Getting distracted by the big picture?

November 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Tips for zeroing in on where the issues are:

After a recent lesson where a group was having some trouble with a rear cross sequence, I realized that many of my students are getting distracted by the big picture when they are trying to problem solve. In this case, my students assumed that the rear cross was the problem, and therefore the solution was to practice more rear crosses. Seems simple enough right? They thought so, until I told them that the issues their dogs were having, in my opinion, weren’t actually with the rear cross itself.

This got me thinking about how people approach problem solving and why my solutions are often different from my students’ solutions. Most often our focus is one larger idea such as the dog turning the wrong way on a rear cross, jumping long on a front cross, or turning back into the same entrance of the tunnel on a threadle. These results are easy to see, finding the actual problems and solving them, however, is much more complex.

Problem solving is a huge part of agility, especially since many of us train on our own at some point. Without an instructor to watch our every move, we each have to play the role of our instructor in deciding where the issues are and how to fix them. More often than not, we focus on the larger parts when mistakes are happening, such as the sequence of obstacles or the handling manoeuvre that we are performing. The problem with this strategy is that each of these areas can be broken down into much smaller pieces where the issue in the dog’s understanding actually resides.

Take a simple rear cross for example. The easiest part for a dog to understand is to change direction when you change sides behind them. The dog’s natural tendency will be to see what side you are on and continue in that direction.  This is very rarely the part that causes problems with a rear cross and yet it is most often the thing people rehearse when something goes wrong. Here’s a tip to help start deconstructing handling issues. Look at what happened BEFORE the obstacle where something went wrong. Did the dog hesitate before they jumped? Did the dog launch and land long in the wrong direction? Did they curve to the wrong side of the bar for the rear cross?  These are the questions that will show you which area to zero in on for your problem solving.

  • If the dog hesitated, you were likely struggling to get them ahead of you and therefore showing deceleration and uncertainty before they jumped. They knew something was happening, but weren’t sure what so they jump short but in the wrong direction for the rear cross
    • Solution: do the jump without the rear cross, rewarding ahead until the dog will drive ahead of you with no hesitation
  • If the dog launched over the jump, they were likely too far ahead of you to see you cross so when they left the ground they were thinking they should go straight ahead
    • Solution: practice being more aggressive with the rear cross so that your dog can feel you moving behind them. Set yourself up so you aren’t so far behind or use a verbal cue to turn the dog
  • If the dog is strongly curving to the wrong side of the jump, they are most likely hesitating as well and in response you are pulling to that side so they don’t turn off before the jump from the pressure on their line
    • Solution: do the jump without the rear cross and put pressure into their line as you do a post turn instead. This will teach the dog to resist pressure and make it easier for you to get behind them without them turning off of the jump

These are just a few common examples of things I typically see during rear cross drills. Notice that all of the problem solving deals with the approach to the obstacle and not what happens on landing. If you fix the cause (inconsistent information), the effect (turning the wrong way) disappears as well. If you focus on the effect, you can’t see the cause.

Happy Training,



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