Archive for December, 2011

Notes on the Tandem Turn

December 28, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the last bit/continuation of the discussion from an old lesson plan over the last two days. Put all three together for the complete discussion.

I am very fond of a wrap-up exercise that combines the skill-sets and training objectives of the day. So in this exercise I gave my students a mirror image of the previous exercise and added on the dogwalk after jump #5. And, to complicate matters I reintroduced the containment line from the first exercise.

The handler is essentially faced with a fairly advanced sort of Tandem Turn at jump #5. It’s a thing we call the layered Tandem. The handler will turn and step towards the dog as the dog is coming up and over the bar, convincing the dog of the change of direction. However, as the dog turns away and commits out to the dogwalk the handler doesn’t actually cross behind the jump at all. He steps back to the landing side of the jump and layers the jump between himself and his dog.

You know, I can remember a time when there was only one dog in our training center consistently capable of the layered Tandem. It was my boy Bogie… about eight years ago. Today, we have at least 50 dog and handler teams for whom the layered Tandem is a natural part of their repertoire. We work on this skill enough that it’s natural to both dog and handler.

Nonetheless, after this exercise I promised all of my classes that within the next couple of weeks I’d include a very structured Tandem Turning exercise. The Novice students especially are baffled by the mechanics of movement and training implicit in this rather advanced skill. As a instructor: no matter how many you’ve trained a skill in the past… you just gotta keep training them!

What is a Tandem Turn?

The Tandem Turn is a form of the Back Cross. Rather than crossing behind the dog on the approach to an obstacle, the handler crosses behind the dog on the dismount or landing side of the obstacle. Most Back Crosses would be greatly improved if the handler would use the Tandem rather than the Back Cross. Risk is greatly diminished. Having said that… there are times when only a Back Cross will do. This is not one of them.

In a Tandem Turn the handler is simply turning a corner. It’s pretty much like every corner the handler has turned in his entire life, and should look like it. Dogs are terrific students of handler movement. If the handler were to fail to simply turn the corner—let’s say he decides to have convulsions and flap his arms instead, or cock back his arm away from the dog as though doing a wind-up to throw a baseball out into center field… then the turn away from the handler’s position would likely be spoiled for the dog.

Trouble with the layered Tandem

Though many of my students nailed this exercise, the biggest mistake that was made by some, was to arrive at jump #5 hugging the jump. The problem with this is that the handler has no room to step.

It’s very important to understand about a Tandem Turn: It is not a hand-signal, or an arm-signal. The Tandem Turn is a whole-body signal. That includes, arm signal, step, and rotation. So the handler should reserve room to step towards the dog to sell the change of direction with a compelling step. Especially in the layered Tandem (in which the handler has no intention of accompanying the dog through the turn) the handler should convince the dog of the turn.

Putting it all together

Note in this sequence that it is in the handler’s interest to send the dog on to the pipe tunnel to earn an advantage in real estate in order to arrive at jump #5 at approximately the same instant as the dog.

The entire sequence is sweetened a bit if the handler remembers to incorporate a bit of Kentucky Windage to put the dog on a proper path when sending ahead.

The handler falling back for the Front Cross in the transition from jump #4 to jump #5 should move as deeply into the pocket as possible to give the dog plenty of room to make the turn without the handler getting in his way.

Summary

My intention in this writing has been to demonstrate the flexibility with which I approach using the lesson plan. I tend to view the lesson plan as a vehicle for discovery, both routine and the inspired, to the teaching points I should be making with my students. I tend to adapt as I go along. And, I am completely unashamed about teaching beyond the black and white limits of the plan.

In our Dogwood Instructor camps I make the point quite early with the certification candidates that we all teach from our own experience. What I will do or say or where I might go as a teacher might differ dramatically from what any other teacher might do or say or go. Is one of us right and one of us wrong if we make completely different observations and teaching points? I don’t think so.

One of the hard parts about teaching is finding that one thing you can say to a student that they are ready to learn and constitutes a logical next step in the progression of their learning. Coaching and teaching in agility is rather like building a brick wall. You lay the wall one brick at a time. You can’t lay the upper bricks, until you have laid the lower.

To continue the analogy, teaching is further complicated by the notion that in mixed group classes your students will have bricked up their walls at varying stages of completion. With one student we might be laying bricks down upon the foundation; while with others we are placing bricks at the top of the wall.

And yet, when I make a teaching point to a student I seldom, if ever, give the teaching point to the student in off-line conference. I always address the entire group so that everyone can get the benefit of what I’ve just said.

Note that I spent no time whatever in this discussion with the exercises that were on the other side of the floor. And yet, those exercises had their own evolution and discovery and might merit just as complete a discussion as I’ve given here. But, it’s time to move on to next week’s lesson plan where it all begins again.

I’ve warned my students that in the next eight weeks every lesson plan will include at least one distance exercise.

Quoth

If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.
— Tennessee Williams

Blog798

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. 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.

Advertisements

A Discussion of Kentucky Windage

December 24, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of yesterday’s discussion from an old lesson plan.

Kentucky Windage is a very old term in the American lexicon, although too few of us remember the meaning. The Kentucky rifleman, a keen shooter responsible for getting the food that appeared on his family’s dinner table, understood that the bullet moving through space would be pushed away from the target by any wind. And so the shooter would lean his shot into the wind to compensate for the push of the wind so that the wind would carry the bullet to the target rather than away from it.

By analogy we can compare the bullet moving through space to the dog working forward of the handler. It is one of the Laws of a Dog in Motion: A dog forward of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position.

We resume our send-to-tunnel work with this sequence:

After explaining the concept of Kentucky windage to my students I pointed out how this sequence was designed with a natural accommodation to the dog’s tendency to curl back to the handler’s position. Though the transition from jump #2 to the pipe tunnel at #3 is a bit of a turn, it the natural path for the dog curling back toward the handler.

Note also my rather severe drawing of the handler’s line, which continues to apply pressure against the dog’s path. Since the dog’s natural curl already draws back towards the pipe tunnel, if the handler curls and turns (as though working with the curl of the tunnel), then the additional movement might actually spoil the approach to the pipe tunnel. The handler is better served to apply pressure against the dog’s path.

I reminded my students that the handler wanting to make a send to the pipe tunnel should allow the dog to work ahead as early as possible in the sequence.

I was most gratified when, after my discussion of Kentucky Windage a number of dogs, intent upon making my point for me, actually earned a refusal at jump #2. Okay, I really should draw a picture for you:

You see? It’s one of the Laws of a Dog in Motion. A dog working forward of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position. With the illustration at hand I helped my students amend their view of the entire sequence.

What we’ve actually done here is set the dog’s approach to jump #1 more severely, with a touch of Kentucky Windage, knowing that the dog will naturally curl back to the handler’s position.

Dogs will have considerably more success in this sequence when the handler better understands the dog’s approach. I like to think that some of the great handlers we see in the world understand the phenomenon of Kentucky Windage whether or not they use that term to describe it. The handler of a fast dog doesn’t much survive if he doesn’t learn fairly soon the dynamics of the dog’s movement relative to his (the handler’s) own movement.

Sometimes judges will set long straight lines in Novice courses, thinking that they are giving the novice dog and handler team a simple challenge. But trust me, long straight lines are killer to the handler of a fast dog, particularly if the handler has no recourse to taking a lead-out or otherwise cheating the real estate in order to keep the line straight for the dog.

I am reminded, by the way, of a bit that I need to add to the Laws of a Dog in Motion. “Nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of a well-trained dog.”

This discussion is continued tomorrow.

Blog797

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. 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.

Notes to the Agility Instructor

December 23, 2011

Editor’s Note: I’ve uncovered an old lesson plan I wrote a long time ago to set on my floor next week. Serendipitously I made some detailed observations about the conduct of the class. This was back when I had 150 students a week at Dogwood Training Center. I thought it would be fun to share these notes with you.

I’ve always been a great believer that I do not step out on the training floor without a basic plan. Indeed, I published my lesson plans every week for many years. If you’ve ever actually seen me teach, you’ll find that I’m not much bound by the lesson plan, as though it were a script.

I compare this to a thing I tell my students all the time… “Don’t run the plan, run the dog!” It’s very similar when conducting students through a lesson plan. The lesson plan is an instrument of discovery. The very randomness of its nature will expose areas of weakness that cue my attention and efforts.

We always begin an exercise or sequence with what I call the “entertainment round”… that is, my students can attempt the sequence with the handling of their own choosing. They cannot learn a thing, if I spoon feed them the answers. Part of what I’m trying to teach is for a handler to recognize a problem and to draw on their experience to solve it. Also, if I’m not supplying the answer, I can about guarantee that the cleverness of my students will sometimes offer solutions that I hadn’t even thought of. So I too stand a chance to learn something.

I suppose the downside of the lesson plans that I publish on a regular basis is that they are the future vision of the training product. They don’t really reflect the adaptation of the basic plan, and the learning that goes on beyond the written word. Things that I actually learn are generally incorporated in future lesson plans.

The following are notes taken from a lesson plan from long ago that includes adaptations and teaching points I made along the way, (scrawled notes in the margins).

Notes on Progressive Sending

I engage with my dogs for all obstacles a program of progressive sending. In this lesson plan, we are teaching dogs to go on forward of the handler into the pipe tunnel.

Fundamental to any progressive sending exercise is that a) the dog is sent to the performance, and not dragged, and b) the handler should send from a progressively greater distance. Note that when we engage in such training we are in “dog trainer mode”. That means the handler/trainer should be equipped with a good marker for performance (a clicker should do nicely, however a good verbal marker is just hunky dory); and a reward for the dog, whether that be a food treat or a game with a toy.

When leading a group class you’ll find that the devil is in the details. The instructor should have an eye for basic performance and remind students of the little details that will allow their dogs to succeed in the exercise:

4    A distance send really has nothing to do with standing still. Indeed, slamming on the brakes or slowing dramatically are apt to draw the dog back into handler focus and away from the target obstacle.

4    Flapping one’s arm when sending is a small detail that is apt to draw the dog back into handler focus, and away from the target obstacle.

4    The handler should give the target obstacle all of his focus when sending the dog. That means the handler looks at it, points at it, and moves towards it. Note that the pointing is more significant by the handler’s feet… than the arm and hands. The dog pays close attention to the direction the handler’s feet are facing/pointing.

I encouraged my students to make their sends from as far away as they are comfortable and to progress only modestly to assure that the dog is able to succeed. I had to be very mindful of the handlers who failed to mark the performance or were late in rewarding the dog for the performance (I tell my students “to understanding the timing of the reward all you have to do is count: one-thousand one, one-thousand too … late!). I also had to be on the lookout for students who seemed compelled to get the dog to do a jump or two after the pipe tunnel (and before the marker and reward), or to interject an obedience performance between the performance of the pipe tunnel and the marker and reward. If the dog’s trainer piles on other performances and criteria, then it might very well muddy the waters so far as the dog understanding what he’s being rewarded for.

A favorite quote on new years resolutions!

“ … the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Back to the Abridged Training Plan

Part of the training plan was this sequence, which required the handler to send the dog out to the dogwalk and layer two jumps while the dog worked the dogwalk away from the handler’s position. The hard part here was not so much the dog doing the dogwalk… but getting the handler to understand the dynamics of a simple send.

The most difficulty I had with this exercise was teaching my students the simple discipline of sending the dog away to a performance. Reread that little bit above in which I suggested that the devil is in the details. The simple discipline of sending the dog away requires that the handler actually give the target obstacle his focus.

And yet in this sequence, the handler is far more apt to turn away from focus on the target obstacle in order to run parallel to the dog’s intended path before the dog is actually upon that path. This problem is exacerbated by the handler who so oversteps the containment line that he pulls back because he’s not trapped behind the jump—twisting his body away—in the very moments he should be in concert with the direction the dog is moving. Better not to overstep the line at all; the line is not your friend.

But remember too that however far forward you step is how far forward you are. You don’t increase the distance of the send by backing up.

The handler should also avoid squaring the dog to the opening jump as though there were any obligation to do so. While I believe in a bit of Kentucky Windage (see discussion below) for the dog working ahead of the handler’s position, the handler should in general account for the direct path that the dog should take from point A and point B and, for the most part, put the dog upon that path.

Note too that taking a lead-out from the dog essentially uses up real estate that might be better used running with the dog and pushing the dog forward. Since the handler’s objective is actually to allow the dog to go forward of his position then the sooner that is accomplished the better. In an exercise like this it’s usually a better plan just to take off running with the dog in order to give the dog every advantage in getting ahead.

Proofing

The performance of the dogwalk at a lateral distance is an advanced proofing exercise of the dog’s bottom contact performance whether it’s a 2o2o or a running contact. In every class with this lesson plan I tell my students that if the dog gives a good bottom performance then it would be a good idea for the handler/dog trainer to step in (yes, crossing the containment line) to reward the dog. And yet, less than 10% of my students actually complied with this simple dog training advice. No, I didn’t nag; but I made the mental note for each.

Of course we saw a fair number of dogs that missed the down contact, showing proof that they haven’t been trained to nor do they completely understand the bottom contact performance.

Handling

Inasmuch as I required my students to honor the containment line for the final two jumps as for the rest of the exercise; I was consistently called upon to describe the handling of the dog exiting from the pipe tunnel. It was remarkable how many dogs ran by jump #4 because of some small error on the handler’s part. Indeed, a number of dogs successfully got to jump #4 even though their handlers committed the same sort of errors as the handlers whose dogs did not. That just proves the old saying… “It is better to be lucky, than good. “

Redirecting the dog out of a pipe tunnel is a simple discipline. It is a discipline nonetheless. The handler should acknowledge that the pipe tunnel is a cannon and it is aiming somewhere. If it is not aiming in the direction of the course, then the handler should take whatever handling action that is appropriate.

In this sequence the best handling option is probably a Front Cross. I don’t like a Blind Cross in the presence of an option. An option is an obstacle that makes more sense to the dog than the one that the judge actually numbered. Ever seen one of those? We use the Front Cross because of the wonderful counter-rotation of the handler’s body is so compelling to the dog.

In the picture above I illustrate how I do a Front Cross in this scenario. After a modest send on to the tunnel I wheel about as though addressing the dummy jump alongside jump #4. Meanwhile I look back over my shoulder at the exit of the tunnel. The very instant that I see the dog’s nose, I will whip into the Front Cross, counter-rotating quite literally 360 degrees to draw the dog around for the approach to jump #6.

Some of my students actually used a Front Cross… which failed to get the dog to the #4 jump. In each case, the dog was inside the tunnel while the handler was engrossed in his wonderful counter-rotation. Okay… It just can’t be so compelling if the dog doesn’t actually see it. So, the significance of waiting to see the dog’s nose before actually beginning the rotation, is that that is the very instant that the dog sees the handler.

A point I continue to make about timing is that it has nothing to do with time at all. Timing is about physical cues… where things are in space.

Not to belabor this rather simple handling exercise… I also want to draw your attention to a small detail that some handler’s fail to completely grasp or understand. Prior to beginning the Front Cross I actually turn and move in the same direction the dog will be moving as he comes out of the pipe tunnel. Some handlers will actually plant themselves near the exit of the pipe tunnel and face back into the tunnel as the dog emerges. I want to avoid this handling on two accounts:

  1. By facing back toward the dog I’ve used up 180 degrees of rotation that I could be using to help sell the turn to the dog. I save up as much rotation as I possibly can for the moment the dog emerges from the tunnel.
  2. It’s hard to move when facing the wrong direction. While the dog is in the tunnel I actually want to put as much distance between me and the dog as I can. The Front Cross is always a messier affair if I’m planted in the dog’s way and embroiled in his movement. The dog turns when the handler turns, not where the handler turns. I will find opportunities over and over again to demonstrate to my students that a ten foot or twelve foot separation between dog and handler almost always leads to a more elegant Front Cross[1].

This discussion is continued tomorrow.

Jokers Notebook #3

This issue features a four week distance training program for dog agility, complete with weekly league play games. This notebook is a ready resource for the dog agility enthusiast who is intent on a quality distance training program and for instructors who will provide distance training for motivated students of the game.

121 pp.

This work furthers the distance training originally included in the “Go The Distance” training workbook, and updates those methods for more up-to-date training and handling trends.

The Jokers Notebook is the natural progression and evolutions of Bud Houston’s distance training originally published as Go the Distance. These lesson plans and exercises are suitable for classroom instruction or back yard training by the intrepid enthusiast of dog agility.

Jokers Notebook #3 is an electronic book for download only. Retail Price: $14.00; Our Price: $10.00; You Save $4.00!

Find it here:
http://www.dogagility.org/Newstore/index.cfm?fuseaction=category.display&category_ID=7

Blog796

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. 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.


[1] This really calls for a discussion: Is handling a manipulation or a means or directing the dog? Messy and ham-handed handling tends to be too manipulative and controlling. Elegant and inspired handling nearly always shows evidence of trust in the dog, and isn’t the least intrusive. I promise to speak on the subject a bit before too long.

What Day is This?

December 22, 2011

Editor’s Note: I was going through old abandoned drafts of posts to my blog when I stumbled across one that was actually complete… but never published. My bad. Anyhow, following is the post… It was written on April 2, 2010, but ne’er published.

Kory was fairly magnificent in class last night. His response to directional commands is uncanny, meaning that I can pretty much run him in remote control.  This is an important consideration as he works at such a pace that I just cannot keep up with him. I’m not as fast as I was ten years ago… but even then, I would not have been fast enough for this dog.

This is one of the sequences that we ran during class, based on the set of the floor for the Power & Speed game (http://wp.me/pmSZZ-xk). I start him on an aggressive angle to the first jump and let ‘er rip without much of a lead-out at all. By jump #5 I’m already more than 10 yards behind, and so a good “Left Jump” command on the approach to the jump has him turning neatly to the #6   jump and on his way back down to me. A thing I’ve always maintained, the faster is the dog the farther ahead the handler gets.

Kory has his rough edges. He’s imperfect in the weave poles (I started that training 3 weeks ago); and sometimes he’s a bit exuberant on the finish of contact obstacles. Also, he’ll creep on me at the start line. Well, that’s the short list. But I look at it kinda like this… I have a list of refinements that you might expect of a dog showing in Masters with three years of experience behind him. Imagine what he’ll be like when he’s actually old enough to compete.

I’m not an obsessive compulsive dog trainer to be sure. I’m jumping Kory at only 16″; and I didn’t start his weave poles until he was a year old. And yet I have this canny animal ready to work for me that clearly has skill that was undeserved based on my training regimen. I can see why people like to train the Border Collie… it’s a breed that makes the dog trainer look smarter than he really is. I think I like that.

What Day is This?

OMG… I thought that yesterday was the last day in March and so I was not prepared to finish up the April Jokers Notebook. I played an Aprils fool joke on myself, I guess. Don’t get me wrong I had the copy finished; but there’s a lot of technical details. I was up until about midnight linking the 125 or so course-maps in the .pdf so the reader can click on the upper-right corner of a drawing and spawn it immediately into their own copy of the Clean Run Course Designer. It’s my geek thing… and all electronic books I publish from now on will have that feature. This morning I got up early in the ayem to create all the bookmarks in the .pdf, and create links from the table of contents to the bookmarks. I think this is an anachronistic step. But you know, I’m an old bookie hack. Then of course I had to list the book on eJunkie and then modify a couple of my webstore pages that carry the product (http://countrydream.wordpress.com/web-store/ and http://countrydream.wordpress.com/webstore-agility-lesson-plans/). And don’t you know I created the discount code (Special04) for people who follow along with my blog.

Okay, so I’m a day late. I hate being late. But there it is.

I’ve pretty much decided that I’m going to a bi-monthly format for awhile. I have my first camp of the season next week. Things are going to get pretty heated up for me, probably through October. So in the winter I might go back to a monthly format. We’ll see how that goes.

The Notebook on one level is a chronicle of the training of my own young boy Kory. All of the lesson plans that I inflict on my own students are spawned from the training ambitions I have for my own dog. Over time I expect a metamorphosis in the content to reflect Masters level skills. We’re coming upon that so abruptly.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What is this breed of dog?

The first correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the March Jokers Notebook.

BLOG586

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/web-store/ . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special04” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Editor’s Note: My, how thing’s change. My email address is now Houston.Bud@gmail.com. And of course I’ve long since closed down the eJunkiie webstore. All of my ebook products can be found at: www.dogagility.org/newstore.

And miles to go before I sleep

December 22, 2011

I have a list of chores to do for the day. I’m thinking I’d like to get outside! Yesterday was remarkably warm for late December. Last year at this time it had been below freezing for nearly a month already. There are a couple good outdoor chores for me; so I think I’ll strap on the boots and get out there.

But first…

Notes on Contact Donut

There’s no question about it Linda Northrup’s game Contact Donut is a marvelous training game. My boy Kory managed, in the game (http://wp.me/pmSZZ-VH) two complete laps around the course with 4X multipliers all the way. Oh I ain’t bragging. There are only about 450 NADAC agility players in this country who could do the same trick without breaking a sweat.

Still, I was proud of my boy. Although the pipe tunnels were presented like shark bait (http://wp.me/pmSZZ-Gd) all the way, Kory took and held every bottom contact until released. Though to tell you the truth he leaned towards me so mightily at every contact that my release was consistently: Right! Tunnel!

We played the game with a simple 50 second QCT for all dogs.

Tell you the truth, I found the judging and scoring task wicked cumbersome. Okay, so we give 1 point for jumps and tunnels and 5 points for contact obstacles. The bonuses are for contacts only from containment areas allowing 1X, 2X, 3X and 4X the 5 point value. On top of that the judge is required to signal faults.

Any game that requires a scribe’s transcription of a judge yelling numbers to reflect the dog’s performance lends itself to scribing errors; especially when the judge’s speech sounds like a callers dialog at a tobacco auction. We should consider a simpler system that allows the game to be played with a minimum of verbalization from the judge without changing one bit rewards for performance or how dogs would be placed based on their earned score.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Refusals and wrong courses are not faulted. The time required to recover is typically ample penalty enough.
  • Don’t use jumps at all in the game. Make a design that utilizes another pipe tunnel, or a collapsed tunnel, or even hoops.
  • The judge’s call will only be for contact obstacles. There are only four possible values: 5, 10, 15 and 20. That means the judge would have only four calls per loop. And frankly… it would be possible and practical to go to 1, 2, 3 and 4 as the value of the calls.
  • With all of this in mind, the scoring basis would be Points, Then Time (as compared to Points, Less Faults, Then Time).

Notes on Class

What I discovered many years ago is that if you design with training notions in mind, the set of the floor will be stodgy and contrived. And frankly it will be damned difficult to find a game in the mechanical layout. It’s far easier work to take the opposite view.

The fun thing about playing games every week is that the design of the floor begins with the game. Discovering the training sequences from the set of the floor is like a “found poem”. You can trace whimsical paths for the dog and in so doing create sobering challenges for the handler.

My litmus for a worthwhile training sequence is that it will be based upon flow, but will own some implicit handling riddle at its core.

The Joker’s Notebook Issue #2

This notebook is a ready resource for the dog agility enthusiast who is intent on a quality distance training program and for instructors who will provide distance training for motivated students of the game. This Notebook contains four weeks of lesson plans accompanied by a game of the week for each week, comprehensive Instructor’s Notes, and wealth of supplemental resources in the appendices. This work furthers the distance training originally included in the “Go The Distance” training workbook, and updates those methods for more up-to-date training and handling trends.

127 pp.

The Jokers Notebook is the natural progression and evolutions of Bud Houston’s distance training originally published as Go the Distance. These lesson plans and exercises are suitable for classroom instruction or back yard training by the intrepid enthusiast of dog agility.

Retail Price: $14.00; Our Price: $10.00; You Save $4.00!

Jokers Notebook #2 is an electronic book for download only.

http://www.dogagility.org/Newstore/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=80&ParentCat=7

Blog795

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. 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.


It is Not the Mountain We Conquer

December 21, 2011

I have been busy. While it’s my “down” season I have a list of chores longer than your arm in preparation for the new year. Prominent in my list of tasks is unfinished business for the TDAA. We can expect a slate of rules changes and rewrites of the Judges’ Guidelines and Course Design Guidelines by March 15th of next year. Of course that means that all of these changes have to be presented to our membership by the first of the year… which means that this isn’t much of a “down” season, at all.

In the mean time I’m staying current with posting trial premiums and course review. Our set of the floor this week comes from a review of courses submitted by Courtney Keys, a TDAA judge. One of the games she had to design design was Contact Donut. This is a game that I’ve believed for many years is not ready for primetime. So that forced me to engage in a bit of analysis to find a way to heft the game into a state worthy of competition. I think we managed to pull it off. Following is the documentation for the game as it will appear in the Book of Agility Games.

Contact Donut

Contact Donut is the invention of Linda Northrop. This exceedingly simple game tests reliable contact performance at speed and is appropriate as a training tool at the intermediate level. The game also allows the handler to experiment with working his dog at a distance.

Briefing

The objective of Contact Donut is to accumulate as many points as possible by running a circular course composed mostly of tunnels and contacts in a period specified by the judge: appropriate to the rates of travel for the organization with some built-in expectation of success working at a distance.

The dog begins at a designated start line in the circle or donut of obstacles and on completion will begin again and continue until the end of course time. A whistle will end course time; the dog and handler must get to the table to stop time.

Bonus points are awarded for the performance of contact obstacles if the handler can direct his dog to perform the course while remaining in any of three concentric containment areas (the donut hole) at the center of the course. If the handler steps out of the donut at any time the dog will earn no bonus.

Scoring

Contact Donut is scored Points + Bonus – Faults, Then Time. The dog with the most points is the winner. Time is a tiebreaker only.

Values are assigned to the obstacles as follows: 5 points for contact obstacles; 1 point for tunnels and jumps.

Three bonus containment areas are shown on the course. Bonuses are awarded for contact obstacles only. The handler must be inside of the respective containment area both for the ascent of the contact obstacle and for the descent. Four paws constitutes commitment on the ascent.

  • 2x multiplier ~ from a 10’ containment line contacts are valued at 10 points
  • 3x multiplier ~ from a 15’ containment line contacts are valued at 15 points
  • 4x multiplier ~ from a 20’ containment line contacts are valued at 20 points

On any fault the dog will be charged according to the fault schedule of the respective venue. They dog may not earn a bonus on a faulted obstacle. It is the judge’s call whether refusals will be faulted.

Course Design

This is a Contact Donut course designed by Bud Houston for league play at Topdog Agility Players in Waterford, Ohio. The dummy obstacles are more a matter of nesting the course for class. And for the game, they certainly add interest and complexity.

Note that the #1 jump is rotated so that the handler can make the initial send into the course from the containment region of the field. In the course the #9 pipe tunnel is drawn up into the field to accommodate the repeated loops of the course.

For this course small dogs are given a Qualifying Course Time (QCT) of 60 seconds and big dogs a QCT of 55 seconds.

This Contact Donut course utilizes the traditional three contact obstacles, using the crossover with straight over planks in lieu of the dogwalk. This game allows the handler to work closely on the dog’s contacts, or for a more advanced dog, to work the dog at a distance.

In the Contact Donut course the contact obstacles are typically placed on the sides of the course, while tunnels are used to soften or direct the turns in the corners. The “Donut Hole” should be a clearly defined area in the center of the circle of obstacles.

Qualifying

Establishing qualifying criteria is a tricky business. There needs to be a balance between level, jump height, and expectation of success working at distance. Here’s a possible schedule:

  • Games I ~ 35 points
  • Games II ~ 50 points
  • Games III ~ 65 points

The Games I qualifier in this schedule is based on a single performance of the loop with 10 bonus points. Games II will require 25 bonus points and/or more than one completed loop. Games III requires 40 bonus points and/or more than one completed loop. Only a lot of experience with competition will prove this schedule. We have neither the expectation to skunk the field, nor any desire to give away the farm.

Variations

Northrop’s Traditional Variation ~ In the game as originally designed by Linda Northrop the handler was expected to stand in a “donut hole” roughly the size of an agility table at the center of the course. Handling from the donut hole earned a 15 pt bonus. And, the course was not run as a continuous loop. The original of the game is relegated to the status of “variation” mostly to make it a more rigorous game for competition rather than a game that is mostly a training exercise.

In this variation time was traditionally stopped by taking the dog to the donut hole in the center of the course. This element is no longer recognized, simply to make more efficient use of the ring in competition.

In this variation scoring ceases if time elapses or the dog commits any fault.

The Courtney Keys Team Variation ~ In this variation of Contact Donut the game is played by two, or more, dog and handler teams. Bonuses and objective are essentially the same. However, when a dog commits a fault the alternate dog, or next dog, is expected to begin the course from the start.

In this variation faults points are not earned by the team. Instead, as mentioned above, the next dog is expected to begin the course from the beginning.

This variation should include for the purpose of qualification: Each dog is expected to successfully complete at least one contact obstacles; and the complete loop must be completed at least once.

The handler of the active dog has an option to “bail” the course with his dog. For example the handler of the first dog could pull the dog away from an approach to the teeter (for whatever reason)… and the second handler will begin the course from the beginning. This will allow the avoidance of some terrible fault in order to switch. The judge might require the handler to yell “Switch!” or something.

Premium Blurbs

Contact Donut ~ is a distance game in which the dog earns bonus points on contact obstacles while the handler works at a distance. The course is arranged in a loop and will be repeated until the expiration of time.

Contact Donut ~ The Courtney Keys Team Variation is a team variation of the game intended to be played by two or more dog and handler teams. Contact Donut ~ is a distance game in which the dog earns bonus points on contact obstacles while the handler works at a distance. The course is arranged in a loop and will be repeated until the expiration of time.

Contact Donut ~ Northrop’s Traditional Variation is a training game probably not ready for prime time as a game of competition. The objective of the game is for the handler to work away from the dog while the dog demonstrates his skill on contact obstacles at a magnificent distance.

Never Give Up; Never Surrender

Quoth

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

~ Edmund Hillary

Blog794

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.

Houston.Bud@gmail.com

December 16, 2011

It is painful to change your email address. But I’m endeavoring to do so right now. Since I was a wee lad I’ve allowed my email address to be dictated by my ISP. As I sloughed through a variety of providers over the years (AOL, Compuserve, Earthlink, Hughenet) I’ve been battered around with having to change email addresses from time to time.

I knew quite a few years ago that I should get an online email service like Yahoo or Gmail, but just never got around to it. The good thing about having an IMAP is that you can change your ISP and you don’t have to change your email identity.

So there it is… Houston.Bud@gmail.com. I have boatloads of work to do over the next few days just making sure that all official business that identifies me by my email address is switched over to this new address; never mind my social network of family, friends, accomplices and associates.

Update on Tempest

Tempest is coming along super. I shared with you my worst fears at a moment that my emotions were rubbed raw by watching our pup through a horrible cluster of seizures. The treatment itself was rough going. He’s now on maintenance meds that have him unsteady on his feet. It appears though that he’s rebounding nicely. And he seems not to be traumatized by events.

I’m sure that all the healing thoughts and prayers that came our way pulled Tempest through. It’s not really over. We’ll just call it … a new beginning.

The Roundabout Jump

The roundabout 360° turn (from jump #3 to #4) is something that I typically have to argue for with course reviewers. They don’t all understand the grace and simplicity of the challenge.

The challenge is elevated a bit in this simple sequence as we’ve offered the pipe tunnel as an option after jump #2. If the handler doesn’t vee-set the approach he certainly must have an answer to convincing the dog into the turn with a compelling pipe tunnel just ahead.

The Scientific Test

If the handler is forward of the dog a Front Cross might be the simple thing to do. But don’t you know a lot of handlers have a pretty terrible Front Cross. What I like to do here is conduct a scientific test. What would the dog do if the handler simply turns away after jump #2? Please note the elements of the scientific test: The handler begins with dog on left; the handler allows the dog to get up into the air before announcing the turn… but will rotate neatly in the moment before the dog hits the ground; the turn, or rotation, will be toward the dog… a counter-rotation.

It’s hard to say what the dog will actually do. You don’t get results from “stating” the scientific test. Results must come from “conducting” the scientific test. In any case, the picture I have in my mind is this one here… the dog will turn neatly and come alongside the handler.

The PB&J in the Roundabout

The handling I like for the roundabout is a simple Post & Blind transition. I recognize that you aren’t supposed to be able to do a Blind Cross with a Border Collie. So you’ll just have to humor me on this point. The timing cue for the Blind Cross, by the way, is the dog hitting the plane of the jump. Only at that point will we have an approach to the #4 performance of the jump.

I’ve drawn the timing line on the plane of the jump to be perfectly clear.

OTOH If  Behind

On the other hand, if the handler is behind the dog in this sequence… it’ll be like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day.

Perhaps the handler can pre-cue the intention to turn on the way to jump #2. But if we get the turn it’s a fairly simple matter. The handler draws on Post, and turns away with the Tandem. Note that the handler shouldn’t actually have to circle the jump with the dog. The handler should layer the jump, and then step up for a Front Cross.

Another TDAA Course Review

You’ll have to bear with me on this. It’s not really important that I do a video review of a TDAA course; and it certainly doesn’t have to be shared in a public forum. I’m trying to learn my editing tools as I have other projects in mind down the road. Since a lot of work and study went into the production I’ll share it with you… if you have the bandwidth.

http://youtu.be/CrXpPuK4SXs

Blog793

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.

How Doctors Die

December 15, 2011

Marsha and I had a conversation in which we discussed living wills and how we might want to go when death kindly stops for us. Marsha had read this thing on the internet on how doctors die, which is a bit on how doctors choose to live their last days. The blog was easy to find in a Google query: http://zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2011/11/30/how-doctors-die/read/nexus/

Marsha and I are of a like mind that we have no intention of living in some antiseptic prison in our final days or weeks or months with a low quality of life and bleeding money to a compassionless medical assembly-line industry.

It’s Not Fair

Last night during our agility class Tempest had a seizure, and continued seizing in a cluster for nearly an hour. We counted ten events. During the cluster of terrible fits we drove him to the emergency vet clinic in Parkersburg, WV. They monitored him overnight; had him on IV filling him with drugs and painkillers.

This morning we moved him to our own vet in Marietta. Our vet is keeping an eye on him as he comes out from under the drugs. I sat with him a long while. He was vocalizing his despair and distress and was pretty much inconsolable. We’ll be going back around noon to bring him home. We’ll have a discussion with the vet about preventative maintenance.

Now I mention the bit on “How Doctors Die” above to provide the philosophical framework to our compassion for our own dogs. We will not prolong the existence of an animal if the cure represents a horrible diminishment in the quality of the dog’s life.

So we will see. We are both grief stricken. And we’re numbed by not knowing what will be next. It will either get better, or it will get worse.

I got this dog for Marsha as a birthday gift a couple years ago. All we really wanted was a dog who was eager to work. After a decade of rescue dogs and baggage projects it was fun and promising to go for a dog that comes from solid working stock. Like most dog sports people, we bring a dog into our house and he is family. Tempest has been Marsha’s best buddy and training partner.

And now this… it’s not fair.

Sorry to share all of this. I do know that all of the people reading my blog have a fair understanding of what we’re going through. We all know the love and grief we feel in the frail and short lives of our dogs.

Blog792

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.

TDAA Course Review

December 13, 2011

I’ve created a YouTube video in which I hope to demonstrate how I approach course review in the TDAA. It’s certainly not comprehensive; but it sheds a bit of light on issues like compression, and handling interest. The judge’s name has been removed to protect the innocent.

It would be a lot of fun if I could do all of my course reviews by video. There’s something that’s lost in the written word. It’s harder to explain what you mean in text, than it is to show what you mean in the illustrated and moving picture.

Here’s a link to the short video that I created: http://youtu.be/0JR0AMKAKDI

You’ll note that I’m unaccustomed to my editing tools. I hope to get better at it over time.

Ignominious

The second day of the AKC trial at the Queen City Dog Training Club didn’t go all that well for Kory and me. Both of my runs were fail. I’m quite glad that I had a couple runs that were quite superb on the first day. Otherwise I’d have looked the shambles.

There are several things that occurred to me on the drive home. I’ll take them in no particular order:

  • I strikes me that the courses at which we excelled were a good match to my handling system. That means we are most likely to succeed on a type of course. I have to take my training over the winter to solve a much broader range of challenges in agility. The courses at which we failed were bloody minded things in which I had to make a choice between control positions because there was no way I could attend each.
  • Even with my years of experience in agility I find both success and failure in competition begging the question of validation. In one moment I feel invincible; and in the next both out of control and unkempt. While I’m perfectly capable of losing with grace; it’s hard to have grace after a train wreck.
  • I found that Kory got more and more wired through the weekend. Initially he was quite settled and working at a reasonable pace for me to attend. But as the weekend drew on he was wilder, faster and less biddable each time we entered the ring. I will have to study a calming and control warm-up. I’m thinking maybe some down on recall exercises. Something else? I’ll have to study it.

In 2011 Kory exceeded my expectations in competition. This was year #2. This winter I will train for 2012 with a checklist of goals and objectives for performance. All things being equal I think my boy is right on track.

The Joker’s Notebook Issue #1

Jokers Notebook is a periodically published dog agility training resource. This issue includes five weeks of lesson planning based on a distance training theme. Each week also features a game of the week, instructors’ notes, and a handout for students.

122 pages.

The Jokers Notebook is the natural progression and evolutions of Bud Houston’s distance training originally published as Go the Distance. These lesson plans and exercises are suitable for classroom instruction or back yard training by the intrepid enthusiast of dog agility.

Jokers Notebook #1 is an electronic book for download only.

http://www.dogagility.org/Newstore/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=79&ParentCat=7

Blog791

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.

Cinci Poodle Club Day 1

December 10, 2011

I had a fun and interesting day at the Poodle Club AKC trial in Cincinnati.

I have this great relationship with the Cincinnati club. I lead a seminar on Friday in exchange for entries and expenses for the weekend (travel, accommodations and entries). So they get this inexpensive and hard hitting warm-up for the weekend… and I get to show my boy on a great surface in a top notch facility. Not a bad trade at all. Tho next time I think I’m going to upgrade my hotel. The Motel 6 is rather more Spartan that a Red Roof… if that’s saying anything.

In the analyses that follow I want to remind you that I’m cultivating the Old Man’s Handling System. Fundamentally that means the I look for the control positions on course and then use my dog’s terrific distance working skills to allow me  to work from control position to control position while he works away on the more mundane and obvious sequences.

This is a unique system in our culture. And since no-one else has taken the effort to document the beast, I will endeavor to do so with my own exploits.

THE T2B

I was slow to rouse in my hotel room even with a timely wake-up call this morning so I missed the walk-thru for T2B. But don’t you know T2B is about as complicated as a Novice course so I scammed it on the course map and it all went just hunky dory.

Watching most of the class before I went into the ring  the problematic part of the course was on the dismount of the weave poles as many dogs had such focus on the pipe tunnel ahead that the turn to jump #13 was a rocky moment in the course.

I took a nice long parallel path lead-out before releasing my boy and then sent him down through jumps #5 and #6, calling him back up through jump #5 to the teeter at #8. My control position was near the dismount of the teeter. I gave him a “Left” at jump #10 and layered to the opposite side of jumps #9 and 10 as he did the weave poles away. My answer to the problem bit in the course was to have the distance to easily sell the turn to jump #13 and then flip him away to the pipe tunnel.

This was a fun start to the day as Kory had a nice clean run and the fastest time of all dogs. It was THE Time to Beat. He’s been in T2B four times now and has 40 points going forward.

Invincible

Straight away I need to identify my control positions on this course. This was easy for me to figure. Note the hard dismounts from both the teeter and the dogwalk. Kory is a leggy enough dog that he can have a 2o2o on a contact… and not actually have his back feet in yellow paint. So my control positions had to be at the tippy end of both obstacles so I could keep his body straight. I suppose I should teach a straight dismount; but it’s counter-intuitive that he should face straight away when I’m behind him. The answer is to not be behind him.

So I started with him up around jump #3 and send him down to do the 180 turn. This allowed me to do a nice front cross and draw him through the double at #3 and had me right there with him on the dismount of the teeter. So I pulled him around right and sent him down through #6 and on to #8 while I layered to the opposite side of the table.

Yeah it was an impressive bit of distance work. Get over it. That’s Kory through and through. He doesn’t need me in any proximity at all… he’ll just keep working.

I worried a little over the dummy jump beyond jump #8. But you know, I told him “Left! Lie down! Walk up!” (yes, I really did say all that) and it wasn’t anything but the dogwalk for him.

Before I go on I should say that Kory won the class as was fastest time in the building… I mention it here because it was the neat turn from the dogwalk to the table that made the difference in his time and just about every other fast dog time. With most every other handler racing their dogs the length of the dogwalk, no other dog but Kory had the perfect 90° turn off the dogwalk to the table. And that was the consequence of my control position.

From the table it was simple to turn him left at jump #11, through the tire, on to the tunnel and into the weaves, the turn to the collapsed chute, the turn away into the pipe tunnel at #16. Now we arrive at the place in the course that NQ’d most everyone who NQ’d on this course… and that is the turn from #17 to #18. You’ll have to recognize that the dog has a very foreshortened turning radius between these two jumps and with the compelling collapsed tunnel in the transitional turn more than a few dogs got the refusal at jump #18. So savvy handlers would step up to the corner of jump #8 to show a squaring Front Cross… but this left them hopelessly OOP to manage the approach to the tunnel under the A-frame discrimination.

For me it was a magic moment. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching Kory the name of the obstacles in the discrimination; and he has about a 90% success rate with the discrimination by name only. 90% was good enough for us today. I didn’t have any kind of control on the downside of the A-frame. But Mr. Etzel determined that it was good to go… so I released him on to the final jump while I was considerably behind.

Ignominious

By the time the dust settled on the standard class I was feeling pretty invincible. Can you say “Cocky”?

What I was most worried about on this course was selling the turn from jump #9 to #10 without losing my boy into the pipe tunnel. I was prepared to show a pre-cued Flip that would absolutely thrill the natives. But I lost Kory to the wrong-course single-bar jump along side the triple in the turn from jump #6 to #7. I had the good grace (I’m thinking) to depart the course with my failed plan.

So, I won’t bother to share the rest of my handling plan.

Pride goeth before the fall, don’t you know.

The Joker’s Notebook Issue #0

Issue #0 is the training manual for distance work intended as the foundation for the continuing series. The Jokers Notebook is the natural progression and evolutions of Bud Houston’s distance training originally published as Go the Distance.

These lesson plans and exercises are suitable for classroom instruction or back yard training by the intrepid enthusiast of dog agility.

Jokers Notebook #0 is an electronic book for download only: Our Price: $10.00.

http://www.dogagility.org/newstore/

Blog790

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.