Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Startline Stay (SLS). Is it essential?

In agility these days, pretty much everyone strives for a startline stay. They can be very difficult to maintain though, because breaking them is SOOO rewarding. And often handlers inadvertently teach the dog to break through body cues.

This weekend I was talking to a gal who runs a lightning-fast Whippet. She said, "I just figured out how I'm cueing the release for my startline!" It turns out that though she thought the release was a word, "OK," the dog had figured out that after she looked away to see where she was going, the moment she looked back, even the merest glance, he could leave.


I know of OTCH dogs who have broken startlines. I know one dog who was so keyed to go that even when he got pulled for breaking, he'd still have the reward for that one jump. So his owner had a friend pull the bar down from the jump if he broke, so he couldn't jump it. It worked, sort of. Then there's Cala. I had a startline stay on her as a young dog, but then she started fudging it. So I pulled her at a couple of trials. Her solution? Break faster so she could take off and do more agility before I yanked her off the course. Try fixing THAT one.

But do you really, honestly have to have a startline stay? Will dogs without them be doomed to certain failure? Well, no. You don't. In fact, with some slower dogs a SLS can be demotivating. And a bad leadout is just as likely to result in failure as no leadout at all. My "favorite" is the leadout of two jumps to a sharp turn. Often the handler cues late, crunching the dog as he tries to stand on his head and turn at the same time. If it's a high drive dog you sometimes hear justified verbal protest from the dog at this treatment.

If you can get a startline stay, it can be very beneficial. In some courses, being able to lead out and draw a line can really help with efficiency and eliminate traps. Some judges design courses specifically to punish those with no leadout. It's a tool you should add to your toolbox. And for really drivey dogs, it can help reinforce that you're team captain, you get to say when to go, not your dog.

Now Min Pins aren't that big, and some of them aren't that motivated. For our breed, I think it is beneficial to experiment and see what works best. If your dog is faster doing a running start, then do it. If it likes to be called to you, try that. Zipper seems to like both the "drop and run" and the startline stay. So I think I'll be able to use both.

If you aren't able to get a stay, here are some tips.

If there are two jumps pretty much straight out to a turn, consider setting up well behind the line and doing a cross between one and two. Be sure to angle the dog the direction you are facing, so you are using the rear cross as a V set. As an example, one of my jumpers courses had 2 jumps out to a right hand turn, with a trap on the left. I actually kept Zipper on my right, set him down a good distance from the bar so he could get up speed, then rear crossed him between one and 2, which turned him nicely to get to three. An alternative to this would have been to set him up on my left, but come into the pocket between 1 and 2 and wrap him around me in a V set, sending him over 2 at an angle to the right.

If there is a jump and a sharp turn with a trap jump straight ahead, set up closer to the bar so the dog has a bit more collection and is less likely to wildly run straight forward. But be sure you leave plenty of room to get yourself by the jump without having to dodge a wing.

There are ways to manage without a startline stay, but if you can get a reliable one, it's a formidable tool.

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