Turn to Nowhere

I have this little snippet of a course from TDAA judge Vickie Tillman that inspires a quick discussion of agility handling strategy. Note that I’ve scaled the obstacles and the transitions between them to the dimensions used in the big dog venues so as not to offend the sensibilities of people who’ve never faced competition in the TDAA.

On this course the edge of the ring is represented by the upper margin of the drawing. This is an important note.

I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that most handlers will turn their dogs to the right at jump #15, although that jump provides a choice of turning directions. I can capture the consequences of the turning directions by describing the dog’s path in either direction:

In this drawing the blue line represents the consequences of turning the dog to the right at jump #15. You can see that the dog’s path clearly favors the wrong course pipe tunnel coming back over jump #16. The red line shows the consequences of turning the dog to the left at jump #15. Turning left sweetens the approach to the dogwalk at #17.

I have in the past documented the critical analysis for determining turning direction, when there is a choice.

  1. What is the natural turning direction?
  2. Which direction results in a shorter consequential path?
  3. Which direction presents the more flowing consequential path?
  4. Which direction presents more risk?
  5. Which direction is accommodated by the skills of the team?

Natural turning direction is a two-part question. Whatever side the handler is working will influence the dog to turn in that direction. In this sequence most handlers will have dog-on-left, leaning the natural turning direction to the right. The second part of the question is presentation of the jump. This is easier to illustrate than explain:

Given the dog’s approach, the natural turning direction would be to the left because the dog will have a simple wrap around the wing.

However, in our subject sequence the natural turning direction is influenced only by the side the handler is working; while direction of approach is neutral.

And neither turning direction results in a shorter consequential path.

To determine the more flowing consequential path I’d have to give a nod to the left turn at jump #15. Turning to the right will require another turn, however modest, after jump #16. I can’t leave this question without referring back to the illustration I did for natural turning direction (to show how flowing consequential path balances with flowing consequential path):

What we’re really envisioning here are “downstream considerations”. All agility handlers are familiar with the basic requirement for thinking downstream for upstream decisions. So in this illustration a turn to 4A favors a turn to the right at jump #2 even though it isn’t what you’d consider the natural turning direction.

In our Vickie Tillman sequence the direction that presents more risk is clearly the right turn, because it presents the pipe tunnel as a wrong course option.

The question of which direction is accommodated by the skills of the team is very important in this sequence. If the handler has dog-on-left he and the dog must have in their repertoire an instruction to turn away at the #15 jump.

Earlier I said “On this course the edge of the ring is represented by the upper margin of the drawing. This is an important note.” An interesting thing that I’ve found with my boy Kory, even though we have fabulous directional skills… there are times when he will second-guess my instruction. What he sees is that all of the good stuff (more agility obstacles) will be out to the right. To the left is nothing but the ring barrier. When I say “Left!” he will believe “that don’t make no sense!” and turn to the right nonetheless.

Part of our ongoing training is to demonstrate to Kory that when I say Left I mean Left; and when I say Right I mean Right; and he should trust my judgment in these matters. But it is hard to deny the logic of fighting against the turn to nowhere.

Named Obstacle No-Handling Discrimination

At the Poodle Club trial in Cincinnati this past weekend I had the opportunity twice to approach the pipe-tunnel-under-contact-obstacle with Kory while I was at a considerable distance. In both cases the correct obstacle was the contact and dog’s path favored the pipe tunnel. I’m proud to say that he chose correctly both times. I recognize that this is an insufficient statistical sampling but I am encouraged by Kory’s spot on performance.

Hazard double-Q’d both days. My god she’s a lot of work, being a pure-for-motion dog that demands that I hoof it through the entire course in a path equal in length to  hers. While she is not a dog that takes away your breath when she runs, she is solid and steady in her work. And I’m proud of my girl.

Kory owned both of the standard courses. But in jumpers he dropped a bar on one course (I believe I did not support him properly over the jump, even though I was at some distance); and on the other jumpers course, as I’ve previously related, I failed to run him without his tags.

So there was the weekend with two dogs… a bar and a collar away from perfection.


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.

2 Responses to “Turn to Nowhere”

  1. Ronni Says:

    I have a similar problem if the weave poles are in the upper right hand corner parallel to the right side of the ring. My dog notices that there are barriers to his right and in front of him and he will pop the weaves at around pole 10 because he knows which way the course is going and he can’t wait to get there. This is about the only time he ever pops the weaves. We did an AKC trial a few weeks ago where this happened. I redid the weave poles 2 more times after the initial pop and he still popped out. As I picked him up and walked off the course the judge commented that I hadn’t done anything to cause him to pull out. I told her that he’d been reading my mind…

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