Archive for July, 2010

TDAA Start & Finish Lines

July 31, 2010

The purpose of the TDAA course design college is to provide an open discussion for the sort of thing that I have to mention over and over again when reviewing courses. To tell you the truth things that are on the edge of obvious to me have to be taught or introduced to more novice course designers and judges.

I should share with you that part of my briefing for the time-keeper that pertains to Start and Finish lines so that you appreciate the granularity of the task. I will demonstrate the two cones that form the Start line and the two cones that form the Finish line. And I’ll show him where to sit to have a clear view of both lines.

I’ll tell the timekeeper to see the opening line as a fixed dimension in space. When the dog’s chest hits the line he’ll start the watch. In the closing when any part of the dog touches the line after the performance of the last obstacle he will stop the watch.

Rule #1: the time keeper must have a sight line for both the Start and Finish lines.

You can see in this drawing that it would be impossible for the time-keeper to get a sight line of both the start and finish lines without actually running back and forth down the floor. Frankly, we’d be most happy if the time keeper could just sit in a chair and view both lines.

Sometimes a judge will tell me in the course review process that the club has informed that they have electronic timers. Well, do tell, what would you do if the electronic equipment failed or didn’t show up for the trial? You’d be up a creek without a paddle.

Here we have the Start and Finish lines set in a nice single plane of sight. But note that the time-keeper has been positioned so that he cannot sight down either line. Sometimes a time-keeper (or heaven forbid, a judge) will exclaim “I can see them both from here!”

In a sport in which performances are measured in 100ths of a second we can’t really use a raggedy guestimation as to whether the dog has broken the plan of either line. The time-keeper must be seated to see both lines.

This is acceptable… or so would be sighting down the plane of the Start/Finish so long as there is actually room for the time-keeper to sit outside of the ring. Note too that most savvy competitors will look to the time-keeper to tell them to go; so ideally the time-keeper will be situated on the side nearer to the start jump rather than the finish jump.

I’d usually prefer that the time-keeper sit against the ring-rope and inside of the ring if the course and facility will accommodate it.

Here’s an example of the timekeeper sitting outside of the ring. The course designer should not be engaged in wishful thinking on this point and should have specs for the ring and the areas available for use outside of the ring.

Even if the club’s diagram shows this as a “seating area” the course designer will have to also know what barrier exists between the ring and that seating area. Is it low dog fencing? Is it a 5′ tall wooden wall?

A “Vee” design is desired/required when the two lines can’t be sighed as one continuous line. And you can see here that the two lines are a bit slanty to triangulate on the time-keepers position. They do not have to be square to the plane of the jump or obstacle.

A thing that drives me slightly crazy is when only one “cone” is placed out in space for reference. It is impossible for the time-keeper to accurately place the Start and Finish lines. I know you can logically rationalize that you can use your nose as the forward reference while the cone out in space is the opposite reference. But can you insure that the nose will be constant for all dogs?

It’s a better idea to set a forward cone and a back cone to draw the line.

It might seem like a simple thing simply to start and end on the same obstacle. The real difficulty with this arrangement is that you’ve severely degraded the efficient running of the ring. The next competitor cannot approach the Start line with his dog until the dog ahead has finished the jump and is leaving the ring under control. It might take more time to make that exchange than it actually does to run the course.

We should also  avoid making the Finish line a feature that requires technical handling. In this sequence the handler will likely make the approach to the final obstacle with the dog on his right side… but the course ends with an abrupt right turning departure. This necessitates some kind of technical handling on the dismount of the last obstacle or on the approach to it.

A clever redesign of the finish can actually bend the dog’s path for a square approach to the finish obstacle. And it’s okay for the course designer to occasionally be clever.

Be aware of where are your Entry and Exit gates. You should work out with the club ahead of time if the entries and exits are fixed places in the ring, if they are flexible. Badly placed start and finish obstacles can severely impact on the efficiency of the running of your ring.

* * *

Also, a judge might tell me… “I just use the first and last jumps as start and finish.” My response to this should be “Stop doing that!”

Calendar Notes

  • We have a TDAA dogs seminar and trial scheduled. We will include TDAA judges recertification training for only $25.00 (okay, that’s about $100 under the prevailing rate). The dates shall be: September 3-6, 2010. Contact Marsha Houston @ to register. Note that low cost accommodations are available for this clinic.
  • We have a distance camp up and coming. It’s nearly filled already. The dates are August 23-26, 2010. Contact Marsha Houston @ to register. Note that low cost accommodations are available for this clinic.
  • July 31, 2010 Kory made his debut in dog agility competition at Dayton Dog training (in Dayton, OH). He NQ’s in the standard class with a fly-off the teeter. He qualified (Yah!) in jumpers with one refusal (the double).
  • I’ll be doing a two-day warm-up workshop just prior to the TDAA Nationals at Argus Ranch. The dates are October 6-7, 2010. I believe there’s a registration in the Petit Prix Premium. We have a very fun suite of games. I’ll be focusing on killer strategies for these games and a keen understanding of the rules.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

The dictionary game! The word starts with “E”. The definition is: “Devoted to sensual pleasure especially related to good food.” What is the word?

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

By the way… any day now I’m going to pay off my winners of the Trivia Contest over the past couple of weeks. My bad! But I’ve been busy. I’ll makes sure to answer all the winners on-line!


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Asking the Question

July 29, 2010

The first rule of distance training is that the dog needs to understand the performance of the obstacle. What we have to do in the training of the dog is to ask the question… “do you know how to do this obstacle?”

In the discussion below I show the handler making the introduction of a “hoop” to the dog. In case you don’t know the hoop is an obstacle used by NADAC. I find it to be an excellent obstacle for training a very young dog because there won’t be any stress from jumping. Later we’ll transfer the same method to jumps.

This is around-the-clock training. It is also a progressive sending exercise. Though clearly as we begin the send might only be a matter of inches. Because we want the dog to go forward of the handler to go through the hoop we might introduce the directional command “Go On!”

I show in the drawing clock positions #6 back through #3. These correspond with the numbers on a clock and are only intended as rough references. While sending the dog forward to go through the hoop the handler/dog trainer might move only in small incremental steps around the circumference of the clock.

One of the benefits of this training is to teach the dog to “square up” a bit for the performance of an obstacle. With hoops it isn’t a very dramatic action. By the time we introduce the tire (using the same method) squaring up will be considerably more important.

There is a point in training that we can be pretty confident that the dog understands his job… the performance of the obstacle. In this drawing I show the handler making his start with the dog roughly 25′. Under my rules of “asking the question” I begin with my dog at side facing neatly in the direction of the hoop and take a single step, while pointing forward, telling my dog to “go on, hoop!”

Introducing “Go On”

The intention of this exercise is to teach the dog to continue working beyond the handler’s position, even when the handler comes to a full stop. The sequence is a series of three hoops in a line.

We start with the hoops placed very close together. In this drawing the hoops are only 5′ apart. Initially the handler will leave the dog on a stay and lead out nearly to the #3 hoop before starting.

Only gradually the handler moves back toward the front of the line of hoops to send the dog forward.

In rewarding the dog I’m especially fond of using the toss of a ball or a Frisbee. The toss should insinuate a “reward line” forward of the dog supporting the dog’s forward movement.

Only gradually the hoops should moved apart. And each time they are moved apart the handler will begin forward of the dog near the final hoop. And in each successive repetition the handler will move back down the line until he can make the send from behind the first hoop.

While engaged in this training the handler should exercise very basic dog training discipline.

  1. Focus on that thing you’re teaching:  Go On! This means that the dog should continue working forward.
  2. Have a good marker for performance. Use a clicker! Or, give a good verbal marker… “What a good boy!”
  3. Always reward a successful performance. This could be a food reward and it might be a game with a toy.
  4. If the dog fails you should back down on the escalation of the exercise. This might mean the hoops should be closer together; or the handler’s starting position should be farther forward.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Who is the lady in this picture? And, what is her connection to the “Madhouse on McDowell”?

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: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Winged Jumps ~ the First Distance Challenge

July 28, 2010

I begin with winged jumps on day one of Beginner training. While there are venues that don’t even use wings I aspire for my students to be able to play capably in the international-style venues. The wing is a decorative and distinctive embellishment to the jump that adds to spectator appeal and a sense of grand design.

Wings also add visual acuity to the hurdle itself. They make the jump stand out distinctively to draw the dog’s focus and seldom will fade into the jumble of background clutter. And, if you think about it, if the wings are of various and glorious colors, they’ll create a distinction for the handler to sort out order and direction as he conducts himself and his dog through even the most complex sequence.

But there is no question about it, the wing is the very first distance challenge to be faced by dog and handler.

The wing of a jump represents an obstacle to movement to the novice handler who feels compelled constantly to have his fingers around the dog’s nose ring. Indeed, with the very novice dog, this is very nearly true.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Why would the dog go on when the handler has come to a complete stop? There’s the rub. This leads handlers to silly habits like tossing a bit of tasty food treat over the bar of the jump to entice the dog to jump the bar. What the dog trainer should sort out, however, is that the dog’s not really jumping in a biddable fashion or even learning anything truly about his job. He’s just taking the shortest route to get the food treat.

What we do in our Beginner classes is make the introduction to the jump at a bit of an angle. The dog follows the handler’s lead which is extended out to his side. As the handler moves forward to the landing side of the jump the wing passes under the handlers arm. The wing will “pry” the dog apart from the handler making performance of the jump the only way for the dog to attend the handler’s movement.

We can also approach the jump using the opposite wing to pry between the handler and the dog. It’s really the same concept. We should practice the mirror image of both presentations.

What I’d really like for any student of mine to understand are the basic principles of the “Laws of a Dog in Motion”. A dog tends to work in a path parallel to the handler’s path. The dog turns when the handler turns.

So, if the handler squares up for a winged jump and makes the approach so that he has to step aside to avoid running into the wing, the signal he is really giving the dog is to do precisely what he (the handler) did… avoid the jump.

We should subject the “pry apart” system of introducing the winged jump to the dog to the rational litmus of the dog trainer. Does the dog really understand his job? Or are we just brushing the dog off on the jump because it’s in the way? I would suspect that the latter is mostly true. However, the handler has an opportunity when using the “pry” to actually reward the dog for his effort which is a far sight more effective than luring the dog forward with a kibble toss.

It is profoundly ironic that about the last obstacle for which the dog learns performance focus is the jump even though it is the most omnipresent of all the obstacles. You can observe the phenomenon again and again at a certain stage in a dog’s training where he might veer aside from any sane or logical path to plant his butt on the downside of a contact obstacle, or jump up on a table, or dive into a tunnel. This is mainly because the dog has a high reward association with those obstacles and underscores fundamentally that the dog’s trainer (often the same culprit as the handler) has given almost no behavioral / performance conditioning for the jump itself.

An early attendance to the details requires that the dog’s trainer engage in a simple program of incrementally progressive sending to the jump; attended with timely markers and the lavishing of reward whether it is a bit of food or a game with a toy.

This illustration shows the handler making a very modest pitch (about 8′ to 10′) out to a jump whilst himself striking a rational path alongside the wing of the jump rather than straight at it.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

In the Movie The Two Towers Merry and Pippin were ensnared by Old Man Willow. They were freed by command of the Ent Treebeard. But in Tolkein’s book they were freed by another. Who freed Merry and Pippin from Old Man Willow?

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: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

A Weave Pole Exercise

July 27, 2010

This is an exercise taken from the set of the floor using our league play game ( It was an easy set-up, split the weave poles and move them apart.

There’s a real know-thy-dog quality to any approach to the weave poles. Does the dog undeniably understand the entrance to the weave poles? Or, does the approach to the weave poles have to be shaped? If the dog really understands the entry… and moreover understands how to collect himself to weave correctly after he’s entered… then this exercise is vastly simplified for the handler. The handler can, in that case, point and shoot.

However, if the handler must shape the dog’s approach to the weave poles this exercise is a complete riddle in terms of how to create the square approach and how the handler might be on the side of the weave poles in order to be in a control position later on.

The handler should make the attempt to create tight and efficient turns on both the #2 jump and the #6 jump. We do a lot of work with pre-cuing the turn to a dog in motion. Letting the dog know he’s going to turn in advance is more than a simple matter of saving seconds or collapsing the dog’s turning radius; it also allows the dog to jump under control, into the turn, and saves on the wrenching wear and tear on the dog’s front end.

I’m not going to go through the blow-by-blow of the handling. There are actually several sublime solutions (and a raft of not-so-sublime solutions). But  I should point out that if the handler is going to pre-cue the turn at jump #6 he’d probably be thinking about sending the dog to jump #5 in order to be forward of the dog for the #6 jump.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

For exercise: Reorganize the letters in the following word ~ ACCEEHIILNNOSST … and you should leave out one!

Go Google that one!

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: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Gamblers ~ “What’s My Line” Variation

July 25, 2010

This game is a combination of “What’s My Line” and Gamblers. As in gamblers the objectives are first to:  a) accumulate points and then b) to attempt the distance challenge.

Point accumulation shall be conducted as in the game “What’s My Line”. The dog may continue to accumulate points so long as no obstacle is repeated. If an obstacle is repeated the judge will indicate that the handler must direct the dog on to attempt the distance challenge.

Obstacles in the gamble may be attempted during point accumulation. However there shall be prohibition against doing two gamble obstacles one after the other as in the traditional gamblers game. Doing two gamble obstacles (one after the other) during point accumulation will negate any gamble bonus.

Please note that once the handler begins the distance challenge it doesn’t matter that obstacles in the gamble were performed during point accumulation. There will be no penalty or downside for repeating an obstacle during the gamble that was already performed during point accumulation.

45 seconds are allowed both for point accumulation and for performance of the distance challenge. There will be no whistle differentiating the two periods.

However, the handler must indicate his start of the distance challenge by declaring: “Gamble!” This means that the handler has exhausted his “What’s My Line” strategy and intends to begin the distance challenge.

The schedule of points shall be:

  • 1 point ~ Jumps
  • 3 points  ~ tire and tunnels
  • 5 points ~ contact obstacles
  • 7 points ~ weave poles

If an obstacle is faulted no points can be earned for that obstacle; and the obstacle may not be repeated under the “What’s My Line” rules. There will be no faults for the weave poles. However, the weave poles must be repeated in their entirety in order to earn the points.


Gamblers ~ What’s My Line Variation is scored points, then time. Time is a tie-breaker only. The gamble bonus can only be earned if the dog gets to the table in 45 seconds, or less.

  • Novice/GI 18 points in point accumulation plus successful completion of the gamble
  • Advanced/Masters/GIII 21 points in point accumulation plus successful completion of the gamble

Strategy and Discussion

Clearly a greedy man’s strategy is key to winning. The handler should earn as many points as possible in point accumulation… taking care to earn the minimum amount to qualify and a bit more for the win.

The 45 second time limit was based on a 30 second point accumulation plus 15 seconds for performance of the distance challenge. So the handler strategist is faced with finding a decent strategy that accumulates as many points as possible in the true “What’s My Line” fashion, without taking so much time getting the job done that not enough time will be left for a performance of the distance challenge.

Dog Days

It’s been a hot weekend, to be sure. I didn’t get to all the chores I have to do. But then, I never really do. On Saturday I did a bit of canning. I put up 8 quarts of tomatoes. And today I canned 3 quarts of Escabeche. Aside from jalapenos I’m also growing a purple cauliflower which I included in the mix. I have no idea how hot are the jalapenos. But I’m hoping that they heat up everything after they sit for awhile.

Today we had six hours of weekend workshop. A heck of a thunderstorm hammered us about 11:00 am. And aside from about an 8″ deluge in under an hour, things cooled down quite a bit in what has been a brutally hot summer.

Next weekend is Kory’s debut in agility competition. I’m really looking forward to it. And I find myself feeling no pressure at all. Aside from the fact that I only put him up on 24″ jumps about a week ago he’s doing masters level work in general. I suppose this week I’ll just focus on making sure he understands all the specialty jumps, like the spread hurdles, the broad jump, and the panel jump.

I’ll let ya’ll know how it goes.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Two members of the cast of the television series Taxi also were in the cast of a movie that earned five academy awards (including best picture). Who were the cast members from Taxi? What was the name of the movie?

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: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


July 19, 2010

This game derives its name from a great Olympic champion of the springboard and platform dive, Greg Louganis. His name is often borrowed to describe a dog that plunges into space from some high point above the yellow contact zone on the down-side of a contact obstacle.


The dog’s time will begin only when he crosses the starting line after the second contact obstacle. However, bonus points may be earned if the handler honors any of the handler containments shown on the course marked by the text “10 Pt Bonus” and “20 Pt Bonus”. As the text suggests, if the handler leads out to the 10 Pt Bonus line the dog will earn a 10 point bonus. If the handler leads out to the 20 Pt Bonus line the dog will earn a 20 point bonus.

After the dog gets to the table a new opportunity for bonus points is available. If the handler leads out to the 10 Pt Bonus line the dog will earn a 10 point bonus. If the handler leads out to the 20 Pt Bonus line the dog will earn a 20 point bonus.

Note that the dog’s time is based on the jumping sequence only. Time has no impact while attempting either of the two bonuses.

Should the dog miss any downside contact or leave one of the contact obstacles after committing all four paws, then all respective points are lost. Although the opening is not timed, the handler will forfeit any possible bonus if he returns to reset a dog left behind.

The first bonuses are “all or nothing”. If the dog fails to perform either or misses a contact, no bonus can be earned. No faults will be given the dog for missing a contact or failing to perform one of the contact obstacles.

The bonus is intrinsically tied to the lead-out. After setting the dog if the handler must return to the dog to enforce the stay, then all bonuses for that element are lost.

Louganis is scored Time plus Faults less Bonus. Faults include:

• 5 faults for dropped bars and wrong courses

• 10 faults for failure to perform

• Elimination for two or more failures

• Refusals are not faulted

The dog with the lowest score wins.

Louganis as Training

I tend to begin distance seminar work with a simple statement of the obvious. The first job of distance training for the dog is to teach him the performance of the obstacles. A dog might seem to have, for example, a good 2o2o performance on a contact obstacle. But it doesn’t take too much of a nudge or a test to figure out that he only has the 2o2o reliably when his person is shaping him into position or striking a pose relatively nearby (that is, hovering over the dog’s head).

Certainly the arrangement of contact obstacles in a straight line is a preposterous notion; it is not something that you’ll see in competition because it would require some poor judge to race Border Collies all the morning long in order to get a view of the contacts. Yet it is that very preposterousness that makes it a useful training foil.

In the drawing above I’ve left the bonus lines from the game and have even added a new one for a third-in-a-row contact obstacle. This will just fit inside my training building. We don’t actually get bonuses for training exercises.  Right?  [Okay… you just go on thinking that. I’ll see you in competition.]

Note on Prerequisite Skills

Clearly the training relies on a foundation of other important skills. I’ll need a lead-out to be sure. And I should not lose sight of my obligation as a dog trainer to hold pretty clear criteria for the dog to stay until released. If there is a complication it will be in how I give evidence of my dismay at a broken stay while maintaining a “safety first” attitude about the dogwalk (we don’t want the dog dismounting on the center ramp… for example). The association (of my dismay) needs to be tied closely to the event.

On a broken stay my instinct will be to take my dog by his collar on the dismount of the dogwalk and march him ignominiously back to his starting position and rely on his inherent cleverness to make the association with the broken stay. I could be wrong about that… but I’ve been wrong before.

The Steps

All training of the dog should begin with a modest goal and incremental steps to advancement.

So we’ll start with a single obstacle. Part of the predicament is in making a presentation of the dogwalk while I have a forward position. I’ll rely on my belief that arm up is obstacle focus and arm down is handler focus. So I shall use the attitude of my lead as a factor in communication. If the dog comes around the ramp without attempting the ascent I should be starting more to the front. This is an indication, by the way, that the handler has in his training program made his proximity an integral part of the performance on the approach which harkens back to another training error.

In this drawing I’m showing the handler beginning the training about half-way down the length of the dogwalk. Note too that the handler is working at a modest lateral distance from the ramp and not studying to hover over the obstacle while forward of the dog.

If you have already mastered a static lead-out with the dog then you should be practicing a measured lead-out with movement on the dismount. That means that the handler will study to be in continued motion while the dog assumes the unambiguous finish.

When we introduce the second contact obstacle there is greater potential for the dog breaking the 2o2o in an error of anticipation. But we take it in modest incremental steps pretty much as we did in the introduction of the single contact obstacle. Make sure to break off and deny the reward if the dog does not stay until released.

It would be a good idea to alternate between rewarding only the performance of the dogwalk with rewarding the culmination of the two contact obstacles. A good way to deal with any error of anticipation is to introduce the uncertainty of the outcome. And it would make the dog keener to maintain the first performance if he knows that he’ll be rewarded for it from time to time.

Advanced Studies

I’ve continued with this training protocol for pages and pages. But I’m going to reserve the documentation of the more advanced training of the Louganis suite for a future Jokers Notebook.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

When I was a kid growing up in southern Arizona there was a fellow who drove around to schools showing off different desert animals. His mission was a furtherance of the understanding of these animals and their delicate riparian habitat.

What was this fellow’s name? What organization did he represent? And what did he call his Studebaker station wagon?

And yes… that is a porcupine that he’s holding.

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: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Foundation Notebook

July 18, 2010

I’ve started work on a new Jokers Notebook intended to establish a suite of training objectives for a young agility dog in his first two or three years. It has turned into a formidable task. By the time I was done with the content plan I realized that the scope of it was fairly complex and would require a lot of original writing.

I am a bit of a naturalist when it comes to dog training. I’m not so sure that’s easy to explain. Certainly I start with a vision of performance and a definition of steps. But I’m not in a hurry. And I do everything in a building block fashion. I persist with the rules of performance until the dog gets it. Moreover I feel that in “dog” training I am also training myself so that the rules become my rules so the objectives never become fuzzy.

Okay, so now I’ve challenged myself to define objectives, design exercises and training protocols, and write a primer on the process. On a certain level this really goes against the grain. If I lay out a series of “steps” for a training objective then surely I’ll be making it look like “science”… which is, as far as I’m concerned a bit of an illusion.

While the Jokers Notebook is ostensibly a distance training curriculum we can’t really divorce distance objectives from the obvious notion that we’re training the whole dog and not just some obscure corner of his brain that has him out frolicking on the course at some distance.

Okay, maybe it will take me more than a month or two to write this. Ultimately it will be the foundation piece (note the double entendre there) to the overall collection of Notebooks.

270° Turn Theory and Practice

I have all these exercises in my head that I’ve done many times over the years. These days I’ve been getting this feeling of surprising uncertainty as I approach the exercise with my young boy Kory… I’ve never done them with him.

Please note that in the following two exercises/sequences the left-turning 270 is followed by a right-turning 270. I’ve limited the discussion to the first of the two turns. You’ll just have to visualize the mirror image movement on the other side.

The 270 is really a matter of thinking outside the box. In this sequence logic has the handler standing still drawing the dog  around on post in the turn from jump #3 to #4 and then stepping up to jump #5 for a Rear Cross. That logic is a plan that has FAIL written all over it.

In this sequence the more successful handling strategy might be to think outside the box. Consider drawing the dog on right after jump #3 to create a corner of approach for jumps #4 and #5. This is a job for a squaring Front Cross.

I had a bit of fun working this exercise with Kory. In order to make the squaring Front Cross I had to pretty much stay outside the box (clutter of jumps) striking a parallel path on the lead out. Then, drawing him to the corner (marked with the red X). I committed to the cross and sent him through jumps #4 and #5.

Note by the way that the corner indicated by the red X is the same regardless of the speed of the dog. The corner is the corner and represents the timing event for the Cross.

This sequence is a bit more complicated. The handling of the 270 has a lot to do with the direction the dog moves on the dismount. Now the handler doesn’t really want the dog on his left, outside the box, on the approach to jump #4.

I’m not really going to diagram this movement. You’ll just have to train with me if you want to understand it. What I’ll have my students do is a combination movement (outside the box) consisting of Front Cross and Tandem Turn. Implicitly the movement involves a speed change (slow dog to fast dog) between the two parts of the movement. Oh, and the handler will either have to use a Front Cross after jump #4 or Rear Cross at jump #5.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Speaking of artists… the underground artist responsible for the drawing below once collaborated with American animator Ralph Bakshi on a movie. Who is the artist? What was the name of that movie?

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: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Work Study!

July 17, 2010

Yes, I’ve been very quiet this week; at least in terms of writing to the web log. Mostly it’s been a matter of physical and intellectual exhaustion. While the format was ostensibly three hours of intense clinic/camp format in the morning followed by four hours of fairly intense labor in the afternoons; you should understand also that a certain number of hours had to be set aside for designing camp curriculum and setting the floor. I was also pretty much responsible for having tools and supplies organized and ready for my small army of worker/campers! Adding to that a couple evenings of private lessons or class; and throw in a TDAA BOD conference call (three hours of mind numbing ad infinitum detail) made for a pretty full week.

We did an amazing amount of work. We split a couple years worth of firewood for the main cabin and for the two lower rec cabins. We painted and textured all of my contact equipment. We detailed the training building; and mowed the lower training field. We also picked up and hauled a couple tons of mulch and rebuilt the equipment storage tent on the back of the training building. That doesn’t sound like a very long list. But it was a heap of work.

And we had a fabulous agility camp. I pretty much customized the instruction to immediate needs which, even in a small group like this, was quite diverse. It’s interesting that the work/study format creates a different kind of bonding for us all. We established a productive and easy relationship that allowed us to study and practice with easy familiarity. It was quite fun.

Before anybody arrived I managed to put a sprain in my left knee… trying to put out a fire I’d started by being inattentive to the burn barrel. It got all swollen and painful. And I expect that if I’d seen a doctor about it he would have told me to put ice on it and keep it up in a chair for a week or two. You know… he would have told me to chill. As it was, and as it is ever, the show must go on. So I managed both camp instruction and hours of rigorous manual labor without having time or opportunity to coddle my knee.

A Simple Misdirection Exercise

From the onset, this sequence is designed to take away any kind of lead-out advantage.  Or to put it another way… there is no advantage to leading out. The two misdirection traps are presented to the dog at the #3/#5 jump.

What is the correct handling if you’re forward of the dog? What is the correct handling if you’re behind the dog? I’m a huge advocate of the proposition “whatever works is right.”.

It’s easy to spot the dropped bar or the wrong course (or for some, the refusal). So if your dog earns a performance error there’s a good chance that you could say that your solution wasn’t right; (don’t forget your option to conveniently just blame it on your dog.)

On the other hand, if your choice of handling slows the dog down, confuses or demotivates the dog, creates the big turning radius, or causes wrenching physical turns… is it actually the right choice, even if the dog gets to the next correct obstacle?

I have my own correct answers to the handling riddle

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

One of my all-time favorite artists died this year. His work had a powerful influence on my young and impressionable mind… back when it was actually young and impressionable.

This is the cover illustration for a book. Answer this multi-part question: Who was the artist? On what book did it appear? Who was the author of the book?

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: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

A Front Crossing Workout

July 13, 2010

My work study camp is underway. I’ve two ladies show up for afternoon work. They’ve already become champion wood splitters and stackers. I have hundreds of oversized wood cuts and stumps around the property. We’re getting them all cut and organized. With any luck I won’t be using much propane to heat the place this winter.

These two are from State College, PA. And they’ve told me what they’d like to do in the “study” portion of the agenda is master the Front Cross. I understand the sentiment completely. The Front Cross is one of the most common movements in agility, but also one of the most flawed. I have an eye for sublime movement and so that shall be our objective.

Wouldn’t you like to move in sublime manner? Who wouldn’t?

Okay, I’ve come up with a bit of a lesson plan for tomorrow morning using a reasonably small space on the floor of the training building. I recognized a long time ago that for teaching it’s best to avoid a cluttered working space. And what causes the clutter is the misperception that everything needs to be on the floor at once.

We’ll start with a simple sequence that might begin with a single simple Front Cross, between jumps #1 and #2. Many handlers would do this opening with a Bending movement… meaning that they lead out dog on right, and step into the dog’s path to bend the dog away. What I’ll encourage is a lead-out dog-on-left into an opening Front Cross to draw the dog around into the closing loop.

For my own part I’ll put my boy Kory on this sequence and work on my down contact of the A-frame as well while I layer to the opposite side of the weave poles and jump #1. I’m training Kory to be the perfect dog for an old man.

This is basically a reversal of the intro sequence with one little hitch… in the turn after jump #5 into the pipe tunnel. Frankly this might be accomplished with something as simple as a static Post Turn. But this is intended to be a Front Crossing exercise.

The real question of course is how the handler will get forward of the dog for a Front Cross (or for a static Post, for that matter). A well trained dog should work through the outer loop while the handler takes a much more economical path, possibly layering to the opposite side of the weave poles and moving snugly against the tunnel.

Note that from the pipe tunnel to jump #7 the handler will need a careful Post Turn, drawing the dog out enough to have an adequate approach to the jump.

This sequence too is a lot like the first one we ran.  Rather than just a run around the loop the handler will have to manage the dog in the turn from jump #3 into the pipe tunnel. We continue the discussion of the Lead Out Pivot (okay, it’s just a Front Cross). I want to show my students how aggressive the lead-out can be. The dog turns when the handler turns not where the handler turns. The initial lead-out should be to just about where the number 4 is on the course map. This allows the handler to easily be in position for a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #4.

Okay, this sequence is completely relentless. The exercise opens like the last one. But now the handler is faced with getting to jump #7 for a wrapping turn back the opposite direction.  And the sequence calls for yet another Front Cross after jump #9. I’ll look for at least one more Front Cross drawing the dog out of the pipe tunnel for an approach to jump #11.

The final Front Cross, out of the pipe tunnel, is what I call a serpentine Front Cross. If you really think about it this is a combination movement Front Cross to Post Turn. After the Front Cross the handler should draw the dog neatly and carefully around his body to open up the approach to jump #11.

In this final sequence we get to practice the Front Cross three more times… after jump #2; after jump #5; and out of the pipe tunnel at #6.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Who is this cartoon character? Who was the artist?

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: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Distance Directionals

July 9, 2010

The “Go Around” command is intended to send the dog around some object (a barrel, a tree, a chair) without actually performing any obstacle. The importance of this command is that it gives the dog permission to do work at a distance from the handler. Sending your dog out and around barrels or trees is a great way to warm the dog up prior to going into the ring.

This is a very easy skill to teach. The handler may have to begin by accompanying the dog to the barrel, using a lure to show the dog around the barrel. In this introductory step the handler does not go around the barrel. The handler merely shows the way. As soon as possible the handler must switch from lure to reward. You can trust your dog to be very clever once the reward is used to tell the dog when he has done the right thing.

Please note that the reward should be given to the dog with every repetition as the dog is learning this performance.

The distance the handler moves towards the barrel is relaxed as the dog gets the game. Ultimately the handler should be able to stay between the two barrels, giving only the most subtle motion and direction cues with his body.

Game for (Last) Week ~ the Minuet

The dog and handler have 50 seconds. Repeat the sequence as a continuous loop until the expiration of time.

If the dog goes off course, the current book is lost. The dog must be directed to begin the sequence again from obstacle #1.

On the expiration of time the dog must be directed to the table to stop time. Time is a tiebreaker only.


The Minuet is scored books then time.

One book is earned for each completion of the loop. One decimal point is earned for each obstacle in an uncompleted loop when time expires. For example: In 50 seconds, the dog does 7 complete loops and the first two obstacles in the sequence, the dog’s score would be 7.2.


G1 2

G2 2.3

G3 3

Boot Camp Rules

1.       No Fast dog handling

2.       Never blame the dog

3.       Don’t correct the dog’s Performance

4.       Maintain contact criteria at all times

5.       Support the dog’s work

6.       Run

The Agility Instructor – Summary Paragraph

Care about your students. Learn their names. You don’t know everything; don’t even pretend. Learn some good jokes. Pay attention to their progress. Socialize with their dogs; and give them treats out of your own hand. If you must set them back to repeat a class, allow it to be their idea and praise them for being prudent and clever dog trainers. Give everyone equal value. Allow everyone equal time on the floor. Don’t bullshit them. They come to you for instruction, so be honest. At all costs avoid jokes having to do with dead babies. Don’t forget to get them signed up for the next session of classes early; they won’t take it as nagging or selling, but will feel that you honestly care about them. Leave your prejudices about certain breeds of dogs at home. Smile occasionally and laugh often. Always apologize for being stupid. Don’t try to fix everything at once; it’s okay to take the long view. Try to be clever about finding just the right thing to fix or help with. Remind your students from time to time that agility is just a game. Remind yourself from time to time that agility is just a game. Prepare for every class that you teach. Feel free to state objectives and offer handling advice and remedy; but remember ultimately that they come to get out on the floor working their dogs not to hear you lecture. Be humble about your own accomplishments; but ask your students for their brags every week. Be mindful that you know your students in a narrow context – they may contend with drama and tragedy in their own lives of which you are unaware. Always inquire about dogs and family members who have been ill or injured. Be a student of the game. Don’t express extreme political views to your students. Remember that they come to class to chat and socialize not to hear you lecture; so when you must address the class to take a teaching moment, interrupt politely, be brief, and let them get back to chatting and socializing. Be consistent in your training advice. Remember that teaching is a game of repetition. An adult must hear a thing 28 times before it finally sinks in. You have no choice but to be patient; tearing out your hair only loses you your hair. Never chastise a student angrily. You can make fun of a student in a jovial way, but only if you really did have fun with it and only if you are prepared to help your student with your training genius. Teach with games whenever possible. Follow current trends in the sport; collect course maps and study video. Don’t be afraid to cheer for your students and encourage them to cheer for each other. Introduce new students to your classes. Celebrate graduations. Give your students homework. Honor the accomplishments of your students’ dogs. Hang their ribbons in your training center. Give homework. Check to see who’s been doing their homework. Remember that new students often don’t know simple things or fundamental things. Feel free to teach when you are instructing. Remember that nobody absolutely nobody wants to use up class time listening to you brag about your past accomplishments. Be a mentor. Teach from a philosophical perspective. Use positive reward-based training methods. Teach your students to be clever dog trainers. Remember that they don’t learn much when being spoon fed. Problem solving is good. Welcome back students who have been away for awhile. Always start an exercise with the entertainment round in which your students can solve with their own handling choices; otherwise you won’t be so clear on what you need to teach. Don’t be catty in your conversation about people who are not present; it’s a small small world, and it’s not very attractive to the listener[1]. You are responsible for your students’ dogs’ safety. Don’t allow any dog to be terrorized or attacked by another dog. Get rid of aggressive dogs from your program immediately. Always check the safety and repair of your equipment. Provide a clean and pleasant and safe training environment for your students. Remember that everyone wants and deserves basic respect. Always address or speak of other instructors in front of your students with fundamental respect. Keep in mind that some of your students are actually smarter than you and have more education. It might be possible that some of your students are a lot smarter than you and actually have less education. It doesn’t pay to be pompous. Be skillful with students who interrupt, or disrupt, or undermine. Get rid of aggressive handlers from your program immediately. Your other students deserve a safe place to play. It just doesn’t mean any more than it is. Have special events and socials with your students. Encourage a sense of community. When your students arrive for class be sure to say hi to their dogs too. Use your students as the good example when they are. Have a long range vision for your students. Track progress if you can. Keep in perspective that agility is a game we play with our dogs on the weekend in a park.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What two American presidents were named after the same man?

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:

[1] Somebody tell Gail Storm, AKC Agility Rep!