Archive for December, 2008

Cheating the Turn

December 31, 2008



Here’s a drawing that I did that appeared on the cover of the Clean Run about 13 years ago. It reminds me how little we knew about training dogs for agility in those days. My entire training philosophy for new dogs these days is that the dog chooses every step. We never push, pull, force, or otherwise manipulate the dog in his choices. This is where learning comes from and is key to the dog’s boldness.

While the drawing appeared in black & white you’ll note that I did the whole bit with a blue ink ball-point pen.

Honoring the Dog’s Path

What does the expression Cheating the Turn mean? In my own vocabulary it means that the handler abruptly shows the turn without precue in the moment before the dog gets to the corner of the turn.

A thing we understand when we’re driving our cars is that we should turn the wheel when the car gets to the corner… not when we first see the corner. I know you guys know this simple rule, because you are alive today to read this. So why is it that we would turn our dogs before the dog actually gets to the corner? Someone said once that you can prove anything by analogy so I’m not going to be an absolutist in terms of what it proves.

You’ll note that most errors on course are errors of timing. The dog drops a bar because just at the moment he is gathering to jump the handler jerks away or rotates into the turn (the corner for which is actually after the jump, and not before). And I’ll tell you a funny thing. For people with really hot fast dogs… most of their errors are for being too soon in the cues for their dogs. Isn’t that ironic? Too soon?

I understand the psychological conundrum. The handler is moving to position and “Eeeek!” here comes that fast dog. So the handler has to get going in an absolute state of panic. If you understand the rules of timing you’ll note that the rules are precisely the same for the fast dog as for the slow dog. Indeed, with the fast dog the more perfect the handler must be. The fast dog handler doesn’t get to miss the timing events.

There is little profit in panic.

Dog Camps on Yahoo

A new discussion group has been created on Yahoo to announce dog training camps and seminars in the United States. The group is open to the providers of those camps and seminars, to the seminarists who lead them, and to the agility enthusiasts who might be interested in a camp or seminar in their area.

To Subscribe:

You know, I’ve been wondering what the effect of the economy has been on our sport in general. I’ve heard some anecdotal woes but I don’t know the real effects. Are trial entries down? Is it harder to fill a seminar? A doggie-vacation camp? I don’t know.

Sequences from Sunday Lesson Plan


This is a combination lesson plan. You’ll note that the red numbers represent a distance training and proofing sequence. We encourage our advanced / masters handlers to layer at a more than comfortable distance while the dog works away over the contact obstacles. In this kind of training it’s usually not a matter of whether the dog will work at that distance, but whether the dog really understands his job on the contact obstacles while the handler isn’t looming over him (being embedded in the context of performance).

The white-numbered sequence is a bit of a handling riddle. You’ll note that the handler is expected to turn the dog after jump #4 while avoiding the dogwalk. Frankly, even if the handler finds a solution the dog will probably be set upon a path that favors a wrong course entry to the pipe tunnel at #7. So the solution to the jump #4 to #5 transition should take into consideration the downstream challenge.


Once again, the red numbers represent a distance challenge. So, right after conditioning the dog to go up onto the dogwalk… we’re asking the handler to turn the dog into the pipe tunnel instead and taking away his ability to do so by looming over the dog’s head micro-managing the change of direction. I’ll give you this one hint… about the weakest thing we can do to solve this sort of thing is talk. Talk is the weakest cue a handler can possibly give. 

The white sequence provides rather the same challenge, keeping the dog off the dogwalk and into the pipe tunnel. And, having solved the tunnel mystery the handler doesn’t really get to stand around and admire his work since after the tunnel the dog must be drawn on a very flat turn from jump #6 to #7, whilst avoiding the dummy jump set in a logical pinwheel position.


The real question with the red-numbered sequence is which side of the containment line should the handler work? It might be interesting from either side; though you’ll note that the send to the tunnel is a more novice objective than lateral layering from the #5 pipe tunnel to the weave poles at #8.

The white sequence is a lazy easy thing that probably features a single Front Cross on the landing side of jump #5. I will often run sequences to really pick on the execution of a single movement. It’s my intention to give all of my students a dynamite Front Cross (well actually, I want all of their movements to be dynamite!)

It’s amazing to me how many handlers will fall into the sleep-dreamy world of the behind and pushing handling plan. In this sequence I will have students (at home and at seminars) who’ll fairly insist on a Tandem on the landing side of jump #2, and another Tandem in the turn from jump #6 to jump #7.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

Phantom Electricity

December 30, 2008


We have in the past year worked at rearranging the use of electricity in our house. Foremost on the list has been to deny appliances that silently suck up electricity even when they are turned off. Electronics these days are built to maintain a “ready” state so that when turned on they quickly get up and running. The real problem with this is that many of them use considerably more electricity when not being used, than when they are.

Our strategy has been to put most household electronics on a power strip and deny them electricity altogether. Some electronics, you’ll note, work in clusters. For example you might have a television and a CD player that work together. If you leave electricity running to them they’ll use about as much electricity in a year as an inefficient old refrigerator (I ain’t lying!) even if you never turn them on at all. You can make the same argument for your computer and printer.

On our property we have four buildings that have their own metered service. It’s expensive enough for us as the premium for electricity begins with a healthy chunk just for each unique metered service. And, unlike the traditional household we have seven televisions throughout the property, all of which have attendant CD players. We also have five computer stations.

Most sources will tell you that you’ll save about $125 a year if you attend to denying electricity to appliances that consume phantom electricity when not being used. We are saving nearly $800 a year. Though it’s unclear where all of the savings are coming from as we have replaced most of the traditional light bulbs on the property with florescent bulbs; and take other steps to manage the use of electricity.

A Weavers Minuet


The rules of the minuet are quite simple. For 50 seconds the handler will direct the dog through a simple sequence (of 4 obstacles, in this case), and then repeat it until the end of time. When the time whistle sounds the handler will direct his dog to the table. It’s worth noting that in any game with a finite number of possible scores time to the table is the tie-breaker and will determine placement.

The dog earns one book-point for a completed sequence. Any number of obstacles the dog completes that don’t add up to a full book when the whistle blows will be converted to a decimal value. So if the dog earns 7 books and finishes the weave poles at #2 as the whistle blows… his score shall be 7.2 with time as the tie-breaker.

The key thing the handler must know in this game is what to do on error:

  • In the event the dog earns a wrong course the book he was working on is nullified and he must be directed back to obstacle #1.
  • If the dog drops a bar the handler must reset that bar and resume the book he was working on from that jump (note that the wrong course rule is suspended when the dog drops a bar, giving the handler the opportunity to concentrate on the bar without penalizing the dog for offering performance).
  • If the dog pops out of the weave poles they cannot be corrected midway and must be restarted from the beginning. When taking the dog back to correct… watch out for that backweave! That would be a wrong course and will void the current book.

Over the years I have observed that the minuet will expose every flaw in movement and thinking inasmuch as both are repeated. A handler might get away with a thing once; and he might get away with it twice. But he won’t continue to get away with it. The truth will be known.

This particular minuet is not terribly challenging from a handling point of view. It will be mostly a matter of proofing the dog’s understanding of the weave poles. If the dog really doesn’t understand the job of weaving, he will likely earn a rather low score.

Results and Analysis

Just for the record… our top scoring dog on this Minuet was Vickie Davis’ little Beagle Elmer scored 5.1 to lead the Country Dream challenge. My girl Hazard took a second place with 4.2.

Like a lot of games that feature the weave poles, this Minuet serves as a bit of a wake-up call for the handler/dog trainer who hasn’t focused sufficiently on the weave poles during daily proof and practice. This sequence features a virtual threadle between jump #1 and the first set of weave poles at #2.

The second set of weave poles, at #4, features an “entry-side” approach at about a 45° angle. The real question from a handling point of view is what the handler does to sweeten the approach into the poles. On the other hand, if the dog is very well trained to the entry the approach to the weave poles really doesn’t need to be overtly shaped; and so the dog should just be let go to make the entry.

We truly can apply the same logic to the first set of weave poles. Should the handler shape the approach with a calculated RFP… or simply trust the dog to make the very difficult perpendicular entry.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

Perfect Timing

December 29, 2008


The essence of timing in dog agility is in the handler’s understanding that all timing is dictated by event, by where everything is in space. Understanding event timing becomes clear with some practice; or, the handler might learn the important lessons in a series of $20 a minute lessons. And, if not too dense, the important matters of timing can be learned without great expense.


We could say that a “corner” is an event. When the dog gets to the corner, we show the turn. If the concept of timing gets fuzzy, it’s usually related to the idea of the dog’s commitment to an obstacle, or even to a path.

Handlers who want to cheat the turn will often be disappointed because their desire represents an undisciplined attitude and practice contrary to the obvious facts… what constitutes good timing.

Compound Movements Have Multiple Cues

The most common compound movement is a Reverse Flow Pivot (RFP). An RFP is a combination of two Front Crosses. It is used to draw the dog towards the handler’s position and reset the dog’s line. It starts on one lead hand and resolves to the same side.


This example shows the opening of the 2002 USDAA Grand Prix Finals course designed by Tom Schultz. The handler, in this example, executes an RFP on the landing side of jump #2. The RFP seems a bit of a gratuitous movement. But the handler simply wants insurance against an off-course at the teeter.

What are the two position cues for the two Crosses in the RFP? The handler must know his cues, or he has no basis to expect good timing!

The cue for the first movement is when the dog comes up over jump #2; ideally the movement begins when the dog is at the top of the arc of him jump.

The second cue is the precise moment the dog turns his head and takes a stride towards the handler’s position. The handler must snap the second turn and step into the blocking position on the A-frame. The RFP is a double edged sword. If the handler’s timing isn’t nearly perfect he can cause as much trouble for the dog’s path as he sought to avoid.

Timing of a Turn at a Jump

This discussion is spawned from a disagreement I had with Tammi McClung during a quick lunch at the USDAA judging clinic in Leesburg, Virginia in January of 2003. It’s a small “teaching” point for agility students. I probably should have just agreed with her and let the moment pass. But the fact that I teach so much has made me a bit of a nuisance in that it’s my training philosophy to always make the correction.

We agree that teaching students matters of timing is important. In the illustration below I show a dog’s approach to a jump, the arc of his movement over the jump, and his path away from the jump on his dismount.


Here’s the question. On the line are shown seven distinct positions, labeled “A” through “G”. If a turn follows the jump, at which point should the handler show the turn to the dog? To be clear, if the handler were doing a any kind crossing movement or change of direction, this point would be where the dog is in space the very moment that the handler begins the movement of his cross or turn.

Tammi’s answer (at lunchtime) was “B” and said so in a confident and convinced manner as though it were an obvious thing. Here comes the part when I should have shut up. “No,” I said, it’s “D”.

Okay, okay. I’ll admit this one thing. There are certain dogs for whom “B” is a dandy answer. Let’s call these dogs (if we need a quick category) forgiving dogs. These are dogs that will almost certainly always keep up the bar without regard to the handler springing on them a change of direction at the moment they are confronting the bar of the jump. I have no scientific basis for offering what the percentage of dogs might be that are “forgiving”. But it is really quite small (say 15%).

So forcing a turn when the dog arrives at “B” is the thing taught by the smart alecks, that is, those who excel in competition, win national tournaments and championships. It is easy to explain why the smart aleck will say “B”. If he did not have a forgiving dog, then he would not be a smart aleck.

When the bar drops it is 95% of the time a handling error. If the dog is not a forgiving dog, the handler should wait to show the change of direction at “D” or, one could argue, somewhere between “D” and “F”. But the closer you get to “F” the closer you get to being late with the command to turn.

From the point of view of the agility teacher, we should observe and understand the type of dog being asked to jump before instructing the student on precisely when the cue to turn should be made. Let’s avoid telling the student inane and frustrating things like “you’ve got to teach your dog to jump!” Do you really know anybody who has taught their dogs to jump? It would be better for the handler/student to understand the simple discipline of jumping. It might be up to the instructor to spot the “type” of dog.

I’m forever reminded that there really is no one right answer for all dogs. As soon as there is some concept for which I convince myself that this is the way to deal with that. Then along comes another dog who defies convention and statistical measurement.

It may be that the handler should really understand the propensity of his or her own dog in the timing of the turn at a jump. I find this quite an obvious thing. If the dog drops bars if the handler shows the turn before the dog gets to position “D”, then the handler should impose on himself the discipline not to show the turn until position “D”. If the dog is a forgiving dog and will keep the bar up when the handler shows the turn from position “B”, then by all means make that turn early because contests will be won and lost on the saving of fractions of a second.

Post Script

Without recognizing the positional cues that dictate matters of timing the handler has no chance to have good timing. Practicing movement under the orchestration of cues will help build the necessary muscle memory to make timing natural and fluid. Working from cues is a discipline. It is not enough to know the cues. The handler must abide them.

I’ve made no attempt in this discussion to expound at any length on matters of obvious timing. But they warrant a mention:

         Give the command for an obstacle at the moment the dog’s nose is pointed at it (not earlier, and not later)

         Allow the dog to finish his work on contact obstacles, weave poles, and jumps before turning in a new course direction

         Work on the same obstacle on which the dog is working

Examples of handling movements were not intended to imply that these were the “one right way!” Anything that works is right. Examples were intended only to illustrate matters of positional timing.

Note to Dave

The Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewing Co was really quite excellent. It had a smooth dark flavor without a hint of a bite. Though they’ve added cinnamon ginger and honey accent, at no time does it overpower the hops of the beer. Just between you and me and the wall, I approach seasonal and holiday beers with great trepidation, because so often the beer is corrupted with tastes that spoil the brew. Thanks so much. This was a very thoughtful Christmas present.

Another Note, to Wayne

Now I feel guilty for not making public acclamation of the Rev Wayne Van Deusen’s gift to me of Brouwerij Westvleteren a damn fine beer, lighter than expected, and probably more expensive than necessary. Thanks Wayne. You’re a mentsh.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

What If… Nancy Gyes Was Jewish?

December 26, 2008

Someone asked me once what was the significance of Nancy Gyes alphabet drills. My quick answer was to say it was her way to create imaginative and fanciful context for the practice of fundamentals. The next question, of course, is what the hell does all that mean? I’ve always found that fundamentals are fundamentals and will be discovered like a found poem in the constant shifting context of agility course design. So the alphabet drills are not in themselves law and mantra. They simply give the opportunity to play with sequencing in a variety of path shapes to challenge the handler.

Don’t you wonder how different might be her alphabet drills if Nancy Gyes was of the Jewish faith… making her sequences to describe the Hebrew alphabet? Frankly I’ve been thinking that much could be made of dog and handler starting position using nikkud (it might be interesting for specifying handler station during distance work, for example).

Anyhow, working her way through the Alef-bais might begin something like this:

The Letter Alef


[Please note that all inserted text is my voice. I would not presume to imagine what Nancy Gyes would actually recommend from a handling point of view.]


Presented with the ostensible “serpentine” at #6 and #7 I’ve found that many agility handler swill pucker up on their handling responsibility inasmuch as the mission for the dog finding his way in the sequence has been given over as the dog’s responsibility in the overall training objective in our culture; rather than the explicit responsibility of the handler.

The handling I should love to see in this closing is for the handler to storm past the exit of the pipe tunnel in a running Blind Cross to help draw the dog out marginally to set the approach to the jump and bank on a Post turn to jump #7… or heck if you’re already ahead of the dog how about punching through jump #6 into a quick Front Cross to keep the line tight and efficient?


After jump #5 I’ve abandoned my little CRCD handler man. You’ll note in illustrations below I’ve pretty much abandoned the little guy. This sequence is equally challenging before and after the weave poles. I would personally like to have the dog on my right side on the dismount of the weave poles so that I could show the opposite side entry of the pipe tunnel using counter rotation as a means of making the dog favor the correct entry to the tunnel. Though, it might be solved with a Post & Tandem fast dog approach as well.


If you use Clean Run Course Designer you’ve probably noticed that when you use connect to numbers for the dog’s path properties the line that is drawn is not true. I often have to go back in and imagine that the dog will carry through on the landing side of a jump given the trajectory of his approach and the physics of mass being hurtled through space. I’ve notice too that some handler’s don’t appreciate the linear nature of the dog’s path, nor the physics of the dog’s turning radius.

I would love to practice this sequence with a Front Cross approach to the weave poles. And there will be some dogs that need that kind of “shaping the entry” baby-sitting. By the very same token I should love to practice this sequence simply pushing the dog ahead (from the handler’s right side) to gain the entry himself… whilst the handler conducts a very bold and nearly perpendicular Rear Cross at the entry to the poles.

Aside from what is noted in the text box I also found that the transition from #6 through #11 might be challenging. The turn from jump #9 to jump #10 is actually a threadle and should be treated as such in the handling plan. The handler must set up for a left turning presentation after jump #9. If the dog turns right (due to the handler’s miscalculation) the sequence will go to hell in a hand-basket.


By this point I’ve pretty much abandoned trying to make the text presentation the same way Nancy might. She says “do this” and “do that”. I see a lot of variability depending on the training foundation on the dog and maybe making accommodations for different types of dogs.

Interesting Surfing

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

The Prospect of Hanging Concentrates the Mind

December 23, 2008


—Samuel Johnson

How would you like to have perfect timing? Never again be late with a command or movement, and never again be early. It’s really quite a simple matter once you understand that every movement and every command has a specific cue. All the handler needs is to understand his cues and be disciplined enough to use them.

Timing is dictated by position and event. You first have to get out of your head that “timing” in agility has anything to do with time whatsoever. It’s all a matter of where things are positioned in space, you, the dog, and the obstacle. Thinking in terms of time creates the illusion that the handler mush rush a movement with a fast dog, or that the handler of a slower dog can be completely indifferent.

Timing of Verbal Commands

Most people think of timing as a matter of when to give a verbal command. In fact, the timing of verbal commands is just about the least important requite for perfect timing in agility. Nonetheless, the handler can observe a simple rule in terms of how a verbal command should be timed for the dog.

We’ve all seen that handler whose timing of verbal commands is so bad that he might be saying “jump” while the dog is up in the air over the jump for which the command is given. Obviously, the dog had already figured out that the jump was the correct obstacle.

We have also seen the handler whose handler says “jump” when the dog is facing a wrong course jump. The dog is absolutely correct to take the jump when the handler has given the mission to do so.

A command for obstacle performance should be given to the dog at the moment that he is facing the obstacle. Consequently the handler should focus on his real job, which is to get the dog facing the next correct obstacle. And then, at the earliest possible moment, the handler gives the command rather than waiting. As dogs can move faster than humans move, it’s not a bad idea to give the dog the mission for the next obstacle even while at a considerable distance.

Timing of Movements

Any understanding of timing must begin with understanding how a dog moves. Therefore the handler must acknowledge and understand the Laws of Dogs in motion:

The Laws of Dogs in Motion ©

         The dog turns when the handler turns

         The dog tends to work in a path parallel to the handler’s path

         The dog gets his speed cue from the handler’s speed

         The dog gets his direction cue from the handler’s shoulders, toes, hips, and movement

         A dog ahead of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position

The first law is really the most important. The dog turns when the handler turns. This isn’t anything tricky or mystical. The dog really wants to go in the same direction his handler is going. So naturally the dog will turn when the handler turns.

Here’s a simple example. The course begins with two jumps followed by a sharp right hand turn to a jump. What is the handler’s cue to turn the dog to jump #3?



In order to understand the timing of the turn we should acknowledge one of the Laws of a Dog in Motion: “The dog turns when the handler turns. With that in mind, the handler should execute his turn at the “corner” of the dog’s turn. The handler should not show a turning movement while the dog needs to continue his line. So, in the example, the handler should save his command to turn until the dog is committed over the jump.

If the handler shows the turn while the dog’s feet are still on the ground on the approach to jump #2 he risks causing the dog to pull off the jump (judged a refusal) or drop the bar. If the handler is late showing the turn then he risks losing the dog to an off-course over the dummy jump beyond jump #2.

Showing the turn can come from any combination of the handler’s cues: the verbal, stopping (or even slowing); or actually turning in the new direction of the course. Doing any of these things before the dog has actually committed up and over the jump is “cheating the turn.”

Timing of Turns on the Flat

A good example of using the dog’s position to cue the handler’s movement can be found in the Front Cross. One of the most important applications of a Front Cross is to create a “corner” that lines the dog up in a nice straight line.



This example shows a 270º turn in the transition from jump #3 to jump #4. The handler of the fast dog might believe that he has to hurry his turn because his dog is fast and he’d just better get going with the turn.


So the handler begins his Cross at the instant the dog gets to the position marked “X”. Recall again our simple Law of a Dog in Motion, the dog turns when the handler turns! And indeed the handler’s timing for the turning movement will give the dog his line of approach into the box. Draw a line from the center of the “X” through the center of jump #4. Continue the line to see where it might take the dog. The handler’s premature movement sets the corner of the turn and gives the dog a line into the box that directs the dog to a wrong course jump.


In this example the corner of the dog’s turn is on the flat. To determine where the corner of the dog’s turn is, draw a line through jumps #4 and #5. Where the line comes to rest on the take-off side of jump #4 is the corner and defines the position at which the dog must arrive before the handler shows any part of the turn.

The Prospect of Hanging

Saddam Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006. After being found guilty and convicted of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi Tribunal for the murder of 148 Shi’ites in the town of Dujail in 1982, in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him, he was sentenced to death by hanging.

His mind was not concentrated.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

No Offense to Old Women… but

December 19, 2008

I have studied for a number of years the fascination and fixation dog agility enthusiasts in America have for the “serpentine”. It has become a popular practice to require the handler to maintain a path on one side of the serpentine; and to teach the dog to treat the serpentine as though it were one obstacle with multiple elements, rather like the weave poles. The practice has fallen into some widespread acceptance to the extent that I’ve actually heard handlers and instructors in our sport use the term “do a serpentine” to refer to this handling strategy rather than to the actual arrangement of obstacles. You must know that hearing this distorted phraseology nearly always makes me wince.


And so, I will at seminars nearly always put up a serpentine exercise calculated to show my students the error of their ways. It’s quite predictable that the handler working from one side of the serpentine is a strategy that will fail 40% (or more) of the time among people who practice it constantly. And you’ll note in this illustration of the serpentine that on the return trip the handler is expected to negotiate a skip-a-jump handling riddle. It’s funny how many handlers will attempt to layer to the opposite side of the serpentine… having clearly taught the dog the compensatory mission of treating the serpentine as a whole and single obstacle.

Weekend in Buffalo

Okay, so I put up this very exercise at Jeannine Jay’s Canine Sports Center if Buffalo NY last weekend. I even began the exercise saying “I know what I’m going to see”. These were famous last words. The group in Buffalo had overall very nice skills. I pretty much spent the weekend fine tuning and concentrating on what’s the next step kind of logic. It was an interesting mix of dogs; most of them highly motivated and an interesting mix of breeds, mostly dominated by Labs… yellow and black. When I set up this exercise I pretty much expected to see what I’ve seen for the past five years or so as I’ve studied the serpentine: Most handlers would work from one side of the serpentine; and a 40% (or higher) fail rate.

As I predicted… most handlers worked from one side of the serpentine. What I did not expect, however, was a stunning 90% success rate through the first eight obstacles. My bad!

The closing became a bit trappy in the skip-a-jump riddle. But I really can’t blame the dogs who’ve been so nicely trained to treat the serpentine as a single obstacle with multiple elements or, frankly, the handlers who simply needed coaching on how to demonstrate path to their dogs.

I was completely ecstatic about what I’d seen. I’ve been waiting for this for a number of years now. And this is what I told them …

You guys have done a magnificent job teaching your dogs the serpentine as though it were a single obstacle with multiple elements. It is a marvelous accomplishment in dog training. It’s smart dog training. However, the handler working one side of the serpentine is not particularly good handling, and I’ll tell you why. Your dogs could not have performed more slowly. It’s absolutely impossible for the handler to give any kind of speed cue to the dog or supply any energy to the team while taking such a short and diminutive path, scuffling along while the dog goes out and comes in, doing all of the real work.

If a handler has a “ballistic” dog… a dog who works at top speed without regard to the contribution of energy of the handler, then the handling system is a bit of a wash. But the great majority of dogs in agility will get their sense of mission and urgency from the handler’s sense of mission and urgency. A dog gets his speed cue from the handler’s speed. No offense to old women, but… why should we constantly handle like we were a bunch of old women, incapable of movement, incapable of motive, incapable of speed?  

I know the logic. We teach the dog that the serpentine is a single obstacle to flatten the dog’s path into nearly a straight line. Contests are won on the brevity of the dog’s path. But you must also know that contests are won by the handler attacking the course with energy and purpose elevating the chi of the performance as though our desire is to win rather than merely to survive.

Having done such a remarkable job teaching your dog’s the serpentine… let’s take the next step. Let’s go on the attack. Let’s lift the energy. Let us play to win.

Playing to Win

The chief difference between the handling initiative in the serpentine and the compensatory training mission (for the dog) is that the handler will endeavor to race the dog through the serpentine, weaving in and out between the jumps, staying on one side only when a speed transition is called for; that means we switch from slow dog handling to fast dog handling as the dog actually surpasses the handler’s position.

We played with it awhile in Buffalo. And I worked at fine tuning each handler’s assault on the serpentine. This was strange stuff to them, because as a group they were unaccustomed to practicing handling (especially dynamic handling) in a serpentine. They were more accustomed to practicing the dog training and proofing aspects of the serpentine. This was really quite fun for me. Performances were improving by as little as 2 seconds … and by as much as 5 seconds through the sequence.

The Labs especially responded with new enthusiasm and energy. It was a predictable response for them to engage a new gear when suddenly they found themselves playing with their people rather than for their people.

The best success of the weekend was showed by and older lady with her keen young Border Collie. Mostly her dog has ever needed merely the constant pressure of movement just to know where he was going next. So the concept of adopting a killer handler strategy for her became success, and they settled suddenly into becoming a team. Movement is motive, to be sure. Movement is direction too.

To tell you the truth I showed very few Blind Crosses in this serpentine exercise. By my own calculation of well-placed movement the exercise might call for a single Blind Cross, and that one not particularly critical to overall success.

Aren’t you just dying to know what handling we practiced? LOL


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

Framing the Distance Presentation

December 17, 2008

“Distance Work” is not just a matter of whether a dog will work at a distance. The handler must have the skill to shape the dog’s path to frame the distance presentation. Sometimes the wise words of an old golfing buddy of mine occur to me as I watch someone spoiling a line of approach for a distance send; he would say to me “Have you ever tried aiming”?

The handler should view the available real estate leading into the distance challenge as a canvas upon which he will paint the shaping movement which most ideally frame the path ahead. The handler should also understand the attributes of movement. An “attribute” is the expected result or yield of a movement as it impacts the dog’s path or speed.

A common mistake a handler might make in contemplating distance work is the belief that working a dog at a distance has anything to do with the handler stopping while the dog goes on. If anything the handler’s movement at a distance must be a true and constant application of pressure that helps direct the dog and to answer the ever-present question… where to next?

Post & Tandem on the Flat


In this drawing the red line indicates the handler’s containment while the dog performs obstacles #3 through #6. Aside from just the sequencing performance the handler should ask the dog to lie down for a count of five seconds while remaining behind the containment line.

Note that the handler starts snug with the dog on the dismount of the dogwalk. If you think about it the handler wants the dog to get ahead so that he can step behind the dog on the landing side of jump #2. Most handlers will be closely trapped to the dog on the dismount of the dogwalk in any case.

The path after jump #2 is deliberately drawn to show the hard Post the handler shows the dog after the jump. Just as the dog slides past the handler’s position the handler will push in the turn to the right (the Tandem). The dog’s turning position constitutes the corner of approach to jump #3 and consequently on to the pipe tunnel at #4.

Two attributes of the Tandem Turn should be noted. 1) The Tandem creates a wide sweeping turn; 2) The Tandem accelerates the dog. We want both of these attributes in the turn. The wide sweeping corner opens up the approach to jump #3 and brings the dog around to a more logical line to the pipe tunnel. Acceleration is desirable too as it gives impulsion and motive for sending the dog on.  

Front Cross – Straight-Ahead Send


The straight-ahead send can be problematic, and more difficult than it looks. The handler must endeavor to drive from behind as much as possible. In this drawing the handler sets up for a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #9. Note that the station for the Cross might have been much nearer to jump #10 if this were a routine handling sequence. But because the handler has a compelling interest in sending the dog ahead at some point, he will want to reserve as much real estate for movement as possible.

This is a simple Front Cross but must be executed in the anticipation of a speed change (from forward of the dog to behind the dog). So out of the rotation the handler will need steps toward jump #10 to indicate the path and straighten the line… but the dog must get ahead of the handler as soon as possible, and well before getting to jump #10. This is an excellent opportunity for the handler to shorten stride without taking off any sense of urgency or making a show of putting on the brakes.

The difficulty with the turn from jump #10 to the dogwalk is that the dog will have a good look at the table which is directly on his path. So the handler might give a little call to the dog to get him to look back. Note that I’ve draw the handler facing the ascent ramp of the dogwalk; he’s also tucked up behind the wing of the jump, reserving a couple of strong steps (line shown in green) to get the dog out to the dogwalk.



I omitted any discussion of the send to the pipe tunnel from the table with the handler held at some distance by our containment lines. This is probably solved by a simple parallel path presentation of the jump. The handler wants to establish the parallel path before releasing the dog. On the other hand, the handler doesn’t really want to exhaust all of his real estate for movement before releasing the dog.

You may find that the difficulty in this exercise is getting the dog to lie down with the handler at a distance, and maintaining the down position when the handler begins to move. Clearly this discipline is the subject of a training program all by itself.


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