Games All Week!

Games are invaluable teaching tools. While the strident emphasis in our culture is on the numbered course, games provide the basis for teaching the handler the skills to not only survive the numbered course, but to play with a mind to win.

I’m involved in camp this week. We spent the first day addressing handling skills. I pretty much determined that I don’t want to pound these campers with simple handling drills all weeks as their movement apparently has enough sublime grace that we can move on to the next step… application. And so, in the foil of a variety of different games we will for the balance of the week do strategy, analysis, and problem solving. This is always quite fun [clearly more fun that dog training or handler training.]

Warm-Up Game ~ Pickin’ Cherries

This is really such a simple game. I’ll often play Pickin’ Cherries to break the tedium of handling drills or when I’m feeling a bit of paralysis by analysis in my students when doing numbered courses.

The purpose of this game is to pick off all of the tunnels on the floor without doing any other obstacle. On this course the start and finish line are a common line. So, we may start anywhere across the front of the course, and finish anywhere on the same line.

Pickin’ Cherries is a dog’s choice game. That means we can pick off the tunnels in the order and direction of our choosing. The game is scored time plus faults. Doing any obstacle other than a pipe tunnel will result in a 5 second fault. Tunnels may be repeated without fault… if you think that’s actually an effective strategy for the game.

Erudite Discussion (Analysis)

Most Pickin’ Cherries course are considerably harder than this as we often have to move the dog across the field avoiding obstacles placed obtrusively in the dog’s path. As it happens, this set of the floor makes for about the prettiest Cherries course I’ve ever seen. Two essential strategies emerge, both being the same overall length.

And yet, even from a simple game like this there are lessons to be learned. Either of the two possible strategies must begin with the approach to an obstacle discrimination puzzle. How does a handler solve a discrimination puzzle? What can go wrong in the transition to and from pipe tunnel at the back of the floor (at the top of the course map)?

Black Hole

Black Hole is the invention of Ilze Rukis, who was looking for a different ‘spin’ on the usual agility game. Some games reward repetitions of certain obstacles. Others grant higher points for some obstacles over others. She determined to create something where the focus is not to take a particular obstacle. What could be better than the ever-inviting tunnel opening that so many dogs just love to dive into? The game is intended to help to develop discrimination and control skills of the handler.


The purpose of Black Hole is to direct the dog on the numbered course while avoiding, at all costs, losing the dog into a pipe tunnel (a Black Hole). We’ll use a TDAA/JFF schedule of faults… which if 5 faults for every conceivable error. A special ten second fault shall apply to losing a dog into a pipe tunnel.


This variation of Black Hole is scored time plus faults.

Erudite Discussion (Analysis)

This is actually a variation of Black Hole. The game was originally designed to run with the dog earning points for each obstacle performed and ignominiously dismissing the dog and handler from the course if the dog was sucked into the vortex of the black hole.

I’m always looking for a simpler application of a game. And so the way I like to run black hole is with the same rules as for a standard course except that we run the game as Time Plus Faults; rather than Faults Then Time. And, as for the death penalty fault for taking a pipe tunnel… I’ve never been much of a fan of the death penalty at all. Instead the handler should be allowed to continue the course and perhaps even overcome the fault. For all we know, the team probably has lots more entertainment to provide us trying to finish this course.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

For those of you familiar with my teaching, I say there there is a moment at which the Beginner dog suddenly gets it. His brain catches afire and he suddenly learns to have a rip of a good time and attacks the course. I call this the ********* moment! Please fill in the missing word. (Hint: Chief Thunderthud!)

The first correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the April Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special04” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


5 Responses to “Games All Week!”

  1. Barbara Mars Says:

    How about “Kowabunga” from The Howdy Doody Show character Chief Thunderthud.

  2. Betty Says:


  3. Mark & Ebby Says:

    The “Light Bulb” Moment. I have one dog that is still a 10 Watt.

  4. Chris Mosley Says:

    I hate death penalty games.

  5. Paula Price Says:

    I don’t remember Chief Thunderthud, but I remember Princess Summerfall Winterspring. Just barely.

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