Sunday, August 29, 2010

System fail

I haven't trialled all summer. Well I have, but in AKC Rally and at the UKC Premier. So this weekend was my first weekend back to AKC agility since April. And Thank God, it's the last weekend of a position on a table. Next weekend, no position!

The weekend coincided with some discussion on the Clean Run list on systems, and which system is the best to follow. Of course there was lots of chiming in; Linda's (Mecklenburg) system, Greg's (Derrett) system, Susan's (Garrett or Salo) system. Even Jane Simmons Moake's system. But what struck me this weekend was not anyone's specific system but rather how insistence on adhering to a certain style was failing dogs.

There is the group who insists on putting a front cross wherever one can fit. I watched handler after handler drive for a front cross and push their dogs off course or jam their dogs. In one instance, the turn was just before the very last jump. One spectacularly fast dog took three extra strides, two of which were trying to screech to a halt and get out of the way of his handler's front cross. Less flashy handlers just turned their shoulder and pulled their dogs to the jump; far smoother and much faster. There was NO reason to put a front cross there. But for that handler, that was the system.

There is the group with all the hand and shoulder motion. Both arms going, one pulling, one pushing, wrists turning, fingers pointing. You know, dogs don't see that well. A single pointing finger just isn't that useful. And if you're pulling with one hand and pushing with the other, what is that telling the dog? If it's a small dog, you're probably telling it nothing. I have a dear and beloved friend who uses this system and loves it. But every time I see her run her small dog, he's looking at her feet. He doesn't care what's going on up there in the air, he isn't looking that high! Yet the person she trains with has great success with it; it works for her dog.

Some systems do not allow certain moves. In some you are never allowed to use an off arm. Or blind cross. And frankly I think it's just kind of dumb. Don't want to use a blind cross? Fine, don't do it. But you can't say a blind cross is always bad when there are World Team handlers using them successfully all the time.

For every system out there, there are dogs who do spectacularly well with that system. So they definitely work. For some dogs and handlers. But I also see far too many dogs stuffed into a system that just doesn't work for them. If you really don't have a lot of send distance on your dog and/or are not a track star, why insist on jamming your dog with a front cross when a rear, or even no cross works even better? If your dog is watching your feet, why waste all that motion up top? If your dog is motivated by blind crosses, why not use them?

At its heart, a system is a consistent set of cues. And consistency is critical. But IMO adherence to only one single system's rules is not. Me, I want to use whatever works for my dog. What worked for Viva, a high drive but very sticky dog who despised front crosses, does not work at all for Cala, a dog with huge speed and distance who needs directionals and me the heck out of the way. And that in turn doesn't work for Zipper, who is moderately fast, watches my feet, wants me to run with him and is very sensitive to acceleration and deceleration. I run, he runs. I stop, so does he!

Consistency is key, but so is the ability and willingness to change the system to suit the dog, instead of trying to shove the dog into the system willy-nilly. I'd rather know about each system then pick and choose the parts that work best for the dog I have. And judging by what I saw this weekend, I wish a few other people would do that as well.

The DDGraphix store!