Agility Spaz

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Space Invaders

I love agility lingo. For instance, I don't have just any dog. I have a Velcro ® dog. Velcro ® dogs stick to you. They do this for a variety of reasons: they lack confidence, it's in their nature, you've treated them for working close to you more than you've treated them for working away. In Viva's case, it was impossible to determine the origins of her velcrocity, as she lacked confidence, has always liked to snuggle (unless you're blowing in her ear -- ask Hector), and was treated for working close more than she'd been treated for working away. (Away? What's away?)

Except that as of this week, it's official: Viva is no longer Velcro ®.

Should I have seen it coming? Probably. We've been toying with distance work more in the past year than in the previous two. Anyone who's observed Viva's progress will attest to the huge change in her confidence level (gotta love those jump chutes, and my steadily improving reward timing hasn't hurt either). Long lead-outs don't generate the same burst of speed they did when she was desperate to catch up to me after two? three? soul-rending seconds of absence. Thankfully she still loves to snuggle. And will frantically retreat into my arms whenever a stray vacuum cleaner crosses her path.

But on course? No snuggling! On course, she is a fiery red ball of independence! Tell her where to jump, and she'll jump. The long lead-out? She spends the entire time barking at me, as if to inform me in no uncertain terms that I'm holding up the show. Obstacle discrimination? Gone to hell in a handbasket because now, given the choice between two adjacent obstacles, she's generally choosing the one farthest from me. The good ol' days of tunnel-sucking are gone. The even better not-so-ol' days of contact-sucking are old hat. These days? These days, a dog needs her space.

Yes, Viva needs space and I need a clue. Again. It's no longer enough to look at the correct obstacle or shape Viva's path. (Although there's no doubt both behaviors help, and that it's counterproductive to look over one's shoulder at one's dog when doing so involves turning one's head and quite possibly one's shoulders in the direction of the incorrect obstacle -- Agility Spaz learned that one this weekend.) It's as though I have a new dog, a parallel universe dog that moves away where the previous dog would come in, and comes in where the previous dog would move away. I don't know where the boundaries are. I know they're there, but they're invisible and intangible (though, knowing Viva, very likely audible).

Type-A that I am, I'd be inclined to figure out exactly where they are. If I invade Viva's space enough, I'll learn eventually where that space begins and ends. Fortunately, I am surrounded by more pragmatic individuals, one of whom (after watching yet another failed weave entry due to -- you guessed it -- an inadvertent invasion of Viva's space) stated calmly that I needed a front cross. My first thought in that instant was that I needed a brain. Nonetheless, after spending what felt like eternity figuring out why the front cross needed to be a yard and a half northeast of where I'd initially wanted to place it, I gamely ran the same portion of the exercise with a front cross and it worked like a charm. No pressure. No invasion of space. Merely an consise, elegant lead change, and a much happier dog.

For my dog's sake, I will be spending the week planning handling maneuvers that will stay out of her way.

P.S. The elusive Superior Novice Jumpers final leg is no longer elusive -- Miss V. earned her S-NJC this weekend. Off to Open!


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