Archive for June, 2009

Get Out – Practicum

June 30, 2009

If you really think about it the “Get Out” is virtually always delivered to the dog as a bending notion. The “Glossary of Agility Terms” gives the definition: “bending A handling movement in which the handler steps into the dog’s path to effect a turn without the dog and handler changing sides.”

Always when we teach a dog a thing we want to generalize so that it is trained and tested in a variety of different contexts. The lowest common denominator when a skill has been practiced in that variety of contexts will emerge evidence as to whether the dog understands the skill, or not.

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This sequence is closely akin to the introduction we did to the “Get Out” using the pillbug. In the course of the sequence the handler has the opportunity to do a “Get Out” to the left and then a “Get Out” to the right.

Note that in my teaching I prefer that the signal be given with the inside arm. Further, I’d like to see the handler’s feet turn to point in perpendicular to the dog’s path to apply additional pressure and a cue for direction.

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In this sequence I’d like to see my students send the dog forward into the #2 pipe tunnel while layering to the opposite side of the unnumbered pipe tunnel. This puts the handler in a same sided handling posture on the 180° turn from  jump #3 to #4.

This sequence is a bit of a trap for handler’s who’ve taught their dogs to engage in a serpentine of jumps unattended by handler directive. If the handler cuts the turn neatly from #3 to #4 you just might find a number of dogs offering performance of the dummy jump. Nonetheless the handler will seek position with dog on left at jump #4 giving a strong directive to “Get Out” to the weave poles.

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The “Get Out” is a bit more problematic with a dog coming out of the collapsed tunnel. A dog always comes out of the chute with a moment of disorientation, requiring fairly prompt directional advice from the handler. So the handler should seek a position well forward of the dog and save up all of the bending cues for the “Get Out” to jump #4 until the moment the dog gets his nose and eyes out of the chute.

I find that many handlers are nearly unawares of what they do with their bodies at any moment in time. They’ll swear to you that they did this or didn’t do that though you can pretty much play back their movement in your head like the replay on a tape from a security camera.

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There’s one little implicit “Get Out” in this sequence. It would be from the collapsed chute to jump #5. Of course the handler has ample opportunity as the judge conducts his table count to get a position forward of the dog for the moment of the bend.

This sequence has a couple more delightful moments, notably the transition from the pipe tunnel at #9 back to jump #10. The handler will have to be Johnny on the spot here with compelling movement to convince the dog not to go wrong course into the #4 collapsed tunnel.

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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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Fun on the Fly

June 29, 2009

My pacing for the mini-clinic was pretty spot on. We had a large group and so I used methods to help pack in the action. In our routine sequencing we relied on “visualization” to get the sequence… so an hour wasn’t lost doing obsessive “walking the sequence”. And then, on my Get Out exercise I put two groups working on the floor at the same time.

I come from a culture where we never “walked” small training sequences. But it’s a different culture here. And I need to teach them to get the most bang for their buck.

Keen to keep everything level (making sure all my students get comparable time on the floor) I made sure that my more advanced students got little do over elements.

Ad Hoc Sequence

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From the two side-by-side pillbug “Get Out” training sequences I got a vision of an interesting longer sequence that took me only a couple minutes to put together. One of my constant observations about the propensities of handlers is that they fall in love early with what I call fast dog handling… putting all the movement behind the dog, and pushing. It’s quite lovely when it works; and it feels cool. But my observation is always that fast dog handling is like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day.

So after watching the entertainment round as nearly everyone struggled directing and motivating their dogs from the behind and pushing position… I specified that everyone had to run it once using exclusively slow dog handling; that is, with movement forward of the dog and pulling; nothing but Front Crosses and Blind Crosses, no Rear Crosses or Tandem’s allowed.

A funny thing happened (not funny ha ha, but funny curious)… everybody sharpened up, the dog’s were better directed, and about all of them tended to run faster.

End Game

We played a quick “What’s My Line” with the set of the floor. The rules to the game are quite simple… do all of the obstacles on the floor without repeating any or leaving any out; 5 faults for dropped bar; 20 faults for repeating or omitting an obstacle. Start on any obstacle you want. After you do your last obstacle through your hands up and shout “Done!”

We had two dogs do solve this puzzle in 17 seconds and some change. What do you suppose was the winning strategy?

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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.

“Go On” Training for a Toy Motivated Dog

June 28, 2009

Just to define terms, “Go On” should mean to the dog “move forward” or “continue working forward”. With this in mind the dog training will begin by shaping the behavior and then rewarding the behavior when offered.

Introduction

We should have this skill ambidextrously, but for the sake of this introduction start with dog on your left side.

Hide a toy in your right hand at your side away from the dog.

To give the movement cue the handler steps forward on his left leg while raising his left arm. At same time the handler should flip the toy straight forward with his right hand.

Continuing

As the dog begins to get the game you should delay the throw of the toy. Now as the dog moves forward on the inside arm signal in anticipation of the toss he is rewarded with the toy.

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Before too long we make the association with agility obstacles. A jump seems to be a logical choice for this training. Be thoughtful in your training that the directive to “Go On!” should be generalized to the extent that it isn’t only a jumping command.

Toss the toy as the dog gets up in the air over the jump. Ideally your throw will extend the dog’s path forward.

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Introduce a second jump when the dog seems to readily understand the command. Don’t be too flatfooted in your work. It is perfectly acceptable for the handler to take a couple of strong steps forward to support his dog.

Note that initially we’re bending the presentation of the jumps so that the dog’s tendency to curl back to the handler’s position will contribute to the dog’s success in the exercise.

Toss the toy as the dog gets in the air over the second jump.

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Finally, add a third jump to the training so that the dog will continue to work at a greater distance. The series of jumps curve to accommodate the dog’s tendency to curl back to the handler’s position.

The jumps shouldn’t be spaced too far apart in the early going. If you’re working with a large dog the jump heights might be lowered so that the dog has room to gather himself to jump. This isn’t about jumping… it’s about “Go On!”

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Over time more space should be added between the jumps and the curl of the presentation of the jumps begins to straighten out. Note that the handler might repeat the directive to Go On! Since the handler is remaining behind the verbal is about the only way to continue to support the dog.

Toss the toy as the dog gets in the air over the second jump.

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The end result is a Go On over a series of jumps while the handler remains behind. This is the most difficult distance send in agility.

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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.

Easy Peasy

June 27, 2009

For the mini-clinic this weekend I will set up station work for the Get Out using the pillbug intrusive step methods. But I also want to do some basic sequencing.

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The introductory set will be the red numbered sequence. This is simple enough.

In the white numbered sequence I want to talk a little about the handler as the architect of the dog’s path. Note that neither of the approaches to the two contact obstacles is guaranteed square. So I’ll give a little talk about the handler’s responsibility in creating a square and safe approach.

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The new red-numbered sequence features an opening that is interesting. There might be a couple of fine ways to solve. If I have to specify handling I might show a serpentine Front Cross in the transition between jumps #1 and #2 so that the dog comes out of the Cross square for jump #2 and a straight approach to the weave poles at #3.

The approach to the A-frame deserves a bit of discussion as well. The handler might want to bend into the dog’s path to push out the corner of approach to square it up more nicely.

The closing of the sequence is a bit of a serpentine with a nearly blind approach to jump #6. I really don’t care how a handler solves this… but I’m thinking that the handler would very much like to make the approach to jump #6 with dog on left.

The white numbered sequence features an interesting transition from jump #3 to the pipe tunnel at #4. We’ll talk about fast dog (Post & Tandem?) and show dog (Front Cross?) solutions.

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The red numbered sequence is a bit whimsical. I thought for a moment that this might be a good setup for “What’s My Line” (do all the obstacles without repeating any); but realized as I traced through a solution… that this solution would be obvious and easy to find. So… I just set it up as a sequence. It isn’t really even all that interesting, except maybe the transition from #7 to #9.

The white numbered sequence has a couple interesting serpentine moments. Some who’ve trained with me might assume that if I put up a serpentine I might want to see Blind Crosses. To tell you the truth… the serpentine is a good way to teach a Blind Cross. But the Blind Cross is only occasionally the best handling of the serpentine.

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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.

Teaching Distance Handling

June 26, 2009

I’ve been on a distance training bent for a couple months now, making sure to incorporate some kind of distance objective in every lesson plan. I’m working very hard to cure the Velcro-dog micro-manipulation that comes from insisting that the dog work constantly 18″ from the handler. I know that it’s possible to excel with an 18″ tether. We’ve even had national champions that basically run with their dogs glued next to them. It’s not a bad thing at all… so long as you have long legs and you can run like the wind.

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This week was about layering the handler’s position and lateral distance work. You can see in this example that while the dog is working away over the teeter/weaves/chute, the handler layers to the opposite side of the tire/weave/tire line.

The line of performance obstacles is actually a lot tougher than it looks. The teeter obviously will give some dogs quite a bit of trouble, even if they’ve been taught a bottom position. If the dog is confused by the handler’s distance then he’ll be inclined to come off the teeter side-ways, possibly missing the down contact and possibly not even tipping the board. Even if the dog does work smoothly over the teeter the fact that the handler’s position is next to a dummy set of weave poles, it mightn’t be easy for the dog to stay out for the set more in line. Then, even if the dog does both the teeter and the weave poles, getting on to the collapsed chute isn’t automatic. The weave-poles is a technical obstacle and does not accelerate the dog. If the dog doesn’t have a clear get out directive he might be just as inclined to tuck in to the handler’s position (and the tire) rather than going on to the chute.

This exercise had to constantly be adapted for the immediate needs of the dogs in each class. We had only a dozen or so dogs that solved the lateral distance challenge on the first try. The rest, we had to shape and pattern. For some dogs it was a mission of targeting and baiting the performance of the teeter. For others it was graduating the lateral distance at which the handler worked, in small incremental steps.

The biggest mistake that a handler makes in teaching the dog the performance of obstacles is to embed his body in the context of presentation and performance. For example, some dogs don’t really know how to do the weave poles without the handler working along side giving cues for continuing the performance. This has a couple of drawbacks… aside from the handler being a part of the performance it’s a lot like teach the dog that a set of six weave poles is actually six obstacles when, in fact, it is only one. Another good example is that bottom performance the handler teaches his dog on the contact obstacles. Some dogs really only understand the performance only when the handler is hovering over the dog’s head; remove the handler, and the performance evaporates.

These are errors that are quite easy to fix. The key is that the handler should train the dog with ever escalating criterion.

A Found Poem

I’m never much locked into a lesson plan. It should be ever-adapted to the needs of the students. Look at the lesson plan as a starting place rather than an ending place.

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The original exercise called simply for the handler to work the opposite side of the containment line while the dog worked away over the dogwalk. The real error of the exercise was a queuing error. The exercise dumps the students and her dog off in space on the other side of the room. Some students will take a considerable long time coming back to the front of the room (where the rest of the queue waits patiently). So a thoughtfully designed exercise will bring the dog back pretty much to the point that he started.

So I designed a bit of interesting handling after the performance of the dogwalk. This involved immediately a weave pole pull-thru, or threadle. Ah, didn’t this turn out to be an interesting moment in the exercise!

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When faced with such an obscure approach to a set of weave poles what many handler’s will do is this, they’ll push the dog out (way out!) in order to create a square and straight approach to the weave poles. Surely this will get the job done… so long as your definition of “the job” is to survive a sequence and have very low expectations of the dog.

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What I pushed my students to do is this… make the least of the dog’s path, and trust the dog to understand the entry. Some dogs proved that they couldn’t actually be trusted, that they didn’t really know how to find the entry to the weave poles and get in. But the truth of the matter is that this is not a failure in the dog, it is a failure in the dog’s training.

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This is a very specific training protocol that I work with all of my dogs, on all agility equipment. I call it “around the clock”. It is intended to teach the dog to find the entry and get in, without regards to the handler’s sending position. The whole point is that the handler shouldn’t have to artificially shape the dog’s path if he would just take the time to teach the dog his job.

As a consequence several of my students got this homework assignment: teach the dog the entry to the weave poles unattended by the handler!

Please note that when in train the dog mode the system that I use is to praise and reward the dog for giving the correct performance. For an incorrect performance I give nothing and maintain a completely neutral attitude. These might seem to be a statement of the obvious. But a lot of dog trainers don’t seem to understand it at all.

Shades of Prof. Harold Hill!

Some while back Barbara Ray and Chris Eastwood shared a link with me to a unique agility training sight promoting a new approach to teaching and handling distance work.

This book is entitled (and I kid thee not): Directional Control for Dog Agility and Training With Mental Telepathy.

I think that the author should send me a copy of the book for review purposes. The older I get and the more wobbly my legs become the more I think I should consider actually using mental telepathy to communicate with my dog. And if you think back on it… wasn’t this the system used by J.C. and Hazel Thompson? Oops no… now that I think about it I can clearly remember both of them using verbals to communicate with their dogs.

The intuitive bond that is developed to produce synchronized movement in the competitive working team can be used as a back door approach to create telepathic communications. The initial intuitive process is built using structured exercises that permits an individual to receive physical feedback of the intuitive process from the dog’s physical performance on an agility course. This intuitive process is strengthened with synchronized mental timing skills that are developed between the dog and handler to achieve the competitive team. Once the intuitive bridge is in place between the dog and handler, the handler can extend the process to two-way telepathic discourse. The dog is the active agent in this process.

That’s the spiel from the website.

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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.

Gearing Up for the TDAA Petit Prix

June 25, 2009

The 6th Annual TDAA Petit Prix National Agility Tournament will be held October 09, 10, 11, 2009 at the Racine Civic Center, in Racine, WI. For more Information contact Michelle Reehl at my3fundogs@charter.net.

For the past several years I have led warm-up workshops just prior to the TDAA Petit Prix; typically in the same location and using the equipment that will be used on the weekend. The intention of these workshops is really twofold. First of all I teach basic survival skills for play in the TDAA. The diminutive size of the courses and equipment gives the illusion that the handler doesn’t have to move as much or as briskly as in the big dog venues. I dispel the myth, and teach strategies for the practical use of real estate. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, I will focus on the games to be played in the National Agility Tournament; teaching the killer strategies for each.

This year I will be leading no fewer than six opportunities to prepare competitors for the Petit Prix.

  1. August 11-14, 2009 – Teacup Camp at Country Dream, Waterford, OH. Followed by …
  2. A TDAA seminar/trial on August 15 & 16, 2009. Accommodations are no longer available. There will be a Live to Run Again Library Exchange at this event. For more information contact MarshaHouston@hughes.net.
  3. September 18, 2009 – Small Dog Seminar, Springfield, IL; Followed by a TDAA trial on September 19-20, 2009; Followed by a big dog seminar on September 21&22, 2009. For information contact debrichey@aol.com.
  4. TDAA seminar/trial on September 26-27, 2009 in Exton, PA (near Philadelphia). For information contact Denise Lacey all4paws@ccis.net.
  5. September 29 – October 2, 2009 – Teacup Camp at Country Dream, Waterford, OH. Accommodations available. There will be a Live to Run Again Library Exchange at this event, as well as during the TDAA trial of October 3-4. For more information on camp contact MarshaHouston@hughes.net.
  6. October 7-8, 2009 – Petit Prix Warm-up Workshops, Racine, WI. These will be delivered in four modules of three hours each; focusing on different Petit Prix games; and all inexpensively priced. Participants may sign up for one, or all, to accommodate your travel plans to the National Tournament. For information contact MarshaHouston@hughes.net.

Best Tournament Ever?

Every year the Petit Prix Tournament has grown more competitive, the dog’s keener, and the handlers more savvy. This year promises to be no exception.

The TDAA has become a culture of crafty games players. This venue has no predefined suite of games. On a competition weekend we can play virtually any agility game. So the initial shock of muddling through some obscure system of rules has given over to cunning analysis. So when the competitor steps into the ring for the judges’ briefing the only questions he will have are the fine points that strengthen his working strategy for solving the riddle of the game.

Moreover, we’ve gotten over the “Oh how cute!” thing that people say when they first see a teacup agility course. Oh yeah it’s cute. But it’s also hard. It was our intention from the beginning to create challenges for the small dog handler that are comparable to what big fast dog handlers face in the big dog venues. In the TDAA the small dog handler must own considerable skill in handling and a deft sense of timing.

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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.

AL1RTO

June 24, 2009

My 2-minute dog trainer (mealtime) lessons with Kory the past couple of days have been an AL1RTO contact performance. Oh, that’s a new acronym: At Least 1 Rear Toe On. I’ve pretty much decided that 1RTO is too granular and 2O2O is too rigid. As a consequence I’ll accept either both back feet on the ramp or just one. Kory has big ol’ feet by they way. I expect that he’ll be growing in to them. He’s now 5 months old.

Kory has never had the full length of a contact obstacle. He’ll get to see contacts only when he has a rock solid AL1RTO working in our training sessions. I’ve taken one of my TDAA 8′ crossover ramps and lifted one end up on a milk crate. It’s set up on a small carpet down in the cool of the basement.

In this training I’m marking with a clicker. After Kory assumes a position that meets my criteria I’ll give him a click. I’ve also given myself permission to click multiple times while he holds position. After one c/t I’ll take a step rotating my position around him. If he holds position he gets another c/t. If he doesn’t hold position he gets my correction… which is to break off, turn my back on him, stop giving him warm praise. It’s completely neutral. And I can’t bring myself to develop a wrong performance marker.

I spent a day physically shaping, helping him find the position by picking up and putting down his feet. Then I spent another day lure shaping, drawing him into position with the offer of a treat. But now we are in free shaping mode alone. I give my command “Bottom” and wait ‘til he sorts through offering a variety of performances to find the one that gets the c/t.

He’s just about got it. He’ll get on the board and pounce his front two feet off and give me a lop eared “is this it?” look. C/T. You betcha it is!

My movement during the training is actually an important element of the training. I don’t want to practice the position by hovering over his head. That would put me too much in the context of the performance. Once he really understands the performance to the extent that he immediately mounts the board and pounces into position I’ll be varying my position and staying in constant motion. You get what you pay for… and this is what I want to own.

The Sternberg Method

As I’ve noted before – I subscribe to the “Sternberg method” for teaching a bottom performance. The handler shapes the dog into position and then rewards and rewards and rewards the dog for being in position. If the dog breaks the position then the handler breaks off giving praise and reward. It’s a very neutral correction.

With the dog in position, the handler will reward the dog and reward the dog and reward the dog. As Sue Sternberg puts it, “you reward the dog til you think your gonna die!”… and then…

You reward the dog and reward the dog and reward the dog.

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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.

Avoiding the Creep of CPE Rules into TDAA Games Play

June 23, 2009

Games from any venue are eligible for games titling in the TDAA. A popular training venue these days is Canine Performance Events. And some of the CPE games have naturally made their way into the TDAA. We would very much like to improve upon the CPE model and remedy certain of their habits that weren’t overly thoughtful.

The observations that follow come pretty much straight out of my conversations with TDAA judges as I review their courses and games.

Colors

Your briefing says: “The competitor must say the color and their level before they run or they will receive a score of elimination.”   I’m sorry. This is way too mean spirited for me. It sounds like the kind of thing a badly trained CPE judge would dream up. You know that some people are going to forget to make the announcement… and so they are getting eliminated not for performance on the field, but for being nervous or forgetful. You however, should demonstrate thoughtful professionalism. If it’s a matter of you not having the correct judging position; feel free to blow your whistle, demand they make the announcement, and then allow them to restart. OTOH… the whole thing can be avoided if you instruct your timekeeper to withhold giving a GO until they announce their intended color.

Snooker

It’s a CPE convention to give the dog a score of Elimination if he doesn’t cross the finish line. Indeed, what some judges do is put a table out there on the field somewhere to stop time… and will require the handler to direct the dog to the table to stop time (else, score the dog for elimination).

Well, this is pretty silly stuff. The TDAA should recognize the international standard for playing Snooker. Once points are earned, they cannot be taken away.

Now what the thoughtful judge will do is make it pretty much impossible for the dog to leave the ring without crossing a finish line.

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Here’s an example of my own course design. If you really think about it the properly designed snooker course should allow the handler to get off the field with his dog in a smooth and efficient manner. This helps with ring administration. I’ll tell the exhibitors during briefing that they need to cross the “Finish Line” when they hear a whistle or have finished the sequence through obstacle number seven. And then I will advise the time-keeper that although I briefed them to cross one line… some of them will be forgetful. And so the timekeeper should be alert to them crossing the other line. No harm no foul.

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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.

Harmony

June 23, 2009

Chi = Energy; Harmony and balance, fluidity and grace, timing and movement.

Harmony is a matter of relationship and attunement between the man and his dog. A strong connection between these partners in agility is highly desirable and even necessary. The plan for training the dog for the game is rather like tuning the dog to a focus of desire and intent. So when man and dog step onto the field each appreciates the role and quality of the other. Thus harmony between them is a tension palpably resonating with real energy.

The team cannot achieve real harmony if the dog is unstrung, not attuned, or unfocused. By the same token the man will disrupt the harmony of the team by his own lack of focus, eruptions of ego, and wailing of the inner child.

Harmony is a specific objective of a training program. In this regard the dog’s trainer is the composer of the product over time, and the orchestral director in the now. We rely on the notion that the dog is a clever and engaged student who we will bribe and reward for the clever bits; or we ignore or obtusely punish for the bits that weren’t so clever. The dog’s trainer should decide early on if it is his lofty desire to gently conduct the dog through a symphony; or in pedantic fashion always instruct note-by-note and manage or control the dog thoroughly.

RickRack

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I didn’t until this very moment even consider that I didn’t know how to spell the name of Hazel Thompson’s old dog Rickrack. I probably have it wrong. But my drawing here is as faithful as I can be to the old champ.

Editor’s Note: When I first started my web log on wordpress.com I didn’t know a “Page” (permanent sidebar entry) from a “Post” (chronological log entry). And so I accidentally created the file “Harmony” as a page, when it should have been a post. So, I’m doing some long belated house-keeping, moving the page to post; and deleting the page.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston:BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea Book – Agility Training for a Small Universe available atwww.dogagility.org/store.

Get Out – Using the Pillbug

June 22, 2009

The objective of the following exercises is to teach dogs to work at a distance. These exercises are presented as a program, to be engaged at whatever pace the dog is reasonably learning.  It is always important not to push a training program faster than a dog can assimilate the new skills.  As far as that goes, a handler should not move on before he or she is perfectly comfortable with the skill being learned.  There is no hurry, after all.

Working With the Pillbug

A pillbug is the pipe-tunnel, curled around to resemble one of those little armored bugs you can find in your garden or under the crawl-space in your house.  The pillbug is intended merely to be an imposing object which your dog must make a special effort to avoid.

Note, from Figure 1, that the handler will make a direct approach to the pillbug, with dog at side.  They should always approach the side on which the two ends of the tunnel are jammed together.  It will be easier to keep the dog from trying to squirm into the tunnel if it is close to the handler, than it would be if the openings were on the far side of the pillbug.

Figure 1

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The exercise is very much like the barrel exercise we have described from time to time in the Clean Run. The barrel is an obstruction in the dog’s path.  Our intention is simply to send the dog around the obstruction, without the handler having to resort to running around it himself.  Figure 2 shows the basic maneuver. We will use the maneuver to teach the dog to Get Out!

Figure 2

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The action of the handler is to:

  • Approach the obstruction with the dog at side, then
  • Step into the dog, encroaching on the dog’s path
  • Give a hand signal (picture hand on dog’s side, flicking out deftly)
  • Say Get Out, a commanding imperative.
  • Give the dog a reward and praise for getting it right.

After several repetitions the dog will begin to anticipate the handler’s action and skitter out around the pillbug with the voice command only, and perhaps a hand signal, and the body of the handler stepping perpendicularly into the dog.  It is not desirable to dispense with the step… stepping into the dog.  Get Out literally means, get out away from me, and take a wider path. And yet the handler should remember that the word spoken by his movement is ever more powerful than the word spoken by his voice.

Figure 3 shows the handler maintaining a pretty much static position and using the G (Get Out) to quickly alter the dog’s path, out and away.

Figure 3

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Once the handler has decided that the dog understands the basic command, the handler should mix up the performance by pushing the dog out left, and pushing the dog out right, around the pill bug.  Alternate calling the dog to tuck in at the handler’s side (Come) with pushing out and away (Get Out).  Be very patient with this step because we want to build on the dog clearly understanding what the handler means when the Get Out command is used.  It doesn’t hurt for the dog to have a pretty good idea what Come means either.

Now we change the exercise, by adding a jump. See Figure 4.

Figure 4

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The exercise is complicated to the extent that after the initial Get Out we add a command for the dog to jump.  The handler’s sense of timing needs to be pretty good.  As soon as the dog sees the tunnel, the handler should give the command.  Again, work both sides of the set.  After a pretty good work out on Get Out, include alternating repetitions using Come to pull the dog around the pillbug on the side closest to the handler.  Then, change the exercise again.

Now we begin the exercise with a jump, getting the dog to approach the pillbug at some speed.  The handler maintains the inside position, relying on a well-timed Get Out and then Jump when the dog first spies the jump on the opposite side of the pillbug.

Figure 5

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The exercise is no problem for the dog.  We simply have additional speed, making the handler’s timing more important.  But again, let’s change the exercise, and present the opening of the tunnel to the dog.

Now when the handler gives the Get Out command it is  to push the dog away from the possibility of entry to the tunnel.

After several repetitions of this, begin alternating calling the dog in, Come into the tunnel.  When it is clear that the dog has learned and understands this exercise, we change the exercise again.

Figure 6

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Now, rather than the jump, we put an additional tunnel behind the pillbug.  This is easier than a jump for most dogs in any case.  Start with a tunnel only.

Figure 7

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Then add a jump to start the dog with some speed.

Figure 8

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In the next sequence the pillbug is framed by two jumps.  To add some push, and distance, we put the second pipe tunnel out to capture the dog, and turn him back into the set.  This also gives the handler the opportunity to add a new command to the working repertoire. Tell the dog Go On! [Affect a Cockney accent and say softly “Gowan then!”]

Figure 9

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In this exercise the handler learns to keep working his dog.  Initially the exercise is the same Get Out we’ve been doing all along.  But we expect the dog to continue working away.

Figure 10

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After the second jump the dog might turn back in short, and lose the sequence.  The handler’s responsibility is to remind the dog to Go On, or if the dog really turns in sharp, the handler must push in with his body, and use a strong Get Out command.

Figure 11

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As the dog enters the tunnel, the handler should fade back, into the path of the oncoming dog.  Use the Get Out command for a brisk change of direction from the third jump, to the fourth and final jump.

Use this set to work both sides.  Alternate working the Get Out command with working the Come command.

Remote Control Dog

The movement of the handler away from the dog is identical to the movement of the handler up close to the dog.  Very often this is key to working the dog at a distance.

To test this bold assertion, let’s look at this sequence of four obstacles.  The handler initially works with his dog at side; as the dog commits to the tunnel the handler slides to the right while the dog is in the tunnel, then pushes in to reverse the dog’s course over jump #3.  The handler continues to move to his right, and as the dog turns back in towards the handler, the handler gives a Get Out command to push the dog off to the table.

Figure 12

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Now, let’s say that someone (say, for instance, a judge) has drawn an arbitrary line beyond which the handler should not pass.  How would the handler manage his dog through the sequence?

Figure 13

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As you can see, the handler’s movement is virtually identical.  The chief difference in the handling is that the handler uses the time the dog is in the tunnel to back-pedal.  This creates room for the handler to push forward as the dog comes out of the tunnel, so that the handler will not cross over the arbitrary containment line.

Figure 14

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As the dog turns back to jump #3 the handler slides out right, and as the dog turns back in towards the handler, the handler gives a Get Out command to push the dog off to the table.

This is only an analysis and not really a training sequence.  It is somewhat speculative at that. I’m pleased that I have a variety of students on whom I can test my wild ideas.

If you want to train a dog to do this kind of sequence, consider all of the individual pieces (which can be trained individually):

  • Happy tunnel – will your dog push off to the tunnel without you having to baby-sit him every step of the way?  Your dog’s performance of this obstacle should be thoroughly proofed.  Spend hours just sending your dog off to the tunnel and rewarding him for the performance.  You want it to be so spontaneous and such a happy occasion that when you whisper Tunnel your dog will turn and run and find the tunnel, any tunnel, to please you and earn the reward.
  • Turn-Back – Did you get that nifty little reverse direction as the dog came out of the tunnel?  Some handlers actually have a Turn Back command.  Surely teaching you how to teach your dog this command is an entire issue of the Clean Run by itself.  But it’s certainly a handy command.
  • Get Out – After jump #3 we told the dog to Get Out to change his direction out to the table.  Well, that’s what many of these pages are all about.  By the time we get to use it in this context we’re really hopeful that the dog is going to get it.
  • Happy Table – Will your dog go out happily to the table when you give your command for that obstacle?  If not, you need to learn to play happy-table with your dog.  I’m always amazed to see people’s dogs being reluctant to jump up on the table.  All you have to do is stand next to the table with a bag-full of your dog’s favorite treats.  Throw one up on the table and say Table Up! Then call him off the table again.  Do this about 2,245 times… and your dog will be very sure of what to do when you say Table Up, or whatever is your command for the table.

One of the most effective ways to teach a sequence that has the dog working away from the handler is to back-chain the exercise, starting with the last obstacle, multiple repetitions, and adding an obstacle in the back-chain for progressively more repetitions.  Start by sending the dog to the table (happy-table right?).  Then do the jump and table sequence, using the Get Out command.  Then add the tunnel, working on teaching the dog what Turn Back means.  Finally, put it all together with the first jump.

Certainly no judge will let you practice a distance challenge by carefully back-chaining it.  However, working the sequence in this manner will get your dog used to the fact that you might want to work at some distance while he works the sequence of obstacles.

Simple Sequence, Complex Obstacles

Now that we’ve learned to put a bit of distance between handler and dog, we can apply some of what we’ve learned to this simple sequence.  The seesaw, in the sequence, is a complex obstacle.  That means that the performance requires a complex chain of events from the dog.  In this case the dog is required to touch the ascent side contact zone, run up the plank, tip it and allow it to settle, and finally touch the descent side contact zone.  That is a complex performance.  Other complex obstacles include the A-frame, the dogwalk, and the weave poles.

Figure 15

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In this sequence a dummy jump is obstructing the handler’s path at the critical moment that the dog needs to be directed on to the seesaw after jump #1.  This is an opportunity for the handler to push the dog out with a solid Get Out command.

After this initial challenge the sequence is relatively straight-forward.  The major difficulty is for the dog to finish the performance of the seesaw even though the handler is not standing at side, attending to the dog’s descent.

For a dog/handler team to be able to successfully perform a sequence like this in competition, the dog should be proofed on the performance of the obstacle, while the handler is working at a distance.

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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.