In this episode (33:17)
In this podcast, Sarah, Jennifer and Esteban talk about “playing it safe” when you’re running an agility course. When should you play it safe? What are the pros and cons of playing it safe?
You Will Learn
- What it means to “play it safe”.
- When handlers should or should not play it safe.
- Why Esteban changed his approach in recent years.
- How Jennifer changed her approach over the years.
- How to determine what is best for you and your dog.
(upbeat music) - Welcome to Bad Dog Agility. A podcast helping you reach all of your dog agility goals, whether it's competing under the bright lights of the televised finals at Westminster or successfully navigating a homemade course in your own backyard. We'll bring you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. Are you ready? - I'm ready. - I'm ready. - I'm ready. - The
show starts with your host Jennifer, Esteban, and Sarah. - I'm Jennifer-- - I'm Esteban-- - And I'm Sarah and this is episode 299. Today's podcast is brought to you by hititboard.com and the new Teeter TeachIt, an easy to use tool that controls the amount of tip on your teeter so you can introduce motion to your dog in a gradual way. Go to hititboard.com for the new Teeter TeachIt
and other training tools and toys. Use discount code BDA10 to get 10% off your order. That's hititoard.com. - Today we're talking about playing it safe in dog agility. And before we get started, I think we need to define exactly what we mean by playing it safe. So I'll start with you, Sarah. What goes through your mind when someone says, hey, play it safe out there. - I guess,
in a nutshell, going for the cue. I mean, that's the first thing that comes to my mind, going for the cue over going for raw speed, first place, the most aggressive run, really focusing on being right and getting the cue. - You said some interesting things there. Let me go over to Jen now. Jen, what do you think? - I didn't even think about it in terms of
qualifying or not, but I think of going safe as sacrificing a little bit of the time to choose a plan that has increased risk of success, right? So you choose a safer, more reliable plan, but at the cost of giving up a little bit time, so, giving up that faster, more efficient plan that also then comes with more risk. - Yeah, I think that's a very good working
definition that we can go by. So you're sacrificing some time, you're giving up some equity here, but you're gaining something presumably. So I think some common examples would be the come to mind contacts. So if you have a very good stock contact, you might wait for a psyche, and especially on maybe on something like the teeter. Let's say you have a judge who's very quick to call flash
even when the dog has not actually flown off the teeter, that might be a great time to be a little bit conservative. You know you're going to add at least several tenths of a second, but if you're in the preliminary round, at say a big event where a clean run's are very, very important and we'll get into this, that might be a great time for that. And so
maybe let's work backwards. So Jennifer, what's a great time to not play it safe, where we want to get the fastest possible time for our dog? - I think the first moment that comes to mind is AKC Nationals Challenger's Round. That is the one time that I can think no matter what you got to go all in, right? One winner, second place gets you nothing and you could
be second by 0.003, and it gets you nothing. The only possible exception to that would be if of all of the dogs in challengers, nobody has run clean and you're the last dog to step to the line. - Play it safe, play it safe. - Nice, nice. - And not just play it safe, but that is the one time I think of in our sport for me personally,
at least, that it is most a all out, go for it, take the risk even more so for me personally, than a lot of finals events, it's that Challenger's Round where you're just leaving it all on the course and taking the risks, just shave every little bit of time you can. - Those are really, really, really good examples. And I think we've actually seen that happen in the
Challenger's Round. I'm thinking of the big dogs, maybe it was either 26 or 24C where everyone faulted, and the last dog has to run clean. So what happens in the Challenger Round if no dog posts a clean run? - I believe no dog goes on to the final. - That's right. You can only advance to the final if one, you win the Challenger Round and you have a
clean run. So that's by AKC rule. So there, it makes sense to be a conservative in the way that we are talking about where you're sacrificing time to ensure that your run is clean essentially because it is so important. It's interesting that you reach for the Challenger Round and not for the finals. So tell me a little bit about that. Why wouldn't this apply to finals? Because I
know there's a lot of people out there who think this. I'm gonna be relatively conservative at all my local trials, maybe even the preliminary rounds of AKC Nationals, but once I get to the finals, no matter what I am definitely gonna go all out in the finals and I've seen people do this, and I agree with you and not the optimal strategy. Tell us a little bit about
that. - I think it really depends on everybody's individual goals for that national and for that dog, but for me personally, and I'll speak of my experience, but my goal is always to make finals, right? The goal is to get there. Once I get there, once I'm in finals, the strategy kind of changes from dog to dog and scenario to scenario. But I look at it and I
say, okay, do I wanna take the risk? Do I wanna risk it all? Let's say, it's, I'm gonna go for the front. If I can make the front happen, it's going to be faster, but there's high risk of a bar along the way. I'm just using that hypothetically. Do I wanna take that chance? And yes, maybe it will get me that first or second finish, but it also
might cause the bar in which I don't even finish top eight. So at AKC nationals, they kind of do ribbons top eight, top four, get the podium photo, you get the podium, you get the trophy, in past years, you've even gotten invites to future events. So there's a lot to be said for a third or fourth place, finish where you have a ribbon, they take your photo, maybe
you get invited to something versus laying it all out there and risking the bar and now you're 13th place in the 20 inch class and you just get a good job. There's no ribbon to take home beyond your finalist ribbon. So I think it really depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Now, I can tell you that I have been in situations where, and I'll use Pink as
an example. She won nationals. The year that we won nationals I was just going to have a clean run. It happened to be that she won, but she was just gonna have a clean run. It was her first national, she was a young dog, but then you've won. So when I went back to finals, I will admit that that was one of the few times I said, I'm
going for the win. I've already won. - You don't wanna take a step backward, right? - I don't wanna take a step backwards so I'm gonna gun for it. But most of the times that I'm in finals, I'm happy to aim for a top four, top eight finish versus risking everything and ending up with nothing. So I think, same thing at USDAA, podium is top three. You get
on the podium, you get your medal, you get your photo. So would you rather be second or third or nothing at all as you made the attempt to get that first place? So I really think it depends on the individual team and what they're trying to accomplish. For me, I want a nice, solid finish more than I wanna give it all up for that one win. - And
really, as you said, not only what they want to accomplish, but what they've already accomplished. That totally changes your perspective on the run and what it means for you as a team. I think one of the interesting things is that we immediately jumped here to two big events. And I think that that is correct. I think that there is more strategy in big events than there is weekend
to weekend trials. And I think that sometimes people don't necessarily recognize that aspect of big events. They kind of treat everything the same, whether it's local, whether it's a big event or even worse, they treat them completely different. They treat local one-way, they treat big events another with no real crossover experience. But I do think it's interesting that we talk about the big events. I remember very clearly,
'cause I thought it was so interesting. It really jumped out at me. We were watching Crufsts and the announcers for Crufts were talking about Greg Derritt and they were talking about, oh, Greg Derritt is the ultimate strategist. He always has the best strategy for Crufts and I thought, like, I don't even know what they mean by that. But when you looked at the results in the preliminary rounds
of Crufts he'd be like middle of the pack or even on the low end, but he would make finals, and then he went into finals and he would be like one, two or three. And I'm watching his runs and I don't even know what he's doing different, but somehow he is making choices or running a little different or pushing a little harder or whatever such that his times
were much slower in the preliminary rounds, and then once he got to finals, boom, he just killed it. And so whenever I hear somebody talk about like strategy, I always think about that a commentator for Crufts talking about that, but I knew that Jen would have some takes on it because she's been to so many different events. And even just within the event, I know I've heard Jen
talk about the team event of the Agility World Championship versus the individual event of the Agility World Championship. Same venue, same event, it's the world championships, but like there is a different approach to the team than there is to the individual, right Jen? - Absolutely. And those who have followed along with the podcast long enough know that the strategy of agility is my favorite. I love the handling,
I love the turning, but the strategy, loving the games is the snooker in the gambles, but exactly what you're mentioning. I wanna be the person that the commentator's talking about in the US about understanding strategy and playing into it because I love that part of it, knowing when to push and going forward, knowing when to hold back, that whole don't show your cards, right? Don't go too fast
in those preliminary rounds and make everybody wanna be aiming for you. Just do enough to get in the finals and then bam throw it all out there. - That's so interesting because I feel like Esteban has started out at least very much the opposite. I know in our younger days of agility, Esteban's goal, every single time he went to the line was to beat everybody and to beat
them as badly as possible. He always wanted to have the fastest possible time. Now I will say to his credit as a trainer, that was not at the expense of contacts. He wasn't ripping his dog off contacts or doing bad training things, but he always had that fire for the win. And I think it took some years in the sport to kind of view some of the national
level events through a slightly different lens and understand the difference between, right now we're talking about AKC Nationals 'cause it's right around the corner. And how do you approach it different if you've run clean in the first two rounds and with pretty good times, and you just need a third clean round versus how do you approach it if you need to get in through the Challenger Round, and
he's been in the Challenger Round and he's been in the finals and he understands how different those two paths are. And so, what do you think about your evolution in how you approach the strategy side? - I think experience is the best teacher. So after having done 16 inch Challenger Round a couple of years and having to go up against, I wanna say it was John Naesday at
that time, there was a world champion at that time that we had to run against at local trials. Jen, do you remember? This is like several years ago. - Well, Rush, Rush won. - Yes, Rush won. - Rush won NAC, yeah. - Yeah, so you end up in the Challenger Round running against Rush and I had a little border collie at the time that, you're just not getting
out of that. And then I think with the Rottweiler, we were also in a Challenger Round where she, I think I'd like the second or third fastest time of all heights and a Challenger Round, but we were up against Juice, the Border Collie, Marcus Tops in Juice. The year they won the world championship. And sadly so they beat us in the Challenger Round. So they got the 24
inch spot. Now, whether or not they should have been in 24 inch, this was back when 20 inch dogs could jump 24 inch. And so they got the 24 inch spot and ended up not winning the finals. It's one of the things Juice never accomplished was winning NAC. And so if that's what you're talking about, yeah, it sucks to try and get out of the Challenge Round. You
want to get in. The easiest path is obviously to go three clean. So I'll fast forward now to Gitchi where that first year I took her, I was still in the mindset of, well we're trying to make international teams, this, that, or the other. And here are the considerations are like even a little bit, like, what are the coaches looking for? Or what is the coach at that
time was Nancy Guys. So I guess she still is the coach, but they're gonna be watching you at nationals. Like, what height should you jump? So I'm running this dog who normally jumps at 20 inches. You're jumping them at 26 inches. Some bars were already an issue with her 20 inches. They're gonna be even more of an issue at 26 inches. So that's one, just like deciding what
height to jump as part of what is your best chance of NAC? Making the finals and then possibly winning? Is it at 20 inches or is it 26 inches? Where there are so many fewer dogs at 26 inches, but the competition is so much more tough, difficult. And you're adding six inches in height. - Exactly. - It's physically more demanding for the dog, especially for a bar knocker.
So you have to think about that. But I came in there and I didn't really know how she would stack up well against these Border Collies. It turned out she stacks up pretty well. And I was just out there running everything all out. So I remember one year they had a choice on a weave pole entry, you could wrap it one way or the other way. One is
like almost a straight entry into the weave, the other one was like difficult, soft side entry. And I'm like, okay, well that's the faster path. That's what I'm gonna do. And you see all these more experienced teams. I remember like Pace was out there, I think they won that year, going the other way. And I was like, oh, well, I mean, this is silly. We're gonna beat them
just off this one turn. And she never misses, but she missed. So there's the one weave entry that in all the years I went to AKC nationals, Daisy has only missed one weave entry and that was it. And he kept us out of the finals. - And all you needed was a clean run. - All you needed was a clean run. It's not like you had to place
or anything like that. It's ridiculous. This is a 26 inches. And then the next year was, I think some serpentine or something. I'm running it as a serpentine. You could have just ran it with rears or something like that. I don't know, giving her a little more heads up, serpentines for people who don't know for bar knockers can sometimes add a little pressure to the bar, make it
a little more likely that they drop the bar. So of course takes the bar, the bar comes down, you're out again. And so once I was like, okay, look, and Sarah's all like maybe you shouldn't be riding all out like every single ride. All right. 'cause of the first year I'm justifying it. I've got videos, I got side-by-side. I'm like, this is ridiculous that someone would choose to
do this rather than this. I mean, it's virtually a hundred percent that she's gonna make this entry. To this day I don't know why she missed. It is a difficult entry. - Bigger picture. - Sure, sure, sure. So bigger picture. Anyway so I'm like, okay, I'll be a little more conservative, whatever that means. And so for Gitchi and bar knockers it meant a very specific thing. It meant
replacing a lot of the fun crosses you would normally do or high pressure situations in a pressure over the bar situations, not high pressure, general pressure. SERPs with basically rear crosses To get the dogs seeing the turns and coming as early as possible, seeing the next bar as soon as possible without blocking her view with my body, things like that. And so you're doing more rears there. And
so once that happened, it was just finals, finals, finals, finals. Three or four years in a row. Just getting into the finals and getting placements, almost winning one year. So that was a big strategy change. I remember back in '07 or '06, I don't know , the first year of the invitation, we went with a Rottweiler and I won round one. I went out there to kill it
and win it and I did, and there were great dogs at that time. Blitzer, the German shepherd. There were so many great dogs running in the 24 inch class at that time. Real monsters, beasts, very fast. And I won, I was so hyped up. I was like, I'm gonna win every single round and the finals. So I'm doing all these front crosses, round two off course, round three
off-course, round four off-course, all front crosses all off course. Just boom, just fell for every trap and I was out. And it was a long drive from Long Beach back to Texas. And the next year I completely changed the strategy. And I was like, okay, we're not gonna try and win every single round. So the next year we did not win a single round. It was always like
third, fourth, fifth. But ended up making the finals and then almost winning that, like quarter of a second, like four dogs all separated by three tenths of a second or less. And I think we got, I don't even remember third. I think it was third, something like that in the finals. But I would not have been in that position I think had I continued to go all out.
So at that point though, there's some gamesmanship there's strategy and then I felt like I finally had to acknowledge, okay, maybe you can't run all out. It's not that you're gonna fail. It's not that it's a horrible thing to do. It's just that strategically. - It's not optimum. - You're not optimizing for the result that you want. - Right, because not every round is the same, not every
round counts for the same, not every round-- - It doesn't have the same value. Some rounds are riskier than others. Some people will have more pause with jumpers. Some people have very bad contacts. So contacts are riskier for them. So I think that's where I'm coming from on that side. But Jen, there's an entire generation of handlers. I still hear it today that are more like me than
you. And that they say this, I think they have like two reasons. One reason is I have to run all out because if I run any other way, things go wrong. But when I run all out like after we fault and then I just go crazy and I do all the things that I really wanted to do I just have great runs. And if only I actually run
like that all the time it would be amazing. So what do you think about that when people kind of give that argument? - Well, as you were going over your learning path, experience being the best teacher, you learned, go for it and had to learn how to kind of run the more safe and consistent and I was brought up the exact opposite. Team, team, think for the team,
think for the team, everything was think for the team. I remember, and makes me think of this 'cause you guys are from Texas. But when I was in high school, we would take a two week trip in our trailer with my parents down to the big Texas shows, there were two, four day shows back to back. - Yeah, Reliant back at Astrohall. - And my mom and I,
yeah, we would have this competition to see how many double queues in a row we can go without a fault. And I remember that that year I went 16 for 16 with my shelter Guss, just because it was like, the goal was to like run clean, run clean, run clean. But as you were talking, what I was thinking, so I had to learn how to push and that's
where I'm going with this is if you only ever do it one way, it makes it really hard to then adjust. So if you are in the mindset of run clean, run clean, run clean, be safe. And I think there's a lot of people out there, not just myself and I will use, and I hopefully don't mean this in a negative, but a lot of people that are
going for invitational, every run counts, even if they're not on a double cue, that other run counts. We're a lot of times we'll hear people, oh, I'm not on a double cue, well I'll push. So you're going clean, you're going clean, you're going clean. Well now you're put in a position to push and you don't know how. Your dog doesn't know how to your change. You don't even
know what that means. And that's where I was at. It finally got to the point where it's like, okay, we need to push, we need to go. And I was like, how, what do you mean? And it was a very long process to learn how to push, just like you have the mentality of pushing and going and winning and had to learn how to rein it in. And
I think really what people need is the ability to do both and practicing both. Whether you do it run to run, trial to trial and you say, okay, Friday's my day to really focus on trying to get that triple cue. I'm gonna get a standard and jumpers and a fast, and I'm gonna make my goal not winning the class, but getting a triple cue, and then on Saturday,
I'm gonna try to lay it all out there and see how fast I can make my yards per second. Or a lot of people will. They're not on the double cue, they'll go on that second run. Well, I'm not on a double cue, I'm really gonna go for it. And sometimes that's good. But I think a really well rounded handler and trainer both from their physical skills, as
well as their mental game can work on having the ability to do both. And I my takeaway is make that a priority, is to work on having the ability to do both. - I totally, totally agree. I think that that's really the net takeaway here is that agility is a more complex sport than just the fastest dog wins. I think sometimes we think of it that way, but
I think that we've proven through conversation that that's not the whole story. That there is more strategy, especially when we're talking about events and that you've got to take these practices and do it in your home field practice as well as in your local trials, as well as in the big national events. And I would say, for somebody who really wants to optimize their mental game performance, their
ability to handle pressure, like you said, I think going for it when you don't have a double cue on the line is a great time to go for it. But if you struggle with the mental game, maybe going for it when you have the double cue is actually what gives you the best practice that's gonna translate the best for like now I'm in a final situation or now
I'm in a Challenger Round situation where not only do I have to go for it, I really, really want it (chuckles) and putting that extra pressure on yourself. So if you have the time, this kind of comes back to another idea that I've had and I think we'll probably have a whole nother podcast on that is to really know why, like, what is your goal for every practice
and for every trial. You can have goals for trials beyond cues, beyond points, and that goal can be like Jen said, I think it's great to say this day my goal is a double cue. This day my goal is first place. This day my goal is to have fun with my dog, whatever, but to really think before you go out there and compete, think about what your goal
is, because your goal does change how you approach the course, how you approach your handling, how you approach your path, your handling choices, your routine and everything. - Well, let's talk about one more aspect of this. I definitely want to know what Jen does. In fact, what I would like to do more than anything that I have not yet had the chance to do is watch Jen train.
I just like watching people train because, well, it's interesting, everybody trains a little bit differently, but I think that's where you kind of see who really knows what they're about with this dog training business. And I know that there are a lot of people. I think, less so with beginners now that I think about it and more so with experienced competitors where they practice at kind of a
some effort level. They kind of take it easy in practice. They're watching you, they're laughing and joking and yucking it up. And then they find that they're at nationals and then you gotta be serious and it's strange to them. They don't run all out necessarily, or they're just not quite putting in the same intensity into their practice that they are at their actual trial. And so far we've
talked about the difference between local trials and big events, and then even within big events, preliminary rounds and then challenge versus final. But Jennifer, what about just practices? Is it ever okay to be cruising, taking it easy in practices or should our practices kind of be all out or should there be some gamesmanship type stuff going on even at the practice level? - I think a little bit
of it depends on what you define as practice. Because thinking, for a small experience, and I thought you were gonna ask what I do. Personally, I will tell you that if we're defining practice as a non trial, then most of my practicing is not being done with extreme intensity. However, I would argue that a large portion of my training occurs at local trials. Like where a lot of
people would go to a local club and they're gonna go do run-throughs and they're gonna pay $20 for their three run-throughs. And they have 90 seconds in the ring and they get to do what they want. And they're hitting the go box-- - Show and go's and-- - Yeah, show and go's and run through's. Like that's training. Well, my equivalent of that is local shows. So I would
constitute my local shows as still the category of training in which case that is happening at a much more intense level. But rarely am I concerned about the outcome of a local show, hence why consider it training. I'm using my training in my backyard during the week as more skill-based working on weave pole entries or tightening up turns, discriminations, verbals. I rarely run full courses in my building
in training. And then it's like, okay, well we're training Saturday morning. It's just, I'm paying a really high rate at $19 for 45 seconds to train and I'm going out there and training. So now I'm running a full course. Now I'm running with more intensity, but I will be the first to admit. And I'm not saying that this is what the average person should do, but I'm answering
the question for myself. It's still, to me training, I'm very rarely tied to the direct outcome of a local show. I'm using that as training. If you are thinking just generically, like, okay, let's not use my situation as an example. I think I'm an outlier in that and I'm an exception to that then absolutely you should be training full courses with full intensity. You can't expect to just
be cruising around in your flip-flops doing all your training Monday through Friday and then show up on Saturday and like tighten the laces and let the dog run at an increased speed with you running with an increased speed and intensity and all of a sudden now doing 18 obstacles and not expect there to be some level of learning curve on that. So, absolutely. And that's where you can
play little games. I have my NAC prep seminar series that I'm doing live and on the third workshop, there's monetary benefits to running fast and efficient. So we basically recreate an NAC with prizes. Round one, round two there's prizes for who can run three clear, there's prizes for who can win the quote unquote Challenger's Round. And I think that's a good opportunity to put a little something on
the line, but know that at the end of the day, it is still training, it's not a trial. So I certainly think practicing pushing is very important to then your ability to go out there and do it in a trial situation or in a big event like nationals or whatever. - Yeah, that's so great that you mentioned that because yeah, I mean, I do that too. I certainly
did that with Gitchi. I'm not sure if I did that with dogs before Gitchi. I think in the context of training contacts. So that there were times where I didn't care about a double cue, say I ran clean and jumpers and I'm working on a double cue or I remember retraining the rottweilers start lines and she happened to cue in jumpers. So she was potential double cue and
she stood up and I left the rein and people were freaking out. They were like, what are you doing? - You could have still done it. - You could have just made her sit again. Or it's not like she moved forward. All she did was stand up. And I was like but she didn't meet the criteria and that was that. I feel like a year later, that paid
dividends because she's showing up at these big events and having these three runs and doing very well. And so that's the price that I was willing to pay. So in that sense, yeah, I did do that. That was more with contacts. With Gitchi it was much more handling. So that at that time there would be a premiere in the last couple of years came around. And so there'd
be multiple ways to do a particular sequence. Where you can handle it while pushing from one side, like basically backsides, or you can be on the other side and maybe throttle it. And I would be like, okay, this is suboptimal to do consecutive throttling and I wouldn't necessarily do this in the final of a big event, but you know what, I'm gonna do it here because we're so
bad at this. So I would intentionally pick things we were not good at and I would force us to do them. I would pick a run where I would say, it's very difficult to do this rear cross here and this rear cross. You know what, we're just gonna do all five changes here, they're all gonna be rear crosses. And then over here, I'm gonna be like, these are
likely bar knocking spots on fronts. We're just doing all with the fronts. And I wouldn't care if you win, you get double cues, things get thrown away. first clean runs get thrown away. Sometimes maybe that puts you at odds with like the owner, who would like you to optimize around ribbons and whatnot. But I think of it as a long-term investment. And again, with Gitchi I felt like
that it paid for itself, the work that we did there. And so in that sense, I totally agree with you what you're saying and it's so very well put, whereas for a lot of people, definitely if you're not going to big events, I think this is probably the case, but local trials is like the everything and cuing becomes the everything and then I think that can have a
very negative impact on the way you execute your runs potentially. So very interesting. All right. So like so many other podcasts, we have arrived at our answer to the question of, should you play it safe? - It depends. - It depends. It depends on you, your dog, your goals, your experience, the venue, the rules. Is it the finals of Challenger Round, the preliminary round, is it an AKC
event, a USDA event, an international event. So you got to take all of those into consideration. And that's part of the fun of agility. - Yeah, that's right. I will put in one last pitch though that this reminded me of, and that is you should read the rules. So every event that you go to, you should read the rules. It's important to understand the scoring and all of
that stuff. It is part of the game. So just putting that out there, especially as we go into nationals and people are going to their first nationals. Just read through the premium, read through the rules, understand how things are done, and that will help you make the best decisions. And that's it for this week's podcast. We'd like to thank our sponsor, hititboard.com. Happy training. (upbeat music) - Thank
you for listening to Bad Dog Agility. We hope you enjoy today's episode. For more information, updates and links to all our socials just check out our website, www.baddogagility.com. If you haven't already signed up for our email subscription, we would love to have you join the BDA community. Until next time, take care. (upbeat music)
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