Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My 4" Take on Early Takeoff Syndrome (ETS)

Obviously happy. Obviously speedy. Undeniably early.

At eight inches, he might not have had a near as easy or successful time soaring over that jump at Nationals.

Especially early on, I tried teaching him to jump more rounded and to bounce through the tiny jump chute I had set up in my dining room through one full, long winter. He did learn to bounce through the jump chute. But that skill never really transferred well, if at all, to the more random jumping patterns of an actual agility course.

Still, the stutter stepping continued to be mixed liberally with early takeoffs. And it always got worse as Taylor got more tired or if I got out too far ahead of him (which was very easy to do when he was seriously stuttering at 8").

A few days ago, I picked up my new May '10 issue of Clean Run to find an article by Linda Mecklenburg that offers a reasonable and studied explanation for what I've sort of sensed about Taylor all along. It's entitled, "What is Early Takeoff Syndrome?".

The article explains that there definitely does seem to be a more complex issue behind a dog that "simply" tries to jump too early, or consistently misjudges takeoff.

With Taylor, I believe it has at least partly to do with a deficit of proprioception in his hindquarters. He has consistent trouble "sorting things out" to get up things like doggie steps.

I've always had the feeling, as Linda mentions, that trying to "train" through this issue was actually putting him more at risk for the long term, due to the "hard wired" nature of the issue and his less than perfect structure.

Running ahead of him, which in theory makes sense as a way of speeding him up, in actuality causes him to stutter step more.

Actually, the thing that helped him most was swimming in a little pool in our yard when we had a long hot summer two years ago.

The best thing I've found, and what has made us both happiest is to adjust my goals and to run the way the seems to help him the most. Hence the move to 4" and I always only run only slightly ahead of him.

I am very glad Linda took the time to write this article because I suspect there are other dogs, like my Taylor, who basically cannot help the way they jump. Contrary to most conventions, I believe also that training, especially "overtraining" and drilling, has minimal if any effect, and can often only apply more stress to a fragile physical/mental equation.

For me, sticking with my instincts on what was best for Taylor had it's own reward, even if it might be considered small in the larger scheme of things.

He earned second place in 4" jump height at the recent and first AKC Preferred National Agility Championships, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

I could have returned him to his breeder or swapped him for a swifter, more able jumping partner, but this little dog is such a joy to work with and is so smart and tries so hard, that I consider him a dog of a lifetime even with his "disability".

I hope this article gives more people the inspiration to understand and appreciate the dog they have, and to find a path to a place they both can enjoy, even if it is not necessarily the path you may have first envisioned.

Allow the dog to have its sense of worth and a standard it is able to accomplish and I feel that a lot of happiness result.

In the end, as much as I have learned, and as little as I still know, I still run and am fueled by the happiness I experience in running as one with a species that is not even my own.

Hopefully, this article will help reawaken some of that perspective within the sport as a whole, or at least one can hope.

To learn more from Linda Mecklenburg visit her blog at:

1 comment:

afinstrom said...

I hope this does "catch on". I have a dog who I never thought I would ever run in a trial with. Emotional issues, not physical. With lots of patience and work we are in fact competing.

But I run for the happiness. I honestly am happier with many of our runs that were NQ due to some bobble, than some of our Qs where we were not running connected.

Not that I won't kep shooting for the Qs! :-D