the way she weaved, and she taught me to just shut up and appreciate it.

Keeper 2009

Keeper 2007
But her questionable shoulder and hip structure taught her a thing or two, during the last couple of years, about the comfort of moving more carefully.  She either slows way down (especially in the weaves and on contact equipment), or she pays the price.

She still works hard at being tight around turns, though.  Last night, due to a funky late front cross on my part, she worked so hard at correcting her path that she lost her front legs and took a nasty little sliding header into the grass.  She looked like a plow, and the peanut gallery gasped.  Ms. Keeps popped right up though, and said, "Jeezus, clean up the cue, Dude!" and we went back through the exercise correctly.  Happily, all she came home with was a grass stain.   But I'd been running her in class for an hour by then, and decided to take the girl home before I made her well-and-truly sore.    When you only do agility once every couple of months - even if the jumps are 10" lower than you used to jump, even if you aren't doing any A-frames - you need to take it easy.

Riff, on the other hand, can be fast.  But he has plenty to learn about turning tight.  He's all about striding BIG, and jumping BIG.  So I take him out for five minutes of "patio practice" a couple of times a day, every few days or so, in order to help him figure out how to wrap around the stanchions of jumps.  I keep the bars on the ground (although he starts out jumping a few inches of air), the jumps fairly close together (we don't have much room), and the sessions uber-short.   

Patio practice makes a difference.  At least, I try to convince myself that it does.  "Your dog will never get trained unless you spend some time training."  Once we're on a field, though, he sails loooong over jumps.  I like to imagine that he's getting more collected, and turning tighter.  Maybe?  A little bit? 

Riff loves to stretch out.  If the jumps are set up just so, he will bounce-jump them.  He loves flying.  He wants to stay in the air.  If he were a disc dog, he'd jump way higher than the frisbee, then come down to catch it from above.  He'd give his eye teeth for a handler who can REALLY RUN.  Well, maybe not his eye teeth.  He'd give a lot of doggy kisses, though.

Did you see the Aussie that won the 22" class at the USDAA 2011 Championships?  That dog did not turn tight.  He had a hella lotta groundspeed, though....and the young lady with him could run. 

As much as I admired that Aussie (and I'm not a big Aussie fan), I'm still holding out hope for a fast and tight dog.  My advantage with Keeper was that all she ever wanted was to please me.  She's a prime example of a one-person border collie.  She wants to turn and quickly as she can, and catch up to me.  Riff, on the other hand, loves everyone.  He gets distracted.  And it doesn't help that I can't stay ahead of him on an agility field.   I do love watching him run, though - the faster the better.  One of my favorite things is to turn him loose in a field and watch him boogey. 

MY DREAM is to be able to SEND Riff out to obstacles and REEL him back in - all at a good fast clip.  It can be confusing, though, when he looks elsewhere - like at other obstacles - even obstacles that seem too far away to think about (or so it seems to me)....

Heck, I wish I was a better dog trainer.  (Sigh.)  But hope springs eternal! 

Perhaps the month of December will be "Riff's my buddy" month.  I'll take him out alone more often.  We'll have more frequent "just you and me" hikes.  As much as I love going out with both of my wonderful dogs....maybe Riff and I need even more "alone" time than I've been giving him.  And I'll try to teach him another trick or two.  Keeper thinks tricks are kind of dumb, but Riff loves them.

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