Archive for January, 2009

Angry Lines

January 31, 2009

I had this interesting idea while reviewing courses. I wondered if there is much you can tell about a course just by looking at the dog’s path after everything else has been pushed aside. I ran a couple tests of the idea.

First of all, you should understand that I am very reluctant ever to redesign a judge’s course for him. I believe that it’s a rude thing for a course reviewer to do and actually holds them back from learning anything (so If I design courses for him/her today, I may as well reconcile myself for doing his/her work from now on).

Both of these came from a discussion of what a judge might consider doing with his/her courses. They weren’t even in the realm of MUST FIX (which in my mind is a dire state of affairs).

Anyhow…

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This is the first result… and seemed to validate what I suspected; an overly technical course will result in a bit of an angry line for the dog’s path. Part of the lesson to the course designer is that the dog should be encouraged to work at full speed without those slam on the brakes micro-managing moments that take most of the fun out of it.

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So I ran the test again on a completely different course and scenario. Now I’m not sure that my revision is any less angry than the judge’s original course. I’m especially suspicious when I see changes of direction in the dog’s path at severe angles.

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So what I decided to do to gain a bit more understanding and clarity, is superimpose the obstacles on course that created the Angry moments just to see if my redesign makes practical sense.

Well, I’ll let you think on this one.

Titus

I’ve been thinking about Shakespeare a bit lately though I can’t tell you why. It turns out that the movie Titus has been added to my DVD collection. So I was delighted to pop it into the player as I worked on my taxes this evening. Titus Andronicus is one of the early Shakespeare tragedies. And this movie is a romp full of anachronisms and terrific choreography; yet faithful to the dialog scripted by Shakespeare.

To tell you the darned truth any second year drama student can do Hamlet or Lear, but it takes an impressive talent to carry off Titus Andronicus. As it turns out Anthony Hopkins fit the bill quite nicely. He made the man believable.

This has never been one of my favorite works of Shakespeare. The plot is a twisty convoluted thing that is hard to keep up with, especially while you’re working on your taxes. I’d almost rather read Chaucer in the middle English tongue.

It is the nature of a tragedy that there’ll be death and dying. Just so you know pretty much all the principal characters die with an inventiveness you’d expect in a Freddy Kruger movie. When it was over I really needed something a bit less violent so I followed up with Predator with Gov. Schwarzenegger (there were two Govs in this movie). I guess I’ll have to follow that up with The Sound of Music.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

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Designing Distance Games for the TDAA

January 30, 2009

A handler will tell me from time to time… my dog won’t work at a distance. To which my reply is invariably… “Have you considered training him?” With this in mind it strikes me that some TDAA judges have never trained their dogs to work at a distance and so don’t really appreciate what a trained dog might do. And this lack of confidence and understanding is reflected in their design of distance challenges for play in the TDAA.

Be very clear about this: A distance challenge should be proofing of the skills of the trained dog!

Distance Games – 2’6” is NOT Working at a Distance

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Consider this distance challenge. The judge has drawn a line all of about 2’6” from the key obstacle. You can’t actually see the lines that I’ve drawn to measure the length of the distance challenges because the numbers used to describe the length of the lines are pretty much as big as the lines themselves.

Most handlers have arms long enough to stretch all the way out to indicate the ramp, so I’d submit that the dog doing the jump and the A-frame are not working at a distance.

Setting Criteria for Distance Work

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A 4” Games I dog should be able to work away from his handler at a minimum of 5′, especially on a simple lateral distance challenge.

I might have made this more complicated, drawing as many as 16 lines. But that’s really too many lines with which to burden the course design crew and frankly too intellectually complicated for most judges to follow when determining whether a handler and dog have succeeded in their challenge. Okay, let’s settle on four lines (which will be complicated enough!)

Note that I fully expect the big dogs in the Games III class (those big husky 12” and 16” dogs)… to be able to do this lateral distance challenge from a cool 11′ distance. Trust me on this… 11′ is a modest test of the dog’s willingness to work at a distance.

The Van Deusen Question

I got this query from Wayne Van Deusen yesterday. You’ll want to pay careful attention to this discussion because he’s talking about the challenge game in the 2009 Petit Prix in Racine, Wisconsin. I’m sure a lot of you might want to spend a little time training your dogs for this challenge.

Here’s what Wayne asked me:

>> A quick question.

I’m submitting an idea for a distance challenge for the Petit Prix in addition to the weave pole challenge that already exists. As I write up the rules for it. I was just going to say the dog who does the longest distance wins. But someone said it should be done by height class as 4″ dogs need to put in more strides than 16″ dogs. Your humble opinion, please?

Distance to the Tire Challenge

For $2.00 entry fee (You may enter as many times as you like) The handler will have three opportunities to send their dog to the tire. The tire will be set at the dog’s jump height. The final send will be the distance entered. The dog with the longest send will be declared the winner.

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Coincidentally, I’ve been struggling with this very question recently; mostly in terms of trying to understand how we set distance lines in TDAA games.

The idea that has been haunting me is this… 1″ of dog = 1′ of ground. The part that has been nagging at me is the excess of the multiplier. So If I can send a 4″ dog 12 feet to a tire… that means I would have to send the 16″ dog 48′ for the same accomplishment. No… I think we’ve lost the comparability altogether.

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So what I’m thinking is that each jump height probably deserves a basic fudge factor. So what you would do is measure the length of the send from the send line respective to that jump height. So if the 4″ dog sends from 20′ then the 16” dog will have to be sent from 32′ to have a comparable measurement.

I have no idea whether my suggestion will be adopted by the Petit Prix host club in Racine. I’ll continue to work with them on it.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

The TDAA Teeter

January 30, 2009

Because the TDAA teeter is so different from the teeters used in the big dog venues it looms as an obstacle that can erode the dog’s confidence in the moving plank. It is the handler and dog trainer’s responsibility to make an introduction of the obstacle to the dog.

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The TDAA allows equipment familiarization. And when I’m out in the world with my little dog I am very careful to get her on the teeter because all teeters are different. I will gentle it down for her a time or two until she feels the tip point. I want her to understand that it’s not her practice teeter. Sometime the steward in the ring will say something daffy like “you’re only supposed to do it once”… but I always ignore the steward, because she’s wrong.

Note that a tip point for a small dog on a teeter is beyond the tipping point for a big dog.

In big dog venues I pay special attention to the teeter the first time or two we see it, using handler initiative to slow my dog to the tipping point (indeed, when I walk the course I’ll slam down the teeter every time I pass it to get a feel for myself what it’s tip-rate might be). Later in the weekend I must give my dog credit for having tagged that obstacle and coming to an understanding of its performance.

In the very beginning we crafted rules for performance on the teeter in a rational manner taking into account the small dog. No other agility organization in this country has a bit of appreciation for the tiny little guys. Part of the problem with the definition of the performance in the big dog venues is that by their very rules the small dog is required to ride the board all the way down and take whatever violence the board offers in its recoil or bounce.

The TDAA Judge’s Guidelines say this:

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Fly-off (teeter) – 5 faults. Leaving the plank after the plank has begun to move shall be deemed a fly-off only if the downside ramp does not touch the ground. In other word, even if the dog pushes off before the plank settles the performance will not be faulted if the plank touches. The judge should exercise rational judgment for the tiniest of dogs (consider the three pound Yorkshire Terrier). If the dog waited patiently for the plank to tip, and then jumps off, the judge might award the performance even if the dog’s slight weight was not enough to allow the plank to hit the ground.

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I should also, as a judge, approach the time-keeper and scribe after the dog’s performance and advise them to deduct however many seconds that the faulty teeter might have cost the dog’s performance, IMHO.

Now that being said, it might be true that we have not been ardent in our specification for construction.

The TDAA Rules, in Section 4, says this:

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  • A three-pound weight placed at the upper edge of the contact zone must drop the teeter in less than three seconds but not so quickly as to create a safety issue for dogs.

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There seems to be considerable confusion about where is the “upper edge”. I reckon it’s all the way at the end of the plank, since it was me who wrote the spec for the TDAA.

We’ve also overlooked any specification that might clue a dog to be able to differentiate the ramp as a teeter by requiring a visual demonstration of the brace or support used as the fulcrum of the teeter. This might be problematic.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

Course Design Notes for the TDAA

January 29, 2009

Recently while I was leading a TDAA judges clinic we went through an exercise in which I was showing our new judges how to wheel a course. Shortwheeling is a thing that a judge does with a measuring wheel when he doesn’t really understand how dogs move. So as I’d approach a jump I’d call their attention to the fact that after I hit the center of the jump I continued wheeling the line from the angle of approach for another six clicks (a click is a foot on my measuring wheel) before turning. On a big dog course I’ll make the turn considerably wider than that!

I think it would be a great idea for the course designer to do the same kind of visualization of the dog’s path when contemplating the consequences of the dog’s turn. Take this, for example:

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Note how I continue the line over jump #3 for roughly another six feet. Then I make the turn and progress through the center of jump #4. In this example what you really want to note is that the path that the course designer created with the placement of jumps does not address the tire at #5 in a square fashion.

The dog’s turning radius after jump #3 should provide as much depth as it has width. This sequence has no real depth after jump #3; only width.

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The sequence can easily be fixed so that the natural turning radius actually creates the line of approach to the tire so we don’t have to worry about unsafe performances. More like this illustration. The real change we’ve made is to give more depth to the turn from jump #3 to jump #4.

Minimum Number of Obstacles is Not a Kindly Course Design

I see too many courses designed for all levels using the minimum number of obstacles. The course designer/judge might think he’s doing a kindly thing for the exhibitor, giving fewer obstacles that can be faulted. I’m sure that for some this might be true.

However using the minimum number of obstacles is no favor at all for the tiny dog that struggles to make course time. In the TDAA the dog’s rate of travel is eroded terribly by the technical obstacles (the contacts and the weave poles). It creates the illusion that a dog moves slower in TDAA competition than on big dog courses. The truth of the matter is that in the big dog venues the rate of travel is re-energized by the time on those vast expanses of real estate between the obstacles.

The TDAA is short on real estate. That means the dog gets little opportunity to make up time that was used up on the contacts and in the weave poles. To make up for this the course designer should whenever possible use the maximum number of obstacles on a course so that dogs can recover rate of travel.

You want a Threadle? Measure with your Volkswagon

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You will note that in the threadle performance between jumps #3 and jump #4 I had no problem conceptualizing a dog’s path slipping back in the pull-through. It is a remarkable little illusion accomplished by fidgeting around my cursor on the coursemap.

On the other hand, it’s pretty bad course design. The threadle is a sure fire flow stopper. Although the dog and handler are set up for the moment with a robust canon shot out of the pipe tunnel, the handler has no recourse but to slam on the brakes and engage in the very technical pull-through.

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If the course designer is going to use a threadle, it could be more subtle than overt. Indeed, if it is drawn correctly the dog should be able to accelerate out of the turn rather than being dampened down into an over-controlled stop. Here’s a good example.

My first rule of the threadle is that the intervening space between the jumps should be big enough to drive through with a Volkswagon… and that’s for a TDAA course. In a big dog course I’d want to get my Suburban through there without bumping my rear view side mirrors.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

The Complete Stuart Mah

January 29, 2009

I’m working on an eBook project with Stuart Mah that promises to be a very useful and dynamic tool for earnest students of the dog agility game. Mostly what we’re trying to do is document hundreds of the courses he’s designed over the years and put them into a .pdf from which the reader can load a course or an interesting segment of a course directly into the Clean Run Course Designer. It’s a heap of work that won’t be finished too soon.

Stuart Mah is a pioneer in the sport of dog agility and very likely one of the great handler trainers in the United States. I’m pleased and privileged to work with him on this project.

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Here’s a sample of an interesting sequence that was pulled out of a course designed by Stuart Mah. This segment has a couple of different interesting moments. The handler can’t help but to study the problem and imagine himself or herself running through the puzzle with a keen agility dog.

Cold and Frozen World

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The precipitation in this part of the world has taken on a cruel twist. First we got 6″ of fluffy snow. Then the precip changed to frozen rain packing down the snow and building over it a cruel crust of ice. That was followed by another layer of fat wet snow. So now the footing is treacherous and the roads are dangerous. And trees, all over my property are losing limbs for the incredible weight that is now being applied to every branch and bough. Note the trees in this photo are alongside the drive in front of our house. The boughs that you see touching the ground… I’ll typically park under those branches in the summer to hide my car in the shade and out of the sun.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

Time Warp

January 28, 2009

Time Warp is one of a variety of distance games that is useful to play in order to proof the distance skills of a dog and handler team. It can be easily reduced to a series of training exercises. It’s also an excellent no fail sort of game to play. That means that all of the distance challenges are bonuses only. So there is no death penalty kind of logic if the team fails at any of the on-field gambles.

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Briefing

Time Warp is based on a standard course that is scored Time-Plus Faults-Less Bonuses. The lowest score wins.

A qualifying score shall be based on an aggressive standard course time for the baseline sequence. The dog is not required to do any of the gambles in order to qualify. However in a game like this we’ll find that the great distance working dog will distinguish himself by earning an improbable score… possibly even a negative score as though the dog has traveled through a time warp to finish a course a moment before he even begins to run it.

Faults

  • 5 Faults for any performance fault
  • Refusals are not faulted
  • Weave pole errors are not faulted
  • 20 Faults for failure to perform an obstacle

Bonuses

All bonuses are based on the handler remaining behind the containment lines drawn on this course while the dog works through sequences at a distance. Any faults during a bonus sequence will negate the opportunity to earn the bonus for that sequence.

  • 10 points – #4 through #6
  • 5 points – On the table the dog gives an obedience performance (handler’s choice) for the judge’s count of five seconds.
  • 10 points – #7 through #9
  • 10 points – #11 (the handler can step over the line after the dog has touched the contact zone on the descent)
  • 15 points – #16 and #17

Staying Busy

After my long road trip I’ve been trying to catch up on some of my chores. The weather has taken a frightful turn in general turning cold far too early and frankly suggesting that we’re in for a long and very cold winter. So I’ve had the tractor out grading road, and pulling around other tractor implements with a pig pole. I’ve also moved several hundred pieces of firewood from one place to another. I’ve a man gate to build and some more cleaning and straightening outside.

I’m frankly thankful to get away from the computer for a few days. Getting dirty and stomping around the property allows me to feel unhurried and without stress.

Editor’s Note

This is another entry that I originally submitted to WordPress as a “Page” (a high-level object  with a continuous presence.) I am removing the page and resubmitting it as a “Post” which is a part of the continuous stream of my teaching, rants, and opinions.

It reminds me that I would like to write a series of articles (for the Clean Run?) entitled “Teaching Agility with Games”. I am a huge advocate of agility games. And while the world is a bit lack-luster in the approach to dog agility as a sport; I’m fairly certain that everyone can learn to have more fun.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

The Two Minute Dog Trainer – Killer Weaves

January 28, 2009

The real difficulty obtaining great obstacle performance in agility is the dog trainer’s reluctance or failure to raise the bar for performance. The handler survives with handling solutions and so becomes complacent as a dog trainer. The weave poles are surely the most technical obstacle in agility and so deserve a long-term training program for the dog to become ever more proficient and confident.

The weave poles define the dog’s movement as surely as a pipe tunnel

In the following series of exercises I am looking to achieve two distinct performance objectives in the weave poles. 1) I want the dog comfortable with a Back Cross. 2) I want to leave the dog in the weave poles while separating from him on the oblique.

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I want the dog comfortable with a Back Cross. Although the handler’s act of shifting lanes behind the dog constitutes a conflict of directives, I want the dog to discover that the primary cue was making the presentation of the weaves and giving the command for performance. My movement behind him doesn’t constitute a change of plans or directives.

Frankly, I took the same sort of training steps with a pipe tunnel. Many very novice dogs will refuse a pipe tunnel if the handler is on the side away from the curl of the tunnel. And so I had to teach my dog that without regard to the direction of the bend of the tunnel or the side I was on when I made the presentation… I want him to get in, and go through. The weave poles are a bit more problematic because the dog can actually see me as he performs.

Note that I’ve put the training wires up on the long line of weave poles. Any time I raise the bar for performance on the weaves I’ll put the wires up because they help shape my dog’s movement and remind him of where to get in and to finish the entire set.

Some dogs may be so averse to the idea of the handler’s Back Cross that it’s impossible to get a single good rep in the very beginning. It might be useful to target the end of the weave poles and perhaps supply a small morsel of a food treat so that the dog is focused forward and less keyed on the handler’s antics. Though when I use a food/target to initially shape a performance I will fade the target as soon as possible and switch to a system of reward. I am fairly convinced that a dog being lured (food on target) is learning at a consequentially slower rate than a dog being taught by a system of reward.

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Having mastered the Back Cross on the approach to the weave poles, I’m going to introduce the increasing oblique separation of the handler’s path. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to master this. If a dog is completely accustomed to the handler looming over him throughout the entire performance then it will be a hard to convince the dog that everything is proceeding to plan if the handler tries to work at too great a distance too abruptly.

Many course designers figure that a set of weave poles is a trapping obstacle. Most handlers will be trapped with their dogs as the dog comes out the last pole. And so the course designer will challenge the team downfield with some technical puzzle and limit the handler’s possible solutions because the handler is likely behind the dog on the approach because they’d been trapped with the dog at the weave poles.

So, what we’re really teaching the dog to do here is finish the weave poles even when the handler uses the few seconds of that performance to assume a strategic control position on the course.

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Did I mention that the handler should give equal weight to practice of Back Crosses and oblique departures working on either side? I suppose I didn’t.

The drawing here shows an angled approach to the Back Cross at the weave poles. Fundamentally, the jump probably should shift to the side only a foot or two in each unique training session with the dog. Making a 45° approach might not be so radical a concept except that it makes the shift of the handler’s path in the Back Cross considerably more of a conflict against the imperative to get into the weave poles and finish the job.

About the Two Minute Dog Trainer

I am content with the fundamental and unhurried approach to performance as a Two Minute Dog Trainer. That means that I will spend a mere two minutes in a given training session on an dog training task with technical performance goals. I take the long view. Like I said, I’m unhurried.

The conventional wisdom with dog training is that a dog is inclined to find the exercise irksome if drilled and practiced for more than about 15 minutes. I’ve seen too many dog trainers in agility undermine relationship with their dogs by over-training and by the relentless nature of their drill and practice that they inflict on the poor animal.

Editor’s Note

I originally posted this on my weblog as a “Page”… before I actually understood how the WordPress environment works. A “Page” is a high-level object that has a continuous presence. So I am removing the page and resubmitting it as a “Post” which is a part of the continuous stream of my teaching, rants, and opinions.

Oh, I also had a very badly written header line. I said “A pipe tunnel defines the dog’s path as surely as a pipe tunnel.” D’oh! The header line should have read: “The weave poles define the dog’s path as surely as a pipe tunnel.” So, I’ve fixed that bit.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@earthlink.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

Studying the Back Cross #2 of n

January 28, 2009

Rule #1 of Back Crossing: The dog must be forward of the handler. If the handler’s habit is to always drag the dog through performance then the Back Cross becomes problematic. So when practicing the Back Cross there comes a time when the handler must tell the dog… You! Go jump!

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We introduce the basic skill using a single wing of a jump as a visual reference for the dog. The handler has dog on his right side; and initially may have to lure the dog around the wing. The handler does not step through the plane of the wing and will switch the dog to the opposite side while showing the dog through his path.

Much like the work-on-the-flat exercises I discussed yesterday, the handler will draw the dog to the jump across his body, turning him (or luring him) away into the turn at the wing itself. As the light-bulb comes on for the dog, the handler can send the dog to the wing from a progressively greater distance, always taking care to change sides as the dog makes the turn around the wing.

The verbal cue while working will be “Right” or “Turn” depending upon whether the handler’s command to turn is absolute or relative.

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The next step is to put the opposing wing on the jump and add a jump bar so that now we can condition the dog to jump and make the turn.

The verbal cue becomes “Jump Right” or “Jump Turn”. Please note that we have been working on a right-turning Back Cross in this exercise. Equal weight needs to be given to the left-turning Back Cross.

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Taking a page out of the “Exploding Pinwheel” exercise we’ll incorporate a second jump set in close proximity to the first in a turning radius of about 90º. Because the second jump is set so closely to the first the bars should be set very low for all dogs.

The objective of adding the second jump is to encourage the dog to “look for work” after having made the turn. This is to establish early in Back Cross training that the Back Cross shouldn’t always mean to curl back tightly to the handler.

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In the spirit of the exploding pinwheel, the second or object jump is moved gradually further away and the dog is rewarded for his keen focus on the work by a well timed marker and a reward for the performance.

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When teaching a dog a new skill the dog’s trainer is obligated to generalize the skill. To the dog’s point of view the Turn Right training was on a red wooden wing on the north side of the building, facing west. The dog mightn’t completely understand that it’s the same skill when it’s applied to a white PVC jump in the south side of the building, facing east. And so we begin the process of shifting the context until the dog can refine his understanding of the skill omitting the clutter of irrelevant details.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

The Limbaugh Letters #1

January 27, 2009

I spent a bit of time this morning writing to several advertisers on Rush Limbaugh’s hate radio show that I was striking them off my approved commerce list.

Please understand that IMHO Rush Limbaugh is a stupid and evil man. But since stupidity and hatred play so well in this country these days, he has quite a following. The only thing that I can really do is vote with my wallet. It was an easy Google query to figure out who’s advertising with him these days. And even though there are products and services on the list that I’ve used in the past and might have used again in the future, I cannot in good conscience give money to any business that promotes and supports an evil hate-monger like Limbaugh.

I’ll publish the complete list in a couple days. For now, I wanted to share at least one of the correspondences I’ve gotten back.

I wrote:

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Advertising with Limbaugh?

I’m sorry guys, I’ve totally lost respect for you now. Limbaugh is a hate mongering criminal… and it strikes me that you apparently want to pander to the lowest dregs of our society. With that in mind I will no longer be your customer because I do NOT consider  myself the lowest dreg by any stretch. We’re  not doing projects with Lumber Liquidators anymore.

I think people who don’t listen to Limbaugh need to know who props him up in the world and lets him spew his vile rhetoric.
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The response I got back was:

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SUBJECT: Comments to the Office of Tom Sullivan, Chairman

Dear Mr. Houston:

Thank you for writing to us today.  The opinions that we receive from individuals or groups are important to us and we respect your right to express your opinion. Our customer base is just as diverse as the advertisers or programs we select to promote our products. We choose these mediums of advertising and programs based on ratings, not on the political affiliation, opinions or attitudes of the host. Lumber Liquidators does not endorse or support the comments made by the program participants or their advertisers.
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To which I have replied:

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Dear Mr. Sullivan,

Two days ago Rush Limbaugh went on a rant, dealing with our new President in a spirited racist fashion and announced that he hopes Obama fails. Obama’s missions are to restore the hope of the middle class, the standing of America in the opinion of the world, to create new jobs, and to turn around the devastating economic downturn.

I take from your reply that you have no sense of social obligation, remorse, or responsibility for the actions and antics of this person who you support financially. Is that a correct assessment?
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I just can’t wait to see how they respond. And I’ll be sure to share with you the response.

Regards to all,
Bud

Studying the Back Cross #1 of n

January 27, 2009

I’ve observed forever that there is no handler movement that NQs more agility teams than the Back Cross. Unfortunately the idea of crossing behind the dog fits neatly in the conceptual intellect bubble of the very novice player. And yet, I find the Back Cross an advanced skill for the dog. I have forever taken pains to beat the Back Cross out of my novice students, and then teach it to my advanced students.

Anyone familiar with my teaching shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve identified several different types of Back Crosses. Each has different mechanics and attributes; (The “mechanics” of a movement is how the movement is conducted by the handler; the “attribute” of a movement is the product of the movement from the dog’s performance.)

The Post & Tandem Back Cross

By definition the P&T Back Cross is a combination movement. I include it in the discussion because it is a straight-forward study that will immediately improve the Back Cross of nearly any novice player (to the extent that it will quit NQing them a high percentage of courses).

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To get a the true tightened turn of a Back Cross and avoid most of the ills usually associated with a Back Cross, the handler might use a Post & Tandem approach to pre-cue the Back Cross to the dog. In this movement the handler will draw sharply on Post and then flip back into a Tandem Turn (on the flat).

The interesting thing about this movement is that many dogs will learn to read the Post & Tandem approach as a pre-cue to turn. In other words they won’t follow the true movements of either the Post or the Tandem, but will take all of the handler’s set-up movements as information which means to turn in the opposite direction at the jump. This accomplishes exactly what we wanted, to pre-cue the Back Cross, without sacrificing additional length of path. I’m not sure why this happens with dogs except maybe to say dogs are very clever about such things.

The Flat-Work

It’s worth pointing out that before a movement can be used in combination, it should be mastered all by itself. Part of the intellectual puzzle of any kind of rear cross is understanding that the handler must change sides behind the dog, and so the dog must be forward of the handler. I apologize if this sounds obvious; but teaching a novice handler this concept is the objective lesson for the instructor.

The dog turns most naturally toward the handler. We want to embark on a mission then to intentionally teach the dog to turn away when directed to do so. As a dog trainer I place a high reliance on a simple system of praise and reward, though in the early steps of training I might shape the movement moving a lure. With that in mind… the handler might use a succulent bit of food treat to lure the dog into the turn.

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The introduction might be made flat-footed. But my personal choice is to draw the dog while in motion (that means my feet are moving). With the food treat in hand begin to draw the dog.

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I draw the dog completely across my body.

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Using the food treat as skillfully as possible lure the dog to curl away from you. Some dogs will be resistant to this. Just keep trying. A good dog trainer will always meet resistance with persistence.

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Now, as the dog turns away, is a good time to praise and reward.

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We get one extra little picture here, only to show that the handler has about fully rotated. And if I were to give you another picture, the left arm of the handler will have to come up to resume with the correct lead. I typical will point out to my students that having mastered the right-turning Tandem equal attention should be given to the left-turning Tandem. Some dogs are decidedly sided and will learn to turn away on one side easily while being quite resistant to turning away to the other.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.