Monday, December 14, 2015

Speed in Agility

Coming off of an awesome Agility weekend with Tessa, I want to comment on something that struck me in particular at this trial.

I am grateful to be able to take part in an Agility venue where speed is not the be all end all, and where a more moderate paced dog can succeed.

Let me be clear about one thing right off - you absolutely can NQ on time in CPE Agility.  Tessa and I have done so on numerous occasions.  This can happen in Standard and in every game.  One of the biggest challenges that Tessa and I face in the point games is having time to collect enough points to qualify.  And in Standard, if she does not run the entire course in perfect flow, we can easily NQ on time now that we are in the high levels.

But, Tessa is firmly a moderate paced dog.  She just does not run super fast.  She was faster when she was a bit younger, but even then I never saw her run full out unless she was chasing a rabbit across the yard!

And her weaves are slow-moderate.  They are reliable, they are steady, but they aren't fast.  She takes her time and precisely places each foot as she weaves.  I am convinced that there is actually nothing I can do to get her to go through the weaves faster.  Tessa is weaving at Tessa's pace.

Typical Tessa weaves - sometimes they are a tick faster, but sometimes a bit slower.

Tessa and I would be completely up a creek in a venue that consistently requires tighter times.  We would be continually frustrated in a context where success is almost always just out of our reach, no matter how beautifully she might run.

I am not saying that I believe that dog Agility should be easy enough for all dogs to qualify at all times.  And CPE Agility is not that easy.  Anyone who might make that claim has obviously never been present for a traditional Jackpot where only a handful of dogs out of many qualified!  (I have NQ'ed with that bunch on numerous occasions).

What I am saying is that I am grateful to have the opportunity to participate in a competitive Agility venue where Tessa and I have to work very hard together for our success, but where that success is attainable for us when we put in that work together.

Sure, there are times when I miss the speed.  Sometimes I watch the really fast dogs - especially the Border Collies, and I wish Tessa had some of that "zooooom!" to her. 

But, I have also come to realize that speed can present challenges of its own.  I see fast dogs knock bars far more often.  And where I can run into trouble getting Tessa to send (although she has improved a great deal), the handlers of the faster dogs can have trouble getting them to stay in closer.  Fast dogs tend to run off more and take equipment that is off course.  Tessa has done that, but only a handful of times.

Where Tessa lacks speed, she has beautiful consistency.  I can count on her to keep bars up most of the time.  I can trust her to pay attention to what her body is doing as she is running.  And she is far more forgiving of handling errors because she isn't flying so fast that the error is far in the past before I can make any effort to rectify it!  I don't have to worry as much about equipment that is straight ahead of us when we need to make a turn.

And . . . Tessa and I have the joy of running together.  I can't even describe how amazing it feels to be out there running side by side with my dog as she leaps the hurdles - especially those magnificent spread jumps!  Even though she will send out some, and she can often get some very nice lateral distance, she is never very far away and we are always connected mentally.  I am not a runner.  I never have been.  I have hated running my whole life.  But I will remember running side by side with Tessa as one of the greatest joys of my life.

I have come to this personal conclusion - dog Agility is not just about speed.  Yes, speed is part of it.  But, so is the dog's ability to complete each obstacle in a safe and correct manner.  So is the dog's ability to keep one part of his or her focus and attention on the equipment and another part on the handler.  Agility is just as much about teamwork and a desire, on the dog's part, to be a contributing member of the team on the course.

Through my work with Tessa and the four years that we have run in competition together, I have concluded that trust and teamwork are at the heart of dog Agility.

CPE is not a perfect Agility venue.  There is no such thing as perfection in a dog sport organization.  But there is one thing that I wholeheartedly say CPE has gotten right.  They have provided the dog sport world with an Agility venue that is both challenging and do-able for the majority of healthy and fit dogs.

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this venue with Tessa.

The video above is our Level 5 Fullhouse run from this past weekend.  No problem earning the points we needed this time!

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