We have a USDAA trial coming up this weekend, so we've been getting ready in our Agility classes. Why do we have to have this special "getting ready" time, and what are we doing for it? Well, while it might not seem like a big change from any AKC trial, USDAA actually has enough little differences to make the switch difficult for some dogs.
For Philip, the biggest reason for the special practice is the jump height change. As I've mentioned before, while Philip got happily moved down to 8" in AKC, he has to stay with 12" jump height in USDAA because they don't even have an 8" height! Being the bar knocker that he is, I thought that having to go up a height suddenly (after jumping solely 8" for a good couple of months) would present quite a problem. So I ran him at 12" in last week's class to see how he'd do. My worries were justified, Philip knocked bars left and right all class long, and so I persistently stopped him and made him redo every bar he knocked until they stayed up.
Since Philip didn't do so well last week, I kept him in 12" this week as well. Again the bars went flying at the first run, and again I made him redo every single one. At one point our instructor speculated that he might be rushing to keep up with me and being careless. So for the next run, I took my speed down a notch. Eureka - Philip was being noticeably slower, but also much more accurate! Half way through, when we reached the table, our instructor commented that while he's being accurate, he's too slow (I didn't tell her I was going to slow down), so I should encourage him to go faster. Hmmm... so I did, and the next bar went down again (though it was also a terrible approach angle). We fixed it and were mostly done for the day.
After class I talked with our instructor and told her that I think it might be better if Philip is slow but accurate, rather than bar-knockingly-fast. I could tell she was apprehensive about that idea, and I totally know why - Philip has just started picking up speed in the last month, and it would be a shame if he slowed back down because I'm suddenly not pushing him. We are really going to need the speed once we reach Excellent B in AKC, which should hopefully be soon, so I probably shouldn't sacrifice that just for some Qs in USDAA.
So the verdict was that it might be okay to not rush Philip when going over a series of jumps, but really encourage him to go at super speed on non-jump obstacles. I think that's a good compromise, plus it would only be for the weekend runs before we go back to fast 8" runs. So that's what I'll do, at least I'll start it off that way on Saturday and adjust as needed as we go along.
Another noticeable difference for Philip was in the weave poles. The weaves have always been a bit of trouble for him, and even though he has certainly gotten better over time, he consistently had trouble with them at the last AKC trial. I hear that dogs constantly go through phases where they seem to "forget" how to do some obstacle, so that must be what happened there for Philip. To add on to that trouble though, the USDAA poles are placed tighter together, making them more difficult for most dogs (some petite dogs enjoy the shorter distance). In AKC the poles are usually 24" apart, in USDAA they are supposed to be at 20"-22" by the rules. Per our instructor's observation, practically nobody in our area has 22" weaves, so we have to stick with the 20" kind.
Thankfully, our instructor has a 20" set and had set them up for the last two classes. Philip had noticeable trouble at first, going through slower than usual, and skipping a pole or two somewhere in the middle. I took him back through several times over and over again and rewarded him generously when he did it right. In the end, I think he got the hang of it by the end of yesterday's class, so we should hopefully be good there.
Some other differences for USDAA:
- The contact zones are shorter on the A-Frame, Dog Walk, and Teeter. That shouldn't be a problem for Philip since he usually sticks his contacts well.
- The A-Frame is steeper for tall dogs. That doesn't affect my short dog, so no problem there.
- The dog has to run without a collar. Again, doesn't affect us since Philip has always ran without one.
That's all the major differences, there are other nuances, but most of them are unnoticeable as far as the dog's skills are concerned. This weekend shall be interesting - we have a lot of runs, and will be there all day both days. Can't wait to see how we do!