Like most other novice (or rather any) handlers out there, I have training gaps with The Murr. Some training gaps are easy to plug, others more difficult. Sometimes a band-aid will suffice, other times major surgery needs to be performed. And it's up to the handler if they want to deal with the training issue in the first place. Sometimes it's a combination of cost versus benefit. For example, if one's goal is to make the world team, the dog is fast enough to be competitive at that level, and the gap is that he's a bar knocker, most people will put in the effort to improving the dog's jumping to clear the bars. On the other hand, if one's goal is to earn a MACH, the dog is fairly slow, and the gap is that the dog doesn't have a super-drivey teeter, not as many people would spend the time and effort to retrain the contact.
To an extent, I'm in the latter of those two scenarios with Murray's dogwalk.
I never trained a dogwalk with Murray. His criteria, to date, has been "go up, go across, go down." When we started in class, he was very slow. And when you are literally walking across the dogwalk and are about 13 or 14" long, it's difficult to miss the yellow. His A-frame was taught from the ground up, and is the contact that I'm most proud of with him. The teeter was his archnemesis for a while, and he's been reinforced so heavily on it, that he is starting to show drive towards it. Meanwhile, he's always *liked* the dogwalk, he just doesn't know what the judges think he should be doing on it! So we do get the occasional launch.
|I may not have criteria, but I sure love the dogwalk!|
Occasional is the imperative, here. His "hit" rate in trials is well above 90%. I feel confident in saying that he's NQ'd more frequently for missing a weave pole than he has for missing a dogwalk contact. His lack of a perfect dogwalk is not the one thing keeping him from being a Nationals finalist, or winning his class at an AKC show, or any other competitive check-marks; with a perfect dogwalk, he still lacks the speed to be a truly competitive dog. So in many regards we could get through the rest of his agility career with his current dogwalk (and the babysitting that comes along with it) and he'd likely retire with the same accolades as he would with a stellar, trained dogwalk.
But there's also the emotional element to it. The two times that Murray has been called on his A-frame, I shook it off like it was no big deal. In fact, I had no idea he missed his contact until someone informed me that they saw a judge's hand go up. When Murr misses a weave pole, or pops out at 10, it doesn't bother me in the slightest. I know that he knows how to do them; I trust him enough to let him find his entries, run ahead, cross or whatever else may need to be done, so the occasional missed pole is just that. But when he misses a dogwalk contact I shudder. Because I know that it's a training gap rearing its ugly head, and that - in reality - it's destined to happen. It's not some freak occurance like an off-stride on the occasional A-frame, but rather the consequence of not teaching my dog how to properly run the contact.
The dogwalk issue came to a head at the USDAA Regionals in April, when Murr missed 3 of his 4 dogwalks over the course of the weekend. Granted, the first one was the result of my manic behavior in Team Gamblers, and the subsequent ones were due to me being so worried that I was essentially pushing him off of the contacts. But it was the first time that it seemed like a real problem, and something that needed to be addressed. Not for any true extrinsic reasons, but more to keep the stress away from the handler.
After Regionals, I spoke with my instructor about training his dogwalk contact. I'm fortunate in that I train with people who respect me enough to be honest and upfront. And the honest truth was that in order to retrain the dogwalk, I would need to withdraw from trialing for at least a few months. At the same time, both my instructor and I acknowledged that in order to be able to qualify for AKC Nationals - one of my goals for the year - starting a re-train in May would create a direct conflict. So I held off, putting band-aids on the dogwalk to get through the NAC qualifying, with few "major issues" flaring up.
With any extrinsic goals that I had set now complete, post-Cynosport was the time to start the re-train. I've committed to reducing the trialing substantially (only doing a few dogwalks in USDAA Tourney classes to finish the Qs we'll need for next year), and have committed to putting in the time - and patience - it truly takes to train a polished behavior. That's the tougher part... I'm not the most patient individual and I'm treading new water with this type of training. The first thing I asked of my instructor, though, was to identify the different methods to training a dogwalk - from Step 1 to the end - so that we could determine the best approach for our little team...