one jump at a time

MACH Interview with Melanie Collins
of Ryder Collies

Interview by Collies Online

When did you start training in agility? Has your understanding of training changed since you first started? If so, how?
I began agility training about ten years ago with JoJo’s mother, Echo. I had previously done some obedience. I originally taught new skills by luring with food. Later I became introduced to clicker training, but still lured with food and then clicked. I now allow the dog to think more on her own and shape the behavior with the clicker. I try to find the dog’s idea of fun. This creates energy which I try to focus. Tugging and interactive play brings out drive. Tugging also draws the dog to me. A ball can be fun but the reward is running away from the handler not towards. Over time I have learned the importance of being very specific to create consistent contact positions. I will spend more time on foundation training on my next dog.

Melanie Collins and MACH Ryder’s
First Edition XF, JoJo

Where do you train? What are the advantages to where you train? Is there anything you would change, if you could?
For the most part I train on my own in my backyard, in northern New Hampshire. The nearest indoor training facility is two hours away. I would like to be able to work with others regularly but the distance is too far to do after work. Attending a few day-long seminars, reading Clean Run magazine and watching good handlers at trials are my training ground. I go home and see if we can do that.

What part of the country do you compete in? Are there any advantages (or disadvantages) related to the part of the country in which you train?
I compete in the Northeast, mostly Massachusetts. JoJo is in the 20” jump height which is very competitive with lots of Border Collies and Goldens among others. Typically we have 50 to 60 dogs in our class. The big event of the year, the Thanksgiving Day Cluster in Springfield can have more than 150 dogs in the 20” Excellent B class. The advantage of trialing in the Northeast is that you see some of the best dogs in the country. The disadvantage is that our class can take hours to complete and placing is tough.

Tell us about your Collie that attained the MACH title.
MACH Ryder’s First Edition XF, "JoJo," is a tricolor, rough Collie. She is the daughter of my tri-smooth, Kings Valley Looking East, CDX, AX, AXJ and CH Millknock Moonstone (Marianne Sullivan’s blue rough dog, "Banner") When JoJo was born I was hoping for a smooth puppy. She stayed in the family none the less and has created her own mark as the token rough in a family of smooths. JoJo has always had an interest in chasing and running; she enjoys the game of agility. It is great fun when she runs a set of jumps and feels so light and responsive on my hand. Jo is a good dog who is ready when it is time to work but quiet at home.

When you started agility training, did you intentionally set out to get a MACH title? When did you think it was attainable?
I started in agility to have fun. My goals moved ahead as we progressed. Thinking too far ahead might jinx me. A MACH requires the dog to qualify in both Excellent Standard and Jumpers on the same day 20 times and gather 750 points. The dog gets one point for every second she runs under standard course time. We plugged away at it. When Jo and I became more consistent I thought we might have a chance, but things don’t always work out the way you plan so I wouldn’t verbalize it. I tried to just think about the next trial, the next run, the next obstacle. I have a mantra of “one jump at a time.”

How long did it take you to achieve the MACH title? What steps did you take to get there?
JoJo completed her Novice title when she was two and a half and obtained her MACH just after her sixth birthday. She learned the basics without the benefit of a foundation class but still gathered her points and double Q’s at an even pace. Lack of access to equipment forced me to be creative. I ended up buying and building contact equipment -- we needed access to it other than at trials. I try to train at least a couple times a week. I integrate basics skills into life, for example, a wait release to eat or go outside. I used to take a break after Thanksgiving but the last two winters I rented a horse barn while the snow was on the ground. It was cold but regular practice through the winter kept us ready to compete in March.

What were some of the challenges that you encountered in your pursuit of the title?
To succeed one needs to be consistent and remember lots of things at once, like where you are going and where the dog needs to go. Some of the things I try to remind myself include take one jump at a time, look at the bottom of the dog walk, watch your dog, don’t get ahead of yourself, keep your mouth shut, visualize what you want to happen and keep the energy connection to the dog.

Describe the level of competition at the events you participated in.
The highest level of our competition was at the AKC Nationals this year in Oklahoma. Mary Valentine with her Collie, Skippy, and I, drove three days to get there. The facility had three rings on the ground floor, surrounded by multilevel seating. There were lots of people, a loud speaker, cameras and action. JoJo did well. She finished in the top third of her class of approximately 280 dogs. Of the three runs she had one refusal; I did a front cross before the poles. I was a little ahead and she went in on the second pole.

Did you have any mentors or support in your pursuit of the title? If so, tell us how they were important to your process.
The Northeast is privileged to have a strong Collie agility family. Noreen Bennett has fostered this Collie spirit and support for many of us. She has introduced me to new handling techniques, will talk strategy and encourages us all to do our best. I have gained a true friendship with her and other Collie competitors. Friends help you through, they remind you how to handle a section of the course or just to breathe. I would not have gotten this far without this support.

What were the key lessons that you learned along the way?
Lack of foundational training will come back to haunt you, positive play training builds drive, and It’s usually the handler’s fault.

What advice would you give others in pursuit of the coveted MACH title?
Make it fun. Be consistent and clear on what you want. If you demand attention then you should give 100 percent attention. Finish one thing before moving on to the next and end on a positive note. But most of all, play and have fun.

The Collie presents an impressive, proud picture of true balance, each part being in harmonious proportion to every other part and to the whole.

– from the AKC Collie Breed Standard

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