Archive for February, 2009

What Makes a World Class Agility Team?

February 28, 2009

I have for a long time been a student of this game. And I’ve pretty much developed an eye that can discern from a snapshot picture of a team a considerable amount of information related to type of dog; training foundation; and handler skill. Yes, from a single snapshot I can typically recount much of the background movie.

There is a specific formula to the World Class team. And trust me the top players in dog agility are very well-versed in each of these elements. Otherwise, they could not be top players at all:

Great dog – It is a poor workman who blames his tools. But it is inescapable that in order to compete at a world-class level the dog must be a world-class athlete. The dog must be structurally sound; mentally keen; incredibly driven to work; and built for the work of cutting and turning.

An excellent training foundation – It probably doesn’t matter how good the dog is if he has not been trained to understand his job. The elements of training should include: independent obstacle performance; obedience for agility, and a system for cuing performance.

A savvy handler – The handler’s skill is the final and decisive element of the great agility team. I write exhaustively about what constitutes good handling. But given the first two elements of this short list, the great handler will be quick, timely, economical, bold, and well-rehearsed in the qualities of his movement.

In watching any top flight competition, whether it be FCI World Team or the USDAA Nationals, what distinguishes those who make it to the winners circle is typically the keenness of the handler.

The Dichotomy

I’ve considered from time to time shopping me a world-class dog (or three). It just about doesn’t matter that I can have the second two elements of the formula if I don’t have the first. But I have resisted. While the number of players seeking to satisfy the formula for World Class play is constantly growing, the vast majority of dogs playing agility are the family animal.

While I could certainly coach a world class player to play his or her best game I’m more and more reconciled to the notion that my place in the world is teaching the majority of players in the world how to get the best out of their play. I reject the notion that a dog is merely a tool and the necessary requirement for my validation in the world.

The schism in dog agility between world class and family animal is a deepening chasm. I’ve worked fairly hard this past year on the paradigm of the recreational player in my contribution to the development of C-WAGS agility rules. While most agility organizations pander to the top 10% of players; we need venues that are designed specifically for the other 90%. We won’t actually get the other 90%; that’s for sure. A healthy percentage of players in dog agility fool themselves on a daily basis, not understanding that they need the three elements of the formula (great dog, an excellent training foundation, a savvy handler)… or not realizing that they don’t actually have all three.

Dancing on the Head of a Pin


I was challenged by the recent TDAA trial in Racine, WI to design a suite of agility courses that fit in a 40′ by 80′ space. While this course is kind of fun and challenging, it really isn’t a great design. The biggest error that I made was the start and finish on the same jump, which turned out to be a major drag on the conduct of the ring. I actually knew this when I designed it, but I pictured myself judging a couple dozen dogs and figured we’d work through the design conflict with bare notice. Boy, I was wrong about that.

Can you spot another error in the course (TDAA judges)?

After the trial I had a conversation with one of the exhibitors who noted that the TDAA doesn’t seem to attract top players in our sport. I agree. It’s frankly too hard for them. The little errors they make on courses designed for big dogs can be corrected in the fast expanses of real estate between the obstacles. In the TDAA, however, they’d just better be spot on, otherwise they can’t succeed.

When I come back from a weekend of TDAA play my game is ultimately sharper. It’s a terrific warm-up that puts a keen edge on the handler’s timing and sense of movement.

On or Off the Shelf?


I’ve been guilty lately of getting too technical in my lesson plans. I have to acknowledge that I have some rather intermediate students coming up. So my curriculum should not be designed for the top 10%. I played with this rather technical sequencing as an idea for upcoming lesson planning. But I’m not too sure that I’m actually going to use it.

One of the things that I’d really like for my students to understand is basic pre-cue information for a dog to do the tight and twisty turning bits that we’re often called to do in agility. Consider for example the opening of this sequence. If we rely on physics alone a nice working dog will have a terrific wobble in the aggregation of wide turns on the approach to the weave poles at #4; however, if the handler effectively pre-cues the turn at jump #2 the dog will come up over the jump bending into the turn into a nearly flat line of approach to the weave poles.

There are plenty of other lessons to be learned from this overall sequence. I return to my original premise though… this is just too big of a leap for my intermediate students.



Okay, I’ve gentled it up here a bit just with the rotation of jumps and some modest renumbering. I don’t need tricky serpentines, pull-throughs, options, angled approaches and so forth to challenge intermediate players. Heck, the weave poles will give them all the grief they’ll ever need.

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

The Architect

February 27, 2009

I was looking through some old paper sequence sketches from past camps and classes and stumbled over a bit that I’d done awhile back which had crib notes scrawled on the side about “illusion of lines”… a thing I’ve been studying for awhile.


Yah, I remember this bit. It was designed mostly to work through interesting approaches to the weave poles. But what often happens the overt stuff can easily become overshadowed by the subtle stuff. How would you handle this simple sequence?

I should point out that this is a tougher sequence for people with fast dogs, than for people with slow dogs. I like saying that. But the complete truth of the matter is that everything is tougher for people with fast dogs… even though running a slow dog is considerably more work (slow dog = uphill; fast dog = downhill).


This opening bit if the equipment is honestly set is subtly more difficult than it looks. Most handlers will figure on a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #4. That much is relatively straightforward from a study of the map. What we’ll find however is that jump #4 is a bit tougher to get to than it looks.


There are several factors that influence the dog’s turning radius after jump #2. If he’s running at full speed the simple physics of the turn will draw him quite wide after the jump. Let’s add to that the notion that he’ll have a good fix on the teeter through the turn which could easily widen the turn.

Note that the handler, working the dog into the turn, is likely to be behind the dog after jump #3. A dog forward of the handler will tend to curl back to the handler’s position making the approach to jump #4 an increasingly difficult proposition. The jump was never perfectly lined up in the first place. That notion is a complete illusion.


I have a fast dog plan for this opening. I’ve tried to illustrate each element in the drawing above. You’ll note in the opening (illustrated by black lines and figures) that the handler takes the unusual lateral path lead-out. This is a simple acknowledgment that the challenge in the sequence is lateral (and to the right) and so there’s no good reason for the handler to crowd into the dog’s line on the landing side of jump #1.

The red lines and figures show first of all a Front Cross to draw the dog to jump #3. Continuing through the jump however, the handler draws the dog subtly in a Post Turn to the left. This is to open the approach to jump #4.

The blue lines and figures show the handler drawing the dog past his position (out of the Post) stepping behind into a Tandem Turn (Back Cross on the flat).

Of course the handler will still have to press forward for a position for the Front Cross to draw the dog into the weave poles. I expect in class we’ll work on a static Post here to pre-cue the change of directions. Then we’ll get to practice Back Crossing into the weave poles.

Other Sequences


A Mean Challenging Snooker Course



All obstacles are bi-directional in the opening. However, three of them are combination obstacles. While combination obstacles are also bi-directional, they must be taken in flow; that means if you reverse the order of the combination, you must also reverse the direction of each obstacle in the combination. In the closing only jump #2 is bi-directional. All other obstacles must be taken in the direction indicated by the numbers.

If you fault one of the obstacles in a combination in the opening, you will not get the points. However, you must still complete both obstacles before continuing; otherwise you will hear the judge’s whistle.

All dogs will have 60 seconds to complete. 37 points are required for a qualifying score.

Another Snooker Briefing

I’m fond of telling folks that the rules of snooker are so confusing that I judged it for two years before I completely understood how to play the game. That really isn’t much of an exaggeration. If your students are going to be humbled by this game, it is probably better that they are humbled by technical execution rather than failing to understand the rules of the game.

The following briefing is an analogy that I use to explain the rules of the game to my students. You’ll note that the story is intended for my Novice students, and conforms to the rules of the Novice game. It could certainly be adapted for your more advanced students if they are having a hard time understanding how the game is played.

The Story

You’ve been given three coupons for great doggie free gifts at a chain-store. Only one coupon can be redeemed at any store. That means you have to visit a different store to redeem each coupon. [Point out the red jumps on the course, and explain to the competitors that these are the three stores in the chain.]

If your dog jumps without dropping the bar, that means that the clerk accepted your coupon. That also means that you get to go into the store and redeem the coupon. There are six different gifts in the store, each having a different value, from 2 points to 7 points. You can get any one you want! In fact, you can redeem your coupons for the same free gift at each of the three different stores, if you want.

You have to be careful not to get into trouble. If your dog drops the bar on the red jump that means that the clerk tore up your coupon. If you go on and get a free gift anyway, they’ll call the police on you. Your game will be over.

If you drop the bar (if the clerk tears up your coupon), if you have any coupons left you need to go to a different store.

If you visit the same store more than once, they’ll call the police on you. Your game will be over.

If your dog jumps the jump without dropping the bar, you are entitled to one free gift only. If you get more than one free gift… that’s shoplifting! They’ll call the police on you. Your game will be over.

When you’ve redeemed a coupon and you are collecting your gift, if you fault the obstacle that means you’ve dropped and broken your gift. You need to go on to the next store if you’ve got any coupons left, or start the closing sequence if you don’t.

After you’ve redeemed all three of your coupons, it’s time to start the closing sequence. That means you get to collect all of the gifts in the store. You have to collect them in the order of their number value (#2 through #7). If you take any of them out of order, of if you fault one of them (break the gift)… they’ll call the police on you. Your game will be over.

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


February 26, 2009

One of the very fun things about the TDAA is that we can play any game conceivable in the agility world. At a trial this past weekend I was tasked with putting up a Tunnelers course; Tunnelers being one of the mainstay courses of NADAC. Well, I absolutely know nothing about Tunnelers except that it is follow-the-numbers.

I’m pretty sure that NADAC requires a clean round in Tunnelers, which means that the dog must perform without faults under the respective standard course time. To tell you the truth… after watching the competitors in Racine for two days I pretty much decided I wanted to make up a special rule for the class… and as a consequence I needed to change the Scoring Basis.

Making Up Your Own Rules

In my oral briefing I explained that I would not be using the rules that attended the course map for this class. Instead of doing Faults, then Time as the class is traditionally conducted, we would do Time, Plus Faults.

I told the exhibitors that I was adding a fault that was not in the rule book. I would assess the team 1-fault point every time the handler said “No” to his dog. So you can see why I changed the scoring basis. It probably wouldn’t have been right for me to NQ the team for my whimsical invention. Of course I made it very clear that “No” is a negative verbal marker and would include a wide range of words, and even sounds, like that awful “Ackkk!” thing some handlers make in the back of their throats.

With this in mind I set an aggressive standard course time appropriate to jump height and level and briefed the scorekeeping table of the actual scoring basis and my scribe as to hand signals.

It was actually quite a lot of fun to watch. Handlers who are disposed to direct with negative inflection truly cannot help themselves; so in a game like this going to say “No” to their dogs and score the negative point. Frankly, getting faulted for saying “No” to your dog brings your own attention to such a habit as you hear the groans and hoots of the spectators for each occurrence.

Running of the Course


It strikes me that a Tunnelers course might be quite a useful foil for teaching handlers some basic skills. This course has a bit of a stereo quality in which the handler might become lost and forgetful of exactly where he is from time to time. There were only a handful of handlers who became hopelessly lost. Though they are clearly cast into purgatory they are forgiven and the important thing is that it was entertaining for the rest of us.

The more elegant performances on this course came from handlers who understood how to change sides to their dogs in the transitions between tunnels. One young fellow, I won’t mentions his name (Mark Wittig), actually did the whole course with a series of Blind Crosses which was quite fun to watch because he has quite a fast little dog which means the handler needs to be hauling his proverbial around the field to stay forward of the dog.

But the important point is not so much in his selection of slow-dog movement as in his recognition that the change of sides needs to be conducted in the transition between tunnels. The handler using Fast Dog movements—notably the Back Cross—must understand that it will be most lovely as a Tandem on the flat in the interval between tunnels, rather than a raw Rear Cross on the entry to the tunnel. You follow?

The raw Rear Cross frankly caused on this course a variety of ills: a general slowing in the dog’s performance; balking at tunnels; refusing them altogether; coming back out after going in; turning the wrong direction after coming out.

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

Teaching the Serpentine

February 25, 2009

We began last night in a semi-private lesson with a couple of my regular students both discussion and practice for teaching a flat serpentine of jumps to a dog as though it were a single obstacle with multiple elements.


The introduction is quite a simple thing. We begin with a long line of jumps arranged as though it were a jump chute. And then, progressively, we rotate the jumps in alternate directions until all of the jumps are perpendicular to their original position.

Inasmuch as it is our intention to teach this arrangement as though it were a single obstacle I’ve advised my students to adopt a verbal command to indicate the task. Rather than “Jump, Jump, Jump, Jump” the handler’s directive will be something more like “Jump, Go On”; or “Find It” or “Doo Dah”… anything to differentiate the task from a succession of discrete obstacles.

What you don’t see in the drawing is the meticulous care taken in the final rotations of the jumps. From the initial set of jumps we moved to 45° rather quickly; to 30° at a somewhat more leisurely pace; and the final 15° degrees taking as many as 7 or 8 little tweaks. It’s rather like teaching weave poles using the channel method (two lines of alternate poles gradually and incrementally coming into a single line). The greatest care and tiniest progression must be taken with the final adjustments else the dog will not learn to weave at all.

I also advised my students that they should not insinuate themselves into the performance by handling the dog. What we really want here is for the dog to demonstrate his understanding of the performance by seeking out the performance of the obstacles on his own. We want the dog to be thoughtful and smart. That cannot be accomplished if we have to constantly baby him by micromanagement.



We rely to a great extent on patterning the dog to the sequence of performance. This is useful for shaping and provides a foundation for rewarding the dog for correct performance. But it’s easy for the dog’s trainer to be beguiled into thinking that the dog understands the object of our mission. The dog might certainly be living in the now, as dogs are given to do. So it is necessary to begin a regimen of shifting context so that the dog can generalize the performance. And frankly the trainer can measure over time whether the dog really understands the performance is a new context.

In the drawing above the only change we’ve made is to introduce the dog into the serpentine from the opposite side. Don’t expect the dog’s understanding to be as automatic as the previously conditioned performance.


In this sequence the only change we’ve made is to replace a winged hurdle with a wingless. You might be surprised that some dogs will bypass the wingless because they’re more conditioned to seek out the winged jump.

I’m not one to use harsh or aversive language if the dog fails at a performance. Indeed, my correction is quite neutral. My response is typically to break off and fail to offer praise or reward. I don’t really want a dog who avoids offering performance because he’s afraid of being wrong. Instead I want him to thoughtfully offer behavior in anticipation of reward. But that’s just me.

It might be necessary to introduce a modest bit of handling to help draw the dog to the missed jump. But it really should be modest. Mostly throughout this training I’ve asked my students to coast along at 12′ or 15′ from the line of jumps. The dog can be drawn to the missed jump by a slowing of the handler’s pace, or a small show of counter-rotation.


From the beginning we’ve worked with giving the dog an approach to the serpentine at an aggressive angle that facilitates a flat path of movement. In this approach to the serpentine the dog is introduced to the serpentine of jumps from a nearly perpendicular approach. This will introduce a wobble into the dog’s path that begins with a considerably wider turning radius making it far more likely that the dog will miss jump #3 if the handler is moving with any steam parallel to the line of jumps.

The handler might consider a slowing of movement or modest counter rotation at the spot marked “X” in this drawing to help draw the dog out of the wobble and into jump #3.


This is a tougher bit, calling for a threadle between jumps #3 and #4. Teaching a handler the discipline for the threadle is outside of the scope of this discussion. But it’s important to note that if we teach our dogs the serpentine so that the performance is locked in the dog’s mind, then when the performance indicated by the numbering of the course is not the serpentine performance, then the handler really needs to step in and do his job.


Here’s another look at a serpentine that requires the handler to step in to show the dog his way as we skip a jump on the exit of the pipe tunnel to create the approach to jump #3. Remember that the handler is the architect or the dog’s path.

Instructors Note

Teaching the dog any arrangement of obstacles as though it were a single obstacle with multiple elements is an advanced and technical mission… rather like the weave poles. That means that the performance needs lots of reinforcement, proof and practice.

I will endeavor to maintain the use of the serpentine in my training so that handlers who are on this mission can do the necessary ground-work. I’m none too sure that I can rely on all of my students to do the necessary practice in the back yard. So I will do what I can in my classes and mini-clinics.

And no, I have not abandoned the notion that most dogs will perform with considerably more energy if the handler will endeavor to weave in and out of the jumps himself. But if we really teach the dog to understand the serpentine performance it will allow the handler who is out of position to trust the dog to understand the performance. Consequently we can have the best of both worlds.

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

A Human Face

February 24, 2009

I’ve made my way from Racine, WI back to Waterford, OH. I was fortuitously gifted with a bag of CDs for my Live to Run Again collection. And so I listened to The Navigator by Clive Cussler on the way home. It’s an action adventure story in the mold of The Da Venci Code… very entertaining. I only made it as far as about Indianapolis on Sunday evening. So I checked in to a Red Roof (where I got to watch the Academy Awards); and got me a good night sleep. And I finished the trip on Monday morning.

When I drive I work through all kinds of content material for my web log. Most of this very compelling and stimulating stuff I pretty much forget before I ever commit it to writing. So I must say you guys miss some pretty good stuff because I’m an old and forgetful man.

I have a number of observations about the seminar work I did over the weekend, and the TDAA trial. I’ll try to work these out over the next few days.

Camp at Country Dream

Coco Chanel said, “Nature gives you the face you have at 20. Life shapes the face you have at 30. But at 50, you get the face you deserve.” I was trying to remember this quote as I drove. Of course I had to Google it when I got home to get it right and properly credit the quotation. It was my intention to niftily segue to a discussion of our agility camp at Country Dream.

Ultimately, having to explain all of that makes this segue rather ham-handed.

Writing a blog is a lot of fun. It’s like keeping a not-very-private diary. And frankly it gives us a human face. I’d like to think that this is the face that nature gave us. LOL

Following a discussion on AGILEDOGS, a popular internet-based discussion list, some lady has complained about the high price of agility seminars and camps. It led to a heated discussion of the defenders and detractors of seminar and camp pricing philosophies. That got me thinking about what is the difference in my own camp experience, and what others might offer out in the world.

I conduct the most modestly priced agility camp experience in this country. Somebody might observe just to be rude that “You get what you pay for.” But, that is exactly right. My camps are intended to be chiefly recreational. While I do a bit of skills training—and even dog training—what I really want to accomplish is for everybody who comes to have a hoot of a time with their dogs; to relax some, and enjoy the rural countryside away from the maddening pace of the city.

If you find yourself with a world-class dog and require a high caliber learning experience with an instructor who will sharply focus your training plan and handling philosophy, then you probably should get thee to Gyes or Mah or Mecklenburg or one of their dozens and dozens of imitators (“system” advocates) out in the world.

But if you want an agility vacation with your dog, even if the dog isn’t a world class athlete, you should come to me. Indeed, I have cottages for any of those top echelon teachers should they ever want to take a vacation and escape the terrible intense nature of their workaday lives and chill with a bit of recreation. I’ll promise them a brief anonymity and respite from being a heroic expert.

As I gear up for a new camp year I’m looking hard at the consistency of our camps. I’m pretty much committed to the idea that they will not be regimented or overbearing; and instead full of interesting activities throughout the day.

Intellectual Ownership of the Course

That reminds me… early last year I began the practice of bringing out one of my miniature agility course model sets. I’ll plunk it down in the middle of the table and challenge everyone to recreate one of the courses we worked on during the week.


As it happens I began this practice at a camp with a bunch of my hard core students. Some of them have done dozens of my camps or seminars. When I have a group of people very familiar with my handling systems I basically get to spend the week on course strategies (which is a LOT of fun); rather than foundation skills for handlers and dogs.

Well anyhow, they put this course together fairly quickly; and better than drawn. I’m sorry, “better than drawn” means that it more truly resembled the course that was set up on the field rather than the one that was on the course map.


As a group they each remembered elements of the course and spatial relationships between obstacles that became quite vivid as they reconciled their vision of performance when the did the walk-through juxtaposed against the true performance as they ran their dogs. This allowed them to intellectually own the course.

It was a fun experiment. Though I must say that I was a little disappointed because I thought the exercise would be quite difficult.

Follow Up

I must report that I have continued the practice of challenging campers to set up a course that they have worked through at camp. And absolutely never have they demonstrated the same ownership of a course than did that first group of campers. Now I am fascinated with the challenge.

There’s a new activity I’d really like to try. I want to set up a perfectly technical and challenging course and have them walk it directly before lunch. So then we go eat lunch away from the course, and allow them all to chat and carry on and socialize… you know how people lose focus when they’re hungry.

And then I’ll pop out the set of miniatures and challenge them to build the course that they’ve walked. That should be a lot of fun.

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

Live to Run Again

February 22, 2009

I’m on the road this weekend both with seminar and judging. I drove up here, and will drive back. The real difference between driving and flying is that I don’t get to sit in front of my computer for the many travel hours.

These days I’m a big believer in books on CD. They keep me awake and entertain me. I wonder all the time if listening to someone read a book actually counts as a book that I read. While I should get credit for having read the book; I really didn’t, did I? Watching television, listening to the radio, or listening to a book on CD are all passive acts. Reading a book is an active thing.

When I was a youngster I recall that I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And my older brother, Travis, read it at about the same time. Well you know, he buzzed through those books in about three days, while I was at least two weeks on the journey. He scoffed at me with that older brother disdain and told me I was a slow reader.

But you know I have ever been an enthralled kind of reader. Some things just aren’t meant to be fast. I roll words around on my tongue. I want to hear “voice” in dialog so I pace the unfolding of dialog as I imagine the character might say it. I imagine the colors of the landscape and sometimes even capture the scents and smell of the trappings of the story.

Travis later confided to me that he skipped over the boring parts so he could get to the good fight scenes. I imagine he really liked the last stand of Boromir. But ultimately he could not appreciate the betrayal and sacrifice in the passage without knowing the character of the players beyond the very narrow dimension of the fight.

One thing I find in listening to books on CD is that I’m gaining a growing and fascinated respect for the readers much as you would actors in a good film. I’ve listened to a couple of very good books that were read by Will Patton. (as an actor: The Mothman Prophecies, Remember the Titans, The Postman). As a reader, however, I find his voice rich and real. He has read Thirteen Moons, Assault on Reason, and Crusader’s Cross.

By the way, at Country Dream we maintain a Live to Run Again library. For the people who drive any distance to come train with us we make the library available. Take a tape or two; leave a tape or two if you have them. The book on CD will keep you from getting drowsy at the wheel as you make your way home. For more information on Live to Run Again:

I haven’t planned very well. I took two books with me on this trip, and I’ve already listened to both of them. It’s about a 9 hour drive home (from Racine, WI to Waterford, OH). After today’s trial I’ll probably drive as long as I can. But the moment I feel a bit drowsy I’ll find me a hotel and settle in for the night.

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

A Critical Look at TDAA Games

February 19, 2009

First of all, if you are not a TDAA competitor, you’ll have to understand that we are not limited to a standard suite of games, which is true of all other agility venues that actually have games. How nice and comfortable and tidy it is to play three or four games. That means you can rigidly define everything about the game in terms of judging and scoring and, indeed, strategy for competition.

As I continue to review TDAA courses and games I’ve had to take notice that we have failed in some regard to take a necessary and critical next step in the design and development of our games. And you know, I have to take a big share of responsibility for this. When I chat with a judge about some vision of a game that is fuzzy or not terribly well  thought out… I all too often hear that they got the game right out of the Clean Run Book of Agility Games.

Okay, so I wrote the book.

But in my own defense, I will say this. I wrote the book like 12 years ago. And many of the games in the book were documented based on email correspondences with different people around the world. I frankly made a very earnest effort to make every game a viable game for competition, complete with scoring systems and qualifying criteria.

In any case, we need to take the next step as a community in taking a critical look at the games that we play.

I’ll share with you the definition for a couple of games that show up from time to time in TDAA competition. You’ll note that I’ve taken a rational departure from the scripture and verse of the Book of Agility Games… and thought them through a bit more for the TDAA.

The games documented below are What’s My Line and 12 Tone Row. What might give you quite a shock is the small space for which these games were designed. I probably should share some of the standard courses I designed for this same area. I found it quite a challenge.

The briefings are exactly what the exhibitors will see. There’s clearly more information that will be given in the oral briefing. But they key to a written briefing is to give the information required for the avid games competitor to develop a working strategy well before stepping into the ring for the oral briefing and the walk-through.

What’s My Line



The objective of What’s My Line is to perform all of the obstacles on the field without repeating or omitting any. The dog earns one point for each obstacle his dog performs successfully. Each obstacle has the same value, regardless of the difficulty of performance and regardless of the number assigned to the obstacle.

If an obstacle is faulted, the team will receive no point for that obstacle. And it may not be repeated.If an obstacle is performed twice or omitted the dog will earn a Failure, which will cost one point (deducted from the final score). The four-paw safety rule will not be used on contact obstacles, regardless of the level of play.

Time will be started and stopped at points designated by the judge. A maximum course time can be applied at the discretion of the judge.


What’s My Line is scored points then time. Time is a tie-breaker only. The team with the most points will win.


G1 – 12 points

G2 – 13 points

G3 – 14 points

12 Tone Row



The purpose of Twelve-Tone Row is to accumulate as many points as possible performing obstacles in the order and direction of the handler’s choice. Each obstacle has the value of its number on course. The same obstacle may have
different values, depending on the direction in which it is performed.

Time starts at the Start line and finishes on the table. The table is live at all times. There is no established course time. Time is a tie-breaker only.

Only 12 obstacles may be performed. The 12th must be the weave poles, in either direction. No obstacle may be repeated, whether performed correctly or faulted.


If the dog faults an obstacle, he will not earn the points for that obstacle; and it will not be counted as one of the dog’s 12 required obstacles. A repeated obstacle will be considered a faulted obstacle.

A special 10 point fault is assessed for:

  • For each obstacle more or less than 12 total obstacles;
  • The weave poles not being the 12th obstacle.

A dog that takes an extra obstacle on the way to the table to stop time after the weave poles will be faulted for the extra obstacle(s).


Twelve-Tone Row is scored points minus faults then time. Faults are deducted from the points earned by the dog. No standard course time is used.


G1 = 102

G2 = 126

G3 = 150

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

The Option

February 19, 2009

The host group that I’m working with in the morning has specifically requested that we talk about how to turn the dog from a compelling option. It is quite a conundrum if you really think about it. We work so hard to teach our dogs obstacle focus and a highly developed work ethic. And so when you present an option in the dog’s path how can we fault the dog for charging ahead full of steam and commitment?

Starting Out Simple


This is a simple kind of exercise. And frankly there might be a lot of good answers from a handling point of view. For example the handler might solve with a simple counter rotation on the landing side of jump #2.

Though to tell you the truth I drew the line suggestively. And that’s what the numbers tend to do… they suggest.

What I try to teach is that the handler is the “architect” of the dog’s path. What does that really mean? In this case, it means the handler can choose the path of the dog’s approach to jump #2 and changing the nature of the challenge altogether.


This is a simple vee-set, accomplished with a Post turn. Don’t think of the vee-set as a specific movement. It’s more of a conceptual thing. The handler creates the corner of approach to jump #2, rather than accepting the corner on the landing side of jump #2 suggested by the placement of the numbers.

The wrong course jump is taken pretty much out of the picture. That’s the theory.

A Bit More Difficult


If we change the numbering on the pipe tunnel the handler’s job is to draw the dog off the obvious and more compelling entry, and into the opposite side. This might be as simple as a Front Cross; and might be accomplished by something with more electricity, like a Flip or an RFP. In all these examples the handler begins with a counter rotation, which can be compelling to the dog.

But there are other options worth practicing an understanding, such as a static Post; or a Post & Tandem.





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

Agility Training in a Small Universe

February 19, 2009

Tomorrow I’m faced with a handling seminar in a relatively small space. This is nothing particularly new to me. I have hundreds of exercises rolling around in my head.


Whether I’m designing a course for sanctioned competition or a training exercise, I treat the boundaries of the field as though in were bounded by brick walls. That means a dog gets a 10′ turning radius on the dismount of a jump and, frankly, at least 10′ to make the approach.

I pulled this sequence out of my eBook Small Universe. It’s kinda nice to page through a bunch of exercises I’ve designed over the years. I might start out with this one. But it strikes me that with a little movement I can turn it into something quite technical and interesting.


Mostly what I was looking for here is dealing with wrong-course options. Some of the options are obvious, as in the turn from jump #4 to the weave poles. Some are more subtle, like the #2/#9 wrong course option in the transition from the pipe tunnel at #3 to jump #4.

On the Road

I’ve begun a short road trip as I write this. I’ll be doing a one day seminar in the small floor space, and then a half day seminar followed by a day and a half judging TDAA; both of these in the Racine, WI area.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to

Private Lessons

February 16, 2009

I have a semi-private session set for Tuesday evening in which I have a mandate to address contact, weave, and table issues.


This is an adaptation of a Ruth Hobday setup for training obstacle discrimination. This setup should do just fine. There’s a lot of stuff you can do with this set of equipment.


The most persistent issue I see with contact training is the handler / dog trainer’s ragged insistence on insinuating himself into the context of the performance. If I have a command for bottom, at some point I have to start asking the question to the dog “Do you know how to do this?” But, if you are shaping and fussing and micromanaging, then you aren’t asking the question at all. You are making yourself a part of the performance and probably retarding the dog’s ability to actually learn by offering.


The thing that bugs me the most about watching a handler deal with the weave poles is the constant correction of the dog for errors in the weave poles; unbalanced by the failure to reward the dog for a correct performance. The clever dog trainer will reward at a ratio 5:1 over correction. Of all agility obstacles the weave poles is the obstacle most likely to have this imbalance.

If a dog is a good weaver I would very much like to work on advanced skills. In this exercise, for example, I should like to practice back-crossing the dog on the approach to #10.


The table will be a common feature of all the exercises that we do. Table troubles usually stem from the misconception of the dog’s trainer that the table performance is a single performance or behavior when in fact it is a chain of related behaviors. Understanding which part or parts are broken is key to making the table an asset rather than a liability. These are the five behaviors in the table chain:

  • The approach
  • Attention
  • Assuming the position
  • Holding the position
  • Release

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