The word “discrimination” is probably a misnomer… but it is what we call the challenge in dog agility when there are two obstacles placed in close proximity. Somewhere early on we must have determined that we could teach a dog to discriminate between obstacles by the name or verb that we use to introduce the performance. As it turns out, very few agility trainers actually teach their dogs the names of obstacles; and so the dog doesn’t “discriminate” at all, but relies on movement cues to understand the order and direction of the course.

This is a typical opening course discrimination challenge. Note that the dog’s path clearly favors the pipe tunnel. I’ve gone so far as to draw the path trying to bring the A-frame into focus. But it just isn’t there.

For the judge to put the discrimination at the beginning of a course, like this, is a kindly design feature because the handler can take a lead-out and be in a control position to direct the dog.

There are two classic solutions to solving a discrimination challenge when the handler is forward of the dog. I’ll also show an interesting approach to solving the discrimination when the dog may be forward of the handler.

As you look at these handling solutions try to decide for yourself which might be the best for you and your dog. As often as not the real question is where the course goes after the discrimination challenge. In this case, the course turns to the right.

The blocking position on the discrimination means that the handler positions himself to block the dog’s approach to the wrong course obstacle. What this drawing really doesn’t show is what movement might accompany the block. I would prefer, if it were me, to begin with dog-on-left and use a simple Front Cross after the dog commits up and over jump #2. So the counter-rotation of the handler’s body gives a little extra power to turn the dog.

The handler who leads out dog-on-right has predisposed the dog to think “pipe tunnel” all the way, and might find his knees taken out from under him as the dog plows his way to the tunnel.

And, oh by the way, I’ll often have to remind my students who’ve used the blocking position… “When taking the blocking position the handler is obligated to do only one thing. What is that?” And the answer is… “Block!” The handler  is not blocking if he’s left the wrong course obstacle wide open between his  position and the correct obstacle. Indeed the handler is probably inviting the dog to take the wrong course.

The other classic position when the handler is forward of the dog is the body magnet position. The presumption is that the handler is a powerful attraction to the dog and the dog will gravitate to the obstacle nearer to the handler. In general practice this is quite true, but often enough the handler discovers on course that he’s not nearly as attractive to the dog as he’d like to be.

What the drawing doesn’t show is what movement the handler might use to give insurance to the magnet position. I prefer to use an RFP. I know some people like to call this a “False Turn”… but there is nothing false about it. The RFP is a combination movement, Front Cross to Front Cross. The handler commits to the first Front Cross as the dog comes over jump #2; and as the dog turns to attend the handler flips back with the second Front Cross which turns the dog neatly up onto the A-frame.

I called this an insurance movement. You know… just like real insurance you might not have needed it at all. I’m big on insurance though and will take out the “policy” of the RFP just to be sure of the moment. You know if your barn is already burning down it’s too late to buy the policy.

So far the discussion has focused on what the handler might do if forward of the dog. There might also be an elegant solution on the approach to the discrimination. In this drawing I have the handler doing a “Vee-set” approach. The handler sets the corner on the approach to the jump rather than the landing side. While this creates a slightly longer path for the dog it might be the best solution for certain kinds of dogs (know thy dog, eh?).

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Cool dude with a cool job: What’s this fellow’s name? And what is his job?

First correct answer posted as a reply to this blog post wins a free copy of the February Jokers Notebook (or March, if you prefer).


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – Feb 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/web-store/ . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special02” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

2 Responses to “Discrimination”

  1. Nancy Hoffman Says:

    Ben Bailey in Cash Cab
    I love that show!
    PS If I win, can I please have the March Joker?

    • budhouston Says:

      That is Ben Bailey indeed. I love the program too. Yes you can have the March Jokers Notebook… as soon as I can find your email address!


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