An Introduction to Kentucky Windage

The Third Law of a dog in motion says: “A dog ahead of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position.” We see this law constantly in effect.

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Here is an example of the Third Law which can be observed on any weekend trial. The handler has mismanaged his lead-out, allowing the dog to get ahead of him in a straight line. The dog curls back towards the handler’s position and on to a wrong course.

The handler learns to measure the terrain over which his dog must travel much as an archer might make note of the direction and force of the wind. He learns to apply pressure against the dog’s path by a number of techniques. He will encroach on the dog’s path… swat with his off-arm… rotate his body towards the dog… and use “Get Out” as the directional when “Go On” was indicated.

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In this example, imagine the handler doing all of those things to apply pressure back against the dog’s path in order to keep the line straight. Sometimes these things actually work; sometimes they are just superstitious twaddle.

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“Pressure” is an individual kind of thing. Some dogs can be influenced by subtle pressure. Other dogs require the dire and dramatic. This example shows the handler fully back crossing the dog in order to draw the dog’s path back to the line.

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When sending a dog the handler just cannot have the lateral path presence to apply direct pressure to the dog. And so the dog’s tendency to curl back makes the erstwhile simple sequence a doomed mission. In this example the handler is simply constrained by an arbitrary containment. The dog naturally curls back towards his position and into a wrong course.

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An approach to handling this is for the handler to step up into the line behind the dog, centering himself on the dog’s path. By eliminating the lateral distance to the side the handler hopes to minimize the curl influenced by his position.

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Another dandy solution is to use “Kentucky windage,” aiming the dog in such a way that his propensity to curl back actually draws him to the correct jump rather than an off-course obstacle. In this example the handler nearly risks sending the dog to the wrong course obstacle to the left, following jump #1, but relies on the dog’s tendency to curl back to draw the dog to the next correct obstacle.

The Bogie Factor

Some dogs, with modest investment in training, will defy the third law. This is a dog of a type. Just to give it a name, let’s call it “the clever dog.” Nothing straightens the lines like the certainty of mission in the mind of a clever dog.

There are certain dogs that are more prone to be clever than others. It is a phenomenon that can appear in nearly any dog and any breed, but is an exceptional trait. A clever dog will know the names of the obstacles and understand the meaning of each word in a small vocabulary of directional commands. Further, a clever dog will understand flow and drive to such an extent that he will continue movement and seek work even when the cues are not overt.

Any training program for working a dog at a distance is really intended to stimulate or nurture the potential of the clever dog. We speak of “giving the dog permission,” or “empowerment.” You could call it “unfettering the dog.” What we really want to do is to promote the dog’s problem solving ability, enhance his understanding of the game, and allow him to be a thinking animal.

To what extent the dog’s cleverness is hereditary or to what extent it is environmental is relatively unknown. Yet there is ample evidence that nearly any dog will rise to learn the work of a clever dog in an environment that demands it.

The Laws of a Dog in Motion

  1. The dog turns when the handler turns
  2. The dog tends to work in a path parallel to the handler’s path
  3. A dog ahead of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position
  4. The dog gets his speed cue from the handler’s speed
  5. The dog gets his direction cue from the handler’s shoulders, toes, hips, and movement

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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