Archive for August, 2011

Box Threadles & 270’s

August 15, 2011

Returning to the letter A…

The dog and handler step into the ring as a team. The judge’s riddle will offer both curious passage and unexpected twist for the team to solve all in a rush in an aura of palpable expectancy.

What I intend to develop with my boy Kory as we work through the alphabet drills is teamwork, pure and simple. Technical practice is the key. I must know how to give the instruction/word by movement or verbalization for whatever confronts us in the moment. And Kory must know his working response.

The Alphabet Drills are like practice at sword play, like Samurai’s sparring, developing instinct, understanding, and muscle memory.

The Box Threadle

With Kory this was far simpler than I’d imagined. I begin with a slight cross-the-body precue; and pull it off neatly with an RFP in which I never bother to give full rotation. The key to this handling challenge (to any?) is understanding the dog’s path.

Here, I’ve drawn the box threadle movement. It’s important to see the three lines of the dog’s path in the movement, and the two corners. The handler must support the dog in every line. And corners are always timing events. Without seeing the lines, and corners, it’s pretty hard to do your job.

The 270s

270s in box work might have a variety of handling solutions. What’s good for the fast dog handler is almost surely a disaster of lackluster handler participation for the slow dog handler.


For me and Kory this went to the fast dog end of the scale. The tricky bit for me was bringing my boy into the box in a way that establishes the line straight through the box; rather than offering the wrong-course corner-cut.

Ah! If the 270 is a corner-cut it’s a considerably easier exercise. The handler can constantly hedge the line to ensure the corner-of-the-box performance. But don’t you know, this is not a true 270° turn.

Following Along?

A compilation volume of Nancy Gyes’ Alphabet Drills has been published by Clean Run Productions. I’m sure you can find a copy on the web store; www.cleanrun.com. The price is $29.95.

I’ll be working through the alphabet drills (and inflicting them on my own students). I hope you get the book and follow along. There is a cd with the book that has the exercises in Course Designer .agl format.

Home Front

Life has been hectic recently what with our ramped up trialing adventures. I have other obligations as well: judging, seminars, and clinics. As I write this I’m outbound for Eugene, OR. I stepped in to cover a judging assignment for Dave Seeger who died of a heart attack nearly two weeks ago.

My chores have bunched up on me a bit. Have you ever felt guilty for doing what you’re doing even though it needed doing just because there’s something else that needed doing too? Yah, it’s kind of like that.

Last Tuesday I spent four hours in the morning with our yard help. This is a kid we’ve hired to do mowing and other miscellaneous chores. You know how it is with kids! This boy works for two minutes and then rests for five. So I set out to lead by example, and show him what work looks like.

Our mission was to clear downed limbs and branches on either side of about ¼ mile of road on our property. We dragged the stuff onto the road into piles, then I’d come through with the tractor and wagon, load it, and haul it down to the burn pile by the pond.

About a half hour into the job I stopped to point out that I’d made this great big huge pile; while he’d made a couple dinky little piles of twigs. So I gave him a short talk about how he shouldn’t be getting outworked by a 60 year old man.

On the last load of the day I took the kid down with me to the pond. When we were done unloading that last haul I pointed at the huge pile we’d made. He was pretty impressed. I told him that all work is measurable. And in this world he needs to learn to make bigger piles than anyone elses’s.

There endeth the lesson.

Oh, I paid for my hubris alright. For the next couple days I was feeling the effect of spending four hours in the sun outworking a 14 year old boy. On top of my arthritis meds I had to take a couple OTC pain pills for my aching body.

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Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Which of Shakespeare’s characters called down the tempest?

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston BudHouston@hughes.net. The Country Dream web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore.

Alphabet Drills

August 11, 2011

For awhile I’m going to work through the Alphabet Drills designed by Nancy Gyes. Being an orderly person, I’ll just start at “A” and work my way through. While this practice furthers my own training goals with my boy Kory, I tend to inflict what I’m working with on my own students in equal measure.

We used the Tin Cup training format. In this format we approach each sequence like a game of golf. I documented the rules for that format here: http://wp.me/pmSZZ-OG.

We wound up running 8 sequences. I know that 9 would have been more poetic. But we just ran out of time. I mostly went through this feeling invincible making one hole-in-one after another… and then I got to exercise #16:

Note that I added the two double-bar hurdles to the exercise. Nancy’s original uses all single-bar jumps. I include them because we’ve seen so many badly presented spread hurdles in AKC play lately that I want to make sure to include them in our practice.

Anyhow, I picked up two strokes on this sequence; having otherwise played a perfect game in the other 7 holes.

The letter “A” Alphabet Drill originally appeared in The Clean Run Magazine in February of 2005. Monica is sending me a copy of the compilation workbook (it’s in the mail) which includes a CD with all of the drills in .agl format. You really should get your copy to follow along with me as I work through these drills.

I know I have a thousand of my own exercises. You should know that I make it a point to run courses that I didn’t design, and practice exercises that I did not conceive. It’s a funny psychological thing; I tend to design to my own strengths and my own warped perspective of the world. It’s very important for me to experience the warpage of other agility designers; because that’s what you get in the real world.

The Alphabet Drills are the copyright of Nancy Gyes.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston BudHouston@hughes.net. The Country Dream web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. Be sure to check out my distance training series: The Jokers Notebook; an (inexpensive) elaboration and improvement on the work I did in Go the Distance.

Stand in the Middle

August 8, 2011

Okay, my boy Kory is now officially a legend in Cincinnati. It came down something like this: On Saturday Kory earned his last Exc A Jumpers Q, and so I moved him up for Exc B Jumpers on Sunday. On Sunday the judge, David Hirsch said in briefing that a handler should be able to stand in the middle of the course; and he had to say, in the briefing, “Maybe Bud could do it with Kory.” OMG… it was kind of like a challenge, just hanging out there.

Here’s the course, by the way:

I marked an “X” in the middle of the course so you could see the box where I basically hung out to handle my dog.

By some great lark, we pulled it off. Kory ran clean and won his class and, obtw, earned 19 MACh points; and all of this with me hot-dogging my first time out in Excellent B. It was fun and entertaining. Sometimes that’s more important than another grind for the Q. Don’t you think?

I’ll share my analysis below.

I have a video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9n58vlG9rA

Handling Plan for the Distance Challenge

Think of this course as three Masters gambles, each a heartbeat apart. The smallest thing could make the whole thing go awry.

#1 thru #5

I worried over jump #4. After the modest bend to jump #3, I had to give just enough pre-cue to make the subtle turn to a jump with very low visual acuity. So with me on his left side, to influence the direction of turn, I gave a modest across the body lead-hand pre-cue. Note too that I “framed the tunnel” by calling out the command at the moment he had his nose in line with the jump and tunnel.

#6 thru # 15

With Kory coming out of the tunnel I pushed to the far side of the box to give support to the #6 jump. And from my position inside the box I gave some counter-rotation so that he wouldn’t push hard out to a wrong course at jump #12. I gave a timely “Right” command on the approach to jump #9. And it was a good thing. I’m fairly sure he was ready to turn left at the jump, and I talked him out of it. You’ll note in the weave poles I give excited verbalization and movement at a distance. I just like to jazz him when he’s weaving.

The turn from jump #12 to #13 is more of a problem than it looks like. The tunnel option had to be in his imagination and I needed the turn to be neat. If we overshoot the turning corner then the dummy jump with the wings opens up to the dog in the too-wide turning radius.

#15 thru #19

Having Kory on my left was a bit problematic as he came through jumps #13 and #14, but I wanted to block and bend away from the #8 wrong course option. This left me on the wrong side of the turn at jump #16; but I trust in his directionals. I had to really work the “Left” command at jump #13 because the wrong side of the pipe tunnel is a powerful attraction to a dog in the turn, and it’s the first thing he sees. After jump #17 I used “Right” and Tunnel” commands. We finished with a “Go On” to jump #19. You can see me running out of the box. But I wanted to get control of my dog in a timely manner which is highly desirable in AKC competition.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston BudHouston@hughes.net. The Country Dream web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. Be sure to check out my distance training series: The Jokers Notebook; an (inexpensive) elaboration and improvement on the work I did in Go the Distance.

Where Paris Lives

August 4, 2011

I’m in Cincinnati for a one-day seminar and a weekend of trialing. It’s a cool relationship I have with the Queen City club. I have several students of my teaching. So they swap me trial expenses (travel and trial entries) for a warm-up workshop. Half the day Friday I’ll work with Advanced/Masters; and half the day I’ll work with more Novice students.

This is a bit I was sketching up in the Tahoe on the ride over this morning. It reminds me that more and more AKC courses have dead starts; they’ll begin with the pipe tunnel as this one does, taking away the lead-out advantage. It’s pretty smart if you think about it; a technical lead-out might add as much as 10 or 20 seconds to an agility run. The simple math suggest that a lead-out test can add as much as an hour to a trial day.

The tunnel start is immediately followed by the most technical bit in the sequence, a threadle between jumps #2 and #3. The #4/11 jump offers an option in the turn; and it’s certainly a test of the bar dropping dog.

Out of the technical bit we have the opportunity to let the dog loose.

Letting the dog loose to work is the moment at which we relinquish control and begin to trust in the dog. Reminder: The First Law of Distance Work ~ the dog must understand the performance of the obstacle at a distance from his handler.

All that being said… here’s a very basic distance working set, focusing on the performance of the weave poles. Does the handler really have to sit on top of the dog for the presentation and performance of the weave poles? We’ll find out in our clinic tomorrow.

Mad to Live

This is the last AKC trial we’ll be doing for a bit. I’m looking forward to the weekend no matter what may come our way.

No matter? I want the best of course. I’ve got a solid mental image of the game. When Kory and I step onto the floor it will be “me and thee.” I want that perfect dance that exhilarates and thrills, something of the sublime. I want to live there.

How did Kerouac put it? “… burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

In agility Chi begins with balance, breathing and smooth constant movement while attuned in symphony to the willing play of the pup. It sounds complicated I suppose. But it’s the most natural thing in the world when you don’t force it. Just attend and let it be.

Marsha was reciting something from Barbara Woodhouse the “walkies” lady about the telepathy of dogs. We struggle with that concept only when we try to interpret it. You must know that dog’s aren’t intellectual by our understanding of the word, but are natural and intuitive creatures. Our attention and balance and supple interaction make up a complex dialog… if only we can speak it.

Okay, I’ve gone a bit over the top crazy. I’m perfectly capable of a somber technical discussion of the perfectly executed movement or the dog hammered in his training to the nth criterion.

Without Chi it is an empty conversation. And the moment will be just outside our grasp.

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Bud’s Google-Proof Trivia Contest

Name that movie:

1)     It was a prequel and a sequel

2)     It won the academy award for Best Picture

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston BudHouston@hughes.net. The Country Dream web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. Be sure to check out my distance training series: The Jokers Notebook; an (inexpensive) elaboration and improvement on the work I did in Go the Distance.

Finding my inner Chi

August 1, 2011

I’ve had an interesting weekend of competition at Dayton, AKC. I went on that wild and familiar roller coaster ride of success and train wreck that we nearly all feel in the sport of agility.

I started the weekend with Time 2 Beat, a fun new AKC game something like (but not quite) the USDAA’s Steeplechase. I nearly nailed the course but for a wrong course option that I never really saw coming. But I was pleased with the run and feeling pretty good about Kory (he went precisely where directed, after all). And then in Excellent A Standard Kory nailed the course got the Q, and won the class. Indeed he beat all dogs, A and B, of any jump height.

You can see the roller coaster pushing ego and confidence to dizzying height. What a ride! … and then it drops; plummets, is more the word.

The Jumpers course in the afternoon was a great train wreck. I would share the blow-by-blow with you. But it is painful to trace back over that bit of calamity.

We were working our dogs out of the hotel room on Saturday. It’s a unique kind of experience the details of which I’ll have to share with you one day. It was better than tenting in the heat out by the parking lot; or even in the crowded crating area in the building. The hotel was less than a mile from the trial site and the timing of walkthroughs and competition by jump height was easily calculable.

Anyhow, in the afternoon while Marsha was down at the trail site romping with her young boy Tempest, I was in the air conditioned room working on this and that… and puzzling through what had happened on the day.

In the evening, by the way, I watched a movie I’ve seen a number of times: The Last Samurai. There’s a bit in the movie in with Nathan Algren is struggling to learn the Japaneze art of the sword and having his head handed to him in match after match. The chief of the village, Nobutada, tells Algren (Tom Cruize) “Too many mind. Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy. Too many mind.”

This was along the lines of what I had been thinking. I approached the failed Jumpers course with a dizzying show-boat of a plan. And in recollection I felt no connection with my dog at all.

The Chi of the agility performance is the shared energy and connection between dog and handler. Without Chi it is all struggle and turmoil. And, working at 5-6 YPS the crash is resounding and magnificent.

On Sunday I wiped my mind clean and made it all about Kory and the course. We began with the Standard course. I got a wrong course for failing to finish my work (turn turn turn). I left the course feeling fine and dandy. We were there, in synch, together, but for that little misstep. I was pleased with the run and feeling pretty good about Kory (he went precisely where directed, after all).

In Jumpers I went to the line, muttering to myself “Too Many Mind”; and “Run the dog, not the plan.” You know how to do it… swipe your hand across your face and be in the moment. It was a beautiful run. Some of the turns went wider than intended. But it was clean and fast and Kory won the class.

Agility is constant learning. Both of you learn; you and your dog. It is like learning to dance with a partner. With practice each of you learns to understand each subtle pressure and nuance of movement of the other.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston BudHouston@hughes.net. The Country Dream web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. Be sure to check out my distance training series: The Jokers Notebook; an (inexpensive) elaboration and improvement on the work I did in Go the Distance.