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European Handling

What's wrong with it...

Rain at EO 2014 photo: Vince Maidens

In the last few years, the idea of 'European style' handling has become more and more popular around the world. Amazed by what appeared to be flawless performances displayed, Canadian / Brazilian Dante Camacho decided to look a little deeper into what was going on and try find out what those weird 'European moves' really meant. Here is an excerpt from his thought provoking blog written in January 2014.

WC2006I have been involved with agility for almost 15 years, not a lot of time if compared to some of the agility dinosaurs we see around. It has been enough time, however, for me to see a lot of different trends in training and handling of dogs. From time to time, there is a change in handling style- something originated by but not necessarily dictated by one person but probably needed due to the increasing challenges presented by the courses that we face.

I can remember a time when rear crosses were the most used handling manoeuvres out there. As a consequence, the dogs were really good at it. Then came the front crosses and suddenly, using rear crosses, became outdated and 'wrong.' People would try to front cross everywhere, even when it was obvious that a rear cross would have been a better option.

Why do people do that?
As silly as it may sound, I believe a lot of people have never left high (secondary) school - mentally that is. It was a time when you felt that you had to be like everyone else and needed be doing what they were doing. You disregarded your own feelings and intuition and followed trends, systems and fads which often made you unhappy, unmotivated and even ruined your self-esteem. And you did all of it to make sure you fitted in.

In agility terms, it means that if this or that top trainer is doing it, then it must be the right. I have noticed that many people have changed their style of handling to something that often felt wrong or that they just couldn't physically do?

Why has this happened and why is it still happening?  Personally I believe that agility students are not taught to really understand agility, how their motion and body positioning naturally influences their dog's response and how handling is not just about learning a set of obstacles and using them like your were pressing buttons on a machine.

Canadian NationalsCommercial influences...
I have noticed that there seems to be an attempt to 'own' a handling style or set of manoeuvres. It makes sense if you are trying to 'sell' a system of handling, to claim ownership over it and dismiss all other ways of handling, judging them less than perfect to say the least.

To be honest, I have always found this to be much more obvious in North America than in Europe. The division of handling systems and the almost religious following of pre-determined rules is more obvious there. Yes, when you went to watch a world competition a decade ago, you could see that some countries had different styles of handling and you could identify their handlers even if they were not wearing uniforms. But, eventually things started changing. Maybe the EU had an influence in the agility world, too. The difference in styles is no longer as clear as it was and it seems like everyone is trying everything.

North America - where things stayed more or less the same - would be the possible exception as people were so focused on not breaking any rules that they missed the change that was happening right in front of their eyes.

Evolution or revolution..
There has been an evolution in handling techniques - choosing and perfecting manoeuvres that make sense to dogs, handling styles that complement the individual teams and their strengths. Forget about what is right and what wrong. Focus on what works and make the team faster.

'European handling' is nothing but the natural development of handling. It's very much like Darwin would suggest. The better adapted species will survive and thrive.

Today there's been a race to learn the 'European way' as if it would be enough to solve all people's handling and training issues. Often I see people trying to use blind crosses and fancy turns in situations where they are doing more harm than good to their runs but, they feel like they have to do it in order to stay current.

The best handlers will adapt and evolve according to their needs and strengths. They will develop unorthodox strategies to achieve their goals and won't be limited by the ruling of third parties.

My advice...
Don't let anyone tell you that something is wrong 'just because.' Question more, observe more and, most importantly, try to understand why.

Today, handlers are bombarded with many different options, and it can be hard to pick and choose whom to take instruction from. My piece of advice is that you should try to learn from those who are open to the new, but that don't forget the old. There are those who will show you the importance of a German turn and of a rear cross.

There is no one way of doing things and whomever tries to convince you otherwise, has only their own agenda at heart.

Whether you are European, North American, Japanese, South African or South American - wherever you are from - handling has always been about being clear to the dogs, and dogs are the same everywhere in the world.

Enjoy agility!

About the author...
Dante Camacho is a full-time dog trainer. He teaches and coaches agility, freestyle and obedience.

He is owner of Dante Dog Works and lives in Ontario Canada with his seven dogs.

He competed in the 2014 European Championships, representing Canada,

www.dantedogworks.com

First published 14 October 2014