Named Obstacles

As it happens as I set up the equipment for the exercise I’d designed yesterday for “Get Out” training I was a bit whimsical in the effort; substituting one jump for the teeter and adding a tunnel wrapped around the table to provide a flow option from the teeter.

What I discovered here is that Kory pretty much didn’t see the table and opted for performance of the pipe tunnel instead, when I was sending from any distance at all. And so it occurred to me that this was a great dog training opportunity. I’ve had as one of my missions to teach my boy the “names” of the obstacles.  While this might seem obvious the complete truth of the matter is that very very few dogs actually know the names of the obstacles and are merely doing those obstacles that are presented to them by the explicit movement of the handler. I have a powerful interest in teaching my boy to work at a considerable distance from me because, if you must know, I am nowhere near as fast as he is and I cannot rely on handling alone to solve all riddles.

Unnel Indeed!

There was a lady named Robin Brock out in San Diego years and years ago who preferred the word “Unnel” to “Tunnel” because she figured there was a lot of confusion in all the obstacles that began with the letter  “T”; you know, table, tunnel, teeter,  tire…

But what I’ve long suspected is that the dog derives as much word recognition from the back of the word as they do from the front. And so “Table” and “Tunnel” are treacherously similar sounding words. So I’ve adopted the habit of using the command word “Table Up!” as my cue; and it frankly sounds a lot more like ta-blup than anything more coherently described. Well “Table Up!” sounds distinctive enough from “Tunnel”. And frankly I’ve considered changing the cue for  “Tunnel” to “Get In!” Now, we have some differentiation!

Just a bit of anecdotal evidence; we had two dogs in our house, one named Hazard and one named Wizard. Well, if you were to call one of them then both of the two “zards” would come running; at least that was true before our old boy Wizard went deaf on us.

Named obstacle training is really quite a simple matter.  I’ve got Kory’s favorite toy in hand and I give him the cue “Table Up!” Each time he goes into the pipe tunnel I react with stony silence and no offer whatever to throw his Frisbee or engage in a game of tug. But if he should get up on the table, then he earns an enthusiastic verbal marker, a toss of the Frisbee and a game of tug to boot!

On the simple presentation as shown in this drawing it took nearly 10 minutes before he sorted out which performance earned the reward and which the unrewarding silence. As we practiced the exercise I gave Kory no help whatsoever; not so much as pointing at the correct obstacle with hands or feet. I was generally facing in the direction of the two obstacles.

The next step is to give the approach a little flow. You’ll note here that the dog’s trajectory over the jump pretty much aims at the pipe tunnel; though I’ll ask for the Table because we’re not mixing them up yet. Before make the exercise more advanced I’ll want to have considerable success with the notion that he knows which obstacle is the table.

A more advanced test will be to build flow.

In some dogs (I’m talking Kory here) the excitement of good flow will excite his sense of earnest mission without particularly engaging the gears of his brain. Think about it from the dog’s point of view… when you’re on a “ripper” the table just doesn’t make any sense.

And yet the flow will lead us to an important training opportunity that is resolved exactly as were the earlier steps. If he gets on the table he will have a happy handler full of reward; if he goes in the tunnel he’ll have a silent glum handler with no offer of reward. I’ll leave it to my clever dog to figure out exactly what it is that I want when I say “Table Up!”… and what he has to do to earn enthusiastic praise and reward with his favored toy.


The topic “Named Obstacles” was introduced in the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010. Details below.

New AKC Club ~ Needs Charter Members

We are seeking to make a start to a new AKC club representing SE Ohio (from Athens to Zanesville to Marietta; and surrounding areas). We invite you to become involved as charter members.

Our vision of the club at this time is to affiliate with the American Kennel club and to engage in a wealth of AKC programs including: Conformation, Herding, Tracking, Agility, Obedience, and as many of the specialty classes as warranted by the diverse interest of founding members.

If you would like to become involved contact me at: and leave your phone number and address. I’ll get back in contact when the list of interested persons reaches critical mass.

Thank you for your attention!

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Who is the infamous digger pictured here? And, for what literary work is he best known?

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


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special00” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


6 Responses to “Named Obstacles”

  1. Linda Says:

    jack kerouac, “on the road”

  2. Nora Says:

    I was gonna say Peter Coyote, but that’s Emmett Grogan. But I have no idea what literary work he is best known for, besides the Diggers’ manifestos and “Ringolevio.” Unless his own life counts as a literary work. which I guess it kind of does.

    • budhouston Says:

      OMG. I thought for sure I had skunked everybody on this one. It is indeed Emmett (Eugene) Grogan. And the book I really remember was Ringolevio which was kind of a smug, I-can-do-hip-better-than-you manifesto. Turns out he died a couple years after I read the book. I was always intending to look him up. It was an era of casting off traditional paradigms and “reinventing self”… lessons I’ve taken to heart.


  3. Nora Says:

    “Digger” was the giveaway.

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