Do Inches Matter?

Do Inches Matter???

                Often times I observe teams raise and lower their jump heights mid tourney or even mid race.  Typically, the more experienced dogs after the first heat have adjusted and start to smooth out.  When handlers see that their dogs don’t seem to have trouble switching heights they assume its fine to switch up and down whenever the team requires it.  What is the handler observing that leads them to this conclusion?  Is it the way the dog jumps? Number of Strides? Turns on the box? Or is it just good enough that the dog completed the course without making any mistakes or smashing any of the jumps?  Do adding/ subtracting inches really matter? In my opinion......They suuure do!

                If we take a look at the flyball course you will notice many elements stay constant.  The start line is 6 feet from the first jump, the jumps are all 10 feet apart, the last jump 15ft from the box and the box size and ball position is always the same.  Now this seems insignificant to us however it plays a huge role in how our dogs run the course.  With enough experience and training the dog stride the jumps and approach the box with not much thought because everything is always the same.  No unexpected extra jumps to take, No course directional changes or even the handler movements are the same.  Knowing this the brain eventually doesn’t have to calculate every movement and deliver the information to the muscles to perform, instead, it becomes second nature and muscle memory comes into effect.  When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.  In order for our dogs to run to their full potential and as efficiently as possible muscle memory is a must.

                  So where am I going with this?  Let’s look at the training history of a flyball dog.  Often they are started with ground work at a young age and taught to run the jumps where take-offs and landings stay constant.  They are also encouraged to only take one stride between the jumps.  As they develop and get older we slowly raise the height of the jump until the dog is at the jump height he will run in a tournament.  By the time they run in a tournament muscle memory is already working.  Now let’s say the dog runs the same height for the first 6 months of his career.  That's 6 months where the course never varies aside from its location.  Now all of the sudden you are mid tournament and your 8" height dog goes down and all you have are a 10" replacement listed.  So you bump your jump heights up in order to remain in the tournament and keep the winning streak going.  Here is where the problem begins.  You know the height was raised, the box loader knows, the other handlers know and even perhaps the other team notices too, the only one who doesn't know is your dog.  To them everything looks the same.  Their brain and body plan to run the course as usual with the same take-offs, landings, and elevation.   It’s not like you whispered in his ear "oh just so you are prepared,  we are running 10" now so raise your feet 2" more than you have been over the past 6 months.  Thanks now GO!" If only it were so easy.   Guess when your dog learns the height has changed? He notices usually after he has already launched for the first jump.  Yikes!  This can cause many problems in your dog’s performance.  He could crash the jumps, it could change where he lands before the box and therefore affects his take-off point to hit the box which can cause a bobble or a smash, it could cause him to tuck his feet up on jump 2 and 3 heading to the box and lastly it gives them a different picture of the dogs they are running into.  All of these possible outcomes feed into ours dogs confidence and makes our dog's brain ask questions.  This all leads to our dogs slowing down having to adjust to all the changes that a 2" increase has caused. 

                But not only are the dogs affected.  The handlers all have to adjust as well.  Passing becomes more difficult because the dogs are slower and are not comfortable in the way they run.  The change makes it harder to gauge your pass release window.  This could lead to a handler letting go at their usual spot and risk a possible collision.  Clearly this becomes a HUGE safety concern.

                When a height dog on a Rocket Relay team goes down this is what we do if we don't have a spare height dog of equal measure.  The team is pulled.  Whenever a team of dogs need to go up in height it is done over weeks of practices and conditioning through power jumping before they can even compete at their next tournament.  Doesn't matter the speed of the dog or the size of the dog it’s all done the same way.  Decreases in height tend to be less risky however I still recommend giving your dog a chance to practice before just throwing them in. 

                Just a simple example, when our A-team decided to use a 10" height dog rather than our 9" one it took over 6 months before our dogs started running their usual times consistently.  That was 6 months of tournaments, practices, and power jumping. 

                So keep all of the above in mind when you are preparing for a tournament.  It will allow your dog do run as efficiently and safely as possible.  It makes a big difference.