Archive for July, 2009

The Architect 101

July 31, 2009

While I was patting myself on the back the other day for the “magic trick” in Washingtonville I have to confess to putting up a Snooker course for Starters that was wrong. It featured an A-frame as the blue obstacle with the red jumps set in such a way that a managed approach was required.

BLOG446_01I’m afraid that I watched a series of dogs dump unceremoniously off the side of the A-frame as the handler attacked the obstacle with a doomed plan of execution. One lady made the approach so badly, with dog on right as I’ve drawn here that the dog didn’t even have room to get up high enough on the A‑frame to make it very dangerous. That’s a small consolation.

Okay, nobody was hurt. I am abashed to add to this, no thanks to me. And I will not make this mistake again. Novice should be treated as absolute beginners without any basis of training or understanding of the handlers’ craft in agility. They’ll figure it out over time. In the mean time, I will remind myself that it’s not right for the Novice player that the riddle should be: “do you know how to do this without killing your dog?”

Adding the “Managed Approach to Contact Obstacles” to a Training Curriculum


What I’ve done in this diagram is drawn and extended two lines that crosses through opposite corners of the A-frame. From within the safe zone the dog can move in a straight line up and over the A-frame without being dumped over the side. Approaching the A-frame from the danger zone guarantees that the dog will dump over the side if he holds a straight line. Frankly, many dogs will learn to look out for their own safety if the handler isn’t thoughty enough to do some of the thinking for the team.

BLOG446_03I’ve drawn here a handler with her dog out in the danger zone. The key to managing the approach to the A-frame for it to be safe for the dog is to visualize a corner of approach that is in the safety zone. The handler must be committed to getting the dog to that corner of approach before actually making the approach.

I’ve drawn a big black “X” at a spot that is sensible for a corner of approach. I’ve also drawn a little red “x” to indicate a spot that is simply awful, because out of the turn many dogs will not have sufficient impulsion to get up and over the ramp without clawing and scrabbling furiously to beat the slope.


It is useful in the curriculum of agility training to practice the movements which will help create the managed approach. Which movement we want to use really depends on where we want the dog to go after the A-frame. If the course is straight ahead or a turn to the right, then a simple Post Turn might do the trick (K.I.S. – I never mention the second ‘S’).

While the Post Turn is one of the most common movements in agility too many handlers take it for absolute granted. It is the handler’s job to draw the dog around his “post” position. If the handler simply turns, drops connection and doesn’t do his job, the dog might easily tuck up on his opposite side as though the handler had conducted a Blind Cross… and once again we have an unsafe approach to the A-frame from the danger zone.


If the course goes to the left (given this scenario) then the handler probably wants to use a Front Cross to create the approach to the A-frame. This is a movement that I call the squaring Front Cross, for obvious reasons. We want a square and safe approach to the A-frame.

The handler must be mindful that the dog turns when the handler turns. The practice of the canny handler will allow the dog to get to the corner of approach before conducting the dog into the turn with the rotation of the Front Cross. If the handler gets antsy and fidgety and over-anxious… and turns too soon… then the dog will also turn too soon and make an unsafe approach to the A‑frame from the danger zone.

Big Deal! Moving from Magic Trick to Magic Trick

Tomorrow morning begins a very small games camp here at Country Dream. It’s been about four or five years since I ran a games camp. I think we had about 20 dogs running in that last camp. We made a decision then, watching the agility world change around us, that we would discontinue doing these, because fewer people were actually interested in agility for the fun of it.

We didn’t market this camp much. And I’ll tell you … this one’s going to be for our recreation. I’m going to get in a lot of quality play with my girl Hazard. I’ve been so preoccupied with Kory that Hazard has had a bit of a vacation (yah, that’s the ticket. A vacation.)

Casual Reading?

This is Gina’s blog. To tell you truth what I’m most fascinated by is the interpretation of language. Gina is English and she blogs about agility and for all of that she speaks a different language than US.

One thing I find interesting is that the Brits speak of the colors of snooker obstacles rather than the numbers. Gina writes: “Rum … picked up a 2nd Q in Novice Snooker because he went back over the start before pink and black.” Just so you know “pink and black” are the #6 and #7 obstacles in snooker. While I’m pleased with myself that I recognize the color coding of the snooker obstacles, I’ll be darned if I know what the rest of the sentence means. Does that mean she didn’t get the #6 and #7 in the closing? Because Rum went back over the start (crossed the finish?) And truly, if the qualifying criteria is the same in the U.K. as in the U.S. then Rum would have had to do three reds, two blacks and a pink in the opening in order to qualify (though Novice might only require 35 points to qualify rather than 37.. meaning that Rum could have qualified with a blue a pink and a black in the opening.)

Gina often speaks of being “chuffed” when she competes. An American might want to translate that as being out of breath (chuffing, don’t you know). I think it actually means something like “stoked” or dizzy-happy and pleased.


You probably know that I’m doing some research on teeter fear in agility. I’ve gotten dozens of very interesting emails from different people sharing their experiences with me. I’ll share these with you in due course. I think it’s important that the collective knowledge for training dogs in this sport ultimately has a repository.

It’s worthwhile to note that there are people out there who’ve done some really good foundation work on the topic. I’ve especially been fascinated with the study of “Teeter Whip”. Barb Levinson pointed me to a link on the Clean Run site that pointed me here:

Teeter Whip –

There’s an excellent discussion of “teeter whip” and a video that will astound you.

I’ve had to add the term “teeter whip” to the Glossary of Dog Agility Terms.

RYG the BuBa PeeBee!

Course by Stuart Mah



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

The Designer’s Intent

July 30, 2009


The long straight line to the tire only wobbles briefly at the pipe tunnel. It would be easy for the handler to be trapped on the approach side of the initial tunnel/A-frame discrimination and not be able to support the dog properly out to the tire. Indeed if the handler is too far behind the dog might wrap to a wrong course performance. Note that a straight presentation of the two opening jumps offers the A-frame all the way.

The dog will get a second look at the discrimination. Though if you really study the dog’s consequential path coming off the dogwalk, with a right turn after jump #8, the line now favors the pipe tunnel… which the judge has slyly numbered the A-frame for performance.

Dog and handler face one last little discrimination with the pipe tunnel at the #13 short set of weave poles. Note that if the handler runs all the way down to the tire after the performance of the A-frame, it seems unlikely that he’ll be in any position at all to do anything particularly elegant to keep the dog out of the pipe tunnel.

Another Handling Riddle?

Okay… The course designer has pretty much described the intended challenges (as though you couldn’t clearly see them yourself). How would you handle this sequence?


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

A Review of Teeter Fear

July 28, 2009

I’m seeking comment from personal experience on training steps for the teeter with special interest in remedial training methods for dogs that demonstrate a fear of the teeter. My own experience with training the teeter spans a period of more than 20 years; and I have supervised the introduction of the teeter to hundreds of dogs. That being said, my knowledge is surely incomplete.

Certainly dogs are as different and as complicated as humans. So there isn’t likely to be any one size fits all answer. However, a dog trainer should always find interest in new tools and new remedies.

Below I’ve organized some of my writing on teeter training and fear from over the years. It’s a bit of an eclectic collection intended to provoke comment and input.

I look forward to hearing from anyone who’d like to contribute. I’ll summarize the comments in due course.

A Remedy to Teeter Fear – Seek the Pivot

Teresa, a student of mine who’s been struggling with a performance fear on the teeter with her young Dachshund related to me some success she’s had in a new training protocol. She rewards her dog for seeking out the pivot point and rocking the board forward. And from this she reports considerable success in overcoming the dog’s fear.

To dog agility old timers this statement of training objective is going to seem a bit retro. Indeed, in the early days of agility this was typically the statement of objective. The real problem with “seek the pivot point” is that it led to a performance of the tipping plank that was altogether too slow. Consequently within the agility community trainers have grown to set more aggressive criterion for performance: Run to the end of the board; ride it down; and assume an unambiguous position until released.

And yet, I am struck by Teresa’s report of success in the method. This suggests that seeking the pivot point, while contributing to an overall slower performance of the teeter, might be an important remedy to teeter fear, allowing the dog to grow his confidence.

The Third Fear of the Teeter

Most often teeter fear (or “Golden Terror”) is described as an aversion to movement beneath the dog’s feet; and just as often is said to be an aversion to the noise the teeter makes.

Barbara Ray submits that the third fear of the teeter is the jarring shock of the plank hitting the ground or floor. It’s like the old joke goes “Falling doesn’t hurt much; It’s the landing that’ll get you.”

This suggests that it would be useful for some dogs for the handler to take hold of the plank and gentle it down during practice. Or, a pillow or cushion can be placed where the tip of the plank strikes the ground to cushion the blow.

It strikes me too that Teresa’s “Seek the Pivot” remedy might very well work with a dog that is fearful of the jarring shock of the teeter hitting the ground.

Donni’s Aluminum Monster

There’s a teeter in use in the TDAA that is made of folded aluminum sheet, and not terribly thick at that. When I walk a course it is my habit to push down the teeter as I walk by it. It’s a thing I do to gather information, allowing me to gauge whether the teeter is heavy and slow, or light and fast.

Well, this aluminum thing set itself to quivering when it banged on the floor. I suspect it might even have set up a humming tone rather like a tuning fork. I banged it down a second time and put the flat of my hand on it. Sure enough it was shivering from the reverberating shock.

It proved to be a bad weekend for dogs’ confidence on the teeter.

I think that teeter will have to be retired from TDAA competition!


Reviewing Everything I Know about Teeter Fear

I have a private lesson upcoming with a student whose dog demonstrates significant anxiety in the performance of the teeter. And so I’ve been rummaging through a chest of dog trainer stuff at the back of my mind just to go over what I think I know about this problem. Marsha’s take on it is that it might be a difficulty with the dog-trainer. I’ll come back to this idea later[1].

Dogs are unique and individual, complicating the dog trainer’s task. The work of training dogs cannot be approached in assembly line fashion as dogs will defy being cast by mold. Though there are certain breeds that seem to be disposed to fear of the teeter—The Golden Retriever is so prone to fear on the teeter that the name of the breed attends the syndrome: Golden Terror! —individual dogs of any breed might be fearful for one reason or another.

Many second-generation-dog agility trainers will give the dog work as a puppy on a tippy-board or Buja board so that the dog is imbued from puppyhood with confidence on things moving beneath his feet. I suppose it would take an extensive scientific survey to determine how effective this training might be for all dogs or any dogs. People have reported to me that their dogs are fearful of the teeter even though they had ample work on moving surfaces when their dogs were pups.

The foregoing observation isn’t of much use to finding a remedy for the adult dog afraid of the teeter.

One of our training protocols is what we call the Bang It game. Our training teeter is a big heavy and wide piece of micro-lam. It is set on a perfect fulcrum, meaning that it doesn’t have a tipping direction. You bang it one direction and it stays there. You bang it the other direction and it stays there. So we take the young dog and run him back and forth over the board giving him treats at either end without the dog ever actually leaving the board. It’s a fun game for the dog and it provides a context for rewarding the bang of the board in a repetitive manner. That again goes back to developmental training. But it is certainly an exercise that can be resorted to when even an adult dog has to go back to foundation training.

The positive dog trainer and the optimistic will suggest that the power of the reward might ultimately counterbalance and even overwhelm the dogs fear. The dog’s association with the teeter over time becomes a great positive motivator than a rather than a negative unnerving threat.

This rather general method has worked for me on the only dog I’ve ever owned that has shown teeter fear. My young girl Hazard has demonstrated distrust of things moving beneath her feet. But my stated training objective and performance goals with her were bolder with her from the beginning than they’ve ever been with another of my dogs. Because she is a slight thing—weighing all of about eight pounds—I wanted her from the beginning to run to the end of the ramp, ride that sucker down, and run off. I didn’t want to make a 3-second obstacle a 6‑second ordeal.

However I have seen handlers hang with a reward-based approach for such a long time that the great searching question of Dr. Phil eventually occurs to me: “How’s that working for ya?”

In class I often resort to obvious observations about the handler of the fearful dog. For example, if a handler’s dog is fearful of the teeter it’s often a mistake for the handler to run downfield to coax the dog forward. The handler must make the critical observation of his own dog: does running forward actually entice the dog to finish the performance? More often than not the dog will jump off the side and refuse the performance. My advice to this handler is to stay right at the dog’s shoulder until the board hits the ground. I’m also a stickler, in class, for the handler to reward the dog for making the ramp tip and fall.

Often the fearful dog could use a reassuring touch from the handler. The handler can place his hand (the handler nearer to the dog) on the dog’s withers resting it there ever so lightly. This steadies the dog and reassures him and gives him an immediate connection with the handler.

I might review some of the articles I’ve seen in print. I could look back through a couple years worth of the Clean Run. Certainly somebody has taken a comprehensive look at this problem.

This makes me think back to my early days in dog agility. The only book out there when I first started was Agility Dog International by Peter Lewis and John Gilbert. Their advice for training a new dog was to allow the dog to skulk about the perimeter of the training field and pick things up as they went along. For training protocols that method has a lot less granularity than I like (as an American… you know us, the over-analytical blokes).

Okay, let me go back to my discussion with Marsha as to teeter fear. She suggested that it might be solved by reviewing criteria with the dog’s trainer. Picture the handler/trainer alongside his dog at the teeter. The dog gets on the ramp and stops. So, the handler makes cooing and happy sounds to the dog and even gives the dog a treat. The handler extends another food treat. So the dog advances and then stops, and the handler rewards the dog again. The handler and dog might repeat this several times enticing the dog forward one step and one stop at a time until the board tips and the performance is finished.

Marsha is convinced that what this dog trainer/handler is doing is rewarding the dog for stopping and perhaps confusing or muddling the overall training objective.

Aye there’s the rub!

You know the agility instructor is ever confounded by the two-fold criteria of the teaching. In order for the dog to be trained the handler must be trained to train the dog. The dog’s trainer must set specific criteria for rewarding the dog and must have the discipline to recognize when the dog offers the behavior and must consistently apply the reward for that behavior. This is a lot to teach.

I’m a big fan of food reward for dogs. I’ve gotten a bit of criticism about this in the past from people with self-motivated dogs. But these are mostly silly people who only have clarity in understanding how to best reward their own dogs and who have little understanding of most dogs.

However I am quite the stickler in the misuse of food reward as a lure. I am confident in the assertion that a dog learns more in being rewarded for offering a performance than being lured through the performance. The dog following a bit of food in a hand isn’t really offering anything clever. He’s just following the food. The dog who offers performance in anticipation of reward is demonstrating canny cleverness.

I’m not sure I’m ready for my private lesson. It would be nice to find a silver bullet. Maybe we will or maybe we won’t. I’ll charge the same no matter what. It did help quite a lot for me to put down on paper the jumble that has been at the back of my mind.


Hazard’s Early Intro to the Teeter

BLOG444 copy

In preparation for the teeter, I’ve already introduced my pup to a tipping obstacle. I’ve got a foot pedestal that rocks back and forth. At 18 weeks of age she has already mastered tipping the pedestal in either direction and completely without fear. When I finally do introduce her to a teeter (set quite low at the central fulcrum) she will be totally fearless of something moving under her feet.


Golden Terror

It is so typical of the Golden Retriever to hate anything that moves beneath his feet, that the propensity of a dog to fear and loathe the teeter in agility is sometimes referred to as Golden Terror.

Here are some remedies worth considering:

–       The best idea is to condition the dog to the idea of thing moving beneath his feet at a very early age. Some people use a training device called a Buja Board, certainly named after Brenda Buja, a top competitor and intrepid trainer in our sport. A Buja Board is essentially a square piece of board (possibly 3’ x 3’ square) with a tennis ball affixed to the center underneath. The dog is treated to games and work while walking on the surface of the board until he becomes accustomed—and not spooked—by the movement beneath his feet.

–       For a dog that is introduced to the teeter later in life, it’s a good idea to use a training teeter for which the apex is adjustable, so that it can be set very low early on and gradually raised over time at a pace that matches the dog’s growth in confidence.

–       Of course it’s always a good idea to lavish reward on the dog for his bravery in the performance of the obstacle. If the reward sufficiently outweighs the negative reinforcer, then over time the aversive part of the experience will decline and go away altogether.

–       Some dogs don’t like the bang of the board, which is quite different than not liking the movement itself. A good strategy is to outweigh the negative experience with the application of reward. For example the dog’s trainer might take a position near the teeter while other dogs are performing the obstacle, and banging the board. For ever bang the handler will praise and reward the dog. Over time the negative will actually become a positive, and the dog will look forward to the bang of the board.

–       A game we often play in class with our trainer teeter we call “bang the board”. The training teeter is a wide thing of about 18” made of a micro-laminate so that it feels safe and secure to the dog. The apex is set at about 10” so that the drop is not all that tremendous. In this game the handler will take the dog back and forth over the dog without ever actually dismounting. Bang the board, and give a treat; bang the board and give a treat; bang the board, and give a treat. Do this over and over again until the dog really enjoys the game.

–       It might also be useful for the handler not feed the fear of the dog. Sometimes when a dog is fearful off a thing the handler will clutch, be panicky, and worry at the dog, actually validating the dog’s fear of the obstacle. When a dog is fearful of an obstacle the handler should assume a nonchalant attitude towards that obstacle, not treating it with any panic or trepidation.

–       Be aware that the most corrosive influence in training a dog is the ego of the handler. It might be that raising the apex of the teeter before the dog is actually ready could lead to a negative association with that obstacle. The trainer should take a rational approach to raising the apex so that the dog will always be under control.

–       Avoid advice that was clearly intended for other types of dogs. For example, if your training center insists on two-on/two-off performances on all contact obstacles, you could be setting up the very small dogs for a negative experience on the teeter. A dog that weighs under 10 pounds is likely to get dumped ass over teakettle by a heavy based teeter board bouncing back up after coming down. For the very tiny dog it would be a better idea to teach the dog to run up, ride down, and get off (in a straight line) as quickly as possible.

Okay, I’m sure there’s some stuff that I have forgotten about the teeter. When I actually roll all of this together for the teeter training handout, I’ll complete these thoughts and add anything new I can think of.


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

[1] If I came back to it at all, it would be later.

A Magic Trick

July 27, 2009

I return from the USDAA trial at Four Seasons in Washingtonville, OH fairly convinced that we had pulled off a magic trick. In three days over 23-1/2 cumulative hours we ran a total of 36 classes.

The exhibitors at this trial were terrific, jumping in to help whenever and wherever possible. Jane Poyer provided expert and diligent scorekeeping; Scott Kemerer was a masterful chief course builder; and a troop of 4H kids and their handlers attended to matters of ring stewardship. It really takes a community to run a well-oiled trial. I’d expect that a lot of USDAA players will want to put any event at Four Seasons on their calendar.

To be sure I am also grateful to my USDAA course reviewers, Stuart Mah and Dave Hanson. They were sensitive to my careful nesting and helped me keep on track in terms of ensuring that nothing felt repetitious and challenges were appropriate to the level of competition. I guess course review must be kind of a thankless job as the exhibitor typically has no idea of the extraordinary work and thoughtful direction that the course reviewer puts into a trial weekend. Stuart and Dave together have more than 50 years of experience in this game. The experience and expertise of USDAA course reviewers is reflected in virtually every weekend of USDAA competition.

An Advanced Gamble

BLOG443_01I do believe I skunked the class with this gamble. Maybe it would have been better to put the teeter out there rather than the weave poles. Still, it is a legitimate question to ask at the Advanced level if the dog knows how to weave. This gamble requires the handler to get his dog to weave at a rather modest 12′ lateral distance.

The thing that I found extraordinary in watching the performance was nearly every handler coming to a stop at jump #4 (rather precisely where the #4 shows on the course map) while the dog was still engaged in weaving. Nearly all of the dogs came out of the weaves as the handlers’ movement stopped. The class would have had a respectable success rate if these handlers had simply continued moving towards the wall, until the dog was finished with his work. Then it would have been a simple enough matter to turn around and have jump #4 on the left side.

The true indicator in the exercise is that very few dogs actually know how to weave without the handler being embedded somehow in the context of the performance. So the handler, and the dog’s trainer by the way, should be aware that his continued movement lateral to the dog is essential for the dog’s commitment to the mission. All things considered, it was a mistake for the handler to stop forward motion when there was plenty of real estate available for that movement.

Another Advanced Gamble


We had a very high success rate with this gamble. Because I shifted the line after jump #2 most of the players used that bit of space to step in behind the dog to make the turn away to the A-frame. Then it became a bit of a footrace to get back around the tire and push the line out over jump #4.

I had to show you this Advanced gamble so that I could present the Masters gamble… which didn’t work quite so well.

A Masters Gamble


The Masters gamble was a lot like the Advanced gamble; but was considerably more challenging because of the redrawn containment line, and the addition of an option jump after the performance of the A-frame. We had only three qualifying scores at the Masters level.

The #2 jump was really the killer. For the most part handlers were relying on a Rear Cross to make the turn from jump #2 to the A-frame. The Rear Cross as the handling tool is problematic for several reasons. Foremost an important attribute of the Rear Cross is that it creates a tightened turn on the landing side of the jump; the dog will turn back in too tightly and will likely earn a refusal at the A-frame. We don’t want a tightened turn in this gamble… we want a wide sweeping turn. We want what I call, a Tandem Turn.

Another problem with the Rear Cross is that if the dog doesn’t feel it or hasn’t been trained to some kind of well-proofed pre-cue, then it’s not going to go well at all. The dog will be inclined to turn back to the left (the side he last saw his handler) and will as likely as not, back-jump the #2 jump; we saw a lot of that in this class.

Notes on the Option Jump

It’s worth noting that the three dogs who did get the gamble had “Running Contacts”. The A-frame is a natural accelerator, allowing the dog to zoom ahead naturally to the correct jump. If, on the other hand, the dog has been taught a 2o2o kind of finish to a contact, then any impulsion or acceleration from the A-frame pretty much dies at the downside contact. Unless the handler has carefully taught the dog a “Go On!” kind of command… then most dogs will likely make a bee-line for the handler’s position, which would introduce the wrong jump in the sequence.

Back in the day with my boys Birdie and Bogie I didn’t bother to teach the “unambiguous” finish to the contact obstacles. I knew that I’d get 98% of my contacts simply by taking handler initiative. Though to be sure if there was a contact at a distance in a Gamblers class I pretty much had to hold my mouth right and maybe cross my fingers when my boys took that down ramp. It’s worth mentioning that both Birdie and Bogie earned Master Gamblers titles and got a fair share of distance challenges with contact obstacles.

The cool thing about not teaching a 2o2o you’ll never introduce or contend with a “creeping” problem as the dog comes too gingerly down to find the bottom position.

And, Notes on the Tandem Turn

As technical terminology the “Tandem Turn” is not in terribly widespread use; and based on what I observed in Washingtonville, neither is the skill. I’ve written training notes on the Tandem Turn many times in my web log and in the pages of the Just For Fun Agility Notebook… so I paged back through my blog entries until I found this:

The notes refer to a layered Tandem, which is an advanced skill that must be practiced and proofed. It is implicit that the Masters gamble called for a layered Tandem.


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


July 23, 2009
With apologies to Igor Stravenski

I’m Red Roof’n it tonight; preparing to judge for the USDAA over the next three days. I’ll be happy to share some course commentary with you. But I won’t be previewing anything, as that wouldn’t be kosher.

A thing that was nagging at me on the drive up here (mental fireworks) was the notion or question whether individual course designers have specific habits or propensities in their design. What do you think?

Awhile back I blogged on a topic I called “Angry Lines”: And yet I’m fairly certain I don’t always do an analysis of lines on my courses. So a deeper seated question is whether that’s my natural habit to quell the anger of the course lines. Or, a darker thought, am I just BSing myself.

I also recall writing, more than once, in the pages of the Just For Fun Agility Notebook ( that “we train for ugly”. If I practice a thing, and teach my students to solve it, does it become a part of my repertoire of course challenge when I’m judging? Just how did the 270° transition and the “threadle” become a part of our culture?

The other day I ran across a file box full of neatly ordered and labeled manila folders with the suites of courses that I designed and put up in the world like 15 and 18 years ago. I expect I’ve made a mental note that I’d like to go through those old courses and see if they reflect any sort of picture of evolution. Actually the old files are kind of funny. In those days judges drew their courses with pencil or pen using little plastic templates. Indeed, I remember a day when exhibitors didn’t get a course map at all. You’d take an extra copy and tack it up to a board or a pole somewhere… and the exhibitors would crowd around it trying to divine the challenge of the day [and of course there was always some inconsiderate soul who would plaster his tracing paper against the community course map and trace out his own copy.]

How many of you save old course maps? It would be fun to scan a history of courses by judge (better yet, photograph them. Scanning is too slow!!)

Okay, you can tell I’m getting sappy sitting here. I need to get on with sharing a small suite of nested training sequences.

And Here We Go!


The handling of this sequence is fairly straight-forward. There’s an awkward moment at the collapsed chute in which the handler should take responsibility for shaping the approach to jump #4. I’d be very interested in seeing if my students could layer to the opposite side of the pipe tunnel while the dog is out finishing up jumps #6 and #7.


It doesn’t make any sense to layer this pipe tunnel. The handler needs to step into the breach after jump #4 to draw the dog back to the left side of the pipe tunnel. Note that two wrong course possibilities exist. Because I’ve trapped the handler into the task of managing the approach to jump #6 many handlers will be behind after jump #7. This could be a test of “gearing down” to draw the dog away from the wrong course approach to jump #2.


I would love to see a layered Tandem at jump #3. That should create enough impulsion to get the dog out around jumps #4 through #6 while the handler layers back on the opposite side of the pipe tunnel. I’d challenge my students to do a layered Front Cross after jump #6 to help the dog make a square approach to that jump.


Just what is my fascination with layering today? This isn’t so obvious as it looks however. Consider committing to jump #3 with dog on right, using a Tandem Turn to accelerate the dog away to jumps #4 and #5… layer to the opposite side of the pipe tunnel only after jump #3.


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

Handling Riddles

July 22, 2009


There’s a bit of a handling riddle I want to share with you here. The interesting bit is the serpentine suggested by the midcourse transition from the weave poles at #5 to the weave poles at #7.

The part that I found fascinating is that every last one of my students got to the end of the #7 weave poles dog on right. Admittedly one of them did a twizzle – a technical Front Cross dismount of the weave poles (a thing that used to be known as the Axford Axel). For the most part they were all in a technical Tandem position with their dogs. In general it led to big loopy turns back to the #8 pipe tunnel. A dog or two might have gone out to pick off the #2 jump wrong course; though in general people survived the wobbly moment.

I approach course work in a relatively logical manner. I’ll say that it is one of the Laws of a Dog in Motion that the dog turns most naturally towards the handler. So the clever handler will endeavor to be on the turning side of the course whenever possible.

My challenge to my students was this. Get the weave poles at #7 on your left side on the approach. It was interesting to watch. Once they understood the challenge everybody managed just fine to have dog on left, and the wobbly nature of the approach to the pipe tunnel at #8 evaporated.

So here’s the question for you (who don’t get to be in my classes)… How do you get dog on left for the approach to the #7 weave poles?

Set Your Browser to…

You have to see the picture of the boy doing the weave poles (on all fours?) in this blog. It’s cute as the devil.

… and a bit of the fantastic.

I Want Your Proxy!

Some of you may have noticed that I started the day with an appeal for TDAA proxy ballots on TDAA Member and enthusiast Yahoo discussion lists. I won’t go into what got me started. Suffice to say that I’m a great believer in democracy; but have little tolerance for bureaucracy. This ain’t my first rodeo.

Following is the complete text of my solicitation of TDAA ballot proxy assignment:

* * *

These are exciting times! We have a number of interesting rules changes that mostly come from our creative and careful membership. And they will be put out soon for vote by the membership of the TDAA.

In order to make your voting experience more relaxed and ensure that your voice is heard I ask that you trust me with a proxy ballot (as authorized by the TDAA Bylaws).

I have established a discussion group on Yahoo for everyone and anyone who will trust me with a proxy ballot. Membership in this list is exclusive to those who will assign to me their proxy. And it gives us a forum in which we might discuss every item up for election. To join this group set your browser to:

You are required to be a member of the TDAA in order to cast a vote. If you aren’t presently a member I urge for you to join if for no other reason than you can take part in this interesting 21st Century experiment in democracy and the internet. A TDAA membership application is available at:

You probably know that I started the TDAA. It could have simply been a profit center for me and a closely held business. I had a very specific vision for what the organization might be. I believed then, and I believe now that a member run organization is important in today’s world. I believe in the democratic process. Of course when I pulled that trigger I pretty much lost the right to have a continued vision for the organization that held any weight.

This is an interesting social and democratic experiment. I do hope that you will join me.

Bud Houston


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

Notes from the Mini-Clinic

July 20, 2009

I apologize for not posting to my blog for a couple days. I’ve got huge chores outside. Running from project to project pretty much fills my day. Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by it all. I got my chipper shredder fixed. I’ve been working on a big pipe of limbs and branches mostly cleaned up from the ice storm this past winter. Man, I had no idea it was such a bunch of work. Practically speaking my only real training with a chipper/shredder was that I actually watched the movie Fargo. I’m learning to work smart as I go along.

We had a ripping good mini-clinic yesterday. I think I wore everybody out. I’m sorry Mark and Maggie weren’t here… because I had a couple exercises designed specifically to torture them. But I’ll take the long view and find a more opportune moment for the torture.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share a few of my exercise notes with you; more to be published on the morrow.


The point of this exercise is the little technical Tandem from the dogwalk at #6 to the pipe tunnel at #7. I’ve been working with a group of mixed skills and experience. So for some it’s a simple refresher and proofing of the skill. For others, I might have to show them how to shape a Tandem (turn away from the handler’s position) on the flat. And then, in the moment of the technical Tandem it’s basically the same skill being applied to a moment in space.

For students who have an unambiguous finish on the dogwalk it’s sometimes harder to get the dog to turn cleanly away. Surely the Tandem is actually a simpler matter while the dog is in motion. By definition in the 2o2o the dog is not in motion.


This is a continuation of the previous exercise and is probably the same skill. A thing that I’ve found over the years is that if I precue my intention for my dog to turn away (into the pipe tunnel especially)… even the greatest cowabunga dog will probably slide right down through the yellow in anticipation of the turn.


A thing that I’ve been concerned about with my own students is the pipe tunnel to A-frame transition shown in this sequence. We see this from time to time in competition. And often it leads to a presentation of the A-frame that isn’t very square or in which the dog doesn’t have a sufficient approach to get up and over without losing steam on the up-ramp. You can often hear the dog’s nails clawing against the ramp when he hasn’t been given a square or running start.

So my lesson in this sequence was a discussion of where to put the corner of approach and how to actually conduct the dog to that corner before turning back. You know it’s not going to go well when the handler is facing back into the dog as he comes out of the tunnel, already signaling the dog to turn.


The transition from the pipe tunnel at #3 to the dogwalk is a very different kind of skill than if it were the A-frame, as in the previous discussion. The slope of the dogwalk is much gentler, and the dog doesn’t need much approach at all. What I teach my students to do for this transition is to fade to the opposite side of the tunnel after the dog gets in, assuming a station more in the center of the dogwalk. Then, when the dog comes out of the tunnel he is perfectly capable of getting his own feet up onto the dogwalk ramp without a lot of meddling or micromanagement from the handler.


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

Putting a Patient Edge on Kory

July 17, 2009

I’m turning a bit of a corner with Kory dog. In the first six months of his life I’ve been pretty much the committed 2-minute dog trainer using meals and treats to shape basic skills. Now I’ve got to turn the program so that he understands those “basic” skills when presented with stimulating circumstance.


Truly he’s not a terribly food driven dog. He likes a bit of cheese or a succulent bit of meat. Though he’ll routinely turn his nose up at dinner kibble (so unlike a Sheltie is he!)

Toys… toys are another matter altogether. Immediately with a tug toy or a ball he’s just about over the top stimulation-wise. So our training program must be geared to make that just about the opposite. Do you want the toy? Show me what you can do.

Starting with the Door

I’ve established a fairly basic rule with Kory. He doesn’t get to charge through doors without permission. If I approach a door he may approach it. I have two basic responses for him. “Back up”… means I’m going through the door and he’s just plain not invited. If I tell him to “sit”, however, that means he’s going to get to go with me. I’ll open the door and walk out; and then, when I’m good and ready I’ll tell him “okay.”

Dogs are creatures of rules. If you establish no rules then you don’t have much right to expect the dog to do what you “wish” he would do. You get what you pay for.

A Jump and Tunnel Drill

You know, a funny thing, If I had a piece of string cheese in my hand and I told Kory to “Sit” he’d plop right back on his butt and smartly accept a click, and a bit of warm praise along with the bit of string cheese.

But now the rules are different. I have his favorite tug toy in hand. And I tell him to “Sit”… and lord knows he’s never heard such a word in his life and couldn’t imagine that he’d engage in any such contrary activity what with the tug toy apparent and all.

And so I wait.


Kory engages in a variety of preoccupations. He looks around. He bobs his head a couple of times. He stares at me waiting for the inevitable toss. And when it doesn’t come he looks back at his tail. For awhile he doesn’t seem to be studying anything except maybe something in the back of his head. And, after about a minute or so he offers a sit.

“Yah! Good boy!” I toss the toy and tell him “Jump!”

After the “Reward Routine” we repeat this. We do it several times actually. And as I had hoped, each time he sits more promptly as he begins to understand that the entire key to the game even beginning is his willingness to offer that one behavior that he knows for string cheese… no matter how incongruous it seems to be with the tug toy.


I add a bit of complexity to the performance by sequencing the pipe tunnel and jump together. By now I’ve already faded the lure of tossing the toy ahead of him and give a simple point and step towards the jump on the exit of the pipe tunnel.

Lest we forget, the object lesson is that he will sit until I release him. And the game will not begin until he sits.

In the meantime I am fascinated by the observation that the obstacles themselves are not rewarding and stimulating to him as we work and play. It’s all about the reward with the toy. Don’t get me wrong. He charges the work with perfect energy and gusto for a 6 month old pup and needs no overt coaxing to understand what “tunnel” means or what “jump” means.


I like this sequence better because it’s fun to give the toy a well timed toss into his line of departure from the chute so that he comes out accelerating to get the toy. During our entire working session today he never broke a stay once I got him in a sit. He’s figured out quick enough that only my verbal release gives permission to engage in the game and hasn’t so much as tested me on the notion.


I even played with this sequence once or twice. It meant I had to take a lead-out to be forward of him for a Front Cross and allowed me to test his innate understanding of my rotation. Of course I aid the conversation with a basic habit in my arms… up for obstacle focus, and down for handler focus. He didn’t even think about the wrong end of the tunnel, and zipped by me through the rotation like he’s been doing it his whole life.

The Reward Routine

I’d read something that Scott Lucken a fly-ball guy wrote several years ago that the game with the toy is the dog’s game. Of course we’d all like “retrieve”… but the dog’s game might be “keep away” or it might be “tug and never let go”. With this in mind I’m not a bit mental about Kory’s game with the toy.

The tug that I’m using is little more than a very long sock with a tennis ball in the end of it (though it’s dressed up quite fancy and has a coil of stretch cord through the length of the “sock”.) What Kory will do is run around the building with it for awhile, shaking it fiercely. I’m especially tickled when he has it held just so that he bats himself on both sides of his own head with the tennis ball (and BC’s are supposed to be smart!)

In the Reward Routine I let him run around with it for awhile amusing himself. Now we have a chain of interesting commands and interactions. I tell him “Bring it!” He’ll trot it over to me. And his reward for bringing it is that we’ll have a long game of tug. After awhile I’ll tell him to “Drop it!” He has to let go. I have this little aversive trick that I do if he doesn’t immediately let go… wiggling my forefinger into his mouth so that it’s uncomfortable to continue holding on; though frankly I don’t have to use that much because he gets the command.

If there’s a downside to this Reward Routine it is that a considerable amount of time is spent between repetitions of whatever skill we are working on. You know, there just ain’t no sense in being in a big ol’ hurry.



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

How to Get a Dog Out of the Crawlspace

July 16, 2009

One of the interesting statistics that I get with my WordPress blog is a summary of those terms that were used in search engines to find something I’ve written. I came across this interesting phrase a couple of days ago: “How to get a dog out of the crawlspace.”

My mind leapt ahead to imagine the drama unfolding in some poor fellow’s life. His dog is under the house in the crawlspace and won’t come out. He’s at a total loss what to do. So he runs inside and puts the question to Google. Curious, I put the phrase to BING.COM. And I swear I saw no clear path to my web log. Maybe he used a different search engine.

There’s another thing that I noticed… there was no real answer to the question! OMG, we need to help this fellow.

INSTRUCTIONS: How to get a Dog Out of the Crawlspace

I have to assume that there’s not room for you to wriggle into the crawlspace yourself, otherwise you would have done so. Either that or you’re afraid of the spiders and rodents and snakes that live under there; or you’re reluctant to expose your clothing or your skin the slimy or dusty conditions.

The real question shall be whether the dog is just being reluctant to come out… or he’s somehow trapped.

The Reluctant Dog

First of all you must have some kind of opening that allowed him to get into the crawlspace in the first place. Logically that will be the way he needs to get out as well. I’d recommend getting a weenie out of the refrigerator and get yourself down at the entry hole and call to your doggie whilst waving the weenie around in an enticing manner.

Dog’s are encouraged and attracted by playful and high-pitched voices. Try an expression like this when calling your dog: “Puppy Puppy Jeep Jeep!” It might be a good idea to take a slip leash with you, offer the food treat through the loop of the leash. It’s what I call a “dressing treat”. As the dog’s head passes through the loop to get to the treat you pull the cinch closed around his neck and you can haul him out.

The Jaws of Death

Okay, it’s possible that he’s trapped in the crawlspace. Note that carpenters don’t much care about nails that go through the floor and are exposed in the crawlspace since nobody ever hangs out down there. Another possibility is that old sloppy electrical work has cords and cables that can entwine and trap the dog.

In this case you’re going to have to bite the bullet. If there is actually room for you to get into the crawlspace yourself you’re just going to have to man up and stop being such a woos and go in there and get your dog.

If there’s really not room for you to crawl under… then you’re going to have to start dismantling something. If the crawlspace is defined by a wooden skirt it might be a good idea to pull it off the house at the point that is nearest to the dog.

Aside from this, you could actually take up the floorboard over the spot where your dog is trapped.

Lessons Learned

Don’t let this happen again. The health and safety of your dog is your responsibility. You need to create a barrier to the dog’s access to the crawlspace. Perhaps a little latched trap door would do the trick.

Just remember this… he’ll do it again.


Here’s one of my favorite exercises. I know I have a different take on handling pinwheels than most of the world. But it truly gives me an opportunity to teach handling with a killer instinct rather than the survival handling so often practiced in the world.



To learn to think outside the box. Students get a lot of work with two basic movements, the blind cross and the tandem turn.

Specified handling:

Mostly what we’re interested in is a handler who stays in constant and fluid movement. That means making handling decisions based on the dog’s position relative to the handler. Run the dog, not the plan!


  • As shown
  • Others, as directed


If the handler is ahead of the dog, he should be able to “step outside the box” into a blind cross. You can’t cross in front of the dog if you are behind the dog.

When planning for a tandem turn the handler should arrange to arrive at the jump at approximately the same instant as the dog. Beware of menacing the dog from the landing side of the jump.


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

Go On! Racetrack and Motive

July 15, 2009


The purpose of this exercise is to teach the Go On directional to your dog. I’ll also be using a system of baited targets to encourage a couple of shy and under-motivated dogs to perform with more gusto.

The idea is for the handler to gradually increase the distance from which he sends the dog to perform the obstacles on the Racetrack. The starting position doesn’t really matter too much; the handler can assume any position either inside or outside of the Racetrack. After starting the dog, the handler should keep that side.

I’ve set a baited target at the “X” on course. To get the dog used to the idea I might spend awhile placing the food on the target and just letting him “Go on!” and “Get it!” with the treat only four feet in front of his face.

It might be a bit more problematic running the dog the opposite direction when the food is right behind him. A clever dog would whirl around and snatch the food treat rather than going on with the sequence. If it helps any, you could start at jump #2 (picture dragging your dog away from the food treat by the collar!)

Begin by running the sequence with your dog. Back up only gradually on successive repetitions allowing your dog to go on in front of you. If he turns back to you, immediately step in and show him where to go.

Use the directional Go On as you work. The idea is to develop a meaning for the verbal (continue working in a straight line). If you don’t use the verbal, you aren’t training anything.

Fading the Target

After working with the target for awhile I’ll be very interested in seeing if my dog is kicking into a new gear in this sequencing work. I should like to stop using the baited targets and switch to a reward system. As my dog finishes the last obstacle I will roll a bit of string cheese out in front of her being very conscious of the reward line (tossing so that my dog continues to work in a straight line). Note that I’m working on a black rubber floor with string cheese. If you’re working outside on grass you might want to resort to the use of a toy rather than tossing food.

To break things up, I might give random reward-line treats in the conduct of the sequence. I’ll especially be keen on rewarding fast and inspired work.

Racetrack – Get Out


The purpose of this exercise is to teach the Go On directional to the dog; and to reinforce a lead hand change as a non-verbal signal to the dog to change direction.

You’ll need to get position to push your dog out while he is engaged in the performance of the pipe tunnel.

Repetitions of the second sequence can be taken with the handler entirely on one side of the box or the other. The handler will alternately use the directionals Get Out and Come. This is a proofing step.


  • 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6
  • 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8


The Get Out command is a warning of the encroachment of the handler.

The handler should aggressively encroach into the dog’s path (only after giving the command.

Use an off-arm hand signal along with the Get Out command.

Use the directional Get Out as you work. The idea is to transfer the dog’s reaction to the handler’s encroachment to the warning command. If you don’t use the verbal, you aren’t training anything.

The Infamous Dr. Brinkley

According to our sources, the town of Brinkley is actually named after railroad man Robert Campbell Brinkley, not medical quack John Richard Brinkley. Here is an excerpt from our entry on the town of Brinkley:

In 1852, the state of Arkansas presented a land grant in the northern part of Monroe County to the Little Rock and Memphis Railroad Company, an enterprise promoted by Robert Campbell Brinkley, a leading resident of Memphis, Tennessee. The community was incorporated in 1872 and named for this early pioneer, who was president of the railroad company, president of Planters Bank of Memphis, and an entrepreneur in westward development.

Ali Welkey


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