Archive for December, 2014

Agility en España

December 20, 2014

I’m continuing this series of “around the world” agility. The present focus is obviously what’s going on in Europe. I hope to add other exotic regions to the mix.

Following is a jumpers course by Dimonis Bascara of Spain played on December 14, 2014.

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For all my pontificating about how they don’t much reuse obstacles in Europe… I’ve got this course with five repeated obstacles. But I like the course and the full extension flow that it provides.

Probably the most technical bit is the pull/push through from jump #16 to the weave poles. The dog needs to pass up two perfectly good tunnel wrong-course options to get into the poles. I’m sure it was a stellar moment on this course!

Top Dog

After several years of trying to get Top Dog Agility up and running as a purely grass roots endeavor I’ve given up … on that approach. I’ve known for a long time that “inexpensive” and “recreational” aren’t completely compelling in a world that is run on profit and ego.

Where we are going now is Top Secret! It will be a fun ride.

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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 Finnish Line

December 19, 2014

The study of dog agility course design coming out of Europe can be useful. Most innovation in terms of challenge is spawned on that continent.

Following is a standard course by Timo Teileri of Finland played on December 12, 2014. I’d like to do a walk-through with you.

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Note that no obstacle is repeated on this course, a European convention that demonstrates a fundamental difference from American course design[1]. It is important mainly at jumps, providing distinction of performance faults. If a bar on a jump is dropped by a dog, the course design won’t allow the dog a free pass over the jump without a new opportunity to drop the bar.

In the opening four obstacles the handler must be calculating a strategy that will allow dog-on-right into the weave poles because of the counter-side approach to the pipe tunnel at #6. The transition from the tire to the #3 pipe tunnel offers a real risk that the dog might veer into the wrong side of the tunnel. And then, after jump #4 the handler will want to draw the dog tightly into the turn so that the dog’s path doesn’t go wide and perpendicular to the entry to the poles. And then, like I said, the handler really wants dog-on-right through the poles to draw the dog back for the pipe tunnel. Note that the dog will be exiting the weave poles to the right, and so the handler must execute the hard-aback turn without sticking the dog back into the weave poles.

After jump #7 the dog enters a “cluster” with two or three wrong course options open to the dog. The handler needs to tighten the turn to line up nice and square for the long jump. After the long jump the dog has a blind approach to the #9 pipe tunnel. But surely the handler’s mind is on what follows. A back-side performance of jump #11 follows the teeter. The handler may have in mind to change sides to the dog while on the teeter. It’s either that, or the handler will have to do the back-side presentation while on the side away from the turn. Note too that the back-side jump is in a pocket framed by two wrong course jumps. The handler will have to draw the dog around neatly for the presentation without losing him to a course more logical than the one the judge actually numbered.

An interesting threadle is featured from the dismount of dogwalk to jump #13. This may be problematic for a dog with running contacts. The dog enters the “cluster” again after jump #14 with at least two wrong-course choices before getting his nose around to the A‑frame. The handling choice after jump #14 will be dictated by the side the handler wants the dog on for the A-frame performance. With dog-on-right the handler will have to get ahead to bend the dog away to jump #16. With dog-on-left the handler will have to show a nifty Tandem-on-the-flat in the transition from jump #16 to #17.

Note that if the dog approaches jump #17 with a too acute path, he’s subject to a refusal at jump #18, running past on the right.

It looks like a fun course. The tough stuff is kind of in-your-face. But these obvious bits are framed by subtle challenges that might be overlooked or miscalculated.

On a Personal Note

I don’t know about you, but I’m not capable of looking at a course map without visualizing what I might do to solve the riddle posed by the judge. What strikes me about the Timo Teileri course is that control positions are corner opposite positions. For example, the transition from the weave poles into the pipe tunnel has the dog and handler at one corner of the ring, with the back-side jump approach to #11 is in the opposite corner of the ring.

Speaking as an arthritis inflicted handler (which is to say, not a particularly impressive runner) I find this considerably challenging. But it’s not undoable and so, in my opinion, not completely bloody-minded. I will have to rely on my dog’s independent performance and distance directional skills.

My boy Kory is a terrific distance working dog. That proclamation should go along with an important disclaimer. Distance handling looks magical and amazing when it works. In today’s very technical dog agility game, distance work is like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. It’s a tough way to make a living.

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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.

[1] That being said, sometimes the Europeans do design with this one-time only per obstacle purity. Sometimes they aren’t so pure.

Our Girl Cedar

December 18, 2014

Cedar, I’ve decided, is a smooth-coat Sheltie. Her coloring is certainly a mahogany. The Sheltie “mask” is evident on her face. The white tips and chest blaze finish up the coloration. But there’s no undercoat and, frankly, no overcoat either. And those big bat ears are never going to tip. She’ll be 20 weeks old tomorrow.

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Cedar will not be rushed into competition. We intend to take it all slow and easy. Most likely she’ll see her first competition in the TDAA where dogs are small and friendly. The important thing about TDAA agility is that it will make her sharp in a way that’s not possible in big dog agility play.

Her training foundation will be as complete as we are capable. We’re obviously putting a high premium on independent performance. She’ll be a free spirit in a Velcro world.

Right now the emphasis is teaching directional… “Left” and “Right” and “Go On!”  We’re also making basic obstacle introductions. Pretty soon I’m going to add the Back Pass to the mix. Though I think I really need to blog up how to teach this skill and why I think it’s going to be an important handling/dog skill over the next decade.

40 Hour Work Week

You know the old joke that goes “How can you tell when a politician is lying?” Well, these days it’s a bit more complicated than watching to see if their lips move. They’re all getting real clever with language. Do you remember when they foisted the “Patriot Act” on us? That was the legislation that committed us to 12 years of a ridiculous war that cannot be won. There’s never been anything patriotic about the Patriot Act. It’s just a clever bit of language crafted to shame and pressure.

Today however we have the unique opportunity to see who is lying to us and, frankly, who is betraying the middle class. Every one of them who is spouting some sound-bite about “We need to restore the 40 hour work week!” … is a liar and a rat fink.

Here’s the deal, what they’d like to do is redefine a “part time” employee, who doesn’t get any of the perks of a full time employee as somebody who works less than 40 hours a week. That means if you work 38 hours a week, then you’re a temp. That really works out for the American corporation! They get to save a whole bunch of money (while screwing a whole bunch of working people.)

You don’t have to go far to see who wants to lie to you and betray you. Flip over to Fox Network. They are fond of liars and promote them at every opportunity.

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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.

Cedar at 19+ Weeks

December 17, 2014

She’s still a young thing, growing like a weed, and getting lots of early training. It’s an interesting commentary that this young dog, in her foundation training, has both “Right” and “Left”, a 2o/2o contact, does a pipe tunnel, and will send to a Hoop… but isn’t much house trained yet (doing her business outside).

I’ll share this rambling video with you: http://youtu.be/AAzXmyhy2RM

Only in the last couple of days I’ve introduced Cedar to the performance of a NADAC-style hoop. This was initially trained by free-shaping. She’s a clever enough girl, is well conditioned  to offering performance, and can figure out pretty quick what earns her praise and reward.

We begin with the simple performance of a hoop. I will add new hoops over the next few days and teach her to run through the lot of them for her reward. Then gradually, over a period of weeks, I’ll spread them out more and more until she is giving me the performance at a fantastic distance. When they are spread out I’ll include the “Go On!” directional which shall ever mean to continue working in the line of obstacles in front of her.

I’m mostly fascinated with teaching these skills to a small dog. She’s going to be whipstitch fast. So there’s no way I intend to make the error of gluing her to me for the simple work of agility.

Cedar’s Nobel Growth Chart at 19-1/2 Weeks

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You can see that during my “busy” period… I’ve left a gap in the chart. Nonetheless, Cedar is riding the classical Sheltie pattern of growth on a constant curve.

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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.

Measuring Success

December 16, 2014

When judging, I occupy myself with studying handling methods. There is this new thing that people are doing where the handler shakes a fist at a jump. I’m presuming that the signal is for the dog to collect and wrap the jump in a neat turn back to the handler. I’m all for something new. I always have been.

It’s fairly easy to ascertain if a handling device actually works. Did it communicate to the dog and deliver the desired results?  Did the dog collect? Did the dog wrap neatly back to the handler? Or, did it cause the dog to drop the bar or earn a refusal in the face of it?

So far as I can tell, the “fist” thing at a jump is as likely to succeed because of what the handler does with his body as with his hand. Rotating slightly back to the dog indicates a turn. Making the presentation with the counter arm does the same. Facing back more fully to the dog (back-peddling to support the forward movement) is a favorable cue for the dog to collect for the jump.

At any rate, I measured the success rate of the “fist” at a cool 50% which isn’t terribly impressive, don’t you know. But I’m reminded that like the game of Zoom where a clear message is whispered from ear to ear that the spoken phrase at the end of the line mightn’t much resemble the phrase that began the whispering. And so the teaching of whatever innovator is out there teaching this “fist” thing is most likely obscured by the sloppy passing on of the technique.

What I want to know, of course, is this something that is supposed to be intuitive to the dog? Or, is it something that has to be taught to the dog? If it is not intuitive… why the heck does it have to be a fist? Couldn’t it be a hippy peace sign? And, if it is intuitive, why doesn’t it work to a greater extent.

I’m sure somebody will step up to share the “science” with me.

While we’re on the subject

The Ketchker is getting to be more common in competition. This is a movement that I began studying and teaching 12 or 15 years ago. I called it the “Flip” and defined it as a combination movement, Front Cross to Blind Cross. Unfortunately in the present incarnation it is used in a very narrow and one-dimensional context… solely as a wrapping movement at a jump. The world at large hasn’t discovered the application of the Flip out on the flat. And, there are several dandy applications on the flat.

Note that like the RFP the handler’s lead in the Flip/Ketchker resolves to the side on which it started. Unlike a simple cue for the dog to collect and wrap (as in the “fist” thing or a simple “backy-uppy”) the handler doesn’t really want to change leads. So it was natural, predictable, and logical for the movement to come into common use.

The following I’ve extracted from a web log entry from about seven or eight years ago:

Day 75 – Footwork/Path for Flips

I have for a number of years catalogued handler movements in agility and tried very hard to understand how they influence the dog’s understanding of the direction of the course. Since it is the handler’s job to direct the dog it makes some sense that we should understand movement as a form of communication with the dog. Indeed, movement surpasses verbal speech in nearly every way. This is a radical notion in today’s game. It seems so obvious to me that I am always surprised when I run into the brick wall of incomprehension and, frankly, belligerent denial.

Carole Schlaes wrote this comment: “Since you still have 27 days or so to go in this latest endeavor, can one of those days be a tutorial on the Flip?” I suppose that I’m obligated to do so now.

Mitchell Flip

I’m pleased to call this a “Mitchell” Flip one last time, just to acknowledge how I first began to study this movement. In a class back at Dogwood many years ago we were doing an RFP exercise. Once of my students did this thing that clearly was not an RFP. But what struck me on the moment was that a) it worked, and b) it was quite elegant. Mitchell has moved on to a Border Collie and training with someone who disdains handler movement as a form of communication with the dog. So the movement really doesn’t need to be named after him.

The Flip is a combination movement, Front Cross to Blind Cross. It is the poor second cousin to the RFP, and can be used instead of the RFP in many situations. In one way the Flip is superior to the RFP. The Flip allows the handler to remain in motion, and to get going, when the RFP grinds the handler to a halt.

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The Flip acknowledges three lines and creates two distinct corners in the dog’s path. Note that the first movement is a Front Cross, which starts towards the dog. But the handler does not want the dog to come all the way up on the new lead hand. Before the dog can actually catch the handler, the handler will do a Blind Cross, continuing to turn in the direction started with the Front Cross yet moving in a direction corresponding to the third line.

In the drawing the dog’s path is indicated by the solid line. Notice that the handler flips into the Blind Cross before the dog can actually overtake the handler in the initial Front Cross.

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The Flip compels the dog to turn two distinct corners, and draws the dog towards the handler’s position. It is a marvelous tool for solving simple discrimination problems. On the face of the movement, it looks like a simple 360º turn. That’s not exactly true. It’s actually a 270º turn, followed by a 90º turn. It’s unfortunate that those two numbers add up to 360.

This is a very business-like movement. The handler must move convincingly and without any sort of hesitation, because it is the movement that turns the dog. In this illustration the handler’s cue to begin the first element of the Flip, the Front Cross, is the dog coming up through the tire. The cue for the second movement is the dog turning and moving in the direction of the handler.

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The Flip is also a very powerful tool for tightening a dog’s turn. This is great for the very ballistic dogs, as the handler’s movement is very compelling.

The rotation of the handler’s body might actually be very tight, nearly a pirouette (and nearly a 360º turn.) Yet the handler should not lost sight of the fact that it is two distinct movements, each with their own cues and objectives.

When the two are put together back-to-back the handler’s movement and the effect on the dog can be a thing of grace and beauty, a moment of poetry.

RFP vs Flip

I have distinct criteria for whether I would use a Flip to solve a riddle rather than an RFP. The RFP is a movement in which the handler wants to be very precise and maintain a control position. The Flip is to the RFP as the Blind Cross is to the Front Cross… the Flip is a racer’s movement meaning that the handler has a compelling interest to race the dog. What a novel concept in these times of micromanagement!

And in the same way that the Blind Cross is kinder to old knees than is a Front Cross, the Flip is kinder to old knees than an RFP. A single Cross is a grind against inertia so the double-cross of the RFP is a double-grind against inertia.

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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 End of a Long Stretch

December 15, 2014

This past weekend I judged a USDAA trial in Ashville, KY. It was a great three-day trial. There are fun and amazing competitors in the area who renew my love of the dog agility game. Amazement, mind you, is provoked not so much by keen top-tier competitors. For me it’s more a matter of the joyful relationships between people and their pups that is fostered by play in this sport. Even when a team is “crashing and burning” by the arbitrary measurement of the rule book, they can show heart and humor and bring a smile to everyone watching. The judge always has the best seat in the house.

And I’m fairly exhausted. My calendar got busy about mid-October and hasn’t relented until just this minute. Even the longest road ends to reveal new roads and fresh destinations.

I’ve lost the sharp edge of discipline with my blog. So I’m challenging myself to repeat an exercise that I did three or four years ago… to publish a blog each day for 100 days. That’s really not as easy as it sounds. So, hang in there with me, and we’ll see if I can’t get it done.

There are some things I’ve been dying to share. I’ll try not to blurt them out all at once… I’ve got to fit 100 days, after all.

Masters Challenge Jumpers

There might be a couple dozen people who recognize the playful use of tunnels in the course from training exercises and games I’ve designed in the past. To be truthful about it, some of the design I hoisted from courses I saw out of South Africa years ago. I apologize for not being able to credit any source of inspiration.

The USDAA’s Masters Challenge classes afford course designers the opportunity to pose absurd and interesting riddles that might seem excessive in a routine titling class. I’m not going far out on a limb to suggest that the USDAA Masters Challenge is a solitary platform for the demonstrating the very best of skill, talent and luck in our sport.

Yes, I’m aware that I used the word “luck” in that sentence. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good.

Masters Challenge Jumpers

Masters Challenge Jumpers

The transition from jump #4 to jump #5 was clearly the most worrisome moment for most people when walking the course. As it turns out the single obstacle that NQ’d the most teams was jump #6,either as a refusal or as a dropped bar. The most fun bit was the dual back-and-forth puppy cannons from #14 to #15. You’ll probably want to set up this course in the back yard.

I sometimes set up an exercise in seminars that looks a lot like #1 through #6. The exercise is intended to expose the Phantom Blind Cross, an error in which the handler over-rotates his body in the Post, and drops his connection with the dog. This causes the dog to tuck up behind him (as in a Blind Cross) treating the dog to a wrong course into the pipe tunnel (the #14 pipe tunnel on this course).

It wouldn’t be fruitful to treat you to a blow-by-blow of everything that might go wrong on this course. Let’s just say there was plenty of variety and interesting moments, even to those who thought they were home free after the puppy cannon bit. At the end of the day the qualifying rate was solid, surprising and satisfying.

On Another Note

At a trial I was judging in Wisconsin three weekends ago I gently chided a man for getting angry at his dog. The fellow was actually quite a good handler and exciting to watch. But every time he made an error he whirled in anger blaming it all on his dog. I was reminded of this because of my discussion of the Phantom Blind Cross above… on one course the man did exactly as I described… over rotating in a Post Turn and dropping connection with his dog. So, the dog tucked up behind him into a wrong course.

Hunting him down later, I told him he shouldn’t blame everything on his dog, and he shouldn’t be getting mad at a dog that is working his butt off for him. He got a little purple in the face with me and told me he wasn’t angry. My tone was measured and calm… and I told him yes, he was very angry and his dog hit the deck to avoid his wrath.

The man turned his back on me and stalked off. That evening, in the hotel, I had a talk with myself about confronting somebody with anger management issues no matter how gently I did it. I’m always an advocate for the dog.

The last afternoon of the trial this gentleman made a show of praising his dog. It was clearly a somewhat foreign exercise to him. Whether this was for show or for real is unknown to me. Still, I was proud for him that he was trying.

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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.