There is no such thing as a COOL NEW MOVE

There, I said it.  Yes folks, there is no such thing as a cool new move.  Now, repeat three times.

The problem with “moves” is that if you expect a specific response to a specific set of cues, and if you must give that specific set of cues to get that response, then you will only be able to get your dog through courses where you are able to give that specific set of cues, and where that particular response is required. It can be limiting, which is why I don’t tend to do much training with respect to specific cue combinations beyond trying to figure out just how the dog seems to naturally respond when I do X,Y, or Z.

Back in 2009, when USDAA Nationals was in AZ, both Solar and Jester made it to the Grand Prix Finals, Jester at 22″, and Solar at 26″. While walking the course, I made the decision to do a front cross followed by a blind cross right at the end of the course.  Here’s a video of Solar and me:

I’d never done anything like what I did at the end of this course with either Solar OR Jester, but I did it with both Solar AND Jester in the finals, and it worked out just fine for both.  At the time, my thinking was that if I did a front cross at that jump and continued my rotation to face the jump, that forward presentation of my shoulders, coupled with rotational motion in to a forward presentation of my shoulders, would give just a hair too many forward cues to the dogs, and would make it physically more difficult for me to move in a direction that correctly supported proper execution of the last jump.

Basically, I was faced with a problem; how to limit my shoulder rotation and get going in the right direction at the right time.  I had to solve this problem using the cues available to me (motion, shoulders, location, etc.). Once the front cross was 1/2way done, any further rotation would be extraneous, so I decided to just cut out the middle man, as it were. I tried it at the practice jump a few times to confirm if my thinking about how my dogs would respond was correct, and it was, so in to the ring I went.  Contrary to what many have expressed to me, it was not something I trained – it was just a slightly different combination of cues, one that we’re not accustomed to seeing in the United States.

I doubt that this particular combination of cues won the National Championship for me with Solar, and although it helped communicate what I wanted for Jester, he didn’t win the Nationals that year himself.  But it caught the attention of enough people that in hindsight I wished I hadn’t done it at all.  Why?  People immediately wanted to name the cue combination, to label it.  I couldn’t quite figure it out.  Our desire to categorize and name things can sometimes get in the way of the value of the actual thing itself.  Grammatically, it would indeed be convenient to have a name for each and every cue combination, or, at least it seems like it would be.  But when you really think about it, the list of unique cue combinations is probably as long as the number of obstacles your dog has ever taken in his entire lifetime! A front cross is not a front cross – a front cross is really just a general term for an endless number of cue combinations which have only a couple of things in common: you do a side change and you are in front of your dog’s path when you do it.  How you do it is nearly limitless in the variations, depending on the sequence at hand.

So, whenever you see somebody talking about a cool new move, step back and ask yourself, what is the real cue combination here? How much training is required, or does the dog respond naturally to these cues? How broad is the applicability of this particular cue combination? While there may be value in learning how and when to consider a different combination of cues that you’re not accustomed to using, don’t get wrapped up in the novelty; concentrate on the basic mechanical skills required on your part, and on the strategic implementation and variability of the cue combination.  If it seems flashy, and you’ve only seen it done a few times, it may be that the application is limited; I haven’t used that particular cue combination more than perhaps 5 times on a course since November 2009.  That’s not to say that I wouldn’t do it again, it’s just that it’s not something that comes up very often, really.

I’ll leave you with a short clip of my agility training from the other day (taken on my iPhone, excuse the poor quality):

And, another great reason the NW is the best place on earth: