Archive for August, 2009

Eroding Criteria – and the “Ring Wise” Dog

August 17, 2009

I have a vision of my dog’s performance on the dogwalk. I want him to race the length of the plank and assume an unambiguous position at the bottom of the ramp (al1rto), until released, and without regard to my movement and position. Being the consummate dog trainer I will consistently wait for my dog to assume the position before I mark the performance and reward him for being clever.

Now, when I get him into competition I’m immediately aware that it’s all a race against the clock. And I’d like to win. Right? So give him his command for “bottom”… but as soon as I see his foot touch the yellow, I release him on to continue the course.

I’ve just described a killer phenomenon: Eroding Criteria. In spite of all the hard work that the dog’s trainer did teaching the dog his job, the dog’s handler manages to sabotage the training initiative with the dog in competition by confusing and obfuscating the specific criteria of the performance.

The dog’s trainer will re-emphasize the specific criteria for an unambiguous finish in training… while the dog’s handler will continue to confuse and muddle every time there’s a stop-watch on the performance. The dog quickly learns the basic rules of contact performance: “When in training I am required to go all the way to the bottom and wait; but in competition all bets are off.”

The “ring-wise” dog is the product of the inconsistent conflict between trainer and handler. If you appreciate good irony, it’s a certain irony that the trainer and handler are usually the same person.


“I’m not going to let him think he can get away from that” (having a bad trainer)



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



August 16, 2009

I want to talk carefully here. I’m tired from about 14 days of continuous work and don’t want to be hasty in unfolding my feelings just this very minute. We’re going to lose two dogs this week. This morning we had an incident in which our Aussie bitch Red attacked our old girl Banner.

In the back yard Red was a bit over-the-top reacting to other dogs being on the property and because old Banner girl ventured near she became the victim of Red’s stimulation. And Blue, our little terrier mix joined in the attack apparently because it’s her nature to do so.

This isn’t the first incident for Red. A couple years ago in a similar scenario she attacked old man Ringer. And she has recently dished out some injury to Wizard, also an old dog. It’s true… we have a bunch of old dogs on the property.

I broke up the fight and I told Marsha about it. I think she had resolved herself within about 10 minutes what we are going to have to do. Red is going to be put down. She’s been given every chance and simply isn’t going to change her ways. Blue is going back to the pound. And we are hopeful that some single-dog oriented family might want her.

Through the beginning of the day I judged for a TDAA event, and led a light strategy focused seminar. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep that upbeat demeanor when you’re grieving? Yeah, grieving is the right word. It’s like a dog you own has been hit by a car or has succumbed to old age. Like… but not exactly the same. To make a conscious choice to end a dog is a terrible thing.

I didn’t write this to inspect my own grief. Today I’ve been watching Marsha and wondering at her grief. Red has been her constant companion and absolutely adores her. Even when somebody or some dog is absolutely crazy it is certainly endearing when they love you and attend you. Don’t you agree? So for Marsha this has to be incredibly difficult. Oh hells bells I’m the wimp in this matter; and that’s for sure. It’s been Marsha’s call all along.

Blue, the corgi/terrier mix was originally rescued from the Parkersburg Humane Society. And that’s probably where she’ll return. She’s a gifted agility dog in her own building; but shows fear issues out in the world. The gist of her activity this morning is that she will opportunistically demonstrate a prey and pack mentality that isn’t very appealing. Though Red made the initial attack Blue jumped in with some relish and stood over Banner with her bristles up and her teeth on the old girl.

Though Banner is old, nearly crippled, and blind, she clearly deserves better treatment. It’s our responsibility that she not be a victim to boisterous and inappropriate youngsters.

And still it’s very hard.

I write this on the heels of a blog in which I pretty much condemned the brutality of Michael Vick in his treatment of dogs. It’s probably self serving that I state my case with demonstrable remorse.

I’m going to cry for my dogs.

Quotes of the Day

I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark. —Rush Limbaugh, Voice of the Republican Party

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. —Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King once said – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.” —Barrak Obama, President, Democrat

Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. — John McCain, Republican


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

Strategic Teams

August 15, 2009

At the team tournament on the Friday before the Petit Prix we’ll be playing Strategic Teams. This is based on the USDAA game Strategic Pairs invented by Linda Mecklenburg. In this variations we play with a team of three… rather than only two.

For the first time the team tournament will be eligible for qualifying. Having run the game (today) in trial/seminar format I find myself asking serious questions about how to set qualifying criteria.

What I did today was set the QCT at 2.0 YPS… and measured the course as though it were a standard course (I imagined as I was wheeling it that it might have been an AKC Excellent course for all its’ riddles and herky-jerky transitions). As it turns out, it was a “give away the farm” QCT, as all teams finished neatly under the 72 second QCT.

The winning teams came in at about 43 seconds. So it really looks like I should have used a QCT of 3.0 YPS… which would have set the QCT at 48 seconds.

But that’s truly not the end of the complexity. The judge should take into consideration both jump heights and levels for the establishment of QCT. So my thinking it should look something like this:

4” & 8”       12” & 6”

GI                  2.00            2.25

GII                 2.25            2.50

GIII                2.50            3.00

And, when making teams the ideal is to have everyone of the same level and of the same jump height (or at least small-dog/big-dog). This will be no real problem at the Petit Prix where we have a substantial entry. But what can we do about making up teams in those small trials out in the hinterlands?

Here’s my thinking. We should be able to make up a team of mixed jump heights. But it seems reasonable that the QCT should for a jump height should be fixed for the taller jump height. While this works at the small dog’s disadvantage, it is at least straight forward and uncomplicated.

We should also be able to mix different levels in a game of Strategic Teams. Again, I believe that the QCT should be fixed at the most advanced level on the team.

If you can figure out how to do it with the software, I would not be averse to making a provision for the qualifying criteria for the individual dog to be set at the appropriate jump height and level for the individual player. The uncomfortable part of this notion is that you might have one dog qualifying on a team… because the team finishes under that dog’s QCT… but non-qualifying scores for the other two dogs.

Clear as mud?

Today’s Course



Strategic Teams is a relay; three dog and handler teams are on the course at the same time. It is run on a single course which must be completed in numerical order by any dog. If dogs are of mixed jump height the course will be set to the lowest jump height of the three dogs.

One dog is considered the active dog. The other dogs are free to move anywhere on course; the inactive dog is not judged. There is no marked exchange area on the course and there is no baton. The teams choose where exchanges will occur and execute each exchange simply by one dog assuming the course from the other. The teams can exchange as many times as is necessary or is strategic… each dog on the team must do at least one obstacle.

If the active dog faults an obstacle, the judge will call fault. Another dog must successfully perform that obstacle before the course may be resumed. In the event all dogs on the team fault the same obstacle they must continue, alternately, to attempt that obstacle until it is successfully performed. The course may then be continued. If the active dog drops a bar the bar must be reset.

Wrong courses are not faulted. If the active dog takes a wrong course… no harm, no foul. The handler is just wasting time. The handler can bring the dog around to fix the course… or another dog can be drawn in to pick up the sequence.

The judge will only be watching each obstacle in its sequence. For example, the judge will watch #1 until one of the dogs successfully performs it, then #2, then #3, then #4 and so on. If a dog performs #1 and #2 successfully but then goes off course, it doesn’t matter. The extra obstacle just wastes time. The judge is looking at #3, waiting for a dog, either dog, to perform it.

The inactive dog can do any obstacles it likes without penalty. In some cases, there may even be an advantage to taking a jump on the way to get set up for the next exchange. Handlers may talk to each other during the run. Outside assistance from the crowd is encouraged.

Scoring and Qualifying

Strategic Pairs is scored time only. The team with the fastest time wins. Faults are penalized by the time it takes to switch dogs. The only number on the scribe sheet should be the total time. There is no standard course time. It is a good idea to set a maximum course time so that teams aren’t on the course for any excessive amount of time.

Strategic Pairs is judged under TDAA Intermediate rules. Refusals are not faulted. To qualify the team must finish the course under the SCT for the respective jump level.

A Long Hot Day


We were pretty tired and hot by the end of the trial today. Here’s a picture from our trial photographer that seems to tell the whole story.


barbican – The outer fortification of a city or castle. Esp. the main gate.

beldam – woman of advanced years: a woman who is advanced in years

deuced – used for emphasis: used instead of a swearword to give emphasis or to show displeasure, irritation, or surprise.

finical – Fussy

gabble – speak unintelligibly: to speak or say something rapidly and incoherently

halms – straw, grass, or bean stems used for thatching or bedding.

heresiarch – leader of heretical religious group: a leader or founder of a heretical religious group or movement

kine – Cows or cattle

kip – A bed, a place to sleep

omphalos – the center, focus, or bellybutton. Used by creationists, weirdly to rationalize that the world was created young to look old.

Pyrrhic victory – n 281 BC Tarentum, a Greek colony in southern Italy, asked Pyrrhus (318 – 272 BC; Greek King of Epirus) assistance against Rome. Pyrrhus crossed to Italy with 25,000 men and 20 elephants. He won a complete, but costly, victory over a Roman army at Heraclea. In 279 Pyrrhus, again suffering heavy casualties, defeated the Romans at Asculum. His remark ‘Another such victory and I shall be ruined’ gave name to the term ‘Pyrrhic victory’ for a victory obtained at to great a cost.

Rashers – a thin slice of cooked bacon or ham.

rotto – 1 definition – adj.[1920] (Anglo-Irish) 1 drunk. 2 rotten, e.g. rotto with money (cf. LOUSY adj.; STINKING adj.)

shrive – to absolve somebody of sins

worsting – probably defeating or savaging


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

The Eagles Sign Michael Vick

August 14, 2009

I am so sorry to see this news. What it really means to me is that I will not support NFL football so long as Michael Vick is a player. Cruel? He is a remorseless brutalizer of animals. He fights them and inflicts wounds and terror for sport and delight (and money). And to cull his pack of underachievers his method is to take them out back and choke them to death.

My thinking all along is that the NFL would turn their back on Vick because his crimes were so much more heinous than those of Pete Rose… that the owners would be men of dignity and morality and ethics. This is what I thought and fully intended to continue believing this until they proved me wrong.

And now, they’ve proved me wrong. And I’m so sorry because I’ve been an NFL football fan for the entirety of a fairly long (so far) life.

I guess I’ll be more of a college football fan this year.

An Old Story

When I was a young boy of about 9… I was walking home from church on a Sunday afternoon. And I happened by a young girl sitting along the road-side with a little terrier. As I walked past she looked up at me with a contorted hateful expression on her face… and she told her dog “Sic him!” The little dog immediately attacked me, tearing into my pant leg and drawing blood.

As young boys will do I arrived home crying about what had happened to me. My mother made a big fuss over it. But my dad didn’t say anything, really. He left the house and gathered up my uncle. And the way the story goes is this… they went and gathered up this little dog and took him to the town dump, where they put a bullet through his head and left him.

I think my dad told me the story years later, when he reckoned that I was old enough to understand what had happened. And even then, adult that I had become, I protested that it was not the dog. It was the little mean-spirited girl.

This story is mostly as an acknowledgement of where we come from. Dogs are animals and have ever been disposable in our society. A dog that bites people isn’t going to live very long. And think about this… what does the expression “That dog don’t hunt!” mean? Moreover, what does it mean for the dog? Well, any dog person can tell you… if that dog don’t hunt, then he’s not contributing to the welfare of the household and he’s a candidate for being culled (taken out and shot in the head).

Fighting Dogs

Fighting dogs are for entertainment, and gambling. In today’s society the only useful purpose of the dogfight is to identify human’s who are misanthropic and psychopathic. I’ll bet you anything that OJ Simpson would have had no problem gutting a dog with his knife. It certainly didn’t shatter his spirit to do the same with a human being..

There’s a correlation between the unfeeling man who will be cruel and monstrous with a dog… and the man who will murder his neighbor or his spouse without remorse or pang of conscience.

It is symptomatic of the mass murderer that he begins his “career” of malice with defenseless animals… and graduates in boldness to exercise his sport on humans.

I’m sure some readers will believe I’m making a spurious leap in logic. But think about this… how far are we really from the glory days of the arena in Rome where man was pitted against man… or against wild beasts? We’re not very far at all.

The Bite that Kills

There’s nothing that kills more dogs than a dog-bite. The story of the terrier that bit me is an obvious example. We cannot abide a dog that will bite people. It is sadly tragic on one hand; but obvious and equitable on the other.

Let’s progress our logic to identifying humans who are the least worthy to have a place in our society. If you really want to find the monsters among us… all we really have to do is find those who inflict malice upon defenseless animals for sport and recreation. This is the path to finding the misanthrope and the psychotic. If a man feels nothing in the commission of a monstrous act… I submit that he’s not much of a man at all.

Where I saw the news


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

Last of the Mohicans – a Vision of the Natural Handler

August 12, 2009

A number of years ago I invented the game we call “Last of the Mohicans” in an effort to give my Novice students a serious attitude adjustment about their mission and methods for simple sequencing in dog agility. I really wanted to bring an end to the compulsive habit of any handler of correcting the dog for every error of direction and presentation.

The rules of the game are simple… should the handler ever stop while on course the Indians will catch him and scalp him. Should the handler ever go back to fix the dog’s approach to a missed obstacle… well, that’s running back to the Indians, so they will catch him and scalp him.

We ran the game in camp this afternoon. And I had this wonderful vision of handler’s practicing their craft in as pure and natural manner as possible. The dog never gets corrected for missing an obstacle. Fear of being scalped is a wonderful motivator!

But you know it’s abundantly clear to everyone watching that there were no errors made by the dogs. Every dog responds as honestly and naturally as possible to the cues and movements of the handler. If something is missed then it is the handler who missed it. And so it is such a relief that the dogs are not corrected for every error of the handler. Dogs have considerably more fun and the handler has an opportunity to learn something important… like how good they are at directing their dogs while at a full run.

Isn’t that the game we want to practice?

The Minuet


Tomorrow we will begin the day with this minuet… which came to me in a vision. The minuet is a simple exercise in which the handler repeats a sequence with his dog until the expiration of a specific period of time.

I’ll have some teaching to do on the handling of the sequence (or so I figure). I’ll be interested early on in how handlers deal with the 270° turn from jump #2 to jump #3. A most interesting part of the overall is probably the #4 through #6. The handler has some obligation to create an approach to jump #5 that sets the dog up for a fair look at jump #6.

A Note on Scoring this Minuet

I want to play with giving weighted QCT numbers to dogs of different jump heights. This is the model we’re toying with for use in background scoring at the TDAA Petit Prix.

12      36

8        40

4        48

Note that since time is used as a tie-breaker… then the final time must be adjusted by the amount of the initial fudge for the purpose of comparison. For example… a 4” dog that scores 4.1 in 52 seconds would have a recorded score of 4.1 in 40 seconds.


OMG! They make clothing that allows you to make a public display of your IQ.


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

Waning Poetic

August 11, 2009

Jeez I’m pretty tired now. At the end of day-one-of-six… it’s really a little early to be getting tired. But you know, after a small camp last week surrounded as it were with me being busy with chores on the homestead… it’s like I’ve been going non-stop for ten days already.


This week we have a camp for small dogs and, quite specifically, for TDAA dogs. In addition to the usual handling topics I’m going to spend a good deal of time on the games we’re going to play at the Petit Prix. I repeat that formula on Saturday and Sunday (with a large percentage of the same student by the way) as we will do a trial / seminar format.

The trial / seminar is unique to the TDAA right now. Participants actually get to run a standard course each day and play games that will count towards TDAA titling. Intermixed with the trial will be lecture and practice content much as you would get at a regular seminar. The thing I really have to watch is that we don’t actually practice the standard courses or the games. So much of our discussion will come after the qualifying events. And if you think about it, the bit that actually counts is the part that I would usually call the entertainment round.

We have a full house of about 12 dogs participating in the four day camp. This is absolutely my upper limit these days. I’ve done weekend seminars at which the host insisted on putting 15 or 18 dogs into working slots. But nobody ever gets enough work. 12 is a good number (but in the back of my head I really like 10 or even 8).

As you can see, there simply is no economy of scale to the working seminar.

I’m happy to have Vicki and Don Wolff here this week (with their pack of terriers). Don is the pro bono guru of our electronic scoring systems and our web master ( He and I had a nice long talk this evening about the scoring system for the 2009 Petit Prix.

At some point I have to sit down with membership and explain the scoring system. What we are actually trying to do is give balance and equity to the dogs that make it into the championship round.

The Illusion of the Expiration of the Handler’s Path

There are riddles in agility that seem quite simple and obvious to me that I find myself having to teach to others. After I have stated it… you should find it obvious to you too.


It’s a straight line from jump #3 to the tire at #4. Right? So why does the dog tuck in behind the handler and miss the #3 jump as in this illustration? The handler is working the straight line diligently (handler and dog paths in red). What went wrong?


And the answer is… it is not a straight line from jump #3 to the tire at #4. The dog’s path is dictated by the angle of approach. And you can clearly see here that the dog’s path is more “vee” like in nature and is not very straight at all. For the handler to fail to appreciate the shape of the dog’s path is an invitation to refuse the jump.

I’ve gratuitously added the green paths to the drawing… showing a handler who pulls forward of the dog into a Blind Cross to help shape the true path of the dog. Of course if the handler wanted to keep dog on left for the approach to the tire… then a Front Cross (or Blind Cross) simply wouldn’t be the right thing to do.

Paul Harvey,8599,1882444,00.html


Look at the sea. What does it care about offences?

– James Joyce, Ulysses


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

Rethinking Thistle

August 9, 2009

You know, the thistle plant isn’t much loved. I think it’s because it’s a spiny and inhospitable thing that serves prickly torment to the least caress. It makes a little purple flower, certainly not spectacular, but crowned and framed by a thorny presentation of stickers.

A prodigious number of thistle plants have been growing up the hillside next to my training building. I don’t much care for that hillside at all and have an even live and let live temperament about what chooses to grow there. And lord knows I have my hands full being at war with poison ivy and multi-flora rose, without having dispute with annoying things like mustard plants and thistle.

This morning I went down to the building to do some work and noted what seemed to be a display of yellow flowers high in the thistles. I walked over to take a closer look and was surprised by a flock of brilliant yellow finches most of which took flight and swooped down into the woods below as I clumped my way over. I say most of them… but a half dozen stayed clenched in the thistle eating the seed and impervious to my intrusion.

Okay, now I’m liking thistle quite a lot. I spend a couple hundred dollars every year feeding birds. Mostly we do this at wintertime when seed is hard to find on the landscape.

I feel a perfect balance to a world that has harmony for both thistle plant and yellow finch. All is well.

So, Where the Hell Were Mark & Maggie?

Milton wrote Paradise Lost… and my best contribution to the literary world seems to be Entertainment Lost. To bad we didn’t have Mark & Maggie here this weekend (to say nothing of Katie and Dave.) We might have had even more spectacular entertainment.


I’ve been treating the couple hundred readers of my blog over the past several days to my split-room sequences for the semi-monthly mini-clinic here at country dream. I didn’t publish all of the sequences. Maybe I will in due course. But I’m not so complete a chronicler as I was back with I was doing the Notebook. Hell, I’m supposed to be in semi-retirement, after all.

I include this illustration to show how I’ve divided up the building. This was Marsha’s innovation actually. We’ve marked off a space central in the building that everyone gets to sit and crate their dogs. So when we change sides in the building all my students have to do is… turn around their chairs. It used to be that I’d have to get everyone to gather up their stuff and their dogs and haul it all to the other side of the building. This is simpler.

The Stumper


Late in the afternoon when Marsha and I changed sides of the building (split group/split building work, after all)… Marsha had this sequence numbered. Of course it wasn’t a sequence that I had predesigned. But Marsha does that…


I observed this phenomena several years ago… and I’m certain that I documented it in the pages of the Just For Fun Agility Notebook. Fully 50% of the dog’s running veered away to focus on the tire when the handler led out with dog on right.

From my first look at Marsha’s sequence I remembered this. And felt that I could predict a couple dogs taking a good look at the tire. But 50% was rather surprising. Note that even if the handler managed to draw the dog’s attention away from the tire, it as often as not resulted in a refusal alongside the correct jump (red path). And at least one dog veered away into the pipe tunnel after jump #2 (green path).

So what I showed my students was an attack on the opening line with dog on left. I showed both a Rear Cross and a Bend and Blind. Both worked admirably. And no dog focused on the tire. I shall probably put this interesting challenge into course work… and probably in a very similar sequence that suggests a straight line of jumps with a turn away. This is the kind of very interesting sequence that deserves a test with a hundred or so masters dogs and their handlers.

Columbus What?


Reconstruction of Crates Globe (150 bc)

Okay… a globe? A round planet? 1642 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue? It looks to me like history can be a little myopic. I googled around to figure out what the word “Perioeci” means. The best I can figure out is that it means “Free men… not of Sparta”. Okay that works for me. More likely it’s something like “outlanders” or “foreign devils”.

Not believing that the world was round in those days is kinda like not believing in global warming these days. It’s adamantine ignorance. Note that the only thing that’s relatively accurate on the globe is Europe. They didn’t much get Africa right, except for the Ivory Coast.


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

Free Stuff

August 8, 2009

I started out of bed yesterday focused on a specific project. I was going to hitch the trailer to the John Deere and head down to the red cottage to clean up the wooded area around the fire pit. Always keen to accomplish as much as possible in every trip… I made a note to backhaul some wood from the lumbershed to build some shelves in the tractor barn to store and stack miscellaneous stuff.

Well I got engrossed in cleaning up an area in the tractor barn big enough to accommodate the shelves I envision building. I got this really brilliant idea to get rid of a bunch of old junk. I decided I would just haul it all down to the road and put up a “Free Stuff” sign, and let people pick through it the next week or so. So I got me a couple cans of spray paint, took a cardboard box, and made me a sign which would have made Jackson Pollock proud. The background was a spattering of reflective orange glow-in-the-dark safety paint… and when that had dried I painted in neat white the “Free Stuff” announcement. I repeated the artwork on the opposite side of the box. That way people driving the road from either direction might see the advertisement. Clever, eh?

Then of course I proceeded to haul cartloads of stuff down to the road. The haul included a couple of old kerosene heaters, five or six lamps and light fixtures, a rough lamb skin and wool rug, two old ink jet printers, a couple VCRs in dubious repair, a stack of black T-shirts, a box of plumbing fixtures, a ceiling fan still in the box, a vintage 60’s lawn chair, a box of galvanized ductwork, an old weed whacker, a box of billiard balls, three two-story martin houses, an old suit case full of glassware, six wooden legs from some now defunct coffee table, a couple of big old stereo speakers, an amplifier… and a bunch of other stuff. I think you get the drift here.

Oh, and I optimistically made up a jar to which I affixed some paper labels on which I wrote “Tips” and “Honor Jar”. Who can tell, people might actually leave a dollar or two if they find something they like.

Aside from my “freebie” experiment I also wrestled with the organization of our ponderous recycling effort. I sorted through about a ton of bottles, milk cartons, water and juice bottles, tin cans, and aluminum cans.

I never did get to the project that I’d set as my goal for yesterday. I expect I’ll be working on that later today. But yesterday was hot and I had done a good bit of work outside. Late in the afternoon I retired to the house to work on my blog (yesterday’s “The Riddle of Sides”). You must know that I have a humble and diligent work ethic. I like to write something every day.

About 8:30 I noted a collection of somber clouds on the western horizon. We might have rain! It struck me that I should get a plastic tarp or something to put over the junk down by the road. So I walked down to see how much if anything had found a new home.

It was gone, all of it. I mean to say somebody took every last stitch that I had hauled down to the road. They took the honor jar. And they took my Jackson Pollock sign.

I can’t pretend any remorse for the stuff being gone. I put it down there for that purpose, after all. It is certainly an amazement to me though that the junk from my barn has been hefted down the road in the back of a pick-up truck or under the lid of a hatchback to become somebody else’s junk, in their barn. I don’t doubt that some of it will see good use. I might have hauled this stuff to the dump and paid to be shed of it.

There you go. Recycling at it’s finest.



The transition from the weave poles to jump #4 sets a flat trajectory on an angled approach. The handler will want to shape the dog’s approach to open it up just a bit. Being inattentive to the approach might lead to the dog circling round to the wrong side. This is clearly the job of a Front Cross with a little serpentine Post to draw the dog up more square to the jump.

Note that we routinely practice the pipe tunnel to dogwalk transition with the handler going to the right of the tunnel entry after the dog is in. Then, as the dog curls out of his exit from the tunnel the handler will make a simple presentation of the ramp from maybe 10′ away.


This sequence shows a fairly technical serpentine, beginning with the wave poles at #4 and finishing with the #5 and #6 jumps. Note that the approach to jump #5 is a blind approach and needs to be managed by the handler. The real question at jump #6 will be which way to turn the dog. The left is the natural turning direction.

I’ll be especially interested in how my students handle jumps #9 and #10 on the dog’s exit from the pipe tunnel at #8. While the jumps are presented at a considerable angle this is nonetheless a long sharp line for the dog and calls for the handler to hurry his step.


The test in this sequence will be the handler’s lead-out from the dog on the table. I’m guessing that dog-on-right is fraught with peril; and the dog might easily incline towards the tire after jump #3.

Note the managed approach to jump #7. I don’t really care how people do this. I’m always looking for the gutsy speedo’s who say damn the torpedoes and close with a bold running effort. I like, on the approach to jump #7, two slow steps on a Post with the handler taking off running out of a Blind Cross to end the sequence with a flourish.


The opening line of this sequence is really interesting. I don’t know if I should even say how I would handle it. Oh fart! Let me give you a clue then. This is a serpentine with low flat lines.

History Lesson

Pyrrhus, Greek King of Epirus must have been a scrappy young man and every inch the warrior king. He died in a street fight when he was 46 years old. In 281 BC a Greek colony in southern Italy asked Pyrrhus for help against Rome. Pyrrhus crossed into Italy with 25,000 men. He won a complete but very costly victory over the Roman army. His remark ‘Another such victory and I shall be ruined’ gave name to the term “Pyrrhic victory” for a victory obtained at too great a cost.


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The Riddle of Sides

August 7, 2009

In the game of dog agility many handlers learn fairly early that the dog turns most naturally towards the handler. And so the clever handler will endeavor whenever possible to gain position on the turning side of the course. If the handler were to strictly adhere to the proposition that he should always be on the turning side of the course… then he will routinely engage in what I call slow dog handling; meaning that he puts his movements forward of the dog, and pulling.


A particularly snarly sequence may defy the handler’s best efforts to cross in front. Consider, for example the serpentine opening of this sequence, from jump #2, through the weave poles at #3, and finally jump #4.

BLOG452_02This illustration shows the handler drawing the dog up for a Front Cross intended to manage the dog’s entry to the poles. It’s probably a lot of work for the transition… and might create a longer path for the dog than necessary.


A little bit bolder, yet still crossing in front, is the handler who sends his dog to seek the entry to the weave poles. The handler will step to the opposite side of the line of poles while the dog is engaged in the performance and finish the Cross.


This is no terribly complicated sequence. The most challenging moment comes right at the beginning in the turn from the collapsed tunnel back to the weave poles at #3. I have certain students who will surely hang back and try to talk their way out of this striking a tone that seems suitable for the moment (pleading or harshly demanding).

I should like to draw a picture of a handler gabbling instructions to his dog. But it wouldn’t be completely satisfying as about half the time it would involve a wrong course over the dummy option jump.

IMHO this is a job for the serpentine Front Cross.


The serpentine Front Cross is actually a combination movement, Front Cross to Post Turn (or, as the case might be, Post turn to Front Cross). In this scenario the Front Cross comes first. Out of the Cross the handler wards the wrong-course option jump by maintaining a blocking position throughout, while drawing the dog on Post for a square look at the entry to the weave poles.


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August 6, 2009

The typical handling in agility is a phenomenon I call “connect the dots”. The handler runs his dog from obstacle to obstacle and does his best to solve the implicit riddle of the dog’s predictable path. Americans do everything the hard way, and we’re good at it.


You’ll note in this sequence that the dog has a good look at the dummy jump beyond jump #2. The handler will probably avail himself to a dog-on-left lead-out into a Front Cross to solve the transition and avoid the wrong course option. After jump #3 the dog will get a look at the pipe tunnel in the corner. But it’s a long way away and the handler should be able to easily draw his dog on Post to put a finish to the sequence.


What I’m going to ask my students to do, somewhat gratuitously is shape the approach to jump #2 so that the corner of the approach neatly lines up jumps #2 and #3. This is not to say that what we are practicing is the “one true way”. I would just like to get a bit of practice on the concept of shaping.

Some will say that what we’re doing here is a “Vee” set. That’s fine conceptually… but is probably tantamount to over-thinking the puzzle. Basically I just want the handler to take responsibility for setting the corner. This could be done in a couple different ways. And I think what I’ll do is have my students do it both ways so that we can work through the implications of the handling.

1. This could be a simple Post Turn. In order to create a corner in a Post Turn the position of the handler’s body constitutes the “Post”. The handler isn’t at the corner, but inside the corner. It calls for a simple and important skill… the ability to draw the dog tightly around the handler’s body. I teach a simple expression of the lead hand (see When the arm is up the handler asks for obstacle focus. When the arm is down the handler asks for handler focus.

2. This is a great application for a squaring Front Cross. Rather than putting the Cross on the landing side of jump #2 (as in the default “connect the dots” logic)… the handler puts the Cross on the approach to jump #2 in order to create the corner (which creates the square). This is a very specific kind of Front Cross that has its own mechanics and attributes and requires a good deal of coaching before the handler completely owns the movement.


I include this graphic because it shows a comparison of the dog’s path given the “connect the dots” strategy (black path) vs the “shaped” approach (red path). The dog’s paths are about the same length.


A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

Ulysses – Stephen Dedalus


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