Discrimination Too

I suggested yesterday that the word “discrimination” is a misnomer. If you think about it sometimes the dog can be presented with multiple options that are basically the same option. The U-shaped pipe tunnel, for example, is a discrimination challenge that presents the same performance from the dog’s point of view.

This sequence begins with an approach to the pipe tunnel in which the wrong-course and the correct entry are about 50/50 from the dog’s point of view. To tip the balance, what the handler does will have to be the deciding factor.

Note that if the two jumps are taken more in a serpentine fashion rather than slicing straight through, the dog’s path begins to more surely favor the correct entry to the pipe tunnel. This is indicated by the red line in the drawing. However… the blue line shows what happens if handler overdraws the dog into the turn. Then we find that a third tunnel option has been introduced to the dog. This is one of those subtle traps that might snag more dogs than the wrong side of the U-shaped tunnel. And many handlers won’t  even see the trap when walking the course.

Our sequence features yet another discrimination challenge. And while the challenge is overt and obvious, it is different from what we’ve discussed so far because the handler cannot avail himself to a lead-out to get to the “control position”.  Nope, now everything is moving at the speed of the dog with no time for meticulously and carefully setting up.

On course I’ve drawn a big red “X” the point on course that I believe to be the “control position”. The handler should arrive there by the time the dog gets up in the air over jump #5 in order to succeed with sublime dignity.

Notes on Blaming the Dog

I’ll write this carefully because surely some of my students will read this. And the answer is “yes, I’m talking to you.”

Blaming the dog is a cultural thing. I live in a part of the world where pop ‘n jerk is still the favored means of obedience training. I’ve had a new/prospective student walk into the building with a dog who had on both a choke collar and a prong collar (and the handler with a nice back-up shock collar in her pocket). Locally, over-the-top obedience trainers will work to drain the life out of exuberant puppies and call it “getting control of the dog.”

Okay, it’s a cultural thing.

More often my students are more laid back and kindly to their dogs. It’s a fact that they wouldn’t train with me if something in my message did not resonate. And yet, they operate inextricably out of the local culture. And in this culture, the dog is blamed for everything.

Just to give this a little background, in this part of the world there has never been a system of handler training for dog agility. The responsibility for all things has been heaped upon the shoulders of the dog. So, as often as not, the dog really has to guess as to which direction and what to do next.

In the game I teach the handler is 50% of the team and has real responsibility on course. The art of the handler comes from a carefully crafted and practiced communication with the dog that consists of verbal directive, movement, and training foundation.

It’s clear to me that if you’re busy blaming the dog you’ve really overlooked the obvious. Your communication with the dog is an incoherent mumble. And, if you’re busy blaming the dog you can’t even learn from the mistake you just made.

When my dog makes an “error” on course my conversation with myself will be based on an essential checklist: 1) Was my handling choice correct? 2) Was I clear in my directive & presentation? 3) Have I ever really taught him to do that? And trust me, if my dog makes an “error” on course the answer to one or more of these questions will be “no”.

Let me leave you with this thought. You will not begin to learn your job and you can not improve… until you stop blaming your dog.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What is the name of this statue? It sits atop what building?

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.

10 Responses to “Discrimination Too”

  1. Adrienne Says:

    This is the Statue of Freedom atop our nations Capitol.

  2. Adrienne Says:

    This is a really good article.

    Let me state that up here (Minnesota) blaming the dog is not nearly so popular. It depends on who you train with of course. Let’s just say that when all goes wrong in practice and Emma goes shooting off in the wrong direction, quite enthusiastically, my knee-jerk question is now, “What did I do?”

    And the above three points are what we work with too. But only by ruling out the first two can the third even be considered.

    I’m thinking of bringing a video camera to class so we can record each other in training and spot really “what did we do” since the instructor doesn’t always catch exactly what it was.

  3. Ronni Says:

    Also, as Sharon Nelson said at a recent seminar, “Never let the dog know that YOU made a mistake.” In other words, when you’re out there having fun and something goes wrong due to your handling, don’t kill the dog’s enthusiasm by stopping and asking the dog to re-do what you screwed up. This doesn’t mean that you don’t occasionally stop to train in the ring. It means to recognize when you’re the problem and not the dog, and to move on.

  4. Peggy Says:

    I think when I first started in agility I was more focused on training the dog than on learning my part. Then as time went on and I started listening to my instructor, I would see where more often than not, the mistakes were my late cues or wrong body language or position.
    Then I learned to allow the dog to make a wrong choice. (Even my instructor was fair and would let me know when she really thought the dog was just not paying attention.) And since my dog was part of “our” team, I expected the dog to give me the chance to correct my mistakes.

  5. Mark Says:

    “Blaming the Dog”
    Heck – I’m well past that. I don’t blame myself or the dog. I blame my instructor…

  6. Erica Says:

    Great blog topic Blaming the Dog.

    Photo is the Staute of Freedom atop the US Capital in Washington, DC.

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