Archive for September, 2012

Triangular Pressure

September 6, 2012

I’ve mostly been an advocate for the notion that a dog tends to work in a path parallel to the handler’s path. Indeed I’ve codified that notion in what I call the Laws of a Dog in Motion. In those same laws is a secondary notion that “a dog forward of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position”.

I’ve been struggling with the “framing” of a fundamental handling concept that I call Triangular Pressure for handling in dog agility. I’m finding more and more that “parallel” is largely an illusion.

In this drawing I’m showing handler movement and pressure relative to both dog and destination. The illustration shows ideal handler movement, particularly in the case of a very novice dog, or a fast dog with excellent distance skills. I know those two cases seem at polar opposites of “type”. The real difference between the two, mind you, would be the length of the handler’s path. For the slower novice dog the handler is likely to meet the dog at the confluence of the triangle; for the fast dog with distance skill, the handler is likely to take no more than a step, or two.

This drawing suggests handler pressure on the dog’s path for a lengthened line of jumps. The handler does not apply pressure to each jump discretely. Instead the entire line is handled as a unit with a common vanishing point perspective.

I’ve drawn the handler’s path in two colors to illustrate length of path as a relative matter depending on the speed of the handler versus the speed of the dog. I think a lot about that imbalance these days.

In a curvilinear arrangement of jumps the handler’s pressure is probably a more complicated matter. The only reason I’m sharing this picture with you, incidentally, is that I relish the illusion of the curve and want you to get a good look at it before I draw my own lines.

The illusion of the curve contributes to a fuzzy understanding of the mission; and of course creates fuzzy over-complicated handling.

The handler in the illustration has set a converging vanishing point on the landing side of jump #3; and a finishing converging point on the landing side of the final jump. While the length of the dog’s path is given, the length of the handler’s path depends on the handler’s speed relative to the dog. So the handling does not depend on the length of the handler’s path, but in the direction of the handler’s path. The timing event (for changing paths) is the dog’s commitment over jump #3.

In a pinwheel the handler should treat each jump as a unique moment of triangular pressure. Indeed, the most common error in a “pinwheel” is for the handler to fail to give pressure to each jump.

The pressure the handler gives to each jump in a pinwheel is sometimes as slight as a single step (or two); and certainly must include “what is the handler facing?”, “what is the handler moving towards?”, and “what is the handler looking/pointing at?” And all of this is conveyed in a blink… a small moment in time.

I’d still like to dispel the illusion of the “curve”. This is more important to handling success in a pinwheel than in a gently curving series of jumps. Each corner is a timing event to the handler. And the corners ultimately form a square to the disciplined handler.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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.


September 5, 2012

This past weekend, as I worked my way through a judging assignment, I had the opportunity to sit down with Pati Mah at ring side and have a chat with her about a problem my boy Kory has been having. Specifically he gets his 2o2o perfectly at home while in our own training field, but in competition he is hurried and unreliable.

She asked a couple questions, and then gave me five minutes of coaching. And I’ll tell you, she set me on a forever training path. Of course I’ll implement what she told me immediately. The forever part is important; what she told me fundamentally changed my understanding of the training relationship I have with my boy in regards to his contact training. I’ll share it with you over time.

But this blog is about coach, right? What makes a great agility coach?

I’ve known for many years that Pati is a phenomenal dog trainer and can put it all together, with objective shaping methodology (rather than the other way around.) The thing that really struck me about Pati this weekend is the unselfishness of her presence. She is accessible and friendly and frank. She gets it.

Right now my concept of the great agility coach is exactly the picture of Pati Mah; both for her clear genius and her unselfish sharing. She is a rare treasure among us.

The Agility Instructor – Summary Paragraph (Rerun)

Care about your students. Learn their names. You don’t know everything; don’t even pretend. Learn some good jokes. Pay attention to their progress. Socialize with their dogs; and give them treats out of your own hand. If you must set them back to repeat a class, allow it to be their idea and praise them for being prudent and clever dog trainers. Give everyone equal value. Allow everyone equal time on the floor. Don’t bullshit them. They come to you for instruction, so be honest. Don’t forget to get them signed up for the next session of classes early; they won’t take it as nagging or selling, but will feel that you honestly care about them. Leave your prejudices about certain breeds of dogs at home. Smile occasionally and laugh often. Always apologize for being stupid. Don’t try to fix everything at once; it’s okay to take the long view. Try to be clever about finding just the right thing to fix or help with. Remind your students from time to time that agility is just a game. Remind yourself from time to time that agility is just a game. Prepare for every class that you teach. Feel free to state objectives and offer handling advice and remedy; but remember ultimately that they come to get out on the floor working their dogs not to hear you lecture. Be humble about your own accomplishments; but ask your students for their brags every week. Be mindful that you know your students in a narrow context – they may contend with drama and tragedy in their own lives of which you are unaware. Always inquire about dogs and family members who have been ill or injured. Be a student of the game. Don’t express extreme political views to your students. Remember that they come to class to chat and socialize not to hear you lecture; so when you must address the class to take a teaching moment, interrupt politely, be brief, and let them get back to chatting and socializing. Be consistent in your training advice. Remember that teaching is a game of repetition. An adult must hear a thing 28 times before it finally sinks in. You have no choice but to be patient; tearing out your hair only loses you your hair. Never chastise a student angrily. You can make fun of a student in a jovial way, but only if you really did have fun with it and only if you are prepared to help your student with your training genius. Teach with games whenever possible. Follow current trends in the sport; collect course maps and study video. Don’t be afraid to cheer for your students and encourage them to cheer for each other. Introduce new students to your classes. Celebrate graduations. Give your students homework. Honor the accomplishments of your students’ dogs. Hang their ribbons in your training center. Give homework. Check to see who’s been doing their homework. Remember that new students often don’t know simple things or fundamental things. Feel free to teach when you are instructing. Remember that nobody absolutely nobody wants to use up class time listening to you brag about your past accomplishments. Be a mentor. Teach from a philosophical perspective. Use positive reward-based training methods. Teach your students to be clever dog trainers. Remember that they don’t learn much when being spoon fed. Problem solving is good. Welcome back students who have been away for awhile. Always start an exercise with the entertainment round in which your students can solve with their own handling choices; otherwise you won’t be so clear on what you need to teach. Don’t be catty in your conversation about people who are not present; it’s a small small world, and it’s not very attractive to the listener[1]. You are responsible for your students’ dogs’ safety. Don’t allow any dog to be terrorized or attacked by another dog. Get rid of aggressive dogs from your program immediately. Always check the safety and repair of your equipment. Provide a clean and pleasant and safe training environment for your students. Remember that everyone wants and deserves basic respect. Always address or speak of other instructors in front of your students with fundamental respect. Keep in mind that some of your students are actually smarter than you and have more education. It might be possible that some of your students are a lot smarter than you and actually have less education. It doesn’t pay to be pompous. Be skillful with students who interrupt, or disrupt, or undermine. Get rid of aggressive handlers from your program immediately. Your other students deserve a safe place to play. It just doesn’t mean any more than it is. Have special events and socials with your students. Encourage a sense of community. When your students arrive for class be sure to say hi to their dogs too. Use your students as the good example when they are. Have a long range vision for your students. Track progress if you can. Keep in perspective that agility is a game we play with our dogs on the weekend in a park.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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.

[1] Somebody tell Gail Storm, AKC Agility Rep!

Out of Doors

September 2, 2012

It’s been something like three weeks since I’ve written to my web log. Before too long I should secure a thing or two that has gone adrift in my brain. For now, I just want to share a thought or two.

The picture above, by the way, I took out of the driver’s side window as I made the trip from home to Durham, NC. Phone / camera thingies are outrageous technology and allow you to do silly things … like taking random pictures when you should be concentrating on things like wending your way down a mountain road. The picture manages to capture two states. In the foreground is West Virginia, little bits of hill on a mountain side. Sprawling out down below is North Carolina.

This is a small trial, really. It’s USDAA, with something like 12 classes a day. We’re running two rings and one judge. The local exhibitors like this format because they never have conflicts and can watch every performance and have kind of a laid back experience. For the judge, however, it is an awesome task running from ring to ring. On Saturday the temperature soared to about 95°; today was somewhat better as it only reached about 87°. Tomorrow there may be showers.

I feel like I’m living through the demise of the out-of-doors agility trial. Although well-maintained turf is the most excellent surface for agility, other factors make working outside unpopular. With the temperature soaring it can be downright uncomfortable; and keeping our dogs from over-heating is problematic and worrisome.

And you know… tomorrow it could rain. The remnants of that darned hurricane that swamped Louisiana is drifting cross country. While I haven’t been current on my television watching and weather channel obsessing… I know there’s the possibility. I brought my dryz-a-bone with me. So I’m prepared or this indignity too.

An Agility Fix

I am getting my agility fix. As the judge I get to be an unblinking witness to every bit of every performance. I was happy to see Stuart and Pati Mah. They’re both always a treat to watch; keen and collected and playing a high octane game. I’m kind of disappointed not to see the Fontaines here. I’m hoping they don’t wimp out on out-of-doors trials. That would be disappointing.

For the most part the dogs and handlers here play with a wide variety of skill and training. I’m struck by the positive nature of most of the players. I mean they were having fun, and treating their dogs wonderfully no matter how grand or messy their moment in the sun.

In the past couple of years I’ve been struggling with the notion of what kind of coach I can be in dog agility if I can’t be the kind of coach I’ve always been. What I’ve been, mind you is kind of a hands on “let me show you” kind of guy. I’ll pick up a student’s dog and demonstrate the thing I’ve been trying to teach. But painful and debilitating arthritis have taken away the basic physical prowess that defined “my kind of coach”.

In the play of the game I see every small error now with a peculiar clarity.

The weekend has been uplifting for me because I can see my way to what I will be as a coach. I just won’t be hands on. I get to give the whole concept a nice work-out on the second weekend of October as I do a nice weekend seminar with Sue Sternberg’s bunch out in Grand Junction, Colorado.

I might have loved to give some of the folks this weekend a bit of coaching. But that’s not what I’m here for.

Looking at the quiet winter months coming at us I want to make a schedule of workshops for the handful of local players who’ve ever trained with me. We could all use a regular agility fix.


Reading back over my rambling above… I have to observe that two days in the North Carolina sun wearing a rabbit-skin Akubra hat is a good way to bake a brain. So you’ll have to excuse my fuzzy notions.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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.