A Magic Trick

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

9 Responses to “A Magic Trick”

  1. Amanda Says:

    It was a fun weekend, Bud. Thanks a bunch. Liked your courses and thought they presented fair challenges.

    And “train your dog” is never bad advice.

  2. budhouston Says:

    Thanks Amanda! It was fun seeing you work.


  3. Jon Says:


    Did anyone do the Master’s Gamble by using an out command while rotating with a big outside arm just after the dog takes #2? It would add some yardage, but should take the back jump out of the equation. One further question, I do use a pre-cue for my Rear Cross, however if I were to use it in this case, I would be using it to “fool” my dog in changing leads and turning right over #2 as I would not actually be crossing behind him as I would be during a normal Rear Cross. Is it wise to use the same pre-cue with two different handler reactions?


    • budhouston Says:

      Hey Jon. The movement you describe is what I call a Tandem. However, the mechanics of it are somewhat controversial. Susan Garrett revers to the “counter-arm” movement that you describe as the “Evil Ohio arm”. Indeed, she apparently insists that the movement should be cued with the inside arm. Though my take on the controversy is whatever arm works… must be correct.

      I’m not too sure I understand your final question.

      Bud Houston

  4. Jean Says:

    Now you tell me its not in wide use. LOL

    I am doing self training by reading your blogs and setting things up to practice. Last weekend, I dropped a few jaws by throwing in a tandem turn when everyone else was opting for lead out pivots or running front crosses.

    If I don’t have the movement correct…let me know and I will take the reference to you off the video.

    Funny, I didn’t know it was unusual.

    • budhouston Says:

      You’ve got it exactly, you opened with a simple Tandem. I not too that you don’t make a big deal out of an “expression” to turn with your arms. And that’s just fine. The real cue to make the turn away is that you rotate your body and move in that direction [making the controversy about “which arm to use” rather silly. eh?]

      Now that I think about it I don’t know that it’s particularly unusual. But in the context of the gamblers class above… maybe what’s really unusual is handlers understanding the attributes of the movement and what an important tool it is in distance work.

      Thanks for the YouTube… that was fun. Your judge was Terry Culley. Isn’t that Nancy-Krouse Culley’s significant other? I’ve been trying to get in touch with them for years.


  5. Jon Says:


    What I described is like a tandem, but the dog’s head and line is initially turned by the verbal command “out” and then reinforced by the arm motion and rotation of your shoulders.

    I had a feeling that my 2nd question would not be clear. I pre-cue my rear crosses with a verbal command and usually inside arm motion. I then to proceed to cross behind to the other side of my dog. With the gamble line, it’s not possible to cross behind the dog, so in some respect I’m not following through with what my dog expects me to do. I have some concern about this inconsistency in my behavior and how it will affect what my dog expects me to do.

    • budhouston Says:

      I’ll bet you a dime you could do that turn completely non-verbally. It would be an interesting test for you to give more credence to your movement than your talking.

  6. Jon Says:

    Probably could, as I do occasionally use the Tandem turn without needing the out command. I think the out is more for insurance on getting my dog out laterally far enough. I might have some time tomorrow to set this up and try it.

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