Archive for August, 2009

Fast Dogs in the TDAA

August 31, 2009

I’ve given handling seminars for work in the TDAA for a number of years now. Part of my instruction has always been making the handler understand that he has to find a way to keep moving. The small courses sometimes present the illusion that the handler can assume a languid pace. And in some ways this might be true. But the key to work in the TDAA is finding a way to give sharpness and a sense of urgency when there is little real estate to work with.

Now in the TDAA we have more and more truly fast dogs entering the fray. For the most part handlers of fast dogs are unsuccessful at TDAA play because the transitional distances are so short that the simple physics of the dog’s movement make the riddle nearly impossible. And you know what people do when they can’t be successful… they quit.

My teaching these days must accommodate the handling requirements of the fast dog. Frankly what the handler must come to understand is that in the tight technical sequences they need to learn to gear their dogs down. Big long-legged fast dog handlers in venues like the USDAA have mastered the skill to gear their dogs down for technical work. But this sort of thing mightn’t ever occur to handlers jumping 16” or less… it isn’t necessary on courses with 20′ or 22′ feet between obstacles. These can be run full bore by the small dog.

It was our objective with the TDAA all along to give the small dog handler a taste of what the big dog handlers feel every weekend in competition. Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

The Moving Precue


Try to understand what the word “precue” means. The handler cues the dog to his intention to turn before the dog jumps (or dismounts any obstacle). To give the cue after the dog jumps means that you didn’t give a precue at all; all of the physics of the dog’s movement area already in place. If and when the dog follows the cue he’ll have to grind against the inertia of his movement to abide the handler’s instruction.

In this simple sequence the handler has two specific opportunities to give a precue, the first in the turn from jump #2 to jump #3, and the second in the turn from jump #6 to jump #7.

What I’ve tried to do in this illustration is demonstrate both position and timing of the precue (position and timing are nearly synonymous… but that is meat for another discussion).

While the dog is not even halfway from jump #1 to jump #2 the handler needs to turn and face back into the dog opening up his lead hand change while facing that hand back toward the dog. The best analogy I can make here is that it’s rather like a baseball catcher holding his glove right over the plate showing the pitcher the strike zone.

I’ve also drawn the dog’s ostensible path from jump #2 to jump #3. Note that the handler is positioned beyond that line ready to sweep the dog right across his toes in a nice straight line to the next jump. If the handler is on the wrong side of that line, then the dog’s path will have to be wobbly (or serpentine).

Please note that in the mechanics of the movement the handler will wait to see the dog up in the air over the jump, holding up the “glove” facing back into the dog. From the moment the dog hits the top of his jump arc the handler’s lead will swoop along the dog’s forward path to demonstrate the new direction of the course.

Caveat and Caution

I’m fascinated by precue movements. One of the things to which I’m constantly attentive is whether or not the dog actually takes the precue. If the dog takes the precue that means he should come wrapping over the jump bar into the turn. If he doesn’t take the precue then his turn will go wide and wobbly with too much forward inertia (maybe even taking the wrong course jump ahead!)

I’ve heard considerable statements voodoo science about the precue Front Cross. Take it all with the simple caveat… if the dog is not taking the precue, then the handler must play around with the mechanics of the presentation until he can find something that the dog actually understands.


Tomorrow I’ll continue the topic with a discussion on “Gearing Down”.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available at

Mini-Clinic Puzzle

August 30, 2009

Marsha was away for the weekend, attending a TDAA trial up in Delaware, OH with our girl Hazard. Last weekend… Marsha went up to Washingtonville, for another TDAA trial. Ordinarily I would have done these… but Marsha really needed something fun to do; and I was happy to turn it over to her.

Hazard’s been shutting down on us a bit n over the past six months or so. It is an enigmatic phenomenon. I can almost put my finger on the instant she started to lose steam. We were at a USDAA trial in Columbus awhile back. On Saturday she was on fire. We qualified in about every class we ran. And she gave a respectable “tear up the course” run in the Steeplechase. But then on Sunday she had turned a corner. Some switch had been flipped. We were moved to the “other” ring in Steeplechase. And after about three jumps she simply shut down on me, and didn’t so much as respond as I ran forward.

So our mission prior to the Petit Prix is to find the love of the game again for Hazard. The riddle of Hazard’s motivation remains. We’re thinking that our best bet is for Marsha to handle her as she is more mollified by Marsha’s attention than mine. I can’t tell you how much that pains me. But we really want to do the right thing for this Sheltie Ranch girl.

So I was alone today to do our twice monthly mini-clinic. I had Beginners and Intermediate from 10:00 ‘til noon; and advanced dogs and handler form noon ‘til 4:00. I didn’t have much of a lesson plan. Usually if there’s anyone teaching with me I’ll write a meticulous and detailed plan for the day. When I’m on my own however, I’m completely content with winging the instruction.


This was one of the exercises that I set up. Predictably, the challenging moments related to the two pipe tunnels: the off-side approach to the #6 pipe tunnel and the roll around the wrong-course tunnel in the transition from jump #8 to jump #9.

The real problem with the approach to the #6 pipe tunnel is that almost everyone wanted to handle it in fast dog mode… meaning for the most part that they had to take a Post & Tandem approach. I was a little torn by this observation (and had to take note of the number of wrong courses the handling produced). Should I teach them how to do a Post & Tandem? Or, should I show them how to handle the sequence. I settle on the latter advice.

Basically what I told everyone is that they should work forward of the dog for a simple Front Cross (that would be slow dog handling. Eh?) The results were quite remarkable. All the dogs ran faster (because the handler had to run to be forward of the dog. D’oh.) While I had to work with a couple of them on the mechanics of the Front Cross, in general a handler running will make the dog run faster and straighten the lines nice.

In the turn from jump #8 to #9 I specified a simple Post Turn. Of course this yielded a number of upstream considerations, like: The handler should make the approach to jump #7 with dog on right… but have dog on left for jump #8. Teaching is more interesting when you’re teaching contrary to the impulse and instinct of the handler.

Bless Ya’ll

… who read my BLOG on Sunday. Lord knows you should be in church.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available at

Back Up Day One – Visualization and Strategy

August 28, 2009

Training a dog for any task begins with a visualization of the performance. Let’s say, for example, that we want to teach the dog to back-up. The visualization is fairly straight-forward… the dog will begin walking backwards. But just to put a bit more granularity to the vision, let’s say you will want the dog to continue backing up until you give a cue to back up no more. Oh, this is a bit more complex. But at least we have the vision.

This is the lesson object for the next week or so with my boy Kory. I will also have to devise a methodology for the introduction of the behavior and steps for reasonable incremental progress.

Clearly the performance will have to be shaped. In most dog behaviors I can resort either to prompted shaping and free shaping. Prompted shaping implies that I might introduce the behavior by using a lure or some inducement like a target. When teaching the unambiguous finish position on a contact obstacle, for example, some people might use a target at the bottom of the ramp.

To tell you the truth I foresee a considerable difficulty with prompted shaping of a Back Up performance. When using a target the dog is inclined to lead with his nose, which is pretty much contrary to the performance I’m trying to teach.

Free shaping on the other hand means that I’ll be waiting for Kory to begin the action of moving backwards of his own free will. At first I’ll give him a click and reward for offering even the most subtle movement backwards. Dog trainers tend to be impatient with the free shaping method as takes time and all of the initiative is in the dog’s court. And Kory will be offering a considerable library of reference performances trying to find out what earns the click and reward. But I’m going to take the long view. I figure that free shaped learning is most solid.

I’ll try to keep detailed notes of every training session to keep track of Kory’s progress. Any fine details we need to work on will evolve from the notes.

Today’s Tasks

I have to catch up with reviewing teacup courses. I have a wicked stretch coming up in my calendar beginning in about three weeks and will have so little time for several months that I’ll start falling down at the task. I reckon that I would like this job to evolve into the sort of thing that I return courses the same day I receive them. In order to catch up I’ll have to work down through the lot that I have in my TO DO basket for the TDAA.

The hardest part of TDAA course review is always the games. It’s not enough to look at the pleasant placement of obstacles on the field. I have to completely get my head around the judges briefing to be sure that he or she understands the game, knows how it will be played and scored, and how dogs will earn qualifying scores and placements. This is far more complex than it sounds. In most venues they have three or four standard games that they play and so it’s easy for everyone to get on the same page with how those games are played. But in the TDAA we have dozens and dozens of different games and we are constantly reinventing that wheel.



Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available at

The Tomato Thief Recovers

August 26, 2009

Three more days now… and Kory should be fairly well healed up from his neutering. He’s been on restricted duty… pretty much spending his days either in a crate or in the roomier x-pen. He’s been antsy to be busy and probably doesn’t understand why he’s been cooped up. But he’ll get over it.

I’ve been playing a fun little distance game with him, sending him to the x-pen with a “get in” command. And then asking him to lay down. He was pretty slow about the laying down part for awhile which reminded me that his context for “lie down” has pretty much been with me hovering over him. But he’s getting much quicker.

Oh, I’ll release him from the x-pen with an “okay!” and have a gentle game of tug with his leash. He likes the game.

I’ve transferred the send and “get in!” to his crate as well. This took a bit longer because he’s got a natural association now with the crate as his captor and tormentor. I’ll spend awhile more getting him to love his crate again.

I gave him free run of the fenced dog yard this morning so that he could attend to his business. I meanwhile turned my attention to the garden, weeding in a stand of tomatoes; [the rescued “upside down” planter tomatoes, they’re doing famously now.] Anyhow I got looking around for Kory and didn’t see him in the yard. He’d gone up on the porch, made his way to the front of the house and jumped over the 3′ gate. And of course he trotted right down to Marsha’s two tomato planters and helped himself to all of the ripe tomatoes. So I hauled him back into the house and confined him to his crate for awhile.

That boy can jump. I’m contemplating replacing the dog gates that give access to the front porch with a couple of prefab 4′ man-gates that I have stored out in the tractor barn. That’ll be a good project for tomorrow. Lord knows I need another project.

In the tractor barn, by the way, is an old climbing ladder hanging on the wall. It’s one of those old antique things with round dowel steps. I’m going to do some ladder work with Kory and reckon that I’ll use this old ladder.

The purpose of ladder work is really to get a dog to become aware of the placement of his back feet. I’ve ever been skeptical of the protocol for this teaching. Mostly in public classes dogs are hauled over ladders without any real method or guidelines for measurement.

So what I’m determined to do is combine my “back up” training with work on the ladder. That’s right… I intend to teach my boy to back up the length of the ladder. Now the way I figure it, he’ll get a very good understanding of his back feet if he’s backing through the ladder. This sounds like a good subject for a You Tube showoff video. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m still fairly determined that I won’t do any weaving or real jumping with Kory until he’s a year old. Right now he’s kind of a gangly teenager, all elbows and knees you know. While he’s an athletic jumper (though for delinquent pursuits) there is no good reason to stress his growing bones and muscles while he’s still a pup. However, I see no real problem with introducing him to the jump standard with a very low step-over bar. I do have a lot of training objectives associated with simple over hurdles.

I’m especially fascinated, by the way, with the NADAC game of Hoopers. The Hoop is a rather simple obstacle that has little or no physical demands on a dog performance-wise. The dog must simply run through the hoop. So what Hoopers really represents is a pure for handling kind of activity with a dog. As far as that goes I can bring out my old boys Birdie and Bogie and give them a nice romp out in the grass… and they won’t come up lame for running through hoops.

The rules for Hoopers seem a bit obscure to me. I’ll be seeking clarification from some of the hard core NADAC fans out there.



This sequence represents an escalation of an exercise I was doing with a couple of my students in an ongoing series of private lessons. To tell you the truth the puzzle that I was trying to get them to address was the 270° turn in the transition from jump #9 to #10. The downfield consideration is actually jump #12. Ideally the handler will want the dog on left for jump #11 in order to influence the curl back to jump #12. If the handler stays inside the crook of the turn then getting out to #12 is something of a problem.

Okay… what I didn’t see coming, neither of my students could execute the Front Cross from jump #8 to #9 with their dogs. So the whole downfield lesson was lost on a minor prerequisite.

Of course, wanting to feel their pain, I ran both of their dogs through the opening of the sequence, and had no problem with the turn with either dog.

So here’s what I’ll be chewing on for a few days. Certainly the turn from jump #8 to #9 is technical. What is it that I know about a Front Cross that my students don’t precisely understand? What occurs to me is this thing that I’ll tell a student from time to time… “don’t do the turn; do your job!” My job is to conduct the dog through the turn and then make a presentation of the jump.

I slept on it last night. There’s a thing that I can demonstrate with nearly any dog. The Front Cross is largely in the knees. The agility handler too often thinks it’s about the shoulders and the antics of the arms; and so the knees become locked and don’t do the right thing at all. With one of my students dogs last night… I told the handler “watch what I do with my arms”; and I tucked my thumbs into my back pockets and drew the dog neatly into the cross and made a presentation of the jump. Yes… with no arms.



“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” – French novelist Marcel Proust


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available at

Definition of Prerequisite Skills

August 25, 2009

An important skill in teaching agility is in recognizing what skill the team needs to be developing. When faced with a very advanced challenge the dog (and frankly, the handler) might need to build up the base of skills that makes the advance challenge even possible. These are what I call prerequisite skills. I often compare teaching agility to the work of a brick-layer. You can’t set the brick at your shoulder level until the bricks below, say at knee level, have been laid.

Distance Training and Prerequisite Skills

Distance training in general is quite a composite of layers of related skills. For example, you couldn’t expect a dog to do an obstacle at any appreciable distance if he doesn’t actually know how to do the obstacle. As dog trainers we fool ourselves into believing that the dog understands the dog and makes any connection between the word the handler is saying and the performance of an obstacle. In truth many dogs will just do an obstacle that is in front of them so long as mom is running along at side generally flapping her arm to indicate performance.

Advanced Distance Illustration #1


In a sequence like this I see several prerequisite skills that must be attended before the handler has any hope of the dog actually doing the performance. Now mind you some dogs are quite clever and might surely have figured out the basics of performance without the handler/trainer taking any real initiative in prudent training steps. It is, after all, better to be lucky than good.

Here’s my list of prerequisite skills:

  • The Tandem Turn – A directional command to turn away from the handler’s position; useful in distance work as it creates acceleration and separation. There are two tandem’s indicated in this sequence. Can you spot them?
  • Go On – A distance directional that means for the dog to continue working in the direction he is already working.
  • Parallel Path – Performance of obstacles while the handler is moving at an appreciable parallel distance.
  • Layering – Performance at a distance with obstacles that aren’t to be performed between the dog and handler.
  • Simple Obstacles – Performance of jumps and tunnels while the handler is working at a distance.
  • Technical Obstacles – Specifically in this sequence is the dog’s performance of the teeter while the handler is not camping on the tipping side to ensure complete performance.
  • Front Cross – A handler movement calculated to change the dog’s direction of movement and put the dog on the handler’s opposite lead. And, in this case, the Front Cross is indicated at a distance (the dog turns when the handler turns not where the handler turns).

Advanced Distance Illustration #2


If we were to add to our list of prerequisite skills from the previous illustration we’d have to add to this the technical Get Out. Of course a technical Get Out presupposes that the dog has been taught to Get Out at all and that the handler can coax the performance out of the dog while at a broad proofing distance with layered obstacles and an option to tempt him from the basic bend away from the handler’s position. Let’s just call this very advanced.

The teeter is a problematic obstacle for performance in distance work. A very small percentage of handler/trainers in our sport have actually taught their dogs the performance of this obstacle unattended by the handler (sitting on the dog’s head). Further, if the dog’s trainer has created a 2o2o finish to the teeter then the dog will come to a stop and, frankly, coaxing the dog to obey directional commands is considerably tougher when the dog is not in full flight. This is a significant training objective all by itself.

Advanced Distance Illustration #3


This actually looks like the easiest of the three illustrations for distance work. It probably is in terms of the performance of the teeter. Getting the dog to turn to the handler’s position off the teeter is probably considerably easier than going straight on or certainly easier than bending away from the handler’s position.

In this sequence I would probably show my own students how to shape the dog’s path from the teeter through jump #5 to enhance the chances of success (turning right after jump #5 rather than to the logical left); but I will forgo that discussion for now to avoid offending anyone from Avon, CT[1].

History of Dog Training

We really have to appreciate the history of our own culture. My friend Lisa Hansen-Mantle from Maumelle, Arkansas sent me this very interesting piece from an earlier period in our dog training history. It stands nearly as the birth (at least in literature) of positive dog training methods. This comes from “Letters on the Management of Hounds,” written by H.W. Horlock, in 1852:

There was one (hound) particularly cross and savage with the other hounds, and, catching him one day fighting and quarrelling, I called the other hounds out of the kennel, and resolved to make him know better. I laid the whip upon him sharply; but, at every cut I gave him, he jumped at me, with his bristles up, as savage as a lion. Seeing I might kill but could not subdue him, I threw the whip down on the floor, and holding out my hand, called him to me by name. He immediately approached, with his bristles and stern well up still, and licked the hand held out to him. The lesson was never forgotten by me.

I adopted afterwards the plan of separating at night the most quarrelsome, but in the summer it was difficult to keep them from fighting without constant and long exercise. More, however, was done by the voice than the whip, which I found only made them more irritable. With kind words they would do anything, and, as I always made pets of them, their tractability was shown in various ways.

First give them names, and make them understand them. If you can find time to feed them yourself, do so, calling them by name to their food: if not take them out walking with you every day for an hour or two: put some hard biscuits in your pocket, give the dog a few bits at starting (establishing operation), call him by name occasionally when running forward, and every time he returns to you when called, give him a piece of biscuit: pat him and caress him the while. Follow this lesson for a week or ten days, and the dog will soon begin not only to know but to love his master.

Pets that look like their people

The Intercollegiate Quidditch Association


I kid thee not:

JFF Notebook #30 Now Available


The Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30, September 2009 has now been published and is online in our web store. This issue is subtitled “100 Days of Solitude” representing lost pages from my web log. These articles focus on various aspects of dog agility: dog training; handler training; games strategies; competition; and irreverent musing.

Cost of the notebook is: $14.00. 361 pp.

Now accepting Pay Pal – If you would prefer not to make an online credit card purchase we can arrange for you to make payment from your Pay Pal account. Contact Bud at to make arrangements.

This book is available only in electronic (.pdf) format which can be read by PC and Mac platforms. [Note: No hard-copy will be shipped. We can’t even print it for this price.]

This book is designed to allow you to open any course map into the Clean Run Course Designer simply by clicking on the upper-right corner of the map. This will allow you to play with the course in any way you like, changing the size of the field, substituting equipment, or mirroring the course.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available at

[1] Tails, you lose.

Teeter Fear/Physical Problems – #3 in a Series

August 24, 2009

Many physical problems can cause teeter fear. It is not so much fear of the teeter per se, but the dog’s inability to feel well enough to handle the movement. When a dog that has not previously exhibited fear of the teeter does suddenly it might be prudent to see a vet to check for physical illness or injury. A simple ear infection may cause teeter fear!

The following list is not intended to be comprehensive. But it is important for the agility enthusiast to understand that sometimes physical problems may overpower the will of the dog.

I apologize for reposting the definition of EPI here; but figured it should be organized correctly with other physical problems which may contribute to a dog’s refusal of the teeter board.

[Thanks to Elaine Coop and others who’ve contributed to this discussion.]

Addison’s disease – hypoadrenocorticism, or adrenal insufficiency

Symptoms: listlessness or depression; lack of appetite; gastro-intestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea; pain in the hindquarters, or generalized muscle weakness; shivering or muscle tremors.

Cause: Primary and atypical Addison’s are usually the result of immune mediated damage to the adrenal glands. Secondary hypoadrenocorticism is from failure of the pituitary to stimulate the adrenals with adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). It is important for you to know which type of Addison’s disease your dog is being treated for.

Canine Osteoarthritis joint disease involving degeneration of the articular cartilage

Symptoms: Gradual onset of lameness in one or more limb; Dog less inclined to go for walks and may be reluctant to climb stairs; Onset of stiffness being worst in the mornings improving as the day progresses; Pain on palpation of the joints; Joints may be swollen.

Cause: Traumatic injury resulting in joint instability (e.g. tearing of the cruciate ligament); Overweight, obesity hasten development by increasing the concussive forces in the joint; Joints genetically weakened or unstable as occurs in cases of hip dysplasia; Failure of proper bone development (e.g. OCD).

Cardiomyopathy – disease of the heart muscle

Symptoms: Breathlessness with exertion or even at rest; Fatigue; Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting

Cause: There appears to be a strong association between breed and DCM. Infectious diseases, including Lyme disease, bartonellosis, and trypanosomiasis, have been reported in association with DCM and are usually accompanied by other symptoms.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

Barb Levenson writes: “I have a 2.5 yr b.c. with EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency). One of the side effects is the inability to store/metabolize vitamin B12 and he is often fearful. At 8 months after success on the teeter something happened that frightened this dog to the core. It took a great deal of work over 1.5 year to rehab the dog.”

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a disorder in which the pancreas does not produce an adequate amount of digestive enzymes. This deficiency results in poor digestion and poor absorption. EPI is most commonly found in German shepherd dogs, but can be seen in any breed. It is rare in cats.

“Essentially, vitamin B12 functions in various ways. The most important among all vitamin B12 functions is identified with the assistance in the neurotransmitter production. Neurotransmitter is an important element that regulates almost every function in our body and mind.” – Dr John Anne


Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak. – unknown


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

Teeter Fear – #2 in a Series

August 23, 2009

Some of my students locally and around the country have performance problems related to Teeter Fear with one dog or another. They look to me I suppose for a magic bullet that would cure the problem and forever banish the fear their dogs have for the teeter. In fact there is no magic bullet.

I’ve had hundreds of correspondences with different agility enthusiasts about their experience with teeter fear. I’m drawing these together as best as possible into a summary of training methods, discussion of the root causes of the fear, and remedies. To tell you the truth it is in some ways a nearly hopeless mishmash of different approaches. These are sometimes contradictory. And I wonder at the validity of some claims. For example, a person will tell me “This is what I’m doing. And it’s working!” only to hear from them months later about how their dog has had a major set-back requiring them to go back to square one.

For my own interest I’ve been especially keen to draw a dichotomy between the forces of nature and nuture. A dog’s nature might lend him to be naturally fearful of movement, or noise, or the jarring discharge of energy from the performance of the plank. In the question of nuture, we have to ponder the proper steps to condition a dog to be fearless of movement; or what event might have befallen an otherwise brave dog to develop a sudden fear of the teeter.


At this writing I’m nearly overwhelmed by the collection of notes and correspondences on teeter fear and training methods. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll work at summarizing those notes and reporting them back to the web log in a series of related articles. And then, when I’m pretty much done with it I’ll publish it back as a permanent page (rather than a transient web log entry) that agility people can use as an ongoing reference. Of course it will always be open for new insights and revisions. Possibly some day we can have a Wikipedia resource for saving the information. For now I’ll try to be the best caretaker I can.

Exocrine Pancreatic  Insufficiency (EPI)

Barb Levenson writes: “I have a 2.5 yr b.c. with EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency). One of the side effects is the inability to store/metabolize vitamin B12 and he is often fearful.  At 8 months after success on the teeter something happened that frightened this dog to the core.  It took a great deal of work over 1.5 year to rehab the dog.”

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a disorder in which the pancreas does not produce an adequate amount of digestive enzymes. This deficiency results in poor digestion and poor absorption. EPI is most commonly found in German shepherd dogs, but can be seen in any breed. It is rare in cats.

“Essentially, vitamin B12 functions in various ways. The most important among all vitamin B12 functions is identified with the assistance in the neurotransmitter production. Neurotransmitter is an important element that regulates almost every function in our body and mind.” – Dr John Anne

Physics of the Teeter Performance

Teeter Whip is defined as the amount of flex in the teeter board along its length. The more flex the more “whip”; this definition by Steve Schwarz. Steve includes a great video and something of an analysis with his web log article Teeter Whip and Base Hop:

We need to have an important discussion of physics. When the dog runs out to the end of the teeter a charge of energy is created equal to the dog’s mass by the rate of fall. The energy must be discharged somewhere. In an unsecured teeter—unstaked and unbagged—the energy is largely absorbed by the hop of the board so as the energy is discharged back down the board it serves to lift the teeter fulcrum.

The entire discussion of Teeter Whip creates the illusion that a stiffer and heavier board will absorb the energy. But, in fact, quite the opposite will occur. The whip itself represents a discharge in the unspent energy. If the board is stiff or heavy the energy will discharge right back up into the dog’s bones and joints.

Note that bagging or staking the teeter are chiefly culprit in transferring the release of energy back into the board. A simple fix might be to avoid bagging and/or staking the teeter, leaving the repositioning of the obstacle to the attention of a ring steward, much as we would have a ring steward take care of the collapsed chute.

As far as I can tell there is only one vendor of agility equipment who has studied the discharge of energy in the teeter performance: Duncan McGilvray of Action K9 Sports Equipment Duncan has created a ingenious teeter base with telescoping legs. The base can be bagged and staked. When a dog drives the board down the energy is absorbed and released by the telescoping legs. I was unable to find this remarkable new design on his website. I’d imagine you can contact Duncan at

I had an interesting conversation with Duncan on the problem of the physics of the agility teeter. He wrote:

Agility folks have often witnessed the properties of physics, of movement and energy.  What happens when you secure a teeter base (that cannot absorb energy) to the ground can be somewhat ugly for the dog.  It is not the fault of the obstacle but rather the transfer of energy.  We can argue this point for hours but the outcome will still be the same.  Action K9 has developed a teeter base that seems to absorb a very large portion of this rebound energy and does not pitch the dog off the plank.  Our prototype has been out in the field for nearly 2 years and has done what it was designed to do.  There will always be some opposition to this principle.  Some say a heavier plank, stiffer plank or a lighter one, or maybe a green one, or a red one.  All of these options still produce movement and energy and that’s the culprit.  If you are going to continue the practice of sand bagging, pinning, nailing, or fastening the base to the ground this condition will remain.


Don’t hit kids! (No, seriously, they have guns now.) – unknown


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

Discrimination Roller Coaster

August 20, 2009

I apologize for putting together a sequence that features two dogwalks. I reckon not everybody actually has two dogwalks and so it would be hard to replicate this training sequence. The big dogwalk is out on the floor mostly because I’ve put too much emphasis for several months on my new one with 8′ ramps. Well, I paid like a thousand bucks for it. That’s a proper motivator to want to get a piece of equipment into service.


For a number of years I’ve included in my training a concept I call the discrimination roller coaster. Does a course with a tunnel under a contact give you a good thrill? Imagine a course where we get four or five such tunnel contact discriminations.

I set this up in the building this evening. It was quite a bit of fun. But then, a roller coaster is supposed to be fun.


Kory was tutored today. He’s a bit of an unhappy camper this evening. I’ve got him on restricted movement for the next ten days. He’ll just have to get used to it. Marsha is off to Washingtonville this weekend for a TDAA trial with Hazard. I was going to go; but I really need to hang out with my boy.

40 Years? Really?



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

Getting in Touch with my Inner Calendar

August 19, 2009

Okay, I’ve spent the morning sifting through the avalanche of my in-basket making sure that I have all of my commitments on the calendar. I’ve just had the second “bump” on my calendar in two years (meaning that I committed to two things on the same weekend).

To tell you the truth it’s easier to be dominated by my watch than by my calendar. All I have to do is roll my wrist over and have a good look at the time. But working with a calendar is really quite different. I’ve had a couple good systems over the years. Though there’s something about “moving” and “getting a new computer” that upset careful systems. To tell the truth the best system I ever used had nothing to do with a computer whatsoever. I kept my future calendar in a three-ring binder that was always in my briefcase and just about 3 seconds away from any query. But now my calendar is a task split between two people, and something on the order of three computer systems, not even including email.

The secret to being organized is that you touch a thing only once, and file it away appropriately. It’s like some people’s vision of a Front Cross. It’s one thing to intellectually understand it… it’s quite another to make the body actually do it. <sigh>

So shoot me.

Honoring the Dog’s Path

I’m on a mission with certain of my students to make them understand what I means when I say “Honor Your Dog’s Path”. The handler by turning away from the work at hand is a clear signal to a dog that he should not do that work.

A dog tends to work in a path parallel to the handler’s path

The dog turns when the handler turns

These are fundamentally “Laws of a Dog in Motion”. You cannot be a good handler if you don’t understand these laws. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Your dog can learn to compensate for your lack of discipline. Many dogs learn quite well to read the correct resolution to a handler’s conflicted signal. They learn this thing by a series of corrections and disappointments as they try to interpret the handler’s cues.

Dog’s naturally engage in “compensatory learning”. They learn to compensate for the ills of the handler. The upshot of this is that the handler will create a bond with his own dog that is more based on the dog’s clever nature than the handler’s understanding of communication with any dog. A good handler should be able to run just about any dog successfully, simply by understanding movement that is natural.


This is a simple example of what I’m talking about. Don’t think I’m being completely silly here… I’ve watched about a million agility performances in my lifetime. And I submit that this is more common than rare.

The handler takes a lead-out forward of the dog and curls up at the #3 jump to show the straight line through jumps#3 and #4. The dog curls in and gives the jump a miss altogether. This handling actually fails on several levels. Chances are the lead-out was too far forward of the dog (not leaving the handler room for productive movement). Certainly the idea that it’s a straight line from jump #3 to #4 is a complete illusion. And finally… the handler did not “honor the dog’s path”.


A simple analysis of the dog’s path shows his true line of approach from jump #2. The angle of the approach is dictated by his landing point and his turning radius. Note that the handler’s movement (path drawn) has very little to do with the path that the dog should strike in order to be successful in this simple sequence.


Straighten up and fly right… is the advice that I give my students. I’ll lay thin little sticks on the field to demonstrate the dog’s path. The handler should work in a crisp clean line parallel to the dog’s intended path. If the dog works in a path parallel to the handler’s path then shouldn’t the handler’s path parallel the dog’s path? Think about it.

This is meat and potatoes handling.

Teacup Camp

We’re planning to another teacup warm-up for the Petit Prix beginning September 29 through October 2, with a trial on October 3 & 4. After that we’ll be on the road for the Petit Prix in Racine.

We don’t have much of commitment to the 4 days of teacup training as it stands. I’d be inclined to cancel it but frankly want the final warm-up for my own teacup dog (Hazard). So if you want a delightful last-minute tune up prior to the nationals with a lot of personal attention in (apparently) not very crowded conditions you should get in touch. We’ll get you into the camp.

If you’re interested in camp September 29-October 2, please let Marsha know as soon as possible (



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

And, the World Goes On

August 18, 2009

Guilt is the most pervasive emotion of any person who has ever lost a dog. It doesn’t matter whether that dog was hit by a car or died peacefully in her sleep. We lost two of our pack today. Red died peacefully and without awareness of her immediate fate. I dug a hole for her. She was buried on a thin bed of flower petals and shrouded in Marsha’s favorite red robe. She doesn’t hear voices anymore. Poor crazy girl.

Blue went to the humane society and was immediately picked up by the Ohio State Prison dog training program. She’ll be transferred on Friday. This is a program that teaches inmates to train dogs. And after the dog is trained they go to a forever home. I understand that they also have an agility program. She’s going to make some inmate think he is a genius.

So Red is dead, and Blue went to prison. And the world goes on.

I have a number of correspondences since I posted the “Grief” item on my web log two days ago. It has been an interesting mix of people who understand completely… and others who worry at the edges of uncertainty and offer observations, often anthropomorphic, about good reasons to excuse pack behavior. The latter sort tends to worry at my sense of guilt.

Okay guilt means that we could have done better. We could have exhausted the possibilities of training and drugs and setting a proper environment. At the end of the day it is what it is. And, the world goes on.

You’ll note that yesterday I went right back into my work habit. That’s always been the kind of person that I am. Diving into work is a simple kind of armor to assume. It doesn’t really matter if that work is mowing grass, or digging a deep hole in dry clay, or coaxing agility training sequences out of my brain. It is a cathartic activity and an emersion into thinking that doesn’t dwell on the immediate and the obvious.

Years ago I read a quote by Nancy Gyes that inspired me somewhat. She said “I never give up on a dog; and I never give up on a handler.” I would have liked to have been that kind of rock, and owned that persistence of vision. When it comes right down to it… I’ve given up on dogs. It would be a lie to suggest otherwise. If I can say anything to my own defense to mitigate the abandonment of a creature that relied upon me… it is to say that my decisions are for the pack.

It would be easy for me to say that these were Marsha’s decisions. She has that clarity of thinking. But you know, I might have made an argument to sway her. And I could have and would have, except that I knew that she was right.

And When I’m Not Working



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