Archive for December, 2010

Discrimination from the Magnet Position

December 30, 2010

I said I’d show the solution to the discrimination “tomorrow”. You know, the Mexican restaurant I go to has in the sign of their bar… “Free beer tomorrow!” And every time I go in I tell them “I was here yesterday… I’d like a free beer!” And they tell me “… that’s tomorrow!” Anyhow, I’m not sure how their lame joke applies to my tardiness. I just thought I’d share.

All of my handling comes from an analysis of the dog’s path. In this sequence the dog’s path clearly favors an approach to the wrong-course pipe tunnel after jump #6. What I’d like to do as a handler is draw the dog in for a square approach. Drawing the transitional path creates the handling riddle. We have three lines and two corners. And that becomes the handler’s job. I show the red line above with a broad transitional shift of about 7 or 8′. It really doesn’t have to be quite so deep or so square. I’d accept the corner to corner “square” indicated by the purple line crisscrossing the A-frame. Yet still, there is a bit of a transitional shift.

A two-corner performance calls for a two-corner handler movement or instruction to the dog. This is a perfect application for the RFP (though some will get away with a Flip).

From the Archive

I’m going to share with you something I wrote ten years ago or so. I might refine some of the language as I’ve become more persnickety in my quest for the perfect movement. But it’s a simple explanation of the mechanics and application of the RFP. And there’s no good reason for me to write a tomb of new text. This comes from the JFF Notebook #19; published about ten years ago.

Reverse Flow Pivot (RFP)

The reverse flow pivot is a combination of two Front Crosses, one coming rapidly on the heels of the other. It has two parts, a rotation towards the dog, and then a resumption of the original direction. The effect of the RFP is to tighten the dog to the handler’s position.

One thing that the RFP is *not*; the RFP is not a butt wiggle. Some handlers practice the RFP as a little twist in the mid-section. Perhaps they are taught the movement that way. Again, the RFP is a combination turn. It starts with a cross, and a change of lead hands. And it finishes with a second Front Cross, and a change back to the original lead hand. The rotation of the shoulders and toes is as important as the rotation of the handler’s mid-section, perhaps more so.

Some consider the RFP a “fake-out” movement. A certain NADAC judge says she doesn’t approve of the RFP because it’s “lying” to the dog. It’s not lying. You want both responses that the RFP invokes in the dog; turn this way, and then turn that way.

This illustration shows an RFP that is wide open, so that both of the Front Crosses are very clear and well defined. There is a significant transitional distance between the two crosses. Note the change of lead hands. Notice also that the handler’s shoulders have rotated completely in the direction of each turn.

The RFP is an important movement and necessary in the serious handler’s repertoire of handling skills. As the handler has a compelling interest in staying in front of the dog (Front Crosses are crosses in “front’ of the dog,) the handler’s movement needs to be very brisk, and convincing to the dog.

To be sure, different dogs respond differently to the rotation of the handler’s body. If you were to put the dog’s sensitivity to the rotation of the handler’s body on a scale, the scale would range from “subtle” to “dramatic.” After executing the first element of the RFP, the first cross, the handler has to be prepared to finish with the second cross based on the dog’s reaction to the first movement.

In this sequence the handler uses an RFP to tighten the dog’s turn on the landing side of jump #2, to tighten up the turn and keep the dog from drifting too wide. Note that the handler completely rotates his body back towards the dog (a counter rotation,) and then completely turns back to resume the original lead hand.

The handler needs to “hold” the first cross until the dog clearly responds to the counter rotation of the turn. As soon as the dog’s nose comes around to address jump #3, the handler must flip back and present the jump while getting going in the new direction of the course.

This is a common application of the RFP, and is good, basically, for shaving a second from the dog’s time by shortening the dog’s overall path.


One of the most important uses of the RFP is in solving a discrimination problem. In this drawing the handler is on the body magnet side. He’s not relying on the possibility that he’s an irresistible attraction to the dog, and that the dog will gravitate towards him, and take the obstacle nearer. He’s using the RFP as “insurance,” making sure that the dog turns subtly towards him, tightening up to his position.

Note the handler’s position at the moment of the RFP. He is in a control position, right alongside the tunnel, and not out in space somewhere.

Again, the handler needs to “hold” the first cross until he gets a response from the dog. It doesn’t take much in this scenario. The dog turns his head and takes a step in the direction of the turn. The handler should immediately get the second cross done.

Another use of the RFP is to bring the dog to a compelling stop on the descent of a contact obstacle. Frankly, most dogs will come to a stop alongside the handler, if the handler just stops. Most down contacts are missed because the dog is racing the handler. However, some dogs will bail the contact without regard to the handlers stopping.

Turning back to face the dog in the RFP will make some of the most frenetic dogs come to a pause that saves the missed contact fault.

The RFP is also useful for slowing the dog down on the approach to the weave poles in order to insure a solid entry. Note that the handler is in a control position. When he turns back in the second cross of the RFP, he uses his lead hand to “gate” the poles for the dog.

Using the RFP to control the dog’s approach to the weave poles presumes that the handler recognizes a sequence that builds speed. It’s something a handler might do for a more novice dog. We presume that a more advanced dog will learn to make the entry at any speed.

We also have to presume that the handler is forward of the dog for the approach to the weave poles. This is true of any scenario that the handler might use an RFP.

The RFP can also be used to cause a long-strided dog, subject to leap over the contact zone of the A-frame or dogwalk, to shorten his stride and walk up through the contact. This is useful on courses that frame the contact obstacle from the start line or from a table position.

From the start the dog sees the A-frame, and calculates exactly where he’s going to hit the ramp. That calculation mightn’t involve anything near the contact zone. The handler’s task then is to execute the RFP in the moment the dog is getting ready to make the ascent, thereby introducing for a split second to the dog, the possibility that the team might be going in another direction. But before the dog can react and actually turn away from the ramp, the handler turns back and makes the presentation. The dog, now without the benefit of his former calculations, will walk right up through the contact. This is a maneuver of rather precise timing. It requires a lot of practice on the part of the handler so that the handler knows exactly how much rotation to give, and at what instant on the approach.

I could surely go on an on with applications for the Reverse Flow Pivot. I’ve threatened for several years now to write a paper, 101 Uses for the RFP. It is such a practiced movement for me, and for many of my students, that it occurs naturally in competition, and sometimes spontaneously, coming as it does from a place in muscle memory.

A handler might use an RFP in response to a dog drifting away, just to bring him home. It’s also a good tool very working a very green dog, to “gather” the dog between obstacles, and to keep the dog engaged.

Errors in Reverse Flow Pivoting

Surely the RFP is a double-edged sword. If it is not perfectly executed it can create conditions for course faults at least as damaging as those the movement is being used to avoid. And, since the RFP is a combination turn, made up of two Front Crosses, the entire litany of errors associated with the Front Cross can also be associated with the RFP—and two-fold!

The RFP is also foot-step intensive. It tends to get the handler “stuck” in a back and forth tap dancing movement that doesn’t go anywhere very quickly. As I’ve often observed, a handler standing still tends to be slower than most dogs. And when you’re standing still, the world can pass you by.

The biggest error that students make when they are first learning the RFP is “waiting for the connection.” Rather than getting on with the movement, a handler will stop and beg his dog’s attention to his lead hand. The problem with “waiting” is that the handler is failing to give the dog anything to respond to. The dog has no reason to make the turn, and move, if the handler doesn’t actually make the turn, and move. Remember, we want to operate under the premise that the dog actually wants to go where the handler goes. So the handler should actually go.

In this illustration the handler is committing a classic error in the RFP. He does not have a “control” position in solving the discrimination problem. He surely gets the dog’s attention with the counter-rotation of the RFP. But when he turns back, with the second cross, the dog is still presented with the choice of the two obstacles. It’s a 50/50 proposition.

Almost always the “control” position is the boldest possible position. The handler’s right foot should nearly be able to touch the tunnel after the first turn. And, when he turns back, he should be able to point right into the tunnel.

In this illustration, the handler holds the first turn for too long. And the dog takes the handler’s dramatic unfolding as a directive to take the off-course jump.

All movement is based on “cues.” There is an exactly precisely right moment to begin every turn and to take every step. In the RFP the cue for the second Cross comes from the dog’s response to the first Cross. The dog turns, and moves towards the handler. At this moment the off-course tunnel entry is no longer presented to the dog. So it’s time for the handler to begin the second movement.

The speed of the dog should be held in account. The quicker the dog moves, and the more responsive the dog to the handler’s movement, the more brisk should be the handler’s own motion. And most of all, the handler should watch for his cues.

This error is essentially the same as the previous error, but with a slightly different consequence. The handler has held the first rotation for too long, not watching for his cues, and has caused the dog to run around him and earn a refusal on the next correct obstacle.

The RFP is a matter of some subtlety. It is worth a great deal of practice so that the handler knows the movement, and the dog learns to respond.

The RFP is slow dog handling, as the handler is in a forward and “pulling” posture.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Who is this fellow?

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/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.

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Holiday Fans

December 24, 2010

It’s worth noting that “fan” is shorthand for “fanatic”. I do have a few fanatical students who come out on very cold nights to train in my unheated building whether or no we’re on holiday. Oh, I have a heating system to be sure… it operates on the premise that if I make my students run they’ll build up some nice internal heat and begin shedding their over-coats before we’re long into class. So… how cold could it really be?

The key in sequence design is to provide the opportunity (even the necessity) to run. And after the handler has had his two or three tries, things will heat right up. Here is what I set up last night. While it’s a fairly straight-forward sequence it does have a couple of interesting riddles.

The real challenge in the first half of this short course is the approach to the obstacle discrimination ~ tunnel under the A-frame. Clearly the dog’s path favors an approach to the wrong-course pipe tunnel. If the handler can outrun his dog (not terribly desirable, eh?); then it should be easy enough to get a Front Cross after jump #3 and still be forward of the dog to manage the approach to the A-frame after jump #6.

Of course I’m always interested in developing unique skills in my students. So this opening give us a chance to (for example) use a parallel path lead-out to gain the position forward of the dog to conduct a Front Cross even with the very fast dog. While this is an unusual handling skill in our culture… most dogs understand it completely [a dog tends to move in a path parallel to the handler’s path.]

The handler might also want to pre-cue the turn at jump #3 to get the dog curling neatly into the turn. And frankly, there’s not much help for tidying up the efficiency of the turn after jump #2 unless the dog has been taught a verbal pre-cue. The handler’s lateral distance will be an influence into the turn; but the tunnel forward (not shown in this picture) may influence the turn to go wider than necessary.

And, of course, the position forward to have a control approach to the A-frame has not been solved if the handler has to “conduct” the dog through jumps #5 and #6.

If stuck with dog on right through jumps #3 and #4 many handlers will default to a Rear Cross to get the change of sides going into the pinwheel. The dog might very well get out to jump #5. But a fairly significant percentage will get the refusal at jump #5 because an important attribute of the Rear Cross is that it creates a tightened turn. And frankly there’s not too much the handler can do to save it.

Putting the cross behind the dog on the landing side of the jump (a Tandem Turn) will create a wide sweeping turn, which is ideal for the approach to jump #5. Indeed for a certain type of dog the handler’s movement might serve to forge the dog around the #5 jump; and so the handler of this dog needs to learn to apply brakes to control the turning radius of his dog.

The Tandem Turn is also an accelerating movement. And so what the handler has done here is forge the dog forward towards the pipe tunnel with only the power of the behind (and to the right) position to influence the approach to the A-frame.

All of this discussion brings us to the perfect movement… the layered Tandem. Note that the dog must “own” the Tandem for this to be a viable option. The layered Tandem is an advanced movement deserved only by those dog trainers who do their homework.

The handler should approach the turning jump (#4 in this case) at a modest lateral distance. This bit of real estate is used for the handler to turn and take a compelling step or two to sell the change of directions. Contrary to common folklore… the Tandem is not an arm signal, but a whole body movement. [The arm signal is only a piece of it.]

The layering allows the handler a significant advantage in real estate, even when the dog is fast and leggy.

What we haven’t yet explored is what the handler will do with this advantage forward of the dog. I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What is the name of the constellation pictured here?

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/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.

The Truth About Running Contacts

December 12, 2010

It’s clear that we are now in the “age of running contacts.” Just between you and me and the wall, as a judge I haven’t called so many missed contacts in like 15 years. But those competitive souls in the know will tell you that you just can’t win these days without running contacts. And you certainly won’t get your dog on the World Team. It kinda raises the question… how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

I contend that it’s really mostly a fraud. And what you’re more often seeing in the “running contact” is actually handling. The proximity of the handler is a key element of the performance. So with that in mind you can’t really call it an “independent performance” at all.

Below is a Master Standard course I put up in Charleston, SC this past weekend. I wasn’t trying to be nefarious or anything. There are a lot of very good people down South Carolina way. They’re salt of the earth to be sure. And they put on an impressive lunch spread. We all know how important that is!

The chief design consideration for me was to allow the challenges to come subtly with the dog working at full speed. I often have to argue a bit with course reviewers on this concept; but I didn’t really have too much trouble with this course.

As it turns out, as simple as the course looks, it had a very low qualifying rate.

The chief culprit was the A-frame. Something like a third of the class missed the down contact.

The broadly jutting tunnel created so much separation that there were two phenomena at work. The obvious thing is that the handler was at a broad lateral distance, dictated by having to run around the tunnel. The other thing was that handler tended to want to race around the tunnel to support their dogs. Of course this gave the dogs a speed cue that didn’t really help to make a controlled dismount.

These days I’m pretty much of the notion that the “running contact” is mostly wishful thinking. Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve put championship titles and national championships on dogs that required a handling initiative on the dismount of a contact obstacle. I think that it is a valid approach for routine competition.

My girl Hazard has a running contact; though she’s just a little slip of a girl with a fairly inconsequential stride. In any case she did 2o2o for four years before I faded it in favor of the running contact. I believe that the 2o2o created a fairly solid muscle memory for running through the bottom of the contact.

But these days dog trainers are endeavoring to teach the running contact as the foundation performance. This is a mission that is obviously more optimistic than fruitful.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/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.

Design for Big Dogs in Small Spaces

December 11, 2010

There’s a common myth that you can’t really put up a “big dog” course in a small space. We tend to believe that 10,000 ft2 is the true minimum. However, I must confess that I’ve been designing lesson plans for a 5,400 ft2 space for something like 15 years now. And I think I’m beginning to get the hang of it.

Here’s a sample Masters caliber Jumpers course that demonstrates several simple design concepts that make possible fitting a “full size” course into a small space (5,400 ft2).

  • We do not use spread hurdles; and for a couple very good reasons. The spread hurdle is typically intended to be taken in only one direction. That limits the sequencing possibilities in any course design. This is a 19 number course… accomplished with only 12 obstacles. Another good reason not to use a spread hurdle is that the dogs stride may be more extended, placing greater demands on the small space.

    I could go back and retrofit the spread hurdles. #1, #2, #8, and #19 are candidates. I might also feature specialty hurdles like the tire and the panel jump. The panel jump could go just about anywhere. But the tire should be reserved where you can ensure a square and safe approach.

  • The transitional distance between obstacles in a straight line is in the range of 15′ to 20′. However, any time a turn is introduced the transitional distance must open up as much as 22′. While a gentle 30° turn may require only an 18′ transition; the 90° turn will demand 21′ or 22′.
  • This course uses jump bars that are only 4′ wide and pipe tunnel that are only 15′ long. We did not use a collapsed tunnel (a one-directional space hog).
  • This course probably has more tunnel performances than a typical jumpers course. Tunnels are useful for softening (or at least dictating) a dog’s turning radius and getting a jumping sequence away from overly technical devices.
  • You’ll note that at no time does the dog’s path challenge the walls. Turning flow is introduced into every sequence approaching a wall so that there is always a minimum of 12′ clearance between the hurdle and the wall. Note that the direction of the dog’s path on the dismount from a jump is always dictated by the approach to a jump; not by the rotated angle of the jump or the direction of the next obstacle.

About the “Don’t Challenge the Wall” Rule

Here I’ve drawn the 12′ warning line around the inside of the ring. It seems to limit the usable space. However ~ it’s not that we can’t use the space ~ we should simply avoid jumping the dog directly into the wall. In the short sequence here the #3 jump is placed inside of the 12′ warning line. There is not adequate landing room after the jump.

The fix was simple enough. We approach the jump inside the warming line so that the angle of the dismount comes in at an oblique angle and doesn’t directly challenge the wall.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/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.

Wasted Space in TDAA Course Design

December 2, 2010

As the TDAA course reviewer I see a number of courses in which large pieces of real estate on the available course map are not used. Designing courses for the TDAA is already a difficult task given the small spaces in which we often work. If the course design neglects unused real estate… then the task actually becomes more difficult and leads to a compression of the obstacles into narrow confines.

Here’s a very typical example. This was probably caused by my general observation: the approach to the first and last hurdles require a minimum of 10’ between the ring barrier and the placement of that hurdle. What the course designer in this case has done is treated the 10’ as a general admonition against placing the “course” against the front of the ring.

Unfortunately failing to use the front of the ring has created a terrible compression against the sequence shown here. The pinwheel, for example, is far too tight and becomes a bit of a “toybox” sequence that fast working dogs will find more than challenging.

What I’ve done here, as a fix… is to move the table down towards the front of the ring. I’ve given about 3’ from the table to the ring barrier. And now I’ve gone back through the designed sequence and provided ample and adequate room between obstacles in the jumping sequence appropriate to TDAA standards.

And, please note, even after spreading things out nicely, the extra space afforded me on the course map gave me room to put a dogwalk up at the top of the ring without encroaching or creating compression back against the field.

We can take this another step… by using a bit of horizontal real estate at the front of the ring. I’ve draw both the table and the pipe tunnel towards the front of the ring. Now I’ve opened up as much as another 300 ft2 at the top of the ring in which I managed to put yet another “line” of obstacles to occupy that space.

So from our original sequence we can see that a very simple and straightforward use of wasted space gives us a huge bit of free area that makes the course easier to design and less of a “toybox” feel.

Note too in this drawing that I’ve drawn the start and finish obstacles down to a literal 10’ from the front of the ring. This represents  the minimum adequate approach to first hurdle and dismount from the last. The table next to the starting jump poses no real problem for the dog being set up to begin the course.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

He said ~ “I didn’t bring my bathing suit.”.

She said ~ ???

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

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/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.