On the Field Again

I had a student last week who told me “I’ve never done agility outside before!” Oh my. Later I remember thinking about what a culture shock it was for me to adapt to training and trialing indoors. That shock pretty much coincided with my move east from Arizona. Has it really been 15 years?

Natural turf is probably the ideal surface for a working dog. I have put off raising Kory’s jump height (to the highest settings on the jump, mind you) until we could be out of doors. Oh, and while Kory is now about old enough now to compete in the AKC I have yet to jump him more than 20″; and frankly usually practice with him at 16″. And I’m not ashamed to practice with him at 12″. Full height jumping is such a small part of training, after all.

In order to further the training ambitions for my dog I’m keeping the lower field mowed and will put up a new foundation exercise each week. It’s hard to stay ambitious about maintaining the lower field when the prospect of working under the “weather” inspires complaint from your students. Selfish motivation is likely the best catalyst for action.


Course design in agility often features options for the dog’s path. What I should like to do is cultivate a working language for my dog that resolves the option and provides good information.

A dog works from a “reference library” to understand directions for performance given by his handler. When my person wants me to do A-thing it looks like/sounds like A-word! In our practice we establish language for performance. And mind you, practice is not simply for the benefit of the dog to learn a word/phrase for performance; the practice is also for the handler to learn and understand the use of the word/phrase for performance.

I’m a little torn about using absolute directionals in this exercise. I’ve for so many years competed with dogs for whom I might always be in position for the relative directional that it becomes ingrained into my philosophy of handling strategy. However now I must accept that I need to train this dog to be directed while my position might be nearly anywhere relative to his. All of the little red H# markers on the course map represent prepositional handling stations.

If my station is readily within my dog’s field of vision I will try to complement the verbal phrase with the movement expression. Movement should always be in harmony with verbal.

Having introduced and practiced the three directionals to solve the options from a dead-stop at the end of the dogwalk; we advance the directional practice to a dog in full motion. The handler’s directives must be timely as well as correct.

To tell you the truth I can’t say that practicing the directionals for the option is simpler with a dog in a 2o2o at the bottom of the dogwalk, or in full flight as is proposed here. In some ways a dog in a full stop might be harder to direct and may even give some lessons in Newtonian physics.

Before I leave this exercise behind I must make a note about generalizing performance. I should apply and test the skill I’ve been practicing in a variety of contexts. Fluency with any language relies on practice and consistency of use. It might be a good idea to find opportunities to practice that language. Indeed sometimes it is a matter of recognizing not just the opportunity but the necessity for the word or phrase the handler should speak.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What is the sharp tool that rational philosophers apply to theories that promote unnecessary hypothesis?

First correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the June Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/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 “On the Field Again”

  1. Nancy Hoffman Says:

    Is it a “sharp” eye?

  2. Nancy Hoffman Says:

    This is a great exercise! I have been working on lefts and rights alot this past year. My Jack Russell is usually pretty far ahead of me, and the directionals have saved my bacon a few times!

  3. Erica Says:

    Occam’s Razor

  4. kathy helmke Says:

    occam’s razor

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