When I walk a course, I’m looking to understand the flow of the course from my dog’s point of view. I begin by walking the dog’s path, taking note of any off course possibilities and options in the direction my dog will turn. If I run into a question of which way to turn, I pace off turning both directions, from the moment my dog lands, to the beginning of the next obstacle. I also take into account:
- Will my dog be in extension or collection when he jumps?
- How long will it take my dog to get back up to full speed?
- Does either direction put any extra stress on myself as a handler?
- Have I mastered the skills needed to turn in this direction?
- What will it gain me and my performance to turn this way?
Once I’ve walked my dog’s path, and I understand the needed jumping efforts and path changes I need to communicate to him, I start discovering each and every option I can think of for the course. I never “plan” to do a front cross at 4, or a rear cross at 11; I only know my options, so that I can prepare for the course. I cannot plan how my dog will choose to react. I can only plan for how I will communicate information to him, and how I am able to respond to his actions. I do make decisions on which way would be best to turn when those options arise, but I go ahead and take a look at how I would handle turning in the opposite direction, just in case.
I spend the remainder of my walk-through learning where the obstacles are, and how much space I have to complete my handling choices. This gives me an idea of when I should change my pace to start a front cross, or to “touch the jump” and go.
It is important that you understand the flow of the course, and where the obstacles are, and mentally prepare yourself for the choices you will have to make on course. There are many runs where it didn’t go how I imagined it, but no one knew that but me!
With the course shown on the right, I imagine my dog jumping in extension over #1 and likely #2, but the next obstacle is not obvious for him. #4 requires a turn, and has off course options drawing my dog away from the desired path. Based on my dog’s trajectory over #5, he will need to turn over #6 to approach the see-saw safely. A turn is required over #8, with a small discrimination challenge. #10-12 requires turns from my dog, and a very clear line of motion from myself to clearly indicate the correct obstacles. The backside #13 requires more handling, or a reliable trained cue. He should be able to slice #13 to set up a nice line into the #14 tunnel. #15 requires true collection so that a safe approach to the dog walk is available. Before I release my dog from his stopped position on the dog walk (or before he has hit the ground if I have a running contact), I must be facing and/or moving towards the next correct obstacle so as not to send my dog off course. #16 requires clear turning information to ensure the correct end of the tunnel is taken, and that no extra jumps are taken on the way. My dog needs to see that he is to turn out of the tunnel to know where #18 is.