Oh Cluster, My Cluster

Every once in awhile, when you’re pretty comfortable with how things are, something comes along that changes the game. Good, bad, or neutral, there’s no point in ignoring it. It’s just going to hang around, nibbling on  your status quo like a deranged, confused beaver until you do something about it.

Anyway, here’s my nibbling beaver, so to speak.

It’s crafty and subtle, but it’s there. There in Squash’s tight harness and Maisy’s loose one; there in the slack in her line and the tautness in his. And it’s not only in this one picture, in black and white and brindle and red and yellow for all the world to see once it’s pointed out to them, it’s something that I’ve been noticing getting progressively more obvious over the last several runs.

What it means is that Squash has finally gotten interested enough in pulling to outpace Maisy on a regular basis, which makes me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because it means he’s finally approaching something like his full potential. He’s a big, powerful dog, but he’s also an adolescent clown and I’ve struggled with getting him focused enough to be truly serious about pulling. Sad because it makes me think thoughts like, “what will happen if Maisy can’t keep up with him anymore?” and those thoughts take me to a very blue corner of my mind.

Well knowing is half the battle, and being a helper is some fraction of the other half the battle…  so armed with the knowledge that a potential team-threatening problem is brewing and being a helper naturally inclined to try to do something about it, I set about to brainstorming. And this is what I came up with:

Don’t fret, I’m going to explain it.

Regular Mush Baby readers (all 3 of you) may remember that when I was getting Pip involved in all this nonsense I purchased a gangline setup meant to add 1-2 dogs behind the leaders. What if, my current brainstorming self got to thinking, I used that setup to line Squash and Maisy up one behind the other instead of side by side. With Maisy in front and Squash behind her, she could set the pace – or at the very least, he wouldn’t be able to totally overtake her and she’d get to run along even if she wasn’t pulling.

So today was the day I decided to give it a try. I started out with just one of my longer necklines (the black and white piece at the end) as the leader line in case Maisy was weirded out by the length of the real leader line. Clearly, she was skeptical:

(Squash’s neckline isn’t hooked up yet in this picture.)

So, I’m not going to belabor this too much, but this was pretty much a horrible clusterf$%k. At times, they seemed to get it… sort of… except that Squash kept ending up with the gangline between his legs because Maisy didn’t actually have any tension on her leader line.

But really, she was more comfortable back next to Squash, turning her makeshift leader line into simply the longest neckline in history:

Ok fine, I thought. Maybe the neckline is too short and is weirding her out, so I swapped it out for a real leader section. Again, they kinda sorta got the idea of it at times, but she still wasn’t out tautly enough:

And again, she was more comfortable back next to him and swapping the line only ended up creating the NEW world’s longest neckline.

And it was just a mess. They were so tangled, I can’t even describe it. We couldn’t get fifty feet without stopping to untangle.

So this was the fatal flaw in my plan: Not that Maisy wouldn’t completely line out or that Squash kept getting tangled in his gangline even when she did. That stuff just comes from novice dogs running with an unfamiliar setup, with practice and training they would learn. The flaw was this: I was thinking that if his pace was faster than hers, she could still run without being overtaken. But the actual problem with this hypothesis is that Maisy’s leader line really needs to be tight in order to take up slack in Squash’s gangline and prevent his legs from getting hopelessly tangled. A mush baby mistake, but no harm done, live and learn.

So ok, I thought. What if I hooked them up the other way around – him in front and her behind?

I tried it, but no photographic evidence exists of this part of the experiment. Largely because I was laughing so hard that my oxygen-deprived brain could no longer tell my fingers how to work the camera. If the run so far had been a clusterf%^k, then this was a super-mega-clusterf#@k. I’m pretty sure the only thought in Squash’s head was FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and he was just buzzing all over the damn place. A couple of times he somehow ended up behind the scooter and I don’t even really know how or why that happened. I think he may have levitated at one point.

Fortunately, I had brought their normal scootering line along “just in case” something went awry. Squash decided to entertain himself while I swapped the lines out:

And things were better after that:

Although he’s still outpacing her. So, we’ll see what happens. For now, I’m stuffing those blue thoughts away into a deep, dark mind crevice while I keep brainstorming. The next thing I’m going to try is using a different sort of collar (thanks to the advice of, once again, Jessica of Blue Eyes and Spitfire) called a limited slip O-ring when they are running. They should feel the pressure of the neckline a bit differently than they do with their regular collars and hopefully alter their paces to stick closer together.

I will say, one seed this shocking development has planted in my mind is trying out scootering with Squash alone from time to time. Today did illustrate definitively that he has no problems whatsoever pulling the scooter completely on his own, although based on his brief, spectacularly disastrous stint as leader I’m not sure his mind is in the right place yet to actually try it. Still, as he starts to use those long legs and hunky thighs and shoulders to their full potential I’m curious to see how fast and powerful he can be when it’s all him.



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