I thoroughly enjoyed the Stuart Mah seminar on Wednesday, although I think my brain got a little bloated with too much food for thought. The seminar didn't have a title, but if I had to pick one I'd call it "Obstacle Focus is Your Friend (or can be if you learn how to use it and train your dog to do its job)." The point being that a) obstacle focus is where the speed is, handler focus always slows a dog down; b) yes, you can actually steer a dog in obstacle focus but c) you need to communicate well and your dog needs to know its job. Of course all of this involves getting rid of some bad habits, bad instincts and trying a few things that seem downright counterintuitive ...
The course and exercises we did made us put the dog in obstacle focus and transition between obstacle focus and handler focus. I hadn't really thought before about how much I rely on handler focus (and consequently have trained Lucy to mostly stay in handler focus), but now I can see how it's slowing me down. Well, not just me--Lucy, too. Stuart made a comment about how he could tell that Lucy really wanted to let loose and go faster (in obstacle focus, of course!) but that I was holding her in handler focus (without really thinking about what I was doing). So basically I need to let my dog go be dynamite. (Whilst incorporating the stuff we learned about steering--I'm not going to describe it all in depth her because it would take hours. Go take one of Stuart's seminars.)
One of the things we talked about sort of destroyed a previous notion I'd had. I was always been under the impression that my verbal cues were the least important aspect of communicating with my dogs on course, with motion and body positioning being much more crucial. So I'd been concentrating on really using my body to direct Lucy and downplaying the verbal stuff (I mentioned my progress towards that goal in my last post. But Stuart said that's valid enough in handler focus, but in obstacle focus the verbal cues become much more important. Duh, makes sense now that I think of it--if I'm trying to get my dog to drive away from me toward, say, a tunnel in obstacle focus, making her look at me to pick up a signal will necessarily slow her down and probably bring her towards me, back into handler focus. What if I need her to stay out? So there are some good reasons to make sure you have some good verbal cues (like right and left, which Lucy knows and Gomey ... well sort of). The trick is to actually deliver them in time for the dog to use them successfully. He compared the way a lot of us give cues to having a passenger in your car who screeches "Turn right here" after you've already entered the intersection going straight in the left lane. (He used a lot of driving a car analogies.)
Anyway, there was way more to the seminar than I can possibly do justice too (or even remember--I could very easily take the same seminar over again and still benefit). So now I'm itching to get to runthroughs tonight because it's a Steeplechase course--a perfect opportunity for a little obstacle focus work.