Duquesne Pilsener Diatribe

I’m in Latrobe, PA judging a TDAA trial. They’re growing a nice ‘n healthy teacup dogs agility community. It reminds me of how USDAA used to be, back in the day, everybody having fun, applause from the peanut gallery, and people running their family dogs. The course work is really fun to watch as the challenges are actually appropriate to small dogs.

Lately I’ve been bad about writing to my blog. Around about the Petit Prix I got all jammed up on my work. And I’ve had something going just about every weekend. So it means days on the road spanning the weekend, then a couple days at home, and back out on the road. There are about three or four of those lined up for me in the immediate future. But finally my calendar will settle down for the long cold winter. I’ll catch up then.

But it isn’t just schedule that’s kept me away. I think I’m undergoing a very important change of life. While my personal values respective to the agility world haven’t changed considerably lately or, over the years; I find that the agility world itself has changed vis-à-vis my personal values.

You know, I’m probably going to hang with the USDAA with Kory until he gets his ADCh; and then I’ll retire from the venue. I’ll probably hang with AKC until Kory has his MACh, and then I’ll retire from the venue. It is not my intention to spend my life in the time over money grind. Neither are recreational venues; and I’m doing this for recreation.

The Truth About Border Collies

The truth is that a Border Collie is so remarkably easy to train that it’s nearly inescapable that the handler/owner/trainer is conned into believing that he’s a fucking dog training genius. And very soon he (the genius dog trainer) turns into one of those smarmy know-it-alls sitting outside the ring too important to set a jump bar or fluff a chute. You gotta admit, setting jump bars is kind of demeaning work for a genius.

And I’ve watched them on a couple weekends now running back as quick as possible after their nearly a minute in the ring to slam the dog into a crate. After I die, should I come back as a Border Collie (fat chance of that)… there’s a bunch of them I wouldn’t want to be their dog.

I kid about Kory with people saying that “he’s going to make me look a lot smarter than I really am. And you know how important that is, when you’re in the business!” Except, you should know, I’m not really kidding. I’m telling the truth.

To give you an example, it took me two days to train Kory to do the weave poles. Two days. This is not an exaggeration. Kory is what he is. What I really should do if I were serious about locking myself into your consciousness as a very important and very impressive dog trainer, is actually allow you to believe that I’m a fucking dog training genius.

With a Border Collie as with most any breed you can be lucky or unlucky. For example not all Border Collies are relentless speed demons. Not all Border Collies respect the jump bar. Not all Border Collies are wicked brilliant smart. But the thing about the Border Collie that most people who own them know… the percentage chances of them being relentless speed demons, respectful of the jump bar, and wicked brilliant smart, are considerably higher than with any other breed… bar none.

There’s a bunch of Border Collie people who I absolutely adore for their passion and care for the breed, their sportsmanship, and their work ethic. This “bunch” is a complete minority.

Iron Man

I wrote a letter to Stan Lee at Marvel Comics. I told him that the real problem with the second Iron Man movie is that our heroes should not be assholes. In the first Iron Man movie certainly Tony Stark started out as a spoiled asshole; but through the movie we saw growth and maturity and a real shot at redemption. But in the second Iron Man movie, Stark was right back to being an asshole. I was completely bummed (being an old Iron Man fan from the Silver Age of comics). Stan has not responded to my rude observation.

Funny thing… it was my observations of the agility world that had me examining my problem with the second Iron Man movie.

My wife Marsha has a Border Collie pup named Tempest who is a year younger than Kory. Tempest is no respecter of the jump bar; and so far doesn’t have nearly the distance skills that Kory has. Recently Marsha told me that she wants to turn Tempest over to me for some of his important training.

I’ve gotta give a big dramatic sigh here. <SIGH>

Kory is what he is. Yes he’s been trained; and I will earnestly endeavor to do much of the same with Tempest. But here’s the deal. Tempest is what he is, as well. There’s an old dog trainer’s axiom that goes something like this: “The Nature of the dog cannot be amended by training alone.” We can get into long philosophical discussions of the old “Nature vs Nurture” question. But at the end of the day the nature of any dog is nothing but luck of the draw.

So a dog has a bar dropping problem. In the agility world we know absolutely nothing about fixing the bar dropper. Its fine to observe that a dog “flattens out” or the dog has “ETS”. Anybody that says they can fix it is a fool. And I ain’t planning on being anybody’s fool.

I remember years ago when I picked up a copy of the Zink/Daniels book Jumping A to Z; I was thrilled to find that there was a chapter on “Problem Jumpers”. I leapt to that chapter to find some words of wisdom, and I found…. nothing. Ever since, I’ve called it “the Empty Chapter”. Well, Zink and Daniels aren’t fools either. Basically what they acknowledge is that there are dogs who are problem jumpers. And I’ve never seen a program of cavaletti conditioning or Salvoesque conflagulations that actually represent any kind of cure. You can make up a scientific sounding term like “Early Take-Off Syndrome”… but that doesn’t mean you have the slightest clue how to solve it. Hell, for all you know it’s a vision problem. Fix that, fool.

I’ll tell you how [insert the name of your favorite agility guru] would deal with the problem jumper. They’d get rid of that dog and get themselves another that would validate their standing in the world as guru/genius. I mean, they’ve been doing it for years and years; why would they change now?

For Marsha, I’m sorry to see that she’s taken Tempest’s competitive weakness as a personal failure. But that’s how it works in the world. Similarly, I’m sorry about students of mine who might have slower Border Collies maybe believing that it’s some personal failure of theirs that caused it.

I wrote in the Book of Agility Games that all rules at their core are irrational. Rules, like those faulting a dropped bar, are arbitrarily intended to score and place and measure. And it’s okay… I understand the function of rules and believe you me I have a lot of fun with their application.

What we’re missing though is the essential spirit of the game. I just want to get out there and have some fun with a willing partner. I want to do agility for fun and recreation. And I want to teach people how to be as successful as possible with the family animal. I want to go into the world with my students as friends and equals and play agility as a game in the park.

And today, as I write this, that venue does not exist.

I have found my next mission. And I will embark on it, effective tomorrow.

Does It Really Need Words?


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston BudHouston@hughes.net. The Country Dream web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.


16 Responses to “Duquesne Pilsener Diatribe”

  1. Adrienne Says:

    Aren’t there any ASCA trials in your neck of the woods? It’s like family up here for me. We have a lot of fun, and if the family dog happens to be an Aussie, well in my case it’s not! 😉

  2. Bernadette Says:

    I do love it that you are so blunt Bud! Genius Dog trainer! LOL

  3. Michelle Says:

    Will the new venue be Top Dog Agility Association??
    You’ve mentioned Top Dog from time to time, but no specifics. I’m interested!

  4. Sandy Says:

    Bud, I also, now have a 4 yr. old B.C. bar dropper….I’m leaning more towards “ETS”, as I don’t see the “flatten” issue….but whichever, he makes up for it by enjoying the sport, his enthusiasm, his beautiful weaves etc. & a fun B.C.
    Tell Marsha it isn’t her, they just come that way sometimes!
    Sandy C.
    P.S. I still “run like a girl”!

  5. Georgette Burritt Says:

    I have trained with a number of people that just get nasty with their dogs if they drop a bar (and these dogs ususally drop bars often)-as though getting mad with the dog solves the problem. I just guess that if the dog KNEW how to not drop a bar, they wouldn’t be dropping them.

  6. Paul Anderson Says:

    Might I suggest that you observe the handler motion when a dog drops a bar, in our latest observations, if you look carefully, the handler is doing something to cause the dog to move in such a way to knock the bar down. It could be something as simple as a foot turning in anticipation or a handler turning to soon after a jump. We think that handlers cause more dropper bars than the dogs. Watch a while as you judge and see what you think.
    I think CPE seems to be a friendly venue and I agree with Adrienne about ASCA.

    • budhouston Says:

      There’s no question about it. I’ve been studying and writing about the phenomenon for about 20 years now (you should read the Just For Fun Agility Notebook, available on my webstore).

      However, you should know that the capacity for imperfection in human movement is glorious. What the agility guru needs is a forgiving dog (who will not drop the bar in spite of errors in the handler’s movement). You read my recent article in Clean Run Magazine…. right?

      But I’m glad you’re studying the problem. Good eye.

      Bud Houston

  7. Linda Mecklenbuirg Says:

    Hi Bud

    Since I “made up” the term “Early Takeoff Syndrome”, I’d like to say that indeed I DON’T claim to be able to fix it. That’s the whole point. It is not something that can be “cured” with training. (Uh, it *is* a vision problem). I will soon be posting an update article to my website about early takeoffs if any of your readers are interested. There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there.

    Linda Mecklenburg

  8. Jon Says:


    Set up a six jump, jump chute. Set the distance between jumps so that it increases by one foot per jump. Set the distance between the first two jumps so that your dog can easily one bounce between the first two jumps. Call dog through the jump chute from other end while videotaping. You may find like I did that your dog will consistently knock one bar.

    I’ve only had good jumping dogs until my latest girl. She would rather go for it (ETS) versus chipping in to keep the bar up. The above jump chute drill seems to be helping her keep the bars up if I’m stationary. Now I’m starting to add motion and the bar is coming down again, but I’ve just started the motion. I think this will take a while and may never be fully fixed, but she does seem to be trying harder to keep the bars up.


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