Course Design Notes – A Simple Change of Sides

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Proofing

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.

Handling

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.

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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: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.


[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.

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