Archive for the ‘Distance Training’ Category

Starting a New Pup

March 5, 2014

No, I’m not starting a new pup… I’m just writing about it. This is my contribution to the agility bloggers action day. Follow this link to read a rich variety of writing and viewpoint: Starting a New Pup.

In my own life I’ve gone through an amazing transformation as a handler and as an enthusiast of agility. For a couple decades I was a Sheltie guy with a keen pure-for-motion sense of the game. And so training a young pup was a simple matter of conditioning: performance; a love for playing; and responsiveness to handler motion cues.

Since I really can’t run the way I used to, the game has redefined itself for me. Necessity is the mother of invention. The foundation I want for a young pup is independent performance. Here’s a sample of me running my boy Kory: Facebook

I’ve written the step by step… it’s in the pages of the Joker’s Notebook. All of that on my web-store: www.dogagility.org/newstore. Seriously, I’d put it right here, but it’s like 5 or 600 pages. Down below… I’ll treat you to a taste, one of the dozens of foundation exercises you might be doing with a young pup.

There’s a philosophical question that needs to be answered in terms of independent performance. Most handlers wait until their dogs have been thoroughly conditioned to work virtually in heel position. Though I’ll give you that we alternate sides in glorious ambidextrous fashion. These then, are dogs who only understand performance with the handler bound to the context of that performance. And then it’s a difficult trick to train beyond this flawed foundation.

What I’m faced with when bringing up a young dog is both to teach him his job; and to teach him to get that job done at a great distance from me. Consequently the game becomes pure-for-verbal rather than pure-for-motion.

Distance Training Foundation

One of the first rules of distance work is that the dog must learn an independent performance of all agility obstacles. While this might seem an obvious notion it tends to be an overlooked element of basic training. For example, a handler might be working to teach a dog a good two-on/two-off performance of a contact obstacle; but will practice the performance almost constantly while hovering over the dog’s head. The real problem with this is that the handler becomes embedded in the context of performance. Indeed, relatively early in the training the handler should introduce movement and varying relative distance from the dog so that the dog can demonstrate that he truly understands the performance without the handler hovering over his head.

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Sadly the most overlooked obstacle for distance training is the jump. Many handlers (and dog trainers) content themselves with a brush-by performance; meaning that the dog performs the obstacle because the handler is running forward and pointing at it.

Early in jump training I do a simple progressive sending exercise with the jump. From a couple feet away I’ll give the command to jump whilst pointing at the jump and giving it focus. Naturally I praise and reward the dog for a successful performance. Then, gradually, say 4″ or 6″ at a time, I’ll move back, continuing to send, praise and reward.

The key to a progressive sending exercise is that is should progress. I don’t spend much time staying in one relative position. I continue to move backwards. But the steps I take are small rational incremental steps, because I’m not in a hurry to get it done and I don’t want to back up so quickly that the dog ever fails.

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I do the progressive sending exercise with all obstacles, actually. The dog must learn independent performance all of the agility obstacles. I don’t really separate individual obstacles as though one needs to be mastered before moving to another.

The basic sending drill can begin to incorporate more than one obstacle. I might, for example, position myself equidistant between a bar-hurdle and the tire. Or, if the dog’s send to the tire is weaker my station might be slightly closer to the tire.

When doing send-away training I’m asking the dog to demonstrate to me that he understands the performance of the obstacle. So I want to avoid tricking him into space. That means I don’t use a lot of verbalization intended to get him out closer to the obstacle and only then give the verbal command for performance. I also avoid “pick-up truck” logic.

You know how the pick-up truck theory of distance training goes? The question is… how do you get distance work on a dog? So think of it like this… you’re going down the highway at 60 miles an hour in your pick-up truck. The dog is sitting outside up on the top of the cab of the truck. How do you get distance? You slam on the brakes… and there goes the dog whirling into space.

Well that trick might work with a pick-up truck. But it’s less likely to work with agility. What we find out in practice is that slamming on the brakes is as significant to the dog as mashing down on the accelerator. It will cause the dog to come up short, turning back to ask the question… Why have we stopped?

While it’s true that impulsion is required for the dog to go any distance through space, I want the sense of impulsion to come from that narrow space between the dog’s ears. Nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of the well-trained dog.

The Discipline of Distance Training

Websters Dictionary defines the word discipline to mean[1] “to train or to develop by instruction and exercise esp. in self control.”  We seek in dog agility distance training both instruction and exercise. But at the end of the day it’s about “self control”. We hope to teach powerful habit in the trainer’s approach to teaching the dog his job; and equally powerful habit in the handler’s approach to handling.

Train the dog to perform all agility obstacles

This seems obvious, that the dog has to know how to do all agility obstacles. This should be stated that the dog needs to understand the independent performance of all agility obstacles. Does the dog really know how to weave? Or does he only know how to weave when his person is moving coolly alongside, flapping her arms, and giving verbal cadence.

Give the dog permission to work at a difference

Velcro is a two-part fabric, and it takes both parts for a good stick. The dog’s trainer should begin quite early allowing the dog to work at a distance. Give your dog early permission to work at a distance.

I’m fairly convinced that a dog offering the performance of an obstacle without your permission… is never wrong. With my own students I often have to remind them not to tell the dog “No!” every time the dog offers the performance of an obstacle. To be sure the dog was most likely responding to what he believed to be your cue or presentation  for performance. And so, if the  dog is wrong every time he leaves your side, then he is likely to learn that he should stay right next to you were he can be safe and usually right.

Make distance work routine

Every training session with your dog should include some routine distance objective or exercise. This is easier than it sounds. Remember… you want to teach independent performance of all obstacles. You can have a fine training session sending your dog 15′ to do a jump; or 15′ to do the weave poles!

Mostly the serious student of the game should routinely include distance challenge in his work. If a sequence is terribly simple from a handling point-of-view it would be a benefit to the dog’s training to give him permission to work the sequence at a distance. This gives you the opportunity to practice your distance handling and to test the dog’s training for independent performance.

Do your homework

You shouldn’t expect to teach the dog too much given an hour a week at class. It would be a good idea to have daily exercises that can be practiced in the backyard, or in the basement. Ideally you should have a checklist of objectives for training a dog.

The weekly lesson plan will always include homework. The homework may be thought provoking discussion for the discipline of handling at a distance, or step-by-step instructions for training a dog for a distance skill. And it’s worth remembering that your instructor will always know who is doing their homework.

Test your training

The best test of your training foundation is probably weekend competition. In most communities in America there are agility competitions within driving distance nearly every weekend. And all most all of them play some brand of distance game.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.


[1] Actually the first definition for “discipline” has to do with punishment. So we’re going to skip along to the second definition for the word!

Proofing the Skill

August 12, 2013

We’ve been having an interesting discussion about the (evil?) challenges that have been emerging in our sport. The emerging dichotomy in the discussion contrasts the handler’s athletic ability with dog trainer’s skill in preparing the dog for independent performance.

Those who enjoy and occasionally solve the “Masters Challenge” caliber of agility course riddles resent the implication that the athletic handler doesn’t require a well-trained dog.

I’m especially interested in the blind approach jump (managed/back-side approach). I submit that this skill is largely a matter of micro-management/handling and obviously easier for the athletic handler to get into position to do that micro-managing.

Just to cut to the chase, I’d offer that it’s very easy to test a dog’s training for performance by putting together a simple proofing exercise.

I can be proven wrong!

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Here’s the proofing exercise. The handler remains behind jump #1 while sending the dog down-the-line. The handler must give the dog a command to take jump #3 from the blind side. I have kindly nudged the #3 jump to the side so that the dog can get to the back-side with nearly a straight line.

Please share your YouTube videos in your comments to this blog entry. Of course I’ll expect to see dozens of videos (based on all the times I’ve heard “I’ve trained my dog to do that”). Until I see this proof I will refuse to believe this is a training issue.

En Passant

I wrote the other day that I’m not quite ready to say the European game has the intellectual lead on interesting course challenges. The course below has a very interesting bit that I’d like to put into a USAAA Masters Challenge jumpers course… the En Passant.

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The concept is simple. The handler is required to turn the dog through a box with multiple options with the target obstacle blind to the initial approach. In this course the in passant occurs twice, from jump #1 to #2, and then again from jump #10 to #11.  

The course has other interesting challenges as well and should be approached with a sense of humor.

Discussion

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An important attribute of this challenge is that the transitional distance between obstacles is considerably longer than the usual distances found between obstacles in an agility course. With this in mind, it might be hard to get course reviewers to understand and approve the challenge.

USDAA News and Events

The USDAA web site has for some time featured interesting training bits. The hard working editor of these training bits, Brenna Fender, as selected several of my legacy exercises to put up on the page. You can visit here: USDAA training bits.

I’ve got a million of them! ~ Jimmy Durante

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Top Cat Course Review

August 10, 2013

An old friend of mine sent me this course. What I would like to do is review the course, understanding that it has never been put up in the world and that the review therefore hypothetical. I find this course illustrative of the types of challenges that face us in agility. My anonymous friend’s contribution to the topic is serendipitous.

Top Cat, I’ll call him, says in a note to me: “Thought I would share with you a sample of what I would love to design for my AKC courses!  Problem is 90% of the exhibitors would want my head on a pike!”

Let’s see if he still loves it when I’m done with my review.

This is the course design question of the day: Is our sport only for the young long legged kids who can outrun their dogs? And, if that is what the course demands, is it a huge design flaw?

Should those of who don’t fit the “long legged kids who can outrun their dogs” description run off to find a not-very-challenging flavor of agility where they hand out qualifying ribbons like pop-corn?

Anyhow, here’s the course:

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I pretty much know that I will crash ‘n burn with my dog on this course; though I’d have fun giving it a go. Mind you I don’t play the same game that most AKC players do, with the dog tied at my hip, running from obstacle to obstacle like a game of connect-the-dots. I’m an older fellow though not real old; but I have arthritis in my knees and so must rely on “training my dog” to perform wicked stuff when I might be at a considerable distance.

I’ve annotated this course with three markers: A, B and C, in dark circles. These are what I consider “control positions”, which is a place on course where I must be in the picture near to the dog in order to solve the technical challenge at hand. I’ll explain each as I go along. But right now I want to point out to you that given my dog’s rate of travel there’s absolutely no way that I get from “B” to “C”. So I must choose which one of them I’ll have to attempt from a distance (whilst yelling out verbal directionals, crossing my fingers, and trying to hold my mouth right). I’m guessing that position “B” will be the distance try, which promises a failure likelihood up in the 90 percentile range.

Walk Through

The “A” control position is intended to solve the opening which offers a subtle “option” challenge.

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The typical novice player might be a bit of a goober, making an approach to jump #1 too square (the red line), which would create a hard to solve option challenge after jump #2. The more advanced handler has the black line. This line too is uncomfortable. The net effect is for the dog to have a depressed angle approach to both jump #1 and jump #3. While I recognize that this is a common challenge I am nervous about the potential for injury to a dog for slicing into the sharp little jump cups on the standards. And it’s not as though this were a flat serpentine in which the dog could assume a natural turning radius to gain focus on each jump. The dog will power through the opening line with no turning radius whatever excepting a bit of a concave approach to jump #3.

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This is my favorite part of the Top Cat course. From control position “B” I can pretty much verbally direct my dog from jump #4 all the way back to jump #11. There are two wrong-course options in this segment of the course (after jump #4 the #14 jump is the option; and after jump #5 the #8 jump is the option); but I’m confident that if I put enough urgency (and panic) in my verbal directives I can solve easily.

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The difficulty really arises at jump #11. I have a choice of turning directions.

A turn to the left (black line) surely presents jump #2 as an option to a dog with considerable work ethic. To the left is the natural turning direction; but the handler needs to be there (in the “B” position) to affect the pull-through.

A turn to the right (red line) offers less risk but results in a longer and less efficient dog’s path. For someone who can outrun his dog, on the other hand, it probably presents a better opportunity to get to the courses chief technical challenge, in the vicinity of jump #14.

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This is the wicked challenge on the course. We can for the moment overlook that the course designer stretched the handler between two control positions so that only the long legged kid who can outrun his dog can be at both places.

The moment at jump #14 begins with a blind/managed approach to the jump followed by a virtual threadle from #14 to the weave poles at #15. The black line represents a perpendicular approach to the weave poles which will, I guarantee, result in a 50%+ NQ rate in a class of Masters/Excellent players (who on some level believe they have trained dogs). The red line represents a managed approach to the weave poles in which the handler will micro-manage the dog around to square up the approach and hope upon hope that the over-zealous judge doesn’t see a refusal in the solution.

Note that the blind/managed approach to jump #14 is constrained by the #5/9 jump which leans in applying compression against the real estate afforded the handler to get the job done.

A final observation on this course is that the two jumps which require hard-aback turns, jumps #11 and #17, are both designated as wingless single-bar jumps. Both of these attributes lower the visual acuity of the jumps and raise the likelihood of a dropped bar or refusal caused by the dog just running past it because it didn’t stand out to him.

Can this course be saved?

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I’ve tweaked the course subtly (not so subtly, maybe). I wanted to maintain the challenges envisioned by the original designer. But I really didn’t. I took out both of the hard-aback turns, preferring instead to allow jumping sequences in which the handler can release his dog to work, rather than be in the picture, micro-managing the dog’s work.

I’ve moved the blind/managed approach challenge to jump #13 because it’s easier for the handler to be in position to solve.

I also took out that silly threadle to the weave poles and replaced it with an ugly-butt approach that will allow the dog to demonstrate his understanding of the performance. I’ve actually replaced the threadle approach with a blind/managed approach; which at least provides the handler with adequate real estate to do whatever it is he needs to do.

Note that I got the obstacle count up to 20.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Class Plan

July 16, 2013

Okay, it’s about a bazillion degrees outside; and I spent the morning yesterday setting up this course on the grassy out-of-doors agility field. I don’t actually have minions to help me, so you can imagine the buckets of sweat that soaked my clothes.

Marsha isn’t a big fan of out-of-doors play. For me playing on grass is fundamental. It’s how agility was meant to be played. I’m sympathetic to Marsha, and everybody who prefers to play in the shade and away from the bugs. Weather is cruel more often than not in Ohio. Either it’s freezing and icy; or it’s muddy and wet; or it’s brutally hot. There might be a dozen days out of the year on which conditions are perfect for both human and canine.

I’m very aware of the safety issues when working a dog out in the sun. With our dogs, I’ll only work outside for ten or twenty minutes when temperatures are so high.

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This course, by the way, is both the oldest and the latest course challenge for Top Dog Agility. We’ve had a subtle rules change that allows re-running of any course. What it really means is that a course or game never “closes” but is left open like the high scores on a video game at the arcade where everybody has a shot at getting to Top Dog.

I’m having a conversation with a club down in Valencia, Argentina about joining us in the play of this course. That should be fun! Hey… isn’t it Winter in Argentina?

Meanwhile back at the ranch

I have a class coming this evening. The out-of-doors course will be our league play course. But class needs to be in the building (in the shade). I don’t have air conditioning in the building. The best we can do is run the big fans on people and dogs.

Since I dragged all of our big equipment down onto the field, that means I had to come up with a set of the floor for lesson planning purposes. Small Universe comes to the rescue! This is a product that I created (several years ago now)… which is a .pdf with a wide variety of sequences that are arranged by different dimensions. All I have to do is scan through them, find one I like, and then click on the picture to spawn it into Clean Run Course Designer. Then, of course, I can modify it for my immediate needs.

Small Universe has been a life saver for me many times over.

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I shared in my last blog a new contact training protocol for the 2o2o position. Marsha immediately put it to use for her crazy redhead BC Phoenix, and it has been transformative and amazing, IMHO. And so I wanted in this lesson plan to provide a foil for testing and practicing the method. What’s substantially different in Marsha’s work with Phoenix and this lesson plan… is that Phoenix gets to do his thing in the presence of other dogs and people. That heightens the crazy redhead gene, to be sure.

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I’ve reversed the flow so that we get to work in both directions. Naturally I have about six or eight sequences that are based on either set of the bi-directional equipment. You should know that our full-size teeter is on the lower field. I’ll actually be using one of teacup teeters (8 ramps) in class.

Crazy Calendar

For like the next three weekends I’ll be out on the road doing judges clinics for the TDAA. I’ll be traveling with Hazard and Haymitch and will have an opportunity to run both of them in the TDAA trials that are part of the TDAA clinic experience. It’s actually problematic whether I’ll be able to run them at all, because I’ll be very busy in the conduct of these clinics.

At any rate we’d love it if you can come out and run your small dog in one of our clinic trials. If you are anywhere nearby I’d appreciate the opportunity to meet you and see you work with your small canine athlete. Here’s the immediate schedule:

Jul  20 – 21, 2013  Trial   T13067 Agility Cues For You LLC
Louisville, KY
Judge-of-record/Presenter:  Bud Houston (w/judge applicants)
Contact:  Christina Wakefield   (e-mail:  agileticket@gmail.com) Indoors on astroturf with rubber infill.  Day of show entries allowed. Classes to be determined
Premium

Jul  27 – 28, 2013  Trial   T13027
Bella Vista Training Center Lewisberry, PA
Judge of Record:  Bud Houston  (applicants will be judging, records will show Bud Houston as judge)
Contact:  Stephanie Capkovic  (e-mail:  bvwestie@ptd.net) We have had an in-fill sport turf installed, 3 standards and 5 games
Premium

Aug  3 – 4, 2013  Trial  T13016
Rocky Mountain Agility

Arvada, CO
Judge of Record: Bud Houston (judge applicants and recerts will judge performance) Contact:  Zona Butler (e-mail: Zona@rmagility.com) dirt surface
Premium

Of course, I copied all of this right off the TDAA Events Calendar.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Bright Spot

July 9, 2013

I’d like to share with you a YouTube of my Jumpers run with Kory this past Sunday at Queen City. It was a fun course, quite suited to us (Kory and me); and everything went as scripted. I even got to do a Back Pass to manage Kory’s transition to the weave poles.

With thanks to Brenda Gilday: use this link:
http://youtu.be/ZVEhSkitJ7Y  

This was the bright spot of the weekend. I had two runs with “one little thing” to glitch the run. And I had two runs that were complete train wrecks. I humbly accept this difficulty. I think I’ve reported to you that I don’t move well (not like I used to move). And so I try to do most everything at quite a distance. As I’ve said for many years, distance handling is like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. So when you get a card into the hat as I did in the Jumpers run… you can be happy. And when you don’t…  oh well.

A Current Obsession

One of our judges this past weekend put up an interesting challenge that I’m taking back to my training barn. Two jumps are set for a 180 turn… with the jumps set side-by-side, the wings touching.

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I’m a bit fascinated by this side-by-side jump challenge. As a course designer I know that the jumps are too close together to support the turning radius of any dog that works with the teeniest bit of inertia. But then, as handler and dog trainer I know that the tightened turning radius can be pre-cued to the dog.

Certainly an argument can be made for the handling on the landing side of jump #3. However I’d like to solve on the approach because I am fond of any opportunity to throw cards into a hat on a windy day.

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There are obviously some other fun sequences that might spawn

A Word Aside

On Saturday night… and I mean about 2:00 am in the morning something crept into my brain that I got me out of bed to work a bit at my computer to document. I had an epiphany about contact performance that I immediately knew in my heart is exactly the kind of thing I need to do with Kory.

It works like this… the contact obstacle is the starting point and, mind you, a resting point. Before I embark on the sequence I’ll put him over the contact and he will come to rest at the bottom in a nice 2o2o position, until released.

I know this doesn’t seem extraordinary at first disclosure. What I’m really trying to do is treat the dismount of the contact obstacle like a stay at the start line or on the table. As a basic rule of performance I’ll expect my dog to hold position until I give a verbal release. And frankly I don’t care if I’m standing still having a conversation or running in some random direction… my expectation is that he will stay.

Dogs are creatures of rules. The performance you get out of them in agility (and in life) are based on the rules that you set for them. In a broad general sense this is precisely true. And so now, in my training, I will embark on establishing this new rule which is simply a fortification of the softer (though identical sounding rule) under which we previously operated.

I’ll keep you informed.  

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This is the bit that I leapt out of bed to sketch, when I had the epiphany. I could have numbered a lot of interesting things after either or both of the contacts; and I did, in fact. But then I deleted all the numbering but those that identified the contacts as the starting point… just to remind myself of the core concept.

You’ll note that in the first sequence I drew (above) I managed to insinuate the teeter as the starting obstacle.

Ted Cruz & the Abolish the IRS Campaign

Ted Cruz is a liar and a scumbag. Clearly he is a magnet for stupid people. I’m closely watching his campaign to abolish the IRS, mostly because I’m curious about how frigging many really really stupid people there are in this country (people who don’t read or keep up with current events and base there thinking on the raw propaganda and hate mongering of Fox Noose). I know there’s a whole bunch of them.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

A Wild Rollacoaster Ride

May 22, 2013

You know, I’ve seen some nice course design in AKC agility. This venue… I’m sorry, I mean, this agility organization has matured. There are more and more AKC judges out there who design courses that pose interesting central challenges and provide nice flow.

And then there will be weekends like the one I just had showing under a matched pair of judges with an incredible technical streak who manage to humble every driven-dog handler by putting up challenges that only the slower tied-at-the-hip kind of dog will manage to solve.

I’m truly not complaining. I have pretty much decided that for me it will be a long campaign to the MACh because I’m a slow moving arthritic old man and my dog is a driven beast with a great work ethic. Given the qualifying requirements, I’ll be lucky to get to the ACK nationals… ever. I am content in that knowledge. So I approach every every trial weekend like a duffer in golf. The course is a puzzle and I finish happy when I Birdie and just about as happy when go way over par.

The JWW courses from Saturday and Sunday are worth sharing with you, so that you appreciate my definition of “incredibly technical”. I’ll share Sunday’s JWW today. I have a bunch of out of doors chores to do today.

Sunday Rollacoaster

This was the course put up by AKC judge Sherry Jefferson (at Westmorland County Obedience Training Club at B&D in Latrobe, PA). Take a moment to decide how you would try to survive this wild ride.

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By my count this course features no fewer than seven wrong course options. An option, mind you, is a course that makes more sense to the dog than the one the judge actually numbered. It is a trap. And at least two of the options are set by gratuitous dummy jumps (as though the 5 naturally occurring options aren’t enough).

There’s not a lot of herk n’ jerk in this course; no wrapping, hard-aback turns, acute angle redirections. This is an important consideration. It means that the dog will get up to full speed when working, and stay there so that every challenge in the course comes at harrowing speed.

Here’s a YouTube of my run with Kory:
http://youtu.be/CZya1L2mshs.

We went off-course after jump #17 (stupid gratuitous dummy-jump). Dang… I was already doing my victory dance.

This course was a heap of fun for me. I wish I had it to do over again so that I could have put more urgency in that last left turn after jump #17. Oh well.

Phoenix

Marsha had a very nice weekend with our young boy Phoenix. He’s showing a lot of promise and starting to demonstrate that he’s getting the game. It’s rewarding to see a wild thing like him come along so nicely. He’s actually more steady than Kory was, at the same age. I’m sure she’ll share her exploits on her own blog (http://2mindogtrainer.wordpress.com/).

JazzMe UFoo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=3WHQ0twHQgo&NR=1

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Agility Nerds

May 13, 2013

The weekend before last I had a fun weekend judging USDAA for Sky Blue Events in Indianapolis. They are fun people in that part of the world.

Course design took longer than judging. I worked pretty hard for this trial. I’m mostly enthralled by the problem of “leveling”. That means I want to present to each level of competitor (Starters, Advanced, Masters & Extreme) a course that is appropriate and balanced. I try to have a vision for each level. I had at least one course that my mutterer made me promise to never to do again (the last Masters standard for the record). For the most part though, I loved the courses and watching those Hoosiers solving my riddles.

League Play Game

Okay here’s what we’re playing (from Top Dog, of course).

Jumplers
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Briefing

This is a simple numbered course. If the handler can run the entire course without ever stepping inside the red box, 15 bonus points will be earned. If the handler can run the entire course without ever leaving the red box, 25 bonus points will be earned.

Jumplers is scored: Time, Plus Faults, Less Bonus. 0

Qualifying:

4″                    60 Seconds
8″                    53 Seconds
12″                  48 Seconds
16″                  43 Seconds
20″+                39 Seconds

If you want to play along with us… click. Visit our web site and see what other courses and games we are running: http://topdogagilityplayers.wordpress.com/

The Back Pass

Okay, I have a new agility “movement” for you. There’s not many of us doing it yet. I’ll predict, however, that in ten years it will be a stock movement in the sport of dog agility.

I call it “The Back Pass”. It’s a simple concept: On command, your dog circles your body. The two types of Back Pass are: clockwise, and counter-clockwise. For a couple years I have been studying and practicing the Back Pass and have found a rich variety of possibilities for this movement in agility competition.

In the next few days I will try to video some applications for the Back Pass. Of course I’ll share those with you.

The tricky part that scares the hell out of even experienced dog trainers is that if you ever want to own the Back Pass you’ll actually have to train your dog to circle your body. But I will go out on a limb here and say that it’s just about as complicated as teaching a dog to do the collapsed tunnel. It seems a bit like Mission Impossible at first; but then the dog gets it, and you go on.

Quoth for Agility Nerds

You find the things that you Love, and you love them the most that you can.

~ Wil Wheaton
[Click HERE if you are a nerd.]

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Internationalization pt 2 ~ the Blind Approach

February 21, 2013

As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d stay away. –Hughes Mearns (from “The Psychoed”)

Box Threadles & 270s

The first hint of a blind approach in our agility culture came from the onset of the 270 turn. I recall at one time these weren’t legal in the AKC. But I believe they came to the realization that a challenge that is common in FCI play needs to be set up for practice in the U.S. if our players are going to compete in Europe… so the ban on the 270 was lifted.

I’ve addressed the 270 a number of times in my blog. I posted the following a couple years ago, as I was practicing some of the challenges in the Alphabet Drills authored by Nancy Gyes: http://wp.me/pmSZZ-Qf

Another common form of the blind approach is a thing we call the threadle (a blind approach requiring two changes of direction).

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These exercises are courtesy of the letter “A” (box threadles left; 270s right).

The blind approach always requires for the handler to shape the approach because it is not a natural or intuitive flow. In other words, the dog cannot be released to work. And more to the point, the course designer is demanding micro-management of the dog.

The most common error in the 270, to be sure, is a handling error. The handler fails to step outside the box to shape the turn, and so the dog cuts inside, earning a refusal on the second jump.

Have this at the back of your mind… the blind approach always demands micro-management.

The Blind or Managed Approach in Competition

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This AAC Jumpers course contains a transition between two jumps that is commonly known as a blind approach or a managed approach. The blind approach occurs in the transition between jumps #5 and #6.

What the handler has to do here is be in position in the gap between the #6 jump and the #15 jump to draw the dog around for an approach to jump #6. If the handler’s a long-legged kid, he can probably sprint down to be in position… forward of the dog. Getting behind the dog is a big problem because any dog with a lot of obstacle focus and a good work ethic will likely take the #6 jump in the wrong direction if the handler is out of position.

Later in the course, mind you, is a hard wrap at jump #15. Again, the course requires the handler’s presence to manage the wrap. Note that the judge has put a gratuitous dummy jump beyond jump #15. So, unless the handler can outrun the dog he had better have taught the dog some magnificent distance skills to give direction from #7 through #14.

Making a Case for Training

The real question that occurs to me … can the blind approach be taught to the dog as a performance option. Be very clear on what this means. I’d like to be able to point out a jump and tell my dog “go around that jump, and come back to me over the jump.” All good training begins with a solid statement of objective.

I’ve got a video to share. It’s not actually my video but something I stumbled upon in my odd quest for interesting studies. This is evidently from Portugal:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=V0rjkAE4qKo

This young man is running a course that features no fewer than four blind approaches (and a threadle to the weave poles thrown in for good measure). Please note that on one of the blind approach challenges he sent his dog forward to get it done (jump #13, following the U-shaped pipe tunnel). The dog, Jack, dropped the bar on this jump which we might blame on the dog not giving himself enough room on the un-managed approach; but then again, the handler stepped in to bend Jack away sharply after the jump which could have been the culprit in the fault.

Bookmark

http://aurea.userworld.com/ppal-en.php

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Backyard Zen ~ enlightenment through meditation and insight

December 6, 2012

The purest expression I can make as a dog trainer is in those private moments with my dog in the back yard. I come to the task presumably equipped with some objective. And I am prepared to take small thoughtful steps to accomplish that desired goal. My mind is uncluttered, and unfettered.

I begin with a vision of the immediate objective that is well focused and granular. That one tangible goal however is a small bit that is completely influenced by and tied to my philosophy of dog training.

Let me try to give a bit of definition to the idea of a training philosophy, specifically as that philosophy is applied to dog agility:

  • Teach your dog in the context of play; it’s all an extension of the game.
  • Allow your dog to think; allow your dog to offer; allow your dog to solve the puzzle.
  • Be happy when your dog is right. Be neutral when he is wrong.
  • Be patient and undemanding. You have the advantage of knowing exactly how long it takes for a dog to learn a thing.
  • Foundation is never a completed task.

Down to Earth

That sounded a bit lofty I suppose. But it was short; and that’s what I was going for. None of this is really very complicated. Funny, I’m gearing up for foundation training with four dogs through the upcoming winter. We have three rescues pup in our house: an 8 week-old (Katness), a one-year old (Phoenix), and a two-year old (Haymitch). I also have my boy Kory who is nearly four now. I have training plans for all of them for the upcoming winter.

For the baby pup we’ll be doing the Two Minute Dog Trainer thing. That’s the name of Marsha’s blog, don’t you know (http://2mindogtrainer.wordpress.com/).

My attention is going more to Phoenix and Haymitch. Both of them are on a program for wicked good distance skills. My guiding objective is to make them both perfect dogs for an old man. That means I have absolutely no intention of wearing a dog on my hip when we do agility. The dog has to be out there working. My job is to give direction… not to micromanage.

I could go through a list of everything we’re going to do from a training POV. But you know, I’ve already put most of it in writing. It’s all in the Joker’s Notebook, issue #0.

With Kory I’m doing new stuff. Right now I’m teaching him to do a Switch. I should define: The command “Switch” means that I want him to circle my body tightly in a counter-clockwise direction.

I know this seems like a curious objective. You’re just going to have to trust me. I expect in ten years everybody with a fast (and trainable) dog will have both the Switch and the ComeBy in their basic foundation training. The upshot of the skill is that on course I can create corners and set lines without handling. Ooh, what a concept.

I’ll draw a picture to tantalize you:

BLOG886_01The green figures showing the handler sending the dog out to do the pinwheel (you’ve taught that to your dog, right?) The red figures shows the handler turning around to assume a post position, actually facing the pipe tunnel, and calling the dog to Switch as he comes over jump #4. You’ll note that the dog’s path coming over jump #4 favors the wrong course side of the pipe tunnel.

Due Diligence

This is Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day! And today’s topic is Backyard Training. You will find a index to a fine family of posts on the topic here: http://dog-agility-blog-events.posterous.com/pages/backyard-training.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Move Over Fast Eddie

October 22, 2012

Most of the discussion below has to do with something I saw doing course review (for the TDAA). I tried to explain to the designing judge a fundamental rule for dogs in motion, that “the dismount is dictated by the approach”.

You probably know that I’ve been working on contacts in my training. This is the bit that I put up on the lower field. I tried to create a course design challenge comparable to the dog’s path problem shown in the first illustration.

The real question is… is it an error in course design or a subtle and cruel riddle intended all along by the evil judge?

Surely, you see it?

Just in case you don’t see it… I’ll help out. The red line coming off the dogwalk is the dog’s true path through jump #5. It won’t take much for the dog to run through the plane of jump #6 to earn the refusal.

I set this sequence up for myself, frankly, because I’d very much like to solve these minor kinds of riddles myself in competition.

Before you can solve the riddle of the dog’s path, you have to see the dog’s path.

I’ve thrown away the sleepy/dreamy line drawn by the Clean Run Course Designer. It was a pretty line, but doesn’t much help our analysis.

The dog’s path from jump #5 to jump #6 is a two-corner transition and requires a two-corner solution. What I was playing with in my own practice of this sequence is using the “come-by” to solve. In the “come-by” I ask my dog to circle my body in a clockwise direction (come, by way of the clock).

However there are a number of interesting compound handler movements that will solve. A handler might get away with a simplex movement (single-corner); but that’s all they’re doing, is getting away with it. The fail rate will be considerably higher than for handlers who see both of the turning corners.

Top Dog Agility Players

I’m working at launching a new, very low-key, recreational agility venue. It has been my dream for many years to develop a recreational approach to agility that is affordable to just about anybody who wants to play. And I think I’ve finally got the correct model.

I’ve started a “blog space” for the venue at: http://topdogagilityplayers.wordpress.com/. The rules will be published soon.

Look for more information right here in my ongoing web log. I’ll tell it from my heart here. I’ll tell it from my brain there.

Handling Systems

The Handling System is a notion growing in popularity in the dog agility world. A handling system is a form of branding that dictates the handler’s methods for crafting and conducting the game with his dog using the recipe of some notable authority in the sport.

The subscriber to a handling system can be nearly impossible to teach. The more one-dimensional and dogmatic the system is then the less receptive the subscriber to adopt a balanced and rich repertoire of handling skills. A pity!

The downside of any handling system is that it’s really impossible to put into that recipe the rich abundance of thought and skill and love of that “notable authority.” He cannot give you what he is. He can only sketch out that bleak commercial product.

It’s hard to make an argument against the one true way. Always I’m left wondering why a famous handling system doesn’t allow for finding by scientific curiosity the correct mix of skills and methods for the individual dog. Whatever works is right. Right?

I guess an open-ended system is not a system at all. And without the system we defy the mystique of the guru. More the pity.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.


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