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!
In the opening sequence of the course below, the choice to turn left over #2 is obvious, but I’ve given the example anyways. I believe the option at #4 is obvious as well, but if I felt my dog did not have the skill to by-pass an obstacle, I could choose to take the longer path if I felt it was clearer to my inexperienced dog.
From the exit of the see-saw, I need to have my dog’s line changed so that he was heading in the direction of the tunnel, not the off course option at #12.
From the exit of the tunnel, I need to have my body facing and moving towards the correct jump, #9. I want to take this position before my dog exits the tunnel, in case I fall behind, I can still support the next correct obstacle.
From 9-10, I would want to carefully look at all of my options. If I am ahead of my dog, it is no problem to cue true collection and get a nice turn to the right at #9, pulling him through the gap to the correct side of #10. However, if I am behind my dog, or unable to give enough information about the tight-right turn, I would be better suited to support his trajectory jumping left, in extension, and racing him to #10, and hopefully regaining my lead on my dog.
For a safer approach to the a-frame, I choose to turn my dog to the left over #10. (I still quickly go over what I would do if I fell behind and was unable to turn him left, and he jumped to the right instead. )
From #11 and #12, I be sure to support the next correct obstacles with my line of motion.
I choose to turn right over #15 for a safer approach to the dog walk.
From #17-18, I take into account my ability to beat my dog down the dog walk, the time it will take me to travel the distance of #17-18 to prepare for #19, and my dog’s ability to jump.
From #18, I make my decision off of my location relative to the obstacle when my dog is committing to the jump. I also take into consideration that one way has no off course options, while another does. I also ask myself the 5 questions mentioned above, to determine which would be fastest for my dog.