Archive for August, 2012

Blending Foundation Exercises

August 13, 2012

A very basic exercise I do with a young dog is the “exploding” line of jumps. The objective is to teach the dog a “Go On” directional. And for the young dog the exercise establishes an understanding of the game in which he has permission to work at a distance.

This begs the question, how do you teach the “Go On” directive to a dog that is not young (say a dog that is two years old, or older)?

We’ll back up a step to look at another related exercise, the progressive send. This is a simple dog training exercise. The handler begins close to the jump sending the dog, and moves back a few inches at a time. It’s very basic stuff, limited only by the size of your back yard.

What I would like to do is blend the progressive send with the exploding line of jumps.

Now the send is back-chained. The handler continues to gradually move back down the line, insinuating a new hurdle when he’s gained maybe 14′. When the line of jumps has reached four or five… then they can be exploded a few inches extra at a time.

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

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Distance Foundation

August 12, 2012

I had an interesting conversation with a student in a private lesson. She told me that she wanted to enter her dog(s) into the distance program at her training center, but was not allowed because her dog had not attended/graduated from a series of “foundation” classes. The horrible thought lept into my mind that the “foundation” class is where the dog’s prospects for working at a distance from the handler are utterly destroyed. The dog learns to run agility tied to the handler’s hip. The opportunity to learn to work at a distance from the handler as a part of his “foundation” is completely lost. Distance becomes a matter of painful remediation.

Consequently I ignored every opportunity to focus on “handling” and devoted our time together exclusively to distance training topics.

I want to share a couple bits with you, mostly in order for me to document a thing or two that I might have learned.

Blending Distance Foundation Exercises

I had a student once who had bought my Jokers Notebook, issue #0. That is as some of you know the foundation issue to the Jokers Notebook series. I asked her how she was doing with the exercises. She said that she had tried a couple of them. <sigh>

So here’s the deal. The foundation book is not a mixed-bag potpourri of options and occasionals. All of the exercises are intended as a homogenous whole and all must be approached with grueling consistency and continuity until the esential skills are owned by the dog.

Easy for me to say, I’m sure.

Because we’re doing “everything” in terms of foundation you’ll find that different exercises have relationships. In one exercise you might be doing an advanced proofing exercise for one skill, and using that skill as a springboard/prerequisite to practice another skill. For example:

Progressive Sending: Pipe Tunnel

This is a simple exercise you might do with all obstacles. The handler begins close to the obstacle, sends the dog forward for the performance, and over time moves back farther and farther until the dog is being sent from a magnificent distance to the performance. Certainly, early on the tunnel is a fun exercise to practice progressives sending.

A Simple Progressive Tandem

In this sequence I specify handling. It is simple enough. The handler will start with dog on left until the dog gets into the tunnel. On the exit of the tunnel, however, the handler will pick up the dog on his right lead. At jump #5 the handler will do a Tandem Turn (crossing behind the dog on the landing side of the jump)

This exercise depends on a strong send to the pipe tunnel at #3 so that the handler can appear at the corner of the turn at jump #5 at precisely the moment the dog arrives at that jump. The faster the dog is, the more important it is for the dog to have the sending skill to the tunnel.

In the progression of the exercise I’ll typically associate a displaceable “wing” at the corner jump (#5) to get the dog off the handler’s hip. This is especially difficult for handlers who train where there are no winged jumps. The idea of the dog being 5′ away can make their heads explode.

In the next bit I’ll take the wing away. But I’ll ask the handler to visualize the wing and to conduct the turn from this modest lateral distance. I have to remind the handler that the dog turns “when” the handler turns, not “where” the handler turns.

The next step is quite an advancement; but a logical one. The handler will “layer” the tandem. The handler shows the turn at the corner but doesn’t cross around behind the jump at the corner. Instead he will move in a path parallel to the dog, which should neatly drive the dog to the pipe tunnel at #8.

Saw It On Facebook!

I hope this is covered by the Affordable Health Care Act!

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

On Course Design

August 11, 2012

You know, I’m judging a USDAA trial at the end of the month. For this trial I had to design 38 courses to be run over three days. This is a fantastic and traumatic feat for the course designer.

Naturally I’m keen to share some of the courses with you; but that would be inappropriate should anybody down in North Carolina be paying attention. Courses can be shared only after the fact.

This will be a two-ring one-judge trial. For the exhibitor it makes for a relaxed kind of day. There are never conflicts; and everyone can watch every run should they be so inclined. For the judge, on the other hand, it is a grueling nonstop weekend running from ring to ring trying to set the best pace with negligible downtime for running dogs.

The cool thing about a two ring trial is that I don’t have to be quite so ardent in my nesting as I would be working in a single ring. While I don’t want to work the course builders to death with complete rebuilds (which they can do while I’m judging dogs in the alternate rings); I do have considerable flexibility in making course changes that would be a drag on time in the single ring.

While I was designing courses for this trial I found myself attenuated to flow and the appropriateness of challenge. Really, if you think about it, the individual competitor deserves every time he walks into the ring something that will be fun; something that offers a realistic opportunity to qualify. It’s too easy when you’re designing 38 courses to go brain-dead, hurried and indifferent. This is true especially when nesting Starters and Advanced courses to the Masters course. It’s easy to insinuate the ugly residue of Masters in the Advanced course just for being a bit lazy.

Anyhow, for the weekend I probably came up with only two new and interesting (to me) new course concepts. I also dredged a couple of old favorites (the crafty exhibitor would have to dig very hard and be very lucky to find them). Once you have the central course concept, nesting spawns out in all directions… to the lower level classes, and to the games.

I’ll be sure to share courses after the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

For work with my own dog (and a series of private lessons this weekend) I went out and borrowed something I saw on somebody else’s blog. It was titled “Lidocaine” or something like that. Don’t ask me, I don’t know; I think the gist of the blog post was to suggest that religion and politics on Facebook gives you a rash.

The author’s original course had the weave poles at #2. I’m working a dog with contact issues and needed the dogwalk to be there. Later I came back and stuck the weave poles into that bit of dead space between the A-frame and teeter, for alternate sequencing.

I like running my dogs on courses designed by other people. They’ll do things that wouldn’t occur to me to do. And that is the nature of the real world; prepare for the unexpected.

Observations on this Course

The hard aback turn on the dismount of the dogwalk can be a tricky bit particularly if the handler has to run to the dismount to sit on the dog’s head before turning back to jump #3. With a Front Cross there’s some potential for reversing the dog’s direction and putting him right back on the dogwalk for a wrong course.

What I would like to do with my own dog, after making a presentation of the dogwalk, is to move on an oblique path to the outside corner of the #3 jump. After my dog assumes the unambiguous position it should be an easy matter to show him a nice straight line through jump #3. That also leaves me in position to pre-cue the turn and manage the interesting handling bit after the jump.

Another interesting bit is the “serpentine” from jump #9 to jump #11. The transition from jump #9 to #10 is a blind/managed approach. Do you see that? And this is offered with two tunnels crowding the landing side and calling to the dog.

I ask if you see it. The rotation of jump #9 presents a common illusion that obscures the blind approach, because of the rotation of the jump. The dismount is dictated by the approach and not by the rotation of the jump.

Here I’ve rotated the jump square so that the illusion is evaporated and you can more clearly see the challenge of the blind approach.

* * *

Okay, there’s some other interesting stuff about this course I’ve stolen. It will have to wait. It’s late and I’m about to turn into a pumpkin.

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

DP Department

August 10, 2012

For about the last week I’ve been splitting my duties between being the Landscaping Department and the Data Processing Department. That means I have outside labors and inside work that keep me moving through the day.

We bought a new laptop, a really nice machine from HP. The difficulty of a new computer is always bringing it into production while the old one gets retired to join the boat anchor pile. You can imagine, everything from Clean Run Course Designer to all the Microsoft and Adobe products… to installing the printer and browser and security and email client. It’s an awesome bit of work.

The mistake I’ve made in the past is buying two computers at once, one for Marsha and one for me. We’ve decided to go to a leap-frog strategy. The new laptop belongs to her. I’ll get a new one maybe next year, being careful to stay backed up with my own data in the meantime.

The new computer runs a new operating system: Windows 7. Of course it’s completely different from Vista and makes some software incompatible. It never fails that the cost of bringing software up to spec is actually more expensive than the computer itself.

I’m inspired to post the following bit to Facebook. I’m really hoping it goes viral:

Adobe Systems You Fail!

I have been a faithful customer to Adobe Systems for something like 20 years. I use a variety of Adobe products. I’ve endured the fact that nearly always when MicroSoft makes an upgrade change to the Windows operating system Adobe products will require an upgrade to be compatible. I’ve accepted that the upgrade price is about as expensive as purchasing these products new.

Two days ago when I contacted Adobe to get an upgrade to Acrobat Pro (the old version is incompatible with the 64 bit Windows 7) … I was assisted by a service technician in India. He was astoundingly incompetent.

I tell you I’m getting completely fed up with companies who do business in America, take our money, value our loyalty, but want to pinch a penny by giving a job to a slave-labor barely-speaks-English clerk half-way around the world.

A word to you guys at Adobe ~ I’m an American. If you want my loyalty you will give me yours. You need to hire Americans to do business in America. I don’t want to talk to anybody in India when I’m dealing with your company.

I went right out and Googled up a Freeware program that does exactly the job that Acrobat Pro has always done for me (provides a virtual printer to create PDF documents). The more advanced features are of little interest to me.

I found a product called “Bullzip” available at http://www.bullzip.com/. It’s absolute freeware (though it would be a good touch if you left a donation for their programming efforts).

LIKE this post if you re tired of companies that do business in America but do not value American workers.

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

Coach

August 7, 2012

I’ve been entranced by the Olympics for the past several days. I haven’t been entirely jingoistic in my delight for the competition. It’s so cool to watch these young athletes in a competition they’ve been working towards for years and years into a small sliver of time, a single chance, a summary moment.

All athletes have a relationship with a coach working to prepare them in the pursuit of perfection. The relationships young athletes have with their coaches is of special interest to me. I suppose you get to see interaction between player and coach more clearly in sports like gymnastics.

What I like about gymnastics especially is watching these grizzled old men who coach young men and women towards amazing athletic perfection.

Getting Real

After something like 20 years of being a “here, let me show you” kind of coach, I find myself physically incapable of the kind of movement and grace that is fundamental to a wicked partnership with an athletic, well-trained dog. I am afflicted by a condition called “osteoarthritis”. Yes, there are meds for this condition. What the meds actually do is allow me to go through the day without excruciating pain; they allow me to sleep at night. Unfortunately the bones move with creaky precarious wobblediness; as though every major joint has a minor sprain. Without the meds, it’s more like every joint has a major sprain.

As a coach I can tell a student what they need to do to take their game to the next level. I can put that student on handling exercises and on the pertinent dog training mission. I can show little bits; but I won’t be running to arrive at that bit.

I have few local students, one or two capable of world class; they are caught up in the drama of their personal lives and probably will not pursue or finish the killer agility career, and approach agility only as an expensive hobby. Nationally I have a number of students that follow my teaching closely. Working with them is a spotty and occasional matter. They get their “Bud fix” ever year or so. That’s not the same thing as working with me relentlessly, daily or weekly, for a span of years.

I’ve considered bringing my nephew down to teach him the game and to run my dogs. He’s a young, slender athletic boy… he could outrun most competitors in the game today. It would break your heart if I told you how important that is.

At any rate, my life has been taken over by the work of the TDAA, in nurturing and improving that organization. I’m having fun doing this. But it’s work; it’s a job. And, it’s not my first love.

Quothe

The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” ~ Bobby Knight, coaching the USA men’s basketball, 1984 gold medal team.

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

A Fan for Collapsed Tunnel Training

August 6, 2012

We have traditionally approached teaching a novice dog the Collapsed Tunnel as a two person operation. One person holds the dog on leash while the other person (usually the dog’s person/handler) goes to the other side, lifts open the fabric and calls the dog through. The dog will come to the end of the leash if he tries to go around, left or right; but the leash will release if he offers to move through the tunnel. It’s an effective method, to be sure.

But what if… you are working alone? It is counter-intuitive to the dog to go into the tunnel when he can plainly see that it is closed at just the other end.

So what we’re going to do here is bring into the picture a big barn fan. Got the picture?

Now when you make the presentation of the collapsed tunnel it looks to the dog more like a pipe tunnel. He can see daylight on the other side. It works better if you turn the fan on.

The learning curve for this obstacle is considerably shortened.

Over time, you should rotate the fan in one direction or the other to reduce the amount of air being pushed through the fabric, so that it settles down lower and lower as the dog works.

In about 10 minutes we have a dog who will readily push through the fabric of the collapsed tunnel. We had a little help from a handful of juicy beef treats!

I apologize for the generally poor quality of the pictures. These  were taken with a smart phone. Our little rescue Chihuahua/something Haymitch was the canine talent in this production.

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

The Forlorn Hawk

August 4, 2012

A pair of hawks nested high in a tree down by the pond. I’ve watched them floating in the breeze above the lower field. This has been their home for several years.

The storm, the derecho that fell on our property in July was a bad turn for the hawks. Last week my brother Keevyn was down on a short vacation (while he fished I worked with chainsaw and tractor, clearing about a dozen downed trees from the dam road).

That morning there was a single hawk around the pond. He sounded like he was calling. It was a pitiful forlorn cry. And he stayed at it most of the day.

Keevyn said that one of the downed trees had a really big nest in it. He climbed the hill to investigate. And he came back with these:

It’s not easy to tell from the photo… but these are egg shells.

So the hawk lost his nest, his eggs, and maybe his mate. Actually I’m not all that sure whether the lone hawk was the falcon or the male. I’m guessing that the female went down with the nest.

Today I was down dragging ruined trees off the road, again. And there was no sign or sound of any hawk.

Priorities

Things have gotten so crazy that I find myself prioritizing my work. It’s a thing I used to do back when I had a real job. I’m sorry to say that the blog is a bit too low on the list. I’ve had some great stories to tell but have had to content myself with being the solitary witness.

I’ll try to break away a time or two this week to catch you up. It’s late now.

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