Definition of Prerequisite Skills

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.

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