First, Blogger doesn't think this is a spam blog anymore. I still can't edit my template but ... baby steps, I guess.
Anyway, last night in class Val came up a cool game designed to make us explore every possible way of handling a sequence. She had us draw numbers for running order, and then gave us a 10-obstacle sequence rife with handling possibilities, with the caveat that we each had to do something different than everyone who went before us. Then after the first round, we each had to run it changing at least two things from our first run, and then a third time changing two things yet again. It was great fun and extremely instructive, and it made us try to go beyond the familiar, comfortable tactics that we all tend to fall back on.
At one point, trying to come up with ways to do things differently, I decided to substitute a blind cross after a tunnel instead of the front cross I had previously used. (The jump before and the two jumps immediately after the tunnel were arranged much like the ones in this discussion of rear crosses at Stuart and Pati Mah's website.) I've used blind crosses a couple of times in trials with Lucy, never after actually planning one in my walkthrough but rather as a spur-of-the-moment decision while running--both times I suddenly realized that a front cross would seriously break our flow and I just changed my plan on the fly. It worked well, but as I never had any basis for comparison I didn't realize how much it makes Lucy turn on the afterburners. I had a direct comparison last night, however, as I'd just run the same sequence with a front cross in that same spot. The difference between it and the blind cross was astounding--not only did the blind cross speed Lucy up through that section, she stayed quite speedy through the remaining 7 obstacles.
It makes sense that a blind cross would speed up my dog. It's called for, to quote Stuart and Pati Mah "if we wish to maintain the dog's impulsion. Because the handler is not attracting the dog's attention by facing the dog, the dog can continue in obstacle focus, resulting in a faster time." Plus, I already knew that being ahead of Lucy speeds her up--I've used that tactic when she seems to be less than fully motivated. But the rear cross seemed to give her a special urgency, and I think it had something to do with me turning my back on her and the fact that I also had to really pour on my own speed. I'm totally anthropomorphizing, but I felt as if Lucy was thinking "Oh no you didn't just try to outrun me ... sucker!"
At any rate, I think I will keep my eyes open for opportunities to put blind crosses to work for me. They won't work just anywhere. (In fact, has anyone ever tried one anyplace but after a tunnel? I can't imagine it.) Also, as the Mahs' discussion points out, they aren't advised when one would need to quickly get the dog into handler-focus, such as for a sharp directional change. Blind crosses also require a lot of hustle, or a dog that's not going so fast, or both. The people I see doing them the most are some of the mini-dog handlers who have an easier time staying ahead for most of the course, and who really need to keep the flow going to make time. I would think a blind cross would be more difficult with some a zippity-gonzo dogs ... maybe even a recipe for "Agility Bloopers."
In related news, that is, speaking of Stuart Mah, I just learned this week that he will be giving a seminar a couple of hours from here (Hampton, VA) on July 4. I can't think of a better way to spend a holiday! I had signed up for one of his seminars last fall, but it filled too quickly and I didn't get to go. So now I get another chance--maybe. There is still some unresolved issue with the venue that could put the kibosh on the whole thin, but if that gets resolved I have a reserved spot.
Also, I'll be doing a bit of NADAC this weekend. There's a nighttime trial Friday and Saturday nights (it's too hot here to have them during the day), and I've got both dogs entered. For the first time, I've got them entered at Veterans. I figured what the heck--they're not getting any younger, and since I'm really only doing NADAC for motivation, confidence-building and practice, why not have lower jump heights and save their joints for USDAA?