SUMMARY: Good personalized help and some nice pointers.
Boost and I participated in Silvia Trkman's Master Handling Seminar on Monday. Goal is to identify and execute the tightest lines through a course.
Silvia is so good at watching your run and remembering everything about it, then giving you intelligent suggestions in a manner as if she's talking to a peer (not to an idiot or a beginning or a pathetic handler who'll never be as awesome as she is). I loved it.
(If you're not familiar with Silvia's name, she's a multiple-time world champion and one of the most interesting dog-trick trainers around: Go to Youtube and search for "silvia trkman tricks" and see some of what she does.)
She didn't have a detailed bulleted-point agenda or system. She said that every dog and handler has to choose the handling system that's best for them. For example, she disliked blind crosses "for 15 years" until she recently got a Border Collie who is too soft for both front and rear crosses, and blind crosses work great.
She looks SO young. I poked around a bit: She *is* young. Best as I can find so far, she's either 27 or 29. Just barely more than half my age, and she has been a top European competitor since the late 1980s. Think about it!
Behind the scenes, we were joking about people using the pointy finger to direct their dogs. Lots of photos were taken, and we were all guilty.
Her primary suggestions weren't any that I hadn't heard before in one form or another, but she was able to help each of us use and prove the strategies on 5 different courses:
Dog must know where she's going, not just the next obstacle but the one after that, so cue cue cue with body language and voice.
You HAVE to be there. Hustle. Be clear in what you want the dog to do (e.g., don't gesture at a tunnel that the dog has to take at a weird angle while you're running; you have to be right there and take a litttle step/push to get the dog in. Hard to explain without a drawing, sorry. Just--hustle!)
Use voice cues particularly for turns. Have to cue before the turn, not over the bar or after the dog has landed. She has different verbal cues for turn left, turn right, wrap tightly left, and wrap tightly right. (How to teach those was Tuesday's seminar, which we didn't attend.)
Dogs must must must have independent weave entries & completions and dogwalk & Aframe contacts if you want to play with the big dogs (so to speak), and often just to be able to get around a course successfully. And that's from any oddball angle. Not so much the teeter, because you've usually got plenty of time to run with the dog and still get to where you need to be.
Don't stop moving! If you hustle to get there and then are standing there waiting, that's TOO much hustle and it'll slow the dog down. Move fast and the dog will, too.
Sometimes you just have to trust your dog. (She managed to set up at least one scenario where all of us checked back on our dogs and they all then either hesitated or took the wrong obstacle, where if we ran looking straight ahead, the dogs ran, too.
In this photo, we show that (A) it's a wonder that Boost EVER knows what I'm trying to tell her with my body language and (B) those 20 extra pounds that I've allowed to creep on *again* really do show. Dang!
At the end of the day, she said that she was impressed with how well we all did and how fast and accurate our contacts were. We said "flatterer" or to that effect, and she looked taken aback and said, no, really, I mean it. And it's likely true: Among other excellent participants were Rob and Wings (winner of this year's Steeplechase championship and often a finalist) and Rachel Sanders (winner of various prior national championships & often a finalist), and those are the people we're competing against every day, so we know where we need to be.
(Thanks to Laura Hartwick for first 2 photos and thanks--I think--to Vici Whisner for 3rd.)