Archive for January, 2013


January 30, 2013

I got a course for review that had a start that looked something like this:


The course designer needs to cultivate an understanding of the dog’s path. The comment I usually make goes something like this: “The dog’s approach to a jump dictates the dismount. So the approach to the dogwalk is not square, not safe.” To me the statement is simple & pure. But I have this gnawing intuition that the simplicity and purity is pretty much in my mind and not easily shared.

To put it on other terms… the dog’s path is like Pong! You remember that game, right? It was like the first ever computer/video game.


In Pong the lines are clean and straight and predictable. You’ll note that after the tire I see only one corner and no curves. And under the rules of Pong the approach to the dogwalk is fairly dreadful. I’ll get argument from course designers on my Pong analogy; the argument being that “as a handler” they know how to bring the dog around square for the dogwalk; or their dog will swing wide on the turn, or will square himself for the contact by training.

Bear with me on this point… the course designer should anticipate the dog’s path in the strict terms of Pong without prejudice to handling, training, or any other unpredictable variable. The designer’s vision should be pure.

That is not to say that the course designer cannot intentionally make a test of handling skill or training. And they often do. In the illustration here, however, the course designer is obligated to create the square and safe approach to a contact obstacle. We do not make “can the handler do this without hurting his dog” a riddle on the course.


The fix I suggested in course review, by the way, was something like this. By changing the direction of the turn thru tire and jump #3 the dog is brought around adequately square to the approach to the dogwalk. The fix doesn’t completely preserve whatever challenge it was that the designer was contemplating… and, in fact, builds into the opening a Jump-Dogwalk discrimination riddle that did not exist in the original design.

After the Review


I played around with the opening a bit more. There might be a variety of fun and fanciful things the designer could do to begin the course.

What worries at me from a philosophical POV is starting a course with a technical puzzle. It’s kind of like… where do you go from there? It’s an open invitation for the course to be relentlessly technical. And you know, those kinds of courses aren’t necessarily fun to anybody but the high-strung Anorak.

What I seek, as a course designer, is a central challenge, or riddle. And I’d very much like to place it mid-course. Too early in the course creates an imbalance, and sets you up for an overly technical grind. Too late in the course disturbs the possibility of a sweeping finish, which I find highly desirable.


So, what if the opening were a wind up, rather than a grind? Think of it like pulling the shooter back on an old pinball game; you pull it back good and tight against the coiled spring; and when you’re just ready… you let ‘er rip.  

Winter Lessons for an Arizona Boy

Well you know, it’s been an interesting winter. I’ve already told you that my old computer crashed & burned. Turns out it was not a hardware fault at all. And now that the hard-drive has been wiped and restored to factory new condition… I have another stand-by production computer.

At any rate I’ve moved on to the new world of Windows 8, complete with new tools and a very different touch ‘n feel. I restored my web page to a view that might have come from a “Way Back” machine or something… For awhile I gave that over to Top Dog in an ugly display of text. But I’ve moved all that functionality over to WordPress which serves more than adequately as a web presence (with nowhere near the cost):

In other news, about ten days ago the weather went south, dropping well below a freezing temperature. You expect very cold weather in the Winter in the northeast. Anyhow, Marsha warned that the heater had gone out in the upper cabin. And so I went down and restarted it. And so the next morning I went back down to check the cabin.

I walked in and found a geyser of water shooting up into the cabin. The mainline coming up into the cabin had burst. The consequence of turning on the heater was to unfreeze the pipes and so release the disaster. We turned the water off at the main, and called the plumber.

Count this as another lesson learned by an Arizona boy. I was aware of the peril of frozen pipes. Until now, I’ve never had the pleasure to live through it. Picture me getting sopping wet struggling with shutting off the water inside the house… and turning into a popsicle in the freezing weather outside.


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. 

I Got Something Done

January 19, 2013

Okay, bear with me on this. I haven’t been able to get much done for the past several days because my computer crashed and burned. This moment I’m working on a new computer, with a brand new operating system… Windows 8.

Now Windows 8 is quite interesting. It’s rather like the interface you’ll see on a Notebook or even one of the new spiffy phones. As a consequence, nearly everything I know about a computer interface is nearly worthless old-timey out-of-date trash. Naturally there’s no option to say… make this computer work like my last one did.

Before I could get to any of my routine work I had to begin the arduous process of getting the tools installed that I use to do my work. There’s always the potential that the software will not be compatible with the new operating system, and I’ll have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to get upgraded.

Microsoft Office was my starting point. I just purchased the Home and Business something like a year ago because the previous version I owned was no longer eligible for a freebie upgrade. And then, of course, I had to buy an independent copy of MS Access because that key element isn’t actually included in Home and Business. I had to spend awhile on the phone with the Microsoft Store because there was no record of those purchases on the store. It turns out (note how I’m translating four hours of agony to a transitional statement “it turns out”) that customer is identified by his email address. And my old account was registered under my old hughesnet email addy. This is extremely short-sided of Microsoft. Email addresses tend to be more transient than other important customer information. Once I got switched into my account the store has a reusable product Download option and a convenient product code (and even an option to put it in the copy/paste buffer).

The next thing was to get a browser so I don’t have to use funky Internet Explorer. I have been using Mozilla Firefox. The problem with Firefox is that it has mostly been an unstable product since about release 4.0. And every time they upgrade it I lose support for more add-on options. So this time around I’ve gone for another browser, called Opera. The jury is still out on Opera. I’m a little put off by the fact that there is no “Home” button on the toolbar. Otherwise it behaves rather like Firefox, enabling multiple tabs to be open and having a Favorites screen populated by usage habits.

My old computer, Compaq Presario had a failed boot. Naturally these days you don’t get a start-up disk with a new computer (in spite of having paid for it). So I downloaded a utlity that allows you to create a bootable CD/DVD. It’s actually little more than a file manager and not a robust operating system at all. Since I didn’t have a terribly current backup of production files this utlity did good work for me.

I also had a back-up laptop computer which was Marsha’s old laptop, also a Compaq Presario. I created a new user partition, then opened Mozilla Thunderbird … hopeful that I could find a way to identify and retrieve my old messages from my failed laptop. Oh, be careful what you wish for. The IMAP settings immediately began to download from the frigging cloud every email I’ve ever received and every email I’ve ever sent. That download took about three days and probably put our data allowance over the top on our Verizon account. None of the filing of emails I’ve done is reflected; everything I’ve ever deleted is back again; and there’s no indication as to what emails I’ve ever replied to unless I want to go into my sent files and do some detective work. Naturally I’m reluctant to turn on Thunderbird on my new computer. All I need is another massive download. Instead, I’m going onto the internet to find a backup utility that will hopefully solve the IMAPping puzzle.

While I have a bunch of work to do, I’m approaching it one small bit at a time. There was a .pdf I had to edit (created from an Excel file); and then upload onto the Internet. I’d already solved the MS Office part of it. The next thing to do was get Acrobat Pro up and working. All Office products now have a “Save As” option for a PDF. I didn’t really need a virtual printer. What I did need is a PDF editor… which is why I installed Acrobat Pro. I’m happy to say that version 7 installed just fine. I know there’s a newer version that is compatible with Windows 7 (which is what is on Marsha’s computer) and Windows 8. But I don’t really need it. And I’m weary of Adobe products. You can’t talk to a person in the United States should you ever need support.

I also installed FTP on the new computer. It’s an old terminal package for which I’ve had a license for more than ten years. And guess what… it didn’t work. A quick check on the Internet found me a freeware FTP editor called FileZilla. OMG where have you been all my life? What a wonderful and well-designed program. Oh, and it’s a freebie.

So, like I said. I got something done, finally. We’ll count this blog post as also getting something done. Tomorrow I’m going to return to the topic of dog agility. I have a bunch of stuff to share.

Btw, my new computer has a Kindle app. I went out to the store to buy a Kindle book called Martian, by Andy Weir (recommended to me by Wayne Van Deusen). I put myself to bed last night with this brilliant sci-fi read. It’s reminiscent of the old hard core science stuff that guys like Asimov and Niven and Heinlein (before he went crazy) used to write. And the book only cost $.99. I must investigate how to author Kindle pubs.


Oh, and my new computer has a webcam. Fancy that.


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.


January 11, 2013

Nesting courses in dog agility is an art form. The idea is to move from class to class with a minimum of equipment movement. Moving equipment and the arduous follow-up exercise called tweaking can literally add hours to the day, if the course is not well nested.

Rather than trying to convince you of the merit of the notion, I’d like to spend a moment in a nesting exercise just to see if it’s really possible to find challenges for different levels of players without actually moving around equipment.

BLOG890_01This is the Top Dog course for last week ( I had in mind to make it a nice flowing romp, possibly with an interesting central challenge.

This is a very simple course. The tricky bit is in the turn from jump #8 to the teeter. The wrong course A-frame looms large as an option for the dog. Aside from this the course is a novice level exercise.

I’m not abashed offering this kind of event challenge for Top Dog. Everybody runs the same course.  It’s just about as fun to run a on a racetrack as in a blender. In some ways more fun, I’d expect.

BLOG890_02To make the course a bit more advanced, I introduce the notion of a technical handling challenge. If you don’t immediately spot the challenge, it is a 270° threadle from jump #3 to #4. The course designer was kindly in the approach to the threadle, as the handler can gain position by taking a lead-out.

The course still isn’t a Masters course. Not really. But it is getting more advanced, to be sure.

BLOG890_03In this final draft I’ve made two significant changes. I’ve changed the opening into a bit of a serpentine approach back to the pipe tunnel at #4. This creates another wrong course option featuring the dogwalk. This opening ostensibly pins the handler back close to the dog on the approach to the pipe tunnel… and likely behind the dog on the dismount, when faced with the 270° threadle.

Oh, and I’ve added a second 270° threadle. This is a basic test of ambidextrous skill

Mark Your Calendar

I’ve accepted a USDAA judging assignment with Sky Blue Events on May 3rd – 5th, 2013. The trial is indoors at Pawsitive Partners in Indianapolis. I have a bit of time between then and now to play with some interesting course design challenges. Of course, I won’t be sharing these on my blog before hand. So there’s no good reason to practice the 270° threadles and the course I designed above.

Top Dog Web Page

After initially giving my own web site ( to my start up of Top Dog Agility Players… I’ve decided my own primitive efforts at designing the site are just a complete mess. So I’m moving the whole thing to Word Press: You know, it will do just about everything one would want.

I’m faced with a lot of technical development issues. I’m about of a mind now that seeking or obtaining outside help is a waste of my time. At least my wheels are spinning too much. I’m going to go back to basics and design everything within my own capabilities. The future will take care of itself. Seems to always work out that way.

You are So Beautiful

You know those ASPCA commercials with the background singing “You are so beautiful, to me…” Well, those commercials just break my heart seeing the poor abused animals out there. Again I have six dogs in my house. Two are pure-bred; four are rescues. It’s terrible to know that you can’t save them all.


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.