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Internationalization

It's another Dog Agility Blog Action Day. Otherwise known as "Love it or hate it day!"

Read other posts on the topic here:
http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/internationalization/

First of all, you have to define what IS international style agility. The most obvious answer is that which you see at the various world championship venues. Needless to say, the teams at these events have a "go big or go home" attitude. They are "in it to win it." Many of the courses at this level could be handled with your basic meat and potatoes handling, but it wouldn't be very tight or fast. All this "fancy crap" came about to take advantage of the additional cues it gave our dogs. I think the fundamental shift has begun in agility, at least at the international level, away from just being able to perform obstacles quickly and efficiently towards how well can our dogs follow our cues, and how well can we cue the optimum path? There is an artist's rendition of a course map hanging in the lobby at Paws N Effect titled "Crufts First Agility Show." There's only one jump. The rest of the obstacles are things like "cat walk", "weaving flags", and "window jump" (or something else resembling a tire.) Clearly, the emphasis was on obstacle performance, not path as I think the course was a simple figure 8. At some point, the obstacles were refined, and obstacle performance was perfected. There had to be some other way to *win*. The Europeans (I am told) have always had a win out system; the only way to advance was to win your class. Whereas here in the States, you simply have to "pass" in order to advance. Meat and potatoes handling, yeah that's the way you "pass." But if you want to win, you're going to have to use your cues more effectively. And thus evolved "international handling" (or so I theorize). International style handling: using your cues most effectively to cue almost anything. The cues you use are going to stay the same no matter what style course you are running. How you use them will differ. How closely your dog has to pay attention to those cues will differ. A dog running a course full of straight lines and few side changes or options will not have to follow many cues, and the winner will likely be the one whose obstacle performance and ground speed is the most efficient. It's funny, I see CPE as the quintessential venue in this country where obstacle performance is emphasized over path (simplest paths, in theory the most proficient dog should win), and yet these are the teams who seem to struggle the most with obstacle skills. I notice handlers in that venue spending little time on "the fancy crap"; their dogs perform obstacles when the handler runs by them. Or at least, sometimes their dogs perform the obstacles when the handler runs by them. And other venues that I usually think of as emphasizing ground speed only, like NADAC, making attempts at rewarding "path": tunnelers and hoopers are all about shaping a path for the dog with very little obstacle performance required. But it seems to be only the venues with international representation that ask teams to excel at both obstacle performance and cuing the best path.

This has relevance to me right now. I used to get discouraged by the idea that agility seemed to be all about speed. To me, agility was more about the working relationship, not just speed. I think that's what initially appealed to me about international skills. It wasn't about speed. It was about using your cues. Sure, the dogs who made the podiums at World Championships were going to be the fastest dogs. But being able to get through an international style course appealed to me because it was more about what I had learned and had taught my dog to respond to. I could do it in my backyard. I could set a timer and see what worked best. The training possibilities were endless. Once I had taught the obstacles, what else did I have? I think what draws many in to agility is the training and bond you develop. Training for international agility will present never ending challenges. No, I don't do much international skills work with Marron. Mostly because she lacks the foundation because I just didn't know any better when I was teaching her obstacle skills. Out of all three of my dogs, she follows my cues with probably the least precision. Yes, I can get her through almost any American course. But only because she's had the most practice. Does she really understand my cues? No. Most international style courses make that plainly clear.

Kraft suffers from the opposite end of the spectrum. At this point in time, his handling skills are worlds above what the girls had at his age. I taught him back side sends today. Bam. Done. I recalled him past a jump to the backside. Bam. First try. But his obstacle performance? Weave poles, A-frame- half trained. Tire, broad jump, dog walk- not even started. He's plenty old enough to start trialing in AKC. He's eligible to start in USDAA at the end of this month. But he's not ready for either. My foundations emphasis has changed. Partly because I had no choice. In Tennessee where I started the girls, I had access to equipment at a dog park in town. Here, I only have equipment once a week in class at best. So I focused on what I could do: handling with cones and jumps and tunnels. But even if I had equipment I don't think my early emphasis would have been any different though he might have been a little further along with the obstacles than he is. All dogs learn the equipment eventually. But from what I have seen, not all of them learn to handle efficiently. Or maybe not all handlers learn to handle efficiently. Maybe that's what I like about "international" style handling. You don't have to have the fastest dog to win. You just have to handle better.

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