I occasionally hear people say “I’m never going to run a Gambler’s course, so I don’t need to learn distance.” It always surprises me that they think distance is just for the games. There are SO MANY reasons to be able to work at a distance on regular courses. No matter which venue you choose to play in, there are places on course where distance gives you a huge advantage over other teams. The ability to get into position by sending your dog to an obstacle or sequence and moving away to prepare for the next sequence is crucial on technical courses. Slower handlers (like me) have no hope of outrunning our dogs, so we either use distance or slow them down.
Judges frequently design courses that challenge handlers by requiring them to choose between either staying with their dogs and being out of position for the next obstacle, or moving away from their dogs and trusting them to do the obstacles on their own. Those straight-away jumps at the end of the course invite refusals if the dog can’t move forward alone. And of course, almost every venue requires some type of distance to earn a championship title.
Even on such simple sequences as pinwheels or serpentines, the ability to send your dog away provides an opportunity to move into position and speed up your run. People without distance often perform front crosses right in front of their dog, slowing them down dramatically, and sometimes even shutting them down completely. If you are able to use distance to move away from your dog, your crosses can be completed before you are in your dog’s path and will actually speed him up. The other thing that speeds up your run is your ability to send the dog while taking short-cuts on course. I don’t know many people who can run as fast as their dog, and being able to send the dog and move to the next part of the course greatly increases how fast the dog can run.
Course design is always evolving. The illustration below is similar to a sequence I encountered on a USDAA course. After the table, the handler has to choose her strategy. She can stay with the dog to get the tunnel entrance and try to either beat him to the exit or flip him so he heads to the correct jump. The other option is to layer the dogwalk and send to the tunnel entrance, which allows the handler to be in position for the jump. The successful handlers used distance to layer the dogwalk and had plenty of time to cross between the tunnel exit and the jump. Handlers that chose to stay with their dogs generally incurred faults from off-courses or refusals.
Even if you never plan to set foot on a Gamblers course, cultivating distance is important for success. It is a skill that can be trained, just like contacts and weave poles. When it is added to a toolbox of close-in skills, it creates an unstoppable team!