Archive for September, 2009

Thread the Needle

September 30, 2009

Thread-the-Needle is a training game invented by Wayne Van Deusen with the collaboration of Kim Wittig, who named it. Wayne says that he invented the game after a seminar around the clock exercise with the tire. After our private lesson work yesterday in which we were doing progressive sending to the tire, I thought it would be a jolly idea to play a game like this today, just to test the mettle of my students.



The objective of Thread the Needle is to complete all tunnel entrances and then, go to the table. Before each tunnel performance the dog must be directed to perform the tire.

Time starts when dog goes through the tire. Time stops when dog has completed all tunnel entries and is directed to the table.

A penalty of 5 seconds added if dog repeats a tunnel entrance. The dog earns a 20 second fault for failing to perform a tunnel entry.


Thread the Needle is scored Time Plus Faults. The dog with the lowest score wins.


The judge will measure a simple strategy and establish an SCT based on the rates of travel for the respective jump height and level. To qualify the dog’s time plus faults must be equal to or less than the established SCT.

Today’s Feature Course


I had intended today to write about this sequence. However, on reading one of the TDAA discussion lists on Yahoo… I thought I’d apply my little sliver of time to addressing a couple of the TDAA Members’ ballot items. So… I’m going to take this nice romping sequence and squeeze it down into a little box to provide context for the discussion… which follows.

Field Size Proposal on the TDAA Members Ballot

I watch the discussion of some of the proposed rules changes on the Teacup discussion and the TDAA members’ lists on Yahoo with some bemusement. The proclamations of “that’s not safe!” especially earn my attention. Typically these are exercises of the imagination and not really based on any foundation of study or fact in the world. You’ll hear from time to time, for example, that the notorious crossover (a 2- or 3- or 4- legged contact obstacle) is not safe. But, in fact it’s been in use in the agility world for over 25 years in this country. Surely a lot of people haven’t ever seen one; but they probably haven’t ever seen a sway bridge, a water hurdle, or a wishing well jump either… that that doesn’t make any of them unsafe.

The proposal I want to address is that we bring the minimum course area in the TDAA down to 2100 ft2. Factually, we are already allowing trials in this diminutive space. I review all of the TDAA courses so I pay careful attention to making sure that it all stays safe.


Here is a course that is actually based on the “Feature Course” that I drew above. I just kept nudging it closer and closer together. Obviously, this was most challenging in the vertical dimension. Just to help with the illustration I replaced the dogwalk with 8′ ramps with a crossover with 8′ ramps. Note that it gave me enough room to get another jump in the course.

Note that in this course only one obstacle is repeated. Imagine what I could have done with the course if I had set up a couple of stereo sequences in which four or five obstacles were repeated twice or three times! It would make the space actually seem luxurious.

A space of this size and dimension really does have tactical problems both for design and for the conduct of the ring during competition. The narrow vertical dimensions of the ring tend to confine the course designer to down-and-back kind of sequences. The course designer sometimes gets trapped into a three-legged down-and-back which basically will trap the dog on the wrong side of the course after the last obstacle; [though to be sure we might have put the entry (and first obstacle) on the left… and the exit (and the last obstacle) on the right… though that might have become quite a work-out for the leash runner.

As drawn, getting the next dog into the ring while another is running the course is kind of problematic. As a judge my instruction to the gate steward would be for the next dog and handler to head over to jump #1 after the dog ahead has made the turn from jump #10 to #11.

And, a problem always worth noting is the giantish presence of the handler and judge on a course with such diminutive real estate available. The judge will have to be very thoughtful on judging position so as not to apply too much pressure to the dog or get in the way of either dog or handler. As I look at this course I imagine the handler putting the dog on the table and assuming a position looming over the dog so that it’s almost impossible for the judge to actually see the performance. That happens often enough on big wide open courses.

Note that I still managed to provide 10′ for the approach to the first jump and 10′ on the dismount of the last jump without turning them (that’s a separate discussion, I’m sure.)

Happy voting!



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

Gearing Up

September 29, 2009

By this time next week I’ll be settling in for a series of mini-clinics getting geared up for the Petit Prix. I’m somewhat confident of my topics; though I learn more about competing in this venue every year. I would be very gratified if out of the mini-clinics I lead come some of this years top placements and champions.

Aside from the usual handling topics (eg. Finding a way to move well on a TDAA course) I’ll also be dedicating quite a bit of time to a discussion of killer strategies for the games we’ll be playing. Of course I’ll be happy to provide these strategies on my blog post ipso facto.

I have a lady who has traveled all the way down from Wisconsin to take a series of private lessons with me this week. Since I saw her last she has done a lot of wonderful foundation practice with her dogs. You have to admire a student who attends to homework. That’s the name of the game.


We begin the day with this interesting sequence. Frankly the entire thing was designed around the three-quarter pinwheel at the back of the building. In the first turn into the pinwheel the handler does the #4 and #5 jumps, but turns the dog away to #6, rather than finishing the pinwheel. On the second approach the handler must skip the #5/#7 jump flattening the dog’s turning radius from #14 to #15. This is a challenge we see more and more in competition (and often with the #5/#7 dummy-jump rotated 90° to provide a more compelling target.

There is a variety handling options for the flattened turn in the erstwhile pinwheel. For example the handler might use a static Post at jump #14; or a precue to the intention to turn flat; or, the handler might even approach the jump with dog on left using a Rear Cross to effect a tightened turn.

As the exercise actually developed the turn from #5 to #6 became somewhat more excruciating than the flattened turn from jump #14 to #15. One student used a Front Cross which went wide and wobbly; while the other used a Rear Cross which slowed down the world quite a bit and got very wobbly. I switched them both to a Tandem Turn. And with a bit of practice, and before too long, we switched to a layered Tandem to show how strong the movement can be in this scenario.

We also had a long considered discussion about how to give speed cues to the dog. The diminutive real estate in the TDAA often overwhelms the handler with the illusion that they don’t really have to move well. The truth is contrary. The handler must find a way not only to stay in motion, but to race the dog. And without giving an elaborate blow-by-blow of solving this particular course sequence I’ll say… handler outside the curve is sometimes a brilliant notion.

Interesting Course Opening

On Lorrie’s agility blog is a USDAA jumpers course by Elizabeth Evans. Lorrie provides some pretty good analysis.

Of course I’m left wondering about how people handled the opening.



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

A Secret Weapon for Distance Work

September 28, 2009

Wouldn’t it be sweet to have a movement in your repertoire that creates acceleration and increases the real estate (distance) between the dog and handler? Such a movement exists. I call it the Tandem Turn. I’ve put Masters Gamblers titles on several dogs using the Tandem Turn to introduce the gamble. It has always been my most important tool for the gamblers class.

The Devil’s in the Details


This is a bit of an introduction to the Tandem. In this scenario we’re looking for a modest separation between the dog and handler to get the dog out the A‑frame while the handler works a short distance away.

Truly, the devil’s in the details. I’ll make a short list here.

  • Note that the handler arrives at the turning jump at the precise instant as the dog and will make the cue to turn away as the dog is in the air over the jump.
  • The handler steps behind the dog, not in front.
  • While I’ve drawn the handler figure using a counter-arm signal an inside-arm signal is more natural to most dogs. However, the inside arm signal doesn’t bring in your outside shoulder as the counter-arm signal does… so you’ll have to bring around your own outside shoulder when using the inside arm.
  • Note the red line showing the handler’s path. It stays focused forward on the approach to the A-frame until the dog has his feet on the obstacle. Only then can the handler turn and address the path parallel to the dog.

Something a little more advanced


If we move the containment line back to the handler’s side of the first two jumps the exercise is considerably more advanced. Note that the rules of movement are essentially the same as when the handler could step fully around the jump. Consider these additional notes on execution:

  • The handler approaches the turning point at a lateral distance from the dog. This gives the handler room to move and convince the dog into the turn.
  • I had not intended to skip by focus on the jump in the easier version of this exercise. But the handler’s movement in that exercise pretty much suggested the performance of the jump. In this case, however, the handler must (in the red transition line) keep focus first on the jump and then on to the A-frame.

The Week Ahead

This week will pretty much be a series of private lessons. I have about 14 hours scheduled through Friday. This will give me time to do a few chores around the property and to catch up on some other work (like reviewing TDAA courses) that’s been stacking up on me.

I hope also to get in a few hours (each day) training Kory. While we were at the Hampton up in Exton PA I taught him a “Come By” command. What this means is that he should circle clockwise to my left side… nothing more than that. It’s unlike a “Heel” however, because I have no intention of causing him to stop when he comes up on my hip.

In the next few days I will also teach him “Way to Me” which means he should circle me counter-clockwise to come up on my right side. I’ll allow you to use your imagination as to the application of these two commands in agility. I can think of some right smart applications.

A Tribute to Shifty Powers



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

Thousand Hour Eyes

September 27, 2009

In Karen Pryor’s lectures, she talks about having 1000 hour eyes in respect to eyes that have seen a lot and can analyze and predict behavior before it happens. Just so you know, the canny clicker trainer will give the click as the dog’s mind settles to resolve and the muscles begin to flow into motion to offer the training behavior. Yes, that’s right! All clicker trainers are quite crazy.

In the world of the agility instructor having good observational skills has to mean that the instructor sees all of the physical cues of the handler and the dog’s predictable response. “Thousand Hour Eyes” presumes that the instructor understands nuance of movement and the dog’s translation.

Red Roof’n It

I’m finished with the seminar in Exton, PA. It was a fun group of people to work with. And all, you might note, were small dog handlers. My teaching was quite radical by their local standards. This is one of those places largely influenced by big dog/Border Collie teaching. And, no offense, but these people don’t necessarily understand small dog training or handling at all.

It was a trial/seminar format. So it was about half as intense as my seminar teaching alone might be. But that was just as well. When you’re presenting new information it’s best not to get to overload.

The drive out didn’t really get me as far as I might have liked. I considered driving all the way to Morgantown, WV. That would have had me finding a bed at about 11:00 pm. I was already tired and feeling a bit drowsy. So I pulled over in a hamlet in western Maryland following a billboard that promised a Red Roof Inn. As it turns out, I’ve stayed here before. It must have been when I did a judging gig in eastern PA several months ago. Who could really swear though… if you’ve seen one Red Roof, you’re pretty much seen them all.

I’m letting my dogs run freely around the room. They’ve been consigned to crates for most of the past week and a half. So they’re bouncing around. Oh, I’ve got them settled a bit with a couple cow hooves. Hazard is working earnestly on hers. But Kory is tossing his around like a toy.

The week ahead will be a little busy. We have a camper staying over for four days prior to our TDAA trial next weekend. It probably means about three hours of private lessons each day. This will be relatively laid back for me given my schedule the past couple of weeks, and should give me plenty of time to get Kory out in the training building for a series of dailies. It’s time to give him a proper introduction to agility. He’s 7 months quickly going on 8… we’re going to learn the joy of sequencing.

Conspiracy Theories

Robert E. Howard


“This is a very well-known photograph of Robert E. Howard taken in 1934. According to his then-girlfriend Novalyne Price, he hated wearing a suit, tie, and hat, yet he went to a studio and had several photographs taken because she liked it when he dressed.” – Wikipedia

I always tell this story… the pulp mags paid pennies “per word” for the stories they published. So writers of the era, like Howard, adopted a florid multi-adjective kind of descriptive prose. Rather than saying “the man was muscular” he’d write something like “the man’s quivering masses of steely hewn chorded muscles rippled across massive shoulders”. Of course that’s how we got characters in fiction like “Conan the Barbarian”.

Now I’ve given myself away… I go for light literary fare when I’m out on the road.


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

On the Road Again

September 26, 2009

On the Road [Keroac]… Again [Nelson]

Apparently I set my wake-up call this morning for an hour early. It’s one of those things that you punch in through the hotel phone. I’m pretty sure I picked 6:00 am. When I got up I dragged on yesterday’s dirty clothes and took my dogs out to get busy. Then I came back in, drew me a hot bath, and got cleaned up and dressed for the day. When I put on my wristwatch… It was nearly 6:00 am. Of course that means I must have set my wake-up an hour early.

So I have a little time to write to my web log. I’ve been fairly quiet lately because I’ve been pretty busy. After my trip to Springfield IL I got to be home exactly 21 hours before putting it back on the road. I got a night’s sleep, watched my Netflix turnaround (Amadeus); printed course-maps for the weekend; got my laundry done; repacked my bags; loaded up the car and dogs; and set out for eastern PA.

I forgot to bring a book on CD from our Live to Run Again library. So I’m left chasing NPR stations on the radio.

Introducing C-Wags

I think I’m done with the TDAA trial/seminar format. This weekend is pretty much my last outing. It’s time for me to switch my attention to the development of the C-Wags agility venue… a recreational, games-oriented venue very much like the TDAA, but for dogs of all sizes. It will offer an inexpensive community-oriented approach to the game of agility. At least, that’s my fondest hope.

What I really want to do is go on the road with a C-Wags “games camp” focusing much more on friendly neighborhood competition and games strategies than on dog and handler training.

What is C-Wags going to be? I just can’t say I know yet. Any agility organization is a creature of those who participate. The atmosphere you feel at any agility competition is created by the players, not by the organization. C-Wags won’t be as fast as NADAC. It won’t be as tricky technical as the USDAA or AKC. And it will hold to a higher standard than CPE. We’ll have to wait to see what kind of players this attracts.

The C-Wags titling program probably won’t come online for another six months. In the meantime we need to sanction judges and line up host clubs. C-Wags will allow a system of affiliate judges (local judges) helping to hold down one of the costs of the agility trial; And, C-wags will work with clubs to allow trials in smaller spaces… making it possible for the club to host a competition in their own space rather than renting.

Promises, Promises

I will endeavor to write this evening about the TDAA seminar/trial we are doing here in Exton, PA. Perhaps I’ll share a course or two and maybe give away some of my lecture points and exercise notes. I need to get on the road. I’m optimistic that my GPS can actually find the trial site!

1 Corinthians 15:10

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.


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

The Art of the Natural Handler

September 22, 2009

I’ve been working for several days now in central Illinois. There’s been stuff racing through my head as I watch them all. So what follows is a nearly stream-of-conscience accounting of those things that have been in my mind as I watch these earnest players of the game. Two days is really inadequate. I want them all as my students for several years… and maybe for longer than a single generation of dogs. There’s a lot to learn, and it’s not all learned easily.

Sometimes I make this simple science sound like its technical and terrible to the brain. But in fact it’s no big deal. For the most part our dogs will teach us very nicely how to run, how to interact, and how to communicate. I look at all these young green dogs and I can only see the Champions that they will be in a few short years when the Chi and connection between dog and handler will be so magnificent it can only make the heart soar to watch them on the field. I’ve observed this phenomenon for more than a couple decades now… and I’m sure enough of the outcome.

A teacher’s job is to sweeten the path only that we have to take fewer arduous steps in the discovery of this natural thing.

A Quick Tutorial for Natural Handling

Between the dog and handler exists an extraordinary bond. The dog is a canny student of his person and will translate every act of the handler into language. Recognize the importance of studying the language that is natural to the dog. The language is for the most part non-verbal… and so the person must resist the compelling illusion of verbal control.

The study should begin with a definition of the handler’s job. The obvious definition might simply state “too direct the dog.” But I would expand that definition to “conduct” the dog… using “conduct” to be more like the conductor of an orchestra. The handler seeks “symphony” with the dog.

So in the expanded definition of the handler’s role the job as conductor includes:

  • Connection
  • Enthusiasm
  • Speed
  • Direction
  • Focus
  • Control

The training foundation (shades of Prof. Harold Hill)

The conductor of the orchestra must seem more competent when the fellow with the tuba and the lady with the flute have been trained upon those instruments. Conducting hasn’t much magic with the untrained musician or the untrained dog.

So, we presume a foundation of independent obstacle training for our student, the dog. Upon this foundation the dog and handler engage in an advanced study of language arts. “Independent” obstacle performance is a beginning, not an end.

Precue Vu (mean “seeing the immediate future”)

[I’m so sorry, I’m saving this for future development. I must go elsewhere now. Everybody knows what Déjà vu is… Some know what is Jamais vu and Presque Vu. But almost nobody knows what Precue vu is… because I just made it up. ]


We begin with the job of teaching simple focus to the dog. For the most part a dog needs to be focused on the obstacles arranged in his conducted path. But, often enough, the dog has to give brief focus to his handler…. To cue a turn, or to demonstrate the handler’s choice when multiple options are presented to the dog.

It’s interesting that similar concepts and foundation methodologies have occurred in so many different places during the development of our sport. It’s almost like all of these different people had the same marvelous idea all at the same time.

There’s another way of looking at it. It just could be that our dogs have been neatly training us. The thing that works in California is the same thing that works in Texas, Ohio, England, Finland… and Japan. And the reason it works is the propensity of the dog to understand something that is natural to him. So the innovators who show this bit of foundation genius or that, didn’t so much invent it, as discover it through simple observation and under the careful tutelage of the dog.

Arms and the Object of Focus

In our discussion of the matter of the dog’s focus I don’t believe I have for awhile talked through how we use our arms to communicate simple information.  This is a simple system based on the dog’s natural inclinations and understanding of our movement and habits.

The “attitude” of the arm refers to the height of the lifted arm and the degree of the angle created by the lift. A high attitude is at shoulder height; a low attitude is against the pant leg.

As the handler runs lifting the arm and pointing forward is a basic cue for the dog to stay in obstacle focus and, frankly, constitutes permission to work at a considerable distance. Don’t get me wrong here. The arm is not the primary cue. Consider it a detail and confirmation of the more abiding cues (running, for example is the most important cue).

Note that the arm stays arrow-straight and points on in the direction the dog is to move if not directly at the obstacle the dog should move to.

Now the handler slowing down, presumably in anticipation of a turn draws his arm down so that the hand is about belt level. However the arm stands out away from the body. The arm remains arrow-straight and points directly at the obstacle the dog is next to perform.

Again we ask for the dog to be in obstacle focus. But clearly we’re giving other cues. Indeed the dog might take a little steam out of his movement in response to the handlers braking movement.

To draw the dog into tight handler focus the lead hand should drop flush against the handler’s body. When conducting a tight movement in redirecting the dog we want the dog watching us closely. Now the lead hand probably becomes the predominate cue.

Oh yes, and by the way. We also use our arms to keep our balance when running. Pointing the way for the dog and keeping balance at the same time become a skill worth practicing so that you can maintain your dignity while playing the game.

The proposition that the attitude of the arm is language to the dog is all well and good. However, the use of any “conversational” language with the dog should be fortified by training and practice.

Sublime Movement

As we begin to understand and apply movement and pressure as language a reevaluation of our own movements to direct the dog is in order.

What is sublime movement?

It is not fussy fussy overhandling or micromanagement. It is quick neat, fluid, to-the-point, get the job done… quickly returning the dog to his job to focus on the obstacle arranged in his directed path: Sublime – Quick and cool, unhurried grace, just-in-time, everything lined up and in position.

The problem with many handler movements is the person’s propensity for introducing into the movement mechanical confabulations that have no real benefit to performance. Indeed many flails and gesticulations serve only to make the handler woefully late with any meaningful cue. Many flawed handler movements introduce a miscue… or, to put it another way, the wrong advice.

Let’s take the Front Cross as an example of an often flawed movement. At the moment of the Cross the handler steps into the dog’s path,, lunging forward with his opposite arm pointing for all the world in precisely the opposite direction than he’d like to turn the dog. So, clearly, this is all wrong.

Following a new instruction for more sublime and economical movement will be for most people fighting against well-practiced muscle memory. But it’s the good fight and also should be practiced to the extent that it resides in the comfortable memory of the muscle.

Here’s the way a Front Cross should start: The handler will slow down to begin the movement by stepping sideways and backwards. At that precise moment his lead hand drops precipitously to his knee (note that dropping the arm is language calculated to draw the dog into handler focus). As the handler finishes the rotation he continues to move through space… in the direction of the turn. At the moment the rotation is completely finished the new lead (what had been the counter arm) comes up to return the dog to obstacle focus.

Speed Cue

A dog gets his speed cue from the handler’s speed. The obvious translation of this is that the dog will run fast if the handler runs fast. [If the car has an accelerator, it surely too will have brakes. Both have significance in directing the dog, and both are speed cue.]

We like speed in agility. We want a dog who runs fast, attacking the course with joy and fervor. One of the most important cues for making the dog run his fastest is for the handler too… to run; making his own display of joy and fervor.

Agility dogs come in many types. And so the handler and moreover the dog trainer should be a thoughtful scientist experimenting playfully with the application of movement intended to make the dog move at his best speed. [There is a type of dog that loses his keenness for the game if the handler gets too far ahead.]



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

If Agility Were a Job

September 20, 2009

You know, I hear people say from time to time that they wouldn’t like to do agility “as a job” because they might lose their joy for it. I’ve always wondered at the statement… I mean, I’ve been doing this for a job for something like 20 years. Indeed, I quit my daytime job something like 12 years ago and haven’t much looked back at all.

I guess some people must hate their jobs or something. And they feel that if they were making a living doing a thing then they’d hate that as well. Oh my god, maybe they should look for another job?

Someone said once that if your job is something you love… then you won’t work a day for the rest of your life. And I really love agility, and I always have. But on a more realistic note, I pretty much consider mowing lawns, vacuuming the training room floor, designing courses and setting courses to be very specific work for the job that I love. So, it is work. But I appreciate the sentiment.

I’m on the road this very moment, as my busy season is jumping into full gear. I did a TDAA seminar/trial on Friday. I ran my girl Hazard in a TDAA trial yesterday and today. And for the next three days I’ll be a seminar presenter. All of this, by the way, is in Chatham, IL. This is one of my regular stops just about once a year.

I get home on Thursday and will be off on the road immediately for a TDAA trial/seminar in eastern PA. And then I drive home in time to get back on the road for the TDAA Petit Prix in Racine, WI. I have two days of warm-up seminars before the Petit Prix (I think they’re pretty much sold out)… and then the Petit Prix itself.

This is my life.

I’m on the road with Kory and Hazard. It’s really good for Kory to be out here with me. So far he’s led something of a sheltered life. I’m very interested in how he deals with meeting lots of new people and dogs. And I happy to report that he’s a level-headed boy who is quite appropriate with everyone he meets. Hazard, of course, thinks he’s a complete barbarian and doesn’t properly respect her role as canine princess.

Kory doesn’t much like trains though… especially those fast little commuter trains that roar buy early in the morning (right next to the training center and ddoggie exercise area in Chatham).

I’ll try to write more while I’m here. I confess to pretty much melting down in the evenings watching TV and so forth. I’ma (getting to be an) old man and need my rest.

A Tea Party for John Galt?


Somone carrying a sign with a reference to Atlas Shrugged seems to suggest that laissez-faire capitalism is the answer to the problems we are currently facing. To me, this is naive. I can forgive Ayn Rand for ignoring the destruction of the environment and the existence of virtual money in the 1950s. But now? Now that it has become glaringly obvious how very serious these issues are?

Let John Galt stay in the world of literature. In the real world, there are other solutions required. – Jacob Shriftman

Now me:

You’ll note also that Ayn Rand tended to characterize the laissez-faire capitalist as heroic supermen with pure motive and the “struggling masses” as nearly-pathetic little cock-roaches. She was an extraordinary elitist and was clearly more aligned philosophically with Adolph Hitler than Karl Marx.

The “Tea Party” cult claiming association with the elite heroes of Ayn Rand is truly the warning at which a polite society should take alarm and dread. We live in dangerous times. Something bad is going to happen.


There are no second acts in American lives. — F. Scott Fitzgerald



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

Front Cross and the Handler’s Path

September 16, 2009

Last night provided an opportunity to work with a couple of my students on the sequences presented in my blog yesterday. It became an interesting discussion of the mechanics of movement. I guess working we me can be kind of predictable.


Here’s the real question. The handler intends to do a Front Cross in the opening between jumps #2 and #3. What are the fine details of the handler’s conduct of the movement that would contribute to success?


So here’s the handler’s Front Cross. Why did it fail? This handler immediately melts down (I’ve been working with her on that. Pick yourself up and go! I’ll tell her. Your dog doesn’t need to feel corrected every time you make a mistake)… and she asks me “Was I too slow?” No, I say, You were OOP. I love that “OOP” thing. It is Rally Obedience speak. It means “Out of Position”.


I show my student the line that I refer to as “the first true lane”. It’s really simple actually. As I walk the course I’ll hunt down a smooth clear path alongside the two jumps I’m trying to line up. That line dictates my starting position for the Cross and my lane of movement.

This illustration shows a comparison of the handlers initial (failed) position and the new “site line” position. While we’re talking about only four feet of real estate on the floor; it is the difference between success and failure in the movement.



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

Long Lines

September 15, 2009

I have noticed over time that judges will often create long uncomfortable lines in a course. This leads one to suspect that the judge who creates such an interesting riddle has never driven a dog forward in the course and is more likely to be a handler who runs along with his dog. You must know that the long and (not so) straight line isn’t so kind to the team when the dog is actually faster than the handler (a highly desirable discomfort in this sport).

These lines should be routine in practice with our dogs. I’ve made up a small sampling just for the purpose of practice.

Practice 1


The opening line (black) is a nearly straight line. The handler probably should view the first three jumps as a completely straight line. The handler is challenged to get far enough down-field to influence the dog to bend to the right to get into the #5 pipe tunnel. Too far downfield, and the oblique approach to jump #2 might make that jump a candidate for a run-by refusal.

On the return trip (red) the handler will have to beat feet downfield while the dog is engaged in the performance of the pipe tunnel in order to be in position for the change of directions after jump #7 and the abrupt change of directions after jump #8.

Practice 2


In the opening (black) the handler has a tricky change of directions in the transition from jump #3 to #4. Of course the angled approach to jump #2 is still a problem of presentation while the handler gains the necessary forward position for the turn.

On the return trip (red) the handler really doesn’t have time to stop and admire his work after getting the dog into the #5 pipe tunnel. This sequence might not be quite as easy as it looks. On which side should the handler have his dog on the approach to jump #6? To jump #7?

Practice 3


The opening (black) of this sequence is probably the kindest of the three practice sets I’ve drawn. I think I can let this one pass without too much in the way of analysis.

The closing (red) is a bit more of a pickle. I’ve dramatized the wavy line from jump #7 to #8. The handler might consider setting the approach between #6 and #7… but that clever calculation is likely to leave the handler hopelessly behind the dog to affect the change of direction (in the face of a wrong-course option) in the turn from jump #8 to #9.


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

Tie-Dye Party

September 12, 2009

We spent the day making tie-dye tee-shirts. Many of these will be the official “Country Dream” tee-shirt. A few were held back for our Petit Prix “West Virginia” team. It was fun. I’m considering some way to do this in the future to incorporate some nice silk-screen line art into the mix.


Here’s Marsha applying dye to the rolled shirts. It’s not really as messy as it looks.


This is me, supervising the operation.


This is Dave, our mad scientist chemist.

Kory’s Training Program

I know I said that I won’t be jumping Kory until he’s a year old. But let me amend that to say I won’t be jumping him at full-height until he’s a year old. For now it’s an admirable training objective to teach him to go between the standards, and over the bar.

I’m frankly beginning with an own the pinwheel exercise. We haven’t progressed very far. I’ve just begun with him, and I’m not in a hurry.

BLOG475_04This is a simple training regimen. I begin with all the winged jumps abutted in the center so that there’s nowhere to go but over the jump bars. I concentrate in the beginning in facing the next correct jump for my dog. The verbal directive might begin with “Jump”… but I immediately change to “Go On! Go On!” to distinguish between jumps as individual obstacles, and my desire for him to continue working the pinwheel as though it were a single obstacle with multiple elements.


By the second day I have opened up the pinwheel so that the edge of each wing stands off the center point by about 18”. I’ll probably be here for a couple days… as his error rate was something over 30%. I’d rather have him keeping his nose down and “owning” the pinwheel more at 95%.


In the mean time Kory has mastered the “Back-Up” command brilliantly. I began with facing him when asking him to back up. He’s pretty cool as he’ll scootch back 8′ or so rather quickly on his long spindly legs. Today I introduced a transition of the skill with both of us facing the same direction with him in Heel position. So now when I ask him to back up, we both back up.

In a day or two I’ll bring the ladder out. And we’ll work on backing up through the ladder.

TDAA Trial Coming Soon

Our premium is available for the October 3-4, 2009, TDAA trial at Bud Houston’s Country Dream in southeastern Ohio (just 15 minutes from Marietta, 20 minutes from Parkersburg, 40 minutes from Athens).

We’re offering four rounds of Standard (all levels), plus Go For Broke, Pinball Wizard, Quidditch, Super Dog, and the PETIT PRIX FINAL ROUND GAME, Who Dares Wins.  Premium contact    Premium is also available on the TDAA website.

PLUS   Prior to the trial we have a 4-day teacup agility camp where we’ll be preparing for our trip to Wisconsin for the TDAA nationals — the 2009 Petit Prix !!

PLUS   I’ve got a cottage available, as well as a guestroom in the house. These are usually occupied by folks here for camp, but we’ll open them up on the trial weekend if still available

For more information contact

Petit Prix Warm-Up Workshops

These are mostly sold out already…

Preparations are underway for two days of Petit Prix Warm-Up Workshops, to take place in Racine, Wisconsin, with instructor Bud Houston. Bud not only created TDAA, establishing it as our all-time favorite venue, but he literally wrote the book on agility games rules and strategies.

If you want to be prepared for the 2009 Petit Prix you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to attend some or all of these workshops. We’ll be working on the handling skills required for teacup agility as well as games strategies. Workshops will all be held at the Greater Racine Kennel Club and our host will be Wayne Van Deusen.

Because people have diverse travel schedules we’ve once again chosen a component system for the workshops, with plenty of room for auditors and a solid discount for attending all 4 …..

To register, please contact She’ll send a pdf of the registration form, cancellation policy, and waiver.  Thanks, and see you at the Petit Prix !!!


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