This weekend I attended 3 seminars (2 half day, and one full day) with Jessica Martin, hosted by The Summit. I was excited to attend mostly because her handling style truly embodies Greg Derrett’s handling system (I think it’s weird that we refer to handling system by the name of their “founder”, the should be called something cooler and less pretentious). From what I have seen in our local level of completion, everyone seems to mix up a few handling systems, an “All Canadian” if you please, and it confuses the heck out of me. I hate ambiguity – so do my dogs.
My point, and I always have one – it was nice to get some advice from an instructor who truly believes in their system, follows it religiously, and has results that speak for themselves.
Saturday AM seminar was “Body Cues, Footwork and Synchronization”. In an nut-shell it was about being your most agile, so that you can communicate clearly with your dog. The theory is (I guess it isn’t a theory, but more like proven fact) that the more clearly you communicate (the more accurately you use your body) your directions to your dog through acceleration, deceleration and accurately timed turns, the more confident and faster your dog will be.
In the group classes I had taken last year we defiantly touched on acceleration and deceleration, but I realized that I never really got how truly fundamental it was as a body cue. Let me say, it works and it is absolutely a necessity for any agility handler. Used correctly, you can get more accurate and tighter turns which are truly key to preventing an off-course and keeping course times down. The footwork portion was truly an “Ah-ha” moment for me (thanks Oprah) because I always thought to myself “My dogs are not following my arm cues!”. This was always so frustrating and then Jessica pointed out that 1) Our arms are a distraction – you don’t want your dog looking up at your flailing arm when they would be looking at their next obstacle and 2) my dogs are both under 16”, they can’t see my arms up close anyways (hence, why they don’t follow my arm changes) but they can see my FEET!!! Duh – oh wait, Ah-ha!! I am defiantly going to be paying way more attention to my foot position then my arms from now on.
Saturday PM seminar was about “Crosses and Arm Changes” – which was really just the practical application of everything from the AM. Positioning yourself at the optimal position to cue every turn imaginable.
In the morning Jessica emphasised how important foot position was and how distracting arms can be. However, in this seminar we learned how and when to effectively use our arms to cue turns!
Sunday’s daylong seminar was all about “Masters Handling Challenges with Efficiency” and making the best course choice for your dog – all while applying the theories of the previous day in to super-fast, but very technical international courses.
I opted for a working spot in this seminar because it is not secret that Travis and I need to get more speedy on technical courses. I’ll admit, knowing that some more “well know” handler/instructors were also working with their amazing dogs really pushed me to step out of my comfort zone. I did things (and so did Travis) that we have never even attempted before…but we sure will again! While overall his course “times” were not much faster than normal, I was sure able to shave a second or two off some technical jumping sequences with the handling that Jessica suggested…and sometimes seconds is all you need!
I don’t think Travis will ever be a very motivates agility competitor. This doesn’t mean that I won’t keep trying to get him to be faster, it’s just that for now, he’s enjoying the ride instead of focusing on just the destination.