a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: On Great Handlers and Good Runs

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

On Great Handlers and Good Runs

SUMMARY: Am I a great handler? Did I have great runs?

I received three unsolicited compliments at the CPE trial last weekend about what a great handler I am. I said thanks and honestly enjoyed the sentiments. But, at the same time, I always immediately compare my handling skills to those of the many truly world-class and near world-class handlers whom I see regularly at USDAA trials--and I'm not excluding a lot of people by making that qualification; so many handlers there could be world-team contenders if they wanted to be. And, compared to the high standards of handling against which I compete so often, I'm really only maybe an average handler. 

I know this because I can compare my moves in videos with the moves I see other handlers making on course; by the desperate way I struggle to get to where I need to be (or leave where I need to leave) compared to the easy lope of, yes, even short-legged handlers; by the neatly executed turns and clear, unambiguous gestures compared to what my arms and legs do in seeming contradiction to what my mind swears it's telling them to do; by how far I am, and always have been, so far out of competition to ever be near the top levels of national agility.

I concede two things:
  • That I'm a much better handler than I was when I started and for the first few years I ran. I like to think that I'm still improving, but it has been at a very slow rate for many years. 
  • I'm a very *experienced* handler. I think I've commented about this before: I almost never watch people go off course and think, "huh, it never occurred to me that that's an off-course opportunity." I believe that I can read courses very well--I know where the traps and challenges are because I can see what the dog's path around the course is going to be.  That is arguably my greatest strength as a handler. And my experience also gives me many options, without thinking too hard, on how to handle those traps and challenges.
So, what I am is, I think, a greatly experienced handler. Who is lucky enough to have two wonderful dogs who love doing agility and want to work with me and can run. But even then, *knowing* stuff doesn't always translate into *executing* it.
    Also, I'm not sure that "being able to survive a course with a fast dog" necessary translates into "being a great handler"--well, OK--it's one component of being a good handler, but there's getting around the course any ugly way you can manage and then there's getting around the course smoothly and accurately.

    Anyway, what I'm saying is, I appreciate the compliments and that is one reason why I like CPE--I do think I'm in the better handlers group rather than the less capable handlers group, unlike in USDAA. So I *feel* more competent. Sometimes.

    The interesting thing is that there are more great handlers in CPE  (or great handlers in training--you know how you can tell just by watching how they move on course?) than one might expect from a venue that's a good starting/intermediate-level venue for the most part, and quite a few excellent dogs, although they aren't always paired up (e.g., competent handler, dog with no drive). Not being on score table allowed me to watch a lot more than I usually do, and I saw some great runs. A very few of these skilled folks also do USDAA. I don't know why more of them don't. Maybe they don't want the higher jump heights? Maybe they like the more relaxed CPE trials? Maybe they like being able to Q with refusals and knocked bars? (I can SO relate to that.) Maybe they just have too many dang weekends of agility? Maybe they're not totally insane like some people?

    (This weekend, a friend, Quas' mom, told me that she did 38 weekends of agility last year! THIR! TY! EIGHT! And you guys thought I was nuts for doing 17 last year.)

    After Boost's first ugly Standard run on Saturday (read description in yesterday's post), in which we survived several disasters and ended up Qing, a friend gave me a big grin and said "NICE run!" and I shot back, "No, it wasn't." Sure, it was a Q, but it was an amazingly sloppy one on both our parts. After going on about all our refusals, I tried to backpedal and apologize for not taking the compliment. It is sometimes hard to remember to just shut up and smile and say "thanks."

    And, meanwhile--spring arrived Monday morning in my front flowerbed, with the season's first daffodil:

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