Archive for March, 2009

Distance Training Fundamentals

March 31, 2009

Tuesday nights are pretty much given over to a series of semi-private lessons with a group of students who come out regularly. We have temporary sale on private lessons in which the fee is drastically reduced and all the money goes to a facility beautification fund. Yes, I’m selling my body for rhododendrons (or cone flowers, or whatever).

The Tuesday night group has a variety of objectives for these focus lessons; things like contact training, weave poles, and distance.

So tonight, if anybody actually shows up, I’m going to put them through one of my foundation drills for a basic dead-away send (in this case, to the tire).

The Training Game – the Puissance

I will typically pose this as a game. One of the things I really look to expose is the corrosive nature of “competition” on the discipline of the dog trainer. Once you start ranking and comparing results among different individuals some of them will lose their patience and composure and begin to compete when it’s much more prudent to focus on giving the dog small training steps with lots of potential for reward.

1st Round


We begin with one side of the building cleared save the tire positioned at the back end. I explain the rules of the training game to everyone. The purpose of the game is ultimately to see who can send their dog from the greatest distance to the performance of the tire. We will proceed with multiple rounds. And after each round the rules of the game will change in some minor extent.

In this first round everyone can send their dog through the tire 5 times, and 5 times only with this caveat: each send must be farther than the last. If the handler steps forward of his last send line at any time, his turn is over. I have a couple of flat sticks that I lay down on the floor adjacent to the channel to the tire. In this round I actually will forgive a single misstep (over the line). But I make a deal out of it and tell them that they’ve used up their one fudge for the entire rest of the night. This is to remind them that I am watching and to be aware of the sticks that I put down on the floor.

Some will try to show off in this introduction of the send to the tire. I will observe this behavior without comment. It may cost them in later rounds when they really needed to use the early round for basic reinforcement of the performance.

2nd Round


This round is very much like the first round except that I’ll put the initial stick at 10′ from the tire. And I’ll tell them that they get three sends to the tire. The first two can be forward of the containment line, but the last send must be behind the line. Furthermore, if the handler stays behind the line for any send… then he has completed the challenge, and his turn is over.

Again, some will try to show off in this introduction of the send to the tire. However if they send to the tire from behind the line on their first send I’ll tell give them a quick congratulations and inform them that their turn is over. A bit of showing off here will deprive the handler and his dog of a couple of conditioning steps.

It’s always interesting in this step to see the point at which a trainer sends his dog to the tire. If He makes the first two sends from 2′ and 3′ away from the tire… then it’s a big jump back to 10′ for the last send.

3rd Round


The 3rd round is rather like the 2nd round. The handler gets to send three times… the first two of which must be forward of the line. However in this round the third send will establish a new send line that everyone behind must beat when it is their turn to send their dogs.

Now, it is the nature of a puissance that if a handler fails to send his dog from the send line established by the previous team then they have failed in the game and must sit and watch. However over time I’ve found this to be a cruel twist to the game. So what I will do instead (since we are in training after all) is establish a placement system. So the first dog that fails will be in last place; the second to fail in second to last… and so forth. But I will tell them that it’s possible for them to have redemption before we are through and advise them to get in as many positive conditioning steps as they can in the training of their dogs.

We will repeat this round until all at least one dog is being sent from 50′ or more.

  • * *

I will continue this discussion tomorrow.

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


March 28, 2009

Some hacker got into my web service provider’s space and did quite a bit of childish damage. It’s kind of a cruel and mean spirited thing like breaking windows and setting puppies on fire. I suppose there’s a special place in hell for the hacker; though I’ll leave it to Dante to frame the justice of their particular hell. Mostly people who do such things are cowards, and are exercising the only real power they’ll ever know in their lives, the power to corrupt and destroy.

Anyhow, the coward deleted all of the files that represent the electronic books that I sell (I have something like eight years of unique lesson plans available to anyone who wants a nudge in their training.) So I must re-upload the lot of them… a task for which I don’t really even have the bandwidth. But I’ll get it done as best I can over the next few days.

What the Heck

I’m nearly reluctant to write to my web log over the weekend. In the agility community people are out doing agility and having fun on the weekends. So my reader stats go way down-by half-on every weekend. So during the week while people are reconciled to not having any fun, they read my BLOG. Okay, that just doesn’t sound right, does it?

I figured that what I should really do is not skip the blog on weekends. I mean if nobody is going to read it… why go through all the work and trouble. But then I figured, what the heck.


The intention of this exercise is to force a right turn at the tire at #4. This is a job for a layered Tandem (a Tandem Turn in which the handler doesn’t cross the face of the hurdle). The handler stays to the A-frame side of the containment line. It’s important in the moment of the tandem to have reserved enough real estate to convince the dog into the turn by the step and rotation of the Tandem. Note that all the handler is really doing is turning the corner. Dogs understand enough about our movement to translate a natural movement.


The intention of this exercise is for the handler to remain to the left of the containment line shown. The turn from jump #2 to the pipe tunnel at #3 will have to be a Tandem Turn. Remind your students that a lateral distance step would be a good idea to sell the corner to the dog. The handler will remain at a lateral distance through the performance of the A-frame and when sending the dog on to the table.

I reckon some people will want to be standing still flapping their arms when the dog comes out of the pipe tunnel. It’s a more powerful signal for the handler to be in motion, parallel to the dog’s path.


In this sequence the handler will have to change sides to his dog at the dismount of the weave poles. This probably should be accomplished with a Front Cross (twizzle or Axel) to draw the dog around to line up for a straight send through jump #2 and on to the pipe tunnel at #3.

The Front Cross in question is what I call a serpentine Front Cross, which is more correctly a combination movement – Front Cross and Post Turn. Out of the Front Cross the handler really wants to draw the dog around in an arc that more neatly lines up the left side of the pipe tunnel. Otherwise, the right side is just about as logical to the dog as the other.

The handler is expected to stay on the side of the containment line opposite the A-frame, layering the jump and tire between himself and his dog during the performance of the A‑frame and table.

Note, the handler at a distance will be a legitimate proof of the dog’s contact performance, no matter what performance the handler subscribes to. If the dog is still in training it’s a good idea to reinforce the correct performance by stepping in to reward the dog. The table isn’t all that important, after all.

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

A Bender

March 26, 2009


This was our Thursday evening fun run course. It was quite a ripper. There were three bits that caused relative consternation.

1.      The opening – Most folks will do a bending opening here, basically leading out dog on right, and bending the dog into the turn to jump #2. It’s not a bad strategy, though there are certain mechanics that need to be attended for it to actually be successful.

The propensity of some handlers to square their dogs to the first jump rather defeats this opening. The dog should be set at an aggressive slant to the first jump while the handler views the opening as pretty much a straight line. That takes a lot of the drama out of the turn from jump #1 to jump #2.

I’ll also find myself reminding handlers-especially on the approach to jump #2-that they point more surely with their feet than they do with their hands. Some handlers will flap their arms at the second jump while their feet show no real interest in it at all. So it’s problematic whether the dog will actually get to the jump under these conditions.

Note too that Bending is a rather weak cue, rather like a Blind Cross. The handler’s position should be well forward of the dog and calculated to avoid any collision with the dog.

2.      The approach to the weave poles – The inviting jump after the pipe tunnel will draw dogs with powerful obstacle focus a bit wider than might be desirable for the rather tight turn back to the weave poles. And since this is the entry side of the weave poles dogs who mightn’t otherwise miss an entry will be invited to do exactly that if drawn in too perpendicular a fashion.

Frankly the handler should consider shaping the approach (the moment calls for a thing I call a serpentine Front Cross – which is more truly a combination movement, Front Cross and Post Turn).

3.      The approach to the A-frame – This is probably an excellent opportunity for a layered Front Cross… particularly if the handler can get some lateral distance while the dog is engaged in the performance of the tire.

The pipe tunnel might be a powerful draw to the dog coming over jump #8. If the handler has a clutching flaw in his Front Cross the approach to the A-frame will surely be spoiled.

Warm Up Exercise


You know, my boy Bogie got his first Master Gambler title in the USDAA many years ago at Fair Hill in Maryland on a course designed by Kenneth Tatsch that looked pretty much like #4 through #6 in this drawing. So while we were doing the handling exercise everybody got to give the distance challenge a try.

My girl Hazard pretty much nailed it first time out. The transition from the pipe tunnel to the weave poles isn’t really all that easy at a distance. As the dog comes out of the tunnel the handler should face away from the weave poles so that the dog turns sharply back. Initial movement toward the weave poles could cause the turn back to the weave poles to go too wide, and the approach too perpendicular.

Old Dogs

You know, I come back into the house after working my two young dogs Hazard and Blue. My old retired boys don’t go out any more for practice. While their minds might be willing; their bodies are old and cranky, and their eyes clouded. Birdie sleeps on his mat about 20 hours a day. He’s indifferent and doesn’t really care as long as he gets his meals on time. But you know Bogie knows what I’m doing out there. I might be anthropomorphizing… but I do think there’s a sad longing in his spirit. And he bounces around me for awhile as though saying “Put me in coach. Put me in.”

For so many years Bogie was my boy in practice and competition. He’s the smartest dog I’ve ever owned. And I miss our work together so much.

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

A Speed Transition

March 25, 2009

I reckon that I’ve invented a number of terms in the agility world. Indeed, some have stuck while others languish only in the obscure vacuum of my own vocabulary (and that of many of my students). Among these terms is a thing I call a “speed transition”. It’s time for a definition of terms.

A speed transition is predicated on the difference between “slow dog handling” and “fast dog handling”. These need to be defined as well. Slow dog handling is when the handler puts his movements forward of the dog… and pulling. The Front Cross and Blind Cross are essentially slow dog handling movements. It doesn’t really mean the dog is slow because a handler can get forward of a dog-no matter how fast that dog is-by a number of mechanisms, including a simple lead out.

Fast dog handling is when the handler is behind the dog… and pushing. The Rear Cross and Tandem Turn are the essential fast dog handling movements.

So a speed transition is when the handler makes a shift between Slow Dog and Fast Dog, and in either direction. I believe I can illustrate this concept.


In this whimsical performance of the serpentine the handler does a series of Blind Crosses. In the transition from black lines to red lines… a Blind Cross; In the transition from red lines to blue lines… a Blind Cross; but in the transition from blue lines to green lines… a Front Cross.

You might wonder why I’d use a Front Cross rather than a Blind Cross after jump #4. Well, the Blind Cross is a racing movement. I use the movement distinctly while I have a powerful incentive to race my dog and stay forward of his position. In the turn to the weave poles my motive for staying in front has pretty much evaporated and so I will default to the powerful control of the Front Cross starting as it does with a counter-rotation.


So let’s go back to the original proposition. The handler begins with dog-on-right; but instead of doing a Blind Cross he does a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #2. You know, the Front Cross has in it three steps that aren’t in the Blind Cross… and those three steps don’t particularly carry the handler downfield. So because of the choice of handling movement the dog is now forward of the handler on the landing side of jump #3. So the handler really can’t put his movement forward of the dog anymore.

So the red lines show the handler preparing for the speed transition (switching from slow dog handling to fast dog handling) as he neutrally brings his dog around on Post for a Tandem Turn on the landing side of jump #4.


I could also illustrate a speed transition from fast dog handling to slow dog handling… but not really with this particular sequence. You see the handler who has committed to a behind and pushing strategy is quite unlikely to have an occasion to slip gracefully into slow dog handling mode.

I’ll save the illustration for another day. It’s really too obvious.



Here’s a fun concept for a snooker course. It would require an aggressive qualifying course time (QCT). So, if I wanted this snooker course, I would likely have to do my nesting from here to keep it intact.

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


March 24, 2009

I used to write an occasional feature in my JFF Notebook that I whimsically called the Stinker… which was a course offered up in competition that was your basic ugly and ungainly clunker. Then one came across my desk (offered as a Stinker candidate) that was designed by someone I consider a friend. And so I discontinued the practice of publication.

To tell you the truth, I have in my time designed a stinker or two (note how mine did not merit capitalization). And with God’s grace the judge who must endure every agonizing moment of the stinky course… might even learn a thing or two about course design and the way dog’s move. There’s the rub.

So Nora writes this comment:

Bud-It would be interesting to me if you would back up certain assertions (AKA the “angry lines” of the Jumpers course you’re referring to) by posting the course or some portion of it and pointing out exactly what you don’t like about it. We all know that some courses run better than they walk, and walk better than they look on paper-and what’s on the paper is not always what ends up being built.

I could ignore Nora. Discretion is sometimes the greater part of valor, or so I’ve heard. But maybe she’s right. Maybe this stinker deserves a bit of conversation.

Angry Lines


Here’s what the lines of the course look like sans obstacles and numbers. Every turn of 90° or more represents a gearing down or braking.  By my count there are 14 or 15 such turns in this course. There are only 18 obstacles on the course.

The Big Picture


The course starts out with a 3/4 pinwheel that drags the dog onto the course in kind of a bummer technical moment. #4-#6 the dog gets to build up some speed… only to put brakes into a change of direction on the landing side of #6. We build speed again through #8 only to yank the dog back to pull to the weave poles; with jump #1 looming as a wrong course.

After the weave poles we have a yank-the-dog-back-and-forth-serpentine out to the pipe tunnel at #12. The pipe tunnel is not aimed in the direction of the course so the handler must step in to bend the dog sharply away to the panel jump; after  which, we yank the dog hard aback to the double; with a gratuitous dummy jump in the dog’s turning radius. After #14 it’s a hard turn left; after #15 a hard turn right. This has pretty much been the theme of this course.

Now again we have an accelerating sequencing from #15 to #17 leading to a jump presented at a severe angle. The dog’s consequential path fails to provide a square or safe approach to the triple at #18. The handler will have to shape the approach while trying to avoid the refusal.

Note the jumps presented to the dog at a severe angle; #6, #8, #13, #17, and #18.

There ya go Nora. I’m sure this one will get me in trouble.


Part of the problem with AKC course design is that there is a family of challenges and types of challenges that are required to be presented to the dog in a masters level course. The psychology of the design criteria often has the course designer wedging into the course crude attempts at satisfying the required challenges.

What I like to do, instead, is design a lovely flowing course, something that satisfies me at a basic level, and then go back in and find the requisite challenges. I’ve always been ready to argue with the course reviewer for the… um, subtlety of the challenge.


Here is essentially the same arrangement of obstacles. I confess that I moved everything out to center on the field so that it has nice symmetry and balance. I also don’t like having the weave poles right up against the ring rope… who knows what distractions will be presented to the dog there.

I removed the gratuitous dummy jumps; jumps that aren’t taken in the course and are just placed there to be mean. I figure this course presents a couple three options without being completely ham-handed about it.


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

Agility Chi

March 23, 2009

Fundamental to the work of agility is the connection between the dog and his handler. The handler’s job is to direct the dog while the dog actually does all of the real work and, indeed, is the member of the team that is judged in competition. The dog’s attention to the handler while focusing at the same time on the work at hand is a matter of delicate balance.

For the most part the dog’s awareness of the handler should be nearly peripheral, meaning that the handler shows the way with the subtle pressures of direction and speed of her own movement, and the more overt use of timely verbal directives. Occasionally in the face of a technical challenge the handler may direct with precision with the use of hand and arm.

When the handler is too demanding of the dogs attention the dogs focus is taken away from the flow and work of the course. This robs the dog of speed and increases the risk of performance faults.

On the other hand, if the dog is not attuned to the handler and pays little heed to the subtle cues of direction, then the handler’s ability to conduct the dog upon the course of work is diminished, if not impossible.

You Get What You Pay For!

The dog’s training should be approached with a clear vision of the finished product. If the handler intends to work at full speed with fluid grace and complete trust in the dog, with delight and energy, and with a joyful spirit, then perhaps these things should be practiced with the dog early in his training, and often throughout his career. Indeed, if these attributes are to be the hallmark of the team, then they should be integral to the trainer’s philosophy of conduct and training.

It is not likely that a hard-hearted and heavy-handed trainer will ever inspire a dog to delight. More likely the dog will do the work carefully and slowly to avoid the dark disappointment of his person. Often this dog can be bribed through training with food-treats. But in competition the dog will soon discover that there will be no bribes and no treats. And the only other principal motivator-the handler’s bitter disappointment and anger-may not be enough to save the team.

It might appear to the outside observer that the dog was not much of a candidate for agility in the first place. In truth we will never know… because it is the dog’s trainer who so artlessly worked to break relationship and robbed to the dog of any joy or possibility of delight.

The Lightbulb Moment

One of the most gratifying things about teaching agility is when one of my students experience a lightbulb moment. It might have been a thing I’ve said a hundred times, but suddenly they get it and everything falls into place.

I recall a lightbulb moment from my youth. In the sixth grade I was in band. I played the trumpet, with which I was frankly struggling. I was actually moved back by the instructor to a beginner seat, a fact that made me a bit shameful.

Then one day, in band, while studying the music sheet in front of me something happened. I snatched the music sheet off the stand and went to the front of the room to the band teacher, Mr. Flores. “They are in order!” I blurted to him. “They are in order, they go up the scale in order!”

Mr. Flores made a face as he struggled with the contradiction of being proud and happy for a retarded child. “Yes,” he said. “They are in order.”

It was quite a moment for me, because with the revelation of order, within only about a week I was able to solo “Long Long Ago,” and “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

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

Rare Melodies and Complex Chords

March 20, 2009

An interesting game has come across my desk. Although designed for play in the TDAA I am fascinated with it as a training opportunity. It is essentially a matter of understanding your dog and his capacity for work over a certain amount of time. The handler must also take into consideration obstacles that may slow his performance and, frankly, sequences which either inspire speed or gear the dog down.

The design of the Truth or Dare course (below) is frankly influenced by a number of factors. The size of the building and the available obstacles are obvious. But I also wanted to design for split‑group work in which the room is neatly divided into two.

I also am more and more the advocate for wide open running sequences, regardless of the size of the floor. Truly it’s probably not so much advocacy as a painfully learned skill.

Last night one of my students handed me a course map of an AKC Jumpers course from over the weekend that had skunked the class. And she said “we need to practice stuff like this!” It didn’t take much of a study of the angry lines of the course for me to think to myself ‘yah, and we need to stick sticks into our eyes and eat worms too’. I forestalled the inevitability of that cruel practice by suggesting that we’d have to wait until we can put up a big course on the lower field. Maybe she’ll forget by the time we’re in outside practice. They aught to fire the AKC rep that let that course go. Truly they can’t go on being so clueless as they do.

Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare is the invention of Jeffrey Boyer with valuable input from Bob Domfort. The game was played for the first time in December 2008 in agility league play hosted by the Capital District Agility Fun Group.



The purpose of this game is to provide the team with the opportunity to run a course that plays to the strengths of the team, with elements of strategy, course planning, and time gambles. Truth – The team runs either the numbered course, or Dare – The team runs a dog’s choice course.  The objective is to accumulate as many points as possible in the time allowed.

In both the Truth and Dare courses the dog will earn points for the performance of obstacles, using this schedule:

  • Jumps = 1 pt.
  • Tunnels, tire = 3 pts.
  • Contacts, weaves = 5 pts.

The handler must inform the judge and scribe whether the course will be Truth or Dare before beginning the run. However, the default is Truth if the dog begins with obstacle #1; and Dare if the dog begins with any other obstacle.

The Standard Course Time (SCT) is based upon the length of Truth course.  Time begins when dog crosses start line and ends when the dog puts a paw on the table.  The Timekeeper will blow the whistle at end of SCT. After the whistle the dog can earn no new points for obstacle performance and must be directed to the table.  The table is live at all times.

Truth Scoring

The Truth course is scored: Points – Faults + Bonus, then Time. A bonus of 1 point is awarded for each full second the dog is under SCT (up to a maximum of 10).  Each team starts with 28 points, the points available for the Truth sequence.

Standard fault apply for the Truth course. The schedule of faults is amended from the standard classes so that penalties are not quite so severe. These include:

  • 3 faults for: dropped bar; off course; missed contact
  • 6 faults for: failure to perform
  • Elimination for more than one failure to perform
  • The weave poles earn no performance faults aside from failure to perform
  • Refusals are not faulted; the 4-paw safety rule is not in effect

Dare Scoring

The Dare course is scored: Points – Faults, then Time. A fault of 1 point is assessed for each full second the dog is over SCT. The dog may take any obstacle twice for points; and back-to-back is permitted.

No performance faults will be assessed in the Dare course; but points will not be awarded for faulted obstacles. The four-paw safety rule is not in effect.

Combined Scoring

Although the two dogs have essentially played different games both the Truth and the Dare dogs’ scores will be compared for the purpose of placement on the basis of Points, Then Time.

For Truth, the game is scored points minus faults plus bonus.  For T (Truth), the team starts with 31 points.  Subtract faults as follows:  3 fault points for each S, 6 fault points for each F.  For each full second that the team’s time is under SCT for their level, add 1 point (up to a total of 10 time bonus points).  This is the team’s final score.

For Dare, the game is scored points minus time faults.  For D (Dare), add all the point values.  Subtract 1 point for each full second the team’s time exceeds SCT for their level.  There are no limits to how many time faults can be earned.  This is the team’s final score.

After computing all of the points, ties are broken by time, regardless of which course was chosen.

Qualifying Scores

To qualify, the dog must earn at least 28 points (which, you’ll note, is the point value of the obstacles in the Truth course).

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

Course Design Notes – A Simple Change of Sides

March 14, 2009

To add complexity to the design of a sequence, creating the opportunity for a change of sides adds interest to a sequence. Often the course designer will get stuck with a straight line of obstacles. Like this:


This really isn’t terribly interesting. Note that the spacing is for the TDAA. The 12′ we give the dog go focus on the next obstacle coming out of the collapsed tunnel is about as generous as the teacup dogs venue gets when it comes to spacing. But, the sequence really could use a bit of a handling challenge.


Here, what I’ve done, it taken the straight line and turned it into an “S” or a serpentine shape. It is the nature of a serpentine that the handler will have to find a way to change sides to his dog. It also lends a bit of variety to the sequence because there’s more than one way to solve. For example, the handler might lead out dog on right into an initial Front Cross between jump #1 and the collapsed tunnel at #2. Or, the handler might keep dog on right through the first three obstacles, and then use a Tandem Turn after jump #3, crossing behind his dog, to affect the change of sides. This isn’t an exhaustive list of handling initiatives in this sequence.

Layered Contacts and Misc Handling Notes

Back to the abridged training plan… part of the training plan was this sequence, which required the handler to send the dog out to the dogwalk and layer two jumps while the dog worked the dogwalk away from the handler’s position. The hard part here was not so much the dog doing the dogwalk… but getting the handler to understand the dynamics of a simple send.


The most difficulty I had with this exercise was teaching my students the simple discipline of sending the dog away to a performance. Reread that little bit above in which I suggested that the devil is in the details. The simple discipline of sending the dog away requires that the handler actually give the target obstacle his focus.

And yet in this sequence, the handler is far more apt to turn away from focus on the target obstacle in order to run parallel to the dog’s intended path before the dog is actually upon that past. This problem is exacerbated by the handler who so oversteps the containment line that he pulls back because he’s not trapped behind the jump-twisting his body away-in the very moments he should be in concert with the direction the dog is moving. Better not to overstep the line at all; the line is not your friend.

The handler should also avoid squaring the dog to the opening jump as though there were any obligation to do so. While I believe in a bit of Kentucky Windage (see discussion below) for the dog working ahead of the handler’s position, the handler should in general account for the direct path that the dog should take from point A and point B and, for the most part, put the dog upon that path.

Note too that taking a lead-out from the dog essentially uses up real estate that might be better used running with the dog and pushing the dog forward. Since the handler’s objective is actually to allow the dog to go forward of his position then the sooner that is accomplished the better. In an exercise like this it’s usually a better plan just to take off running with the dog in order to give the dog every advantage in getting ahead.


The performance of the dogwalk at a lateral distance is an advanced proofing exercise of the dog’s bottom contact performance. In every class with this lesson plan I tell my students that if the dog gives a good bottom performance then it would be a good idea for the handler/dog trainer to step in (yes, crossing the containment line) to reward the dog. And yet, less than 10% of my students actually complied with this simple dog training advice. No, I didn’t nag; but I made the mental note for each.

Of course we saw a fair number of dogs that missed the down contact, showing proof that they haven’t been trained to nor do they completely understand the bottom contact performance.


Inasmuch as I required my students to honor the containment line for the final two jumps as for the rest of the exercise; I was consistently called upon to describe the handling of the dog exiting from the pipe tunnel. It was remarkable how many dogs ran by jump #4 because of some small error on the handler’s part. Indeed, a number of dogs successfully got to jump #4 even though their handlers committed the same sort of errors as the handler’s whose dogs did not. That just proves the old saying… “It is better to be lucky, than good. ”

Redirecting the dog out of a pipe tunnel is a simple discipline. It is a discipline nonetheless. The handler should acknowledge that the pipe tunnel is a canon and it is aiming somewhere. If it is not aiming in the direction of the course, then the handler should take whatever handling action that is appropriate.


In this sequence the best handling option is probably a Front Cross. I don’t like a Blind Cross in the presence of an option. An option is an obstacle that makes more sense to the dog than the one that the judge actually numbered. Ever seen one of those? We use the Front Cross because of the wonderful counter-rotation of the handler’s body is so compelling to the dog.

In the picture above I illustrate how I do a Front Cross in this scenario. After a modest send on to the tunnel I wheel about as though addressing the dummy jump alongside jump #4. Meanwhile I look back over my shoulder at the exit of the tunnel. The very instant that I see the dog’s nose, I will whip into the front Cross, counter-rotating quite literally 360 degrees to draw the dog around for the approach to jump #6.

Some of my students actually used a Front Cross… which failed to get the dog to the #4 jump. In each case, the dog was inside the tunnel while the handler was engrossed in his wonderful counter-rotation. Okay… It just can’t be so compelling if the dog doesn’t actually see it. So, the significance of waiting to see the dog’s nose before actually beginning the rotation, is that that is the very instant that the dog sees the handler.

A point that I continue to make about timing is that it has nothing to do with time at all. Timing is about physical cues… where things are in space.

Not to belabor this rather simple handling exercise… but I also want to draw your attention to a small detail that some handler’s fail to completely grasp or understand. Prior to beginning the Front Cross I actually turn and move in the same direction the dog will be moving as he comes out of the pipe tunnel. Some handlers will actually plant themselves near the exit of the pipe tunnel and face back into the tunnel as the dog emerges. I want to avoid this handling on two accounts:

  1. By facing back toward the dog I’ve used up 180 degrees of rotation that I could be using to help sell the turn to the dog. I save up as much rotation as I possibly can for the moment the dog emerges from the tunnel.
  2. It’s hard to move when facing the wrong direction. While the dog is in the tunnel I actually want to put as much distance between me and the dog as I can. The Front Cross is always a messier affair if I’m planted in the dog’s way and embroiled in his movement. The dog turns when the handler turns, not where the handler turns. I will find opportunities over and over again to demonstrate to my students that a ten foot or twelve foot separation between dog and handler almost always leads to a more elegant Front Cross[1].

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

[1] This really calls for a discussion: Is handling a manipulation or a means or directing the dog? Messy and ham-handed handling tends to be too manipulative and controlling. Elegant and inspired handling nearly always shows evidence of trust in the dog, and isn’t the least intrusive. I promise to speak on the subject a bit before too long.


March 12, 2009

We’re going to send a team from Country Dream to the 2009 TDAA Petit Prix. And, it is our intention to make a good showing for ourselves. Consequently we will be practicing all of the games that will be played at the Petit Prix so that we have an advantage of understanding.

With that in mind, I’m to be the team coach. What I really would like to do is have my team ready for a take no prisoners kind of game. And that begins with running. So every week we’ll practice not just proficient technical performance. I don’t want to have to ask that question… what would it look like if you were in a hurry? We’re going to play constantly as though we are in a race with the devil.

I’m constantly wondering whether we’ve forgotten to run in this country… or that we never knew it.

The course I’ve designed here is intended as a Who Dares Wins course. That’s the game to be played as the final round of the Petit Prix. And we’re going to give a great deal of thought to the strategy of the game; and we’ll spend weeks and weeks calibrating our dogs’ working speed. It begins here.


The basic premise of Who Dares Wins is for the handler to guess how much work he can do in a given amount of time, say 50 seconds. So, looking at this course, how long would it take you to do the course with your dog? It’s not quite enough to know how fast you would do this course because in this game you can repeat the course or a portion of the course; and the more daring you are in your guess, the greater your chances of winning, so long as you can deliver on your guess.

At the end of the dog’s run he needs to be directed to the table to stop time. So rather than beginning at obstacle #1 the handler will begin his dog at whatever obstacle leads to the end of course. Do you follow that logic?

I’ll talk more about this game and all the other games at the 2009 TDAA Petit Prix in due course.

From Fire to Fire

It seems like I’m running from fire to fire these days, trying to catch up on obligations. Today is pretty much given over to TDAA business as the last few have. I’m reviewing courses, while finishing up the 2009 Petit Prix Tournament rules. Also Spring is threatening to be here. The lawns are greening up; the first Robin of the year is mudding in the front yard; and at least the maples are pushing out optimistic buds. All the old timers of course warn that there can still be a killing frost. I’ve several out of doors chores that have gone unattended. I guess the next couple of weeks will be full of excitement and manual labor.

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

Distance Training Notes

March 11, 2009

I’ve always been a great believer that I do not step out on the trainer floor without a basic plan. Indeed, I publish my lesson plans every week. But if you’ve ever actually seen me teach, you’ll find that I’m not much bound by the lesson plan, as though it were a script.

I compare this to a thing I tell my students all the time… “Don’t run the plan, run the dog!” It’s very similar when conducting students through a lesson plan. The lesson plan is an instrument of discovery. The very randomness of its nature will expose areas of weakness that cue my attention and efforts.

We always begin an exercise or sequence with what I call the “entertainment round”… that is, my students can attempt the sequence with the handling of their own choosing. They cannot learn a thing, if I spoon feed them the answers. Part of what I’m trying to teach is for a handler to recognize a problem and to draw on their experience to solve it. Also, if I’m not supplying the answer, I can about guarantee that the cleverness of my students will sometimes offer solutions that I hadn’t even thought of. So I too stand a chance to learn something.

I suppose the downside of the lesson plans that I publish on a regular basis is that they are the future vision of the training product. They don’t really reflect the adaptation of the basic plan, and the learning that goes on beyond the written word. Things that I actually learn are generally incorporated in future lesson plans.

Notes on Progressive Sending

The following are notes taken from an old lesson plan along with adaptations and teaching points I made along the way.


I do with my dogs for all obstacles a program of progressive sending. While the basic obstacle that I might teach a dog to go on to perform is the jump, the training program for the dog should not be limited to a single obstacle. In this lesson plan, we are teaching dogs to go on forward of the handler into the pipe tunnel.

Fundamental to any progressive sending exercise is that a) the dog is sent to the performance, and not dragged, and b) the handler should send from a progressively greater distance. Note that when we engage in such training we are in “dog trainer mode”. That means the handler/trainer should be equipped with a good marker for performance (a clicker should do nicely, however a good verbal marker is just hunky dory); and a reward for the dog, whether that be a food treat or a game with a toy.

When leading a group class you’ll find that the devil is in the details. The instructor should have an eye for basic performance and remind students of the little details that will allow their dogs to succeed in the exercise:

  • A distance send really has nothing to do with standing still. Indeed, slamming on the brakes or slowing dramatically are apt to draw the dog back into handler focus and away from the target obstacle.
  • Flapping one’s arm when sending is a small detail that is apt to draw the dog back into handler focus, and away from the target obstacle.
  • The handler should give the target obstacle all of his focus when sending the dog. That means the handler looks at it, points at it, and moves towards it. Note that the pointing is more significant by the handler’s feet… than the arm and hands. The dog pays close attention to the direction the handler’s feet are facing/pointing.

I encouraged my students to make their sends from as far away as they are comfortable and to progress only modestly to assure that the dog is able to succeed. I had to be very mindful of the handlers who failed to mark the performance or were late in rewarding the dog for the performance (I tell my students “to understanding the timing of the reward all you have to do is count: one-thousand one, one-thousand too … late!). I also had to be on the lookout for students who seemed compelled to get the dog to do a jump or two after the pipe tunnel (and before the marker and reward), or to interject an obedience performance between the performance of the pipe tunnel and the marker and reward. If the dog’s trainer piles on other performances and criteria, then it might very well muddy the waters so far as the dog understanding what he’s being rewarded for.

Notes on Lateral Distance Work


Another exercise we do regularly is a basic lateral movement drill from the bootlace configuration of obstacles. The handler stays entirely on one side of the set of obstacles, assuming that the dog will naturally work in a parallel path. Note that some dogs do this very naturally; though it is important to remind the handler that movement is key. If the handler stops to flap his arm and try to talk his way through this exercise, it isn’t likely to work.

If a dog will not do this, I would endeavor to teach it. The teaching steps are kind of grueling… but that can be said of most dog training tasks. If you don’t do the work, you can’t have the product of that work. Basically it’s just a matter of targeting the dog to the landing side of the final jump and then gradually working farther and farther away. As soon as possible the training stops luring (with the target) and begins a program of rewarding the dog for working away.

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