You know I’ve pretty much stopped doing leveled agility training camps. It used to be that I’d have camps for as many as three distinct and well-defined skill levels from very novice to masters. What I’ve discovered though is that most exercises within themselves can be leveled to work on that thing that the individual dog and handler need to be working on. And so my camps tend now to be free-for-all in terms of level.

I hope that doesn’t put you off on the notion that you can learn a lot and have fun. Frankly balance is the instructor’s job. Balance is that assurance that everyone gets equal attention and equal time on the floor.

To tell you the truth back when I was doing leveled camps they were never purely leveled at all. People will often not understand what level they are competing at, and may fib about their level if they do. So now friends can travel together regardless of level and have a hoot of a good time.

Most good agility instructors understand the concept of escalation. If a handler and his dog are struggling with an exercise it might be simplified. If, on the other hand, the dog and handler perform in the exercise with sleepy/dreamy ease then the exercise could be, and should be, made more challenging and complicated. It’s not that I am opposed to simple success in an exercise. What I really want is to raise the criteria enough that the handler and dog have an opportunity to learn something new and make their game that much more keen and sharp. There is always a next step.



Last night’s fixation exercise became a study of the Tandem Turn. I’ll go back to the original exercise if you want to show you where the Tandem was implicit. What I found (at  least one of) my students doing was falling into safe and familiar movement even though the movement elevated risk, slowed the dog, and wobbled the lines.

So, we worked on the Tandem.

In this sequence what I want is for the handler to address the first two jumps dog on right, and commit to the cross (a Tandem Turn) on the landing side of jump #2. And then, taking the big long run to jump #4 with dog on left, the handler gets the dog to turn left again with a Tandem Turn.

Some of my students are so comfortable with their Tandems that they will invariably layer the Tandem. That basically means that they don’t actually run full around the landing side of the jump. They show the turning signal on the landing side but fade back to the take-off side or layer the jump altogether.

I should go through my step-by-step rules for teaching the Tandem. If you want to hear it again, let me know. I remind people from time to time that I’ve earned dozen’s of USDAA master gamblers qualifying scores by using the Tandem as the initial movement of separation and acceleration.

Same Thing at a Distance?


If the sequence really looked to easy for some… I’ll remind them of our original distance containment line. Can we run the same sequence  with the handler working at a considerable distance?

A couple of important teaching points will invariably come up in this escalation of the exercise. The dog turns when the handler turns not where the handler turns. So in general a student might be surprised at their ability to sell the turn (a Tandem don’t you know) from jump #2 to the pipe tunnel at #3 even though they are 15′ away from the dog’s turning point.

But where the handler is most likely to fail is in the send to the pipe tunnel at #5. There is little or no room for movement ~ so running with the dog is out of the question. What actually fails here is the handler doesn’t know which direction he needs to face when not moving or not moving very well. You’ve seen this discussion from me before in the discussion of pinwheels.

Most handler’s will turn their shoulders as though they were moving parallel to the dog and so will be facing back into the 10/50 corner in the upper left of the course map. But the handler isn’t actually moving at all and so all the rules about moving parallel to the dog are out the window. The handler needs to face T-square to the dog’s path and frankly face the 50/50 corner in the upper right of the course map to properly apply pressure against the dog’s path.

What? Even more escalation?


Now the exercise really becomes a matter of understanding pressure, movement, and focus direction. I’m a stickler form students using their occupation of the containment line with energy and movement rather than with standing still, arm flapping, and shrill verbalization.

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


One Response to “Escalation”

  1. Mary Says:

    Would you please go over your step by step rules for teaching the tandem turn? I really enjoy your blog. It has helped me a great deal.Thanks.

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