This Year’s Birds ~ Last Year’s Nests

My campers this week are for the most part Midwesterners. You know… St. Louis to northern Indiana, with a Texan (San Antonio) thrown in for good measure. Several have trained with me before and are accustomed to my gruff coaching style.

Funny thing… when I have people training with me for the first time I always ask them if anybody had warned them that I might make them cry. Invariably the answer to that is yes. Sometimes I wonder at this and consider a different teaching style that suggests I should work really hard at validating them or basically just sugar coating my sardonic wit.

Here’s the hard part for most people. When things get rocky whilst directing the dog on course, many handlers will want to make it a matter of “why the dog doesn’t follow their direction.” And I will tell them that the dog went precisely where directed. This is, by the way, why I’m not a big fan of correcting the dog while doing sequencing work. Why should a handler correct the dog for following the handler’s directive?

Anyway, on day one I did not make anybody cry. I know it sounded like I was building up a story for that. Last week, however, I actually made four cry which equals my personal best at a camp or seminar. My personal recollection of camp last week is that it was very successful in bringing my students to some new plateau of handling and relationship with their dogs. And so a few tears is no dear price to pay, especially since they weren’t mine. And besides, I can just look at Alice, and she’ll cry. So it’s a bogus statistic.

Eric Larson showed up this morning, set up his three camera system, and captured much of the day’s pain and glory. While I was a little aware of being under the eye of the camera mostly I worked to conduct this training exactly as I would in any other camp week. I’ll keep all of you informed as to when and how you can view the video.

I want to share with you an end of day exercise I put up for this group. On the face of it this looks somewhat technical. But any sequence is essentially a riddle. I look for skill, repertoire and execution. These are the things that I teach.


In general this became a Front Crossing kind of exercise. I wanted to set up a sequence that demands three or four different kinds of Front Crosses. This sequence pretty much does the trick.

Typically what I find about the Front Cross in the American handler… is that a handler has one basic concept for a Front Cross. So if the challenge demands that the mechanics or execution of the Cross need to adapt to a specific challenge then the Cross might not serve to answer the riddle very elegantly at all. More and more my teaching method is to make the handler understand his job. So I can say… don’t do the turn, do your job. The movement is a literal evolution of the handler doing his job.

In this sequence I might see a rolling Front Cross from jump #4 to the pipe tunnel at #5; a layered Front Cross in the transition from #5 to jump #7; a blind Front Cross from jump #7 to #8; and a simple Front Cross from #8 to jump #9. I apologize for hanging these expressions out there like a riddle. Only a careful student of my teaching will know what I just said.

There might be several elegant solutions to this sequence. Keep in mind that whatever works is right. You don’t have to fix a thing that is working. If I specify handling it is not to suggest that it is the one true way. I believe nothing of the sort. If I say “try this”… it is so we can work on refining an important handling skill for our game.


In the evening a couple of my students came out for their weekly private lessons. It pulled me away early from camp dinner. Okay I only missed desert and a lot of camper conversation.

Anyhow, we ran the previous sequence that was set up and numbered for campers. And after about 35 minutes or so I renumbered as shown in this illustration. As it turns out what these two students needed to understand is the execution of the technical Tandem from the A-frame to the pipe tunnel at #9. It was quite an easy fix. The biggest mistake handlers will make with the dog turning away from the handler’s position on the dismount of a technical obstacle… is making the cue to turn a hand signal. Frankly, there is no movement that is solely a hand or arm signal. Any movement should be communicated by the movement of the handler’s feet. I showed them that they should step towards the dog applying pressure while the dog is still on the ramp. Their problems with the turn promptly evaporated.

Okay… I’m off to a good night’s sleep so I’m ready to rock ‘n roll in the morning.

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


3 Responses to “This Year’s Birds ~ Last Year’s Nests”

  1. solvt Says:

    Yes – it is a riddle…. I really hope Eric Larson captured how the “Blind Front Cross” is to be executed so I can have a chance to see and learn that….


    • budhouston Says:

      Hey Solveig, well the Blind “Front” Cross is simply a Blind Cross. I was trying to emphasize that the Blind Cross is one of the 8 different kinds of Front Crosses.


  2. Erica Says:

    Technically, you aren’t making your students cry, self-realization is. The frustration in trying to overcome an obstacle in training becomes so much more intense in a small group setting, especially with the pressure of having things fall to pieces in front of one’s mentor. Realizing that the same dang problem still rears its ugly head after you think it’s been quashed once and for all is enough to break a person. When the body refuses to conform to what the brain is telling it, or when the brain refuses to translate what the ears have taken in, that’s when the tears flow. We don’t seek sympathy, but hope for empathy since the tears you see are a result of caring probably a bit too much about a game we love to play in the park with our dogs on weekends.

    Erica, who is proud to represent two notches in your belt, and also cries unabashedly after a really good run.

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