Beginning in June, Barn Hunt afforded clubs the ability to offer move downs in addition to lateral moves and move ups.  I have advocated for this since the B classes were developed as I felt it would give teams more opportunities to be successful in the sports.  Success isn’t always measured in qualifying scores.  This is a challenging sport for most competitors and the road to achieving goals isn’t always moving up and up to increasingly difficult challenges.  There are times and reasons why teams benefit from changing the class they are competing in, even within the same weekend.  Used thoughtfully, we can increase the skill level of a national level competitor or grow the confidence of our green dog with so many options in between.  We can change the outcome of a very difficult situation.  We can be better handlers and teammates.

Each dog is an individual and my long term goal for each is different and sometimes still developing.  I am competitive, but I am actively choosing to focus on developing skills and relationships.  I work to be thoughtful in my decision making, focusing on the long term impact to our team as opposed to instant gratification.  It isn’t always easy.  I am, after all, human.  It’s taken a lot of practice and working on the human half of the team.  The ability to move up / down / laterally has provided me with even better tools to help my dogs be successful.  Here are some examples from my own dogs today, mid trial weekend.

Lettie is a baby in Novice A.  She has been a little unsure and nervous in the ring, although she seems to enjoy herself.  If she finishes her Novice title, I’ll likely move her laterally to Novice B.  She’s very young and gaining confidence.  She has some vague idea about multiple rats but is still learning the game and all the weird things that come with it.  We’re developing as a team and while I believe I have a good idea of what she will be capable of, she needs time to mature as well as bank all these fun experiences.

Torch hunted very well in Senior A until he found the second rat in both runs.  Although we have trained for the class, he is still very new to Senior.  It’s a big leap from Open.  He was frustrated and expressed that frustration very clearly.  I’ve experienced this in Senior Earthdog very recently with him as well.  He’s a teenager with big feelings.  We’ll get there but I want to avoid having him continue working in an environment where he is really struggling to do the thing he loves to do.  The longer I leave him there and force the issue, the more issues we’re going to run into.   It’s not fair to him to put him in that situation. I feel I have two choices at the moment:  First, I can pull him and we can continue to work on this in training and making thoughtful decisions going forward.  Second, I can move him down to a class where he can be successful and stay under threshold.  Then we can continue to work on his training and make thoughtful decisions going forward.  I chose to move him to Open B and I may choose to pull from the fourth run depending on the outcome.  Regardless, we’ll continue to work on arousal management and skill building.

Rage earned his Senior title today.  We’ve trained for Masters and I have goals I think we’re ready to work on in the Master ring.  I moved him up to Master A.  This was the plan and I feel comfortable with it.

Agnes hunted beautifully in her first day of Master B but we struggled with the tunnel in both runs.  This is a challenge we’ve been working on and her ability to tunnel on cue requires a higher rate of reinforcement than I can provide in the ring right now.  We have worked hard to develop our partnership in the ring and “arguing” over the tunnel isn’t conducive to our long term goals or our relationship.  I have moved her down to Open B where she is more likely to pass through the tunnel on her own. I may ask for a tunnel, but I won’t be pushing for it.  We’ll continue to work on this challenge in training but we can still have fun finding rats together while removing some of the variables until we can address them.

Liam is a Master A dog but hasn’t run since 2018.  He’s environmentally and pressure sensitive.  He also worries a lot.  I entered him for fun, choosing Open B which has realistic and comfortable parameters.  Liam is an older dog who has plenty of experience with me while I was working to deal with my own ring nerves and high stakes handling challenges.  There’s some baggage there but we’ve worked on it a little here and there.  He did well and really enjoyed himself even though he was a little nervous.  I have moved him up to Senior B and may move him to Master A or Open B depending on how he feels.  My goal isn’t necessarily the Q but rather working more difficult challenges while keeping him in his comfort zone.  I don’t have a next title in mind or any big plans.  I do have a dog who loves me and who I love.  We both love the game and if Liam enjoys it, it can be a great enrichment activity for an aging dog who feels like he might like to do a thing now and again.

Wager is a Master A dog who struggles with some confidence in Barn Hunt.  We’ve been working to become a stronger, more confident team.  She makes me a better handler and trainer.   I have been running her in lower levels and throwing in a master run here and there.  We didn’t qualify at all today but both runs, we worked together and she left the ring with joy and growing confidence.  In the past I have moved her down because Wager worried.  This weekend, we’ll stay in Master A.  This is not a high stakes game for us and I feel I can keep myself on task to be her best partner and continue to work toward our goals while increasing her confidence.  I can always move her down or pull all together because this is a game we play together.

Do I expect to qualify in every run?  No.  My goal is to be the best teammate to my dog I can.

Whatever you choose, whatever the outcome – love the dog first and the game second.  We only get so much time with these wonderful creatures.  Enjoy the moment.