Archive for March, 2015


March 21, 2015

This week I’m drawing a course from the NDAL catalog for play in class. I was looking for a course that allows us to test our homework from our last workshop, and provide for new homework and testing.

I’ve already blogged this on the Top Dog blog, but with a slightly different slant: Cherry Picking from the Catalog.

Running a course that you’re previously run allows a comparison of performance over time. For example, we ran this course with our young crazy red-head boy Phoenix, when he was barely old enough to compete. So it will be interesting to compare his score and time after a couple years of additional training. Two of my friends, Brenda Gilday and Erica Behnke also ran this course with their young dogs. While they are not in my classes (because they live a couple hundred miles away from here), it would be very interesting to see how they do on the course today.

My complete lesson plan is featured below.

Lesson Plan March 23 2015

Our league course this week is numbered sequence that will be scored Time, Plus Faults.


Testing Homework

We’ll begin by reviewing the homework assignment from our last class togther.

Weave poles ~ In these sequences we’re testing whether the handler can work away from the dog at an oblique angle as the dog weaves. In the white numbered sequence the handler will stay south of the containment line; in the red numbered sequence the handler will stay north of the containment line.


Back Pass ~ In these sequences we’re testing whether the dog has been taught a Back Pass (tightly circling the handler’s body). The red sequence requires the dog to move around the handler in a clockwise movement; the white sequence is counter-clockwise.


New Class Sequences

We want to cultivate a powerful instinct for the Flip (more commonly known in the world these days as a Ketchker). The Flip is a combination movement: Front Cross to Blind Cross.

In the red sequence we’ll practice the Flip at the #3 jump to tighten the approach to the weave poles. In the white sequence we’ll transfer the logic of the “backy-uppy” presentation that begins the Flip at the pipe tunnel, to pre-cue the dog’s turn on his exit from the tunnel.


Three Part Test of the Tandem Turn


Please help move equipment. When everybody in class pitches in to help, that will give us more time and more reps.;

In this exercise a lead-out would be advantageous. If necessary we’ll have somebody hold your dog while we lead out. The price you pay for this service is a short lecture.

We will practice a three-part methodology for the Tandem Turn. 1) the Intro Step; 2) The Lateral Distance Step; 3) the Layered Tandem. White numbers turn left; red numbers turn right.

New Homework

  1. Practice a lead-out from while your dog remains position. We will test all three of the classic obedience positions.
  2. Practice the Tandem Turn. In our next session we will test the turn in both directions, and whether you can layer the turn.

Times have changed


Blog994 home

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Premier Premier

March 19, 2015

A person named Cheryl Matthews left a nice comment on the Glossary of Agility Terms that I keep as a page on this blog. In her comment she mentions a thing called an “Inverted Pinwheel”. Apparently this is something they’re teaching AKC judges in preparation for the up and coming Premier class. Like the USDAA’s Masters Challenge class, the Premier will put up wickedly difficult European-style challenges.

At any rate, the blog comment spurred me to email for clarification; what the heck is an “Inverted Pinwheel”? Cheryl kindly drew pictures which I’m happy to share with you:



This probably isn’t a rigid definition of the inverted pinwheel, but a demonstration of the design concept. #7 is a backside; followed by a pull/push through to #8. The transition to jump #9 is complicated by a choice of turning direction. And the approach to jump #10 is another pull-through. Pretty wicked eh?

I think we’re looking at a whole new generation of training science, both for the dog and for the handler.


Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again. ~ Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Inner Light”


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Intensity Agility

March 9, 2015


Here’s the course. It’s somewhere between icy and muddy outside, so I set the course up in the training building. The 3/4″ mats are shrunken, cold and hard. But our dogs are used to the surface and move in a collected fashion. I expect about anybody running on grass or on one of those Astroturf surfaces will have a clear advantage.

We filmed my run with Kory:;

and Marsha’s Run with Phoenix:

Phoenix actually ran first you can see where the wild man broke one of the weave poles. I had to go down in the lower field and grab several poles from my pound-in-the-ground weaves to fix the set.

To be sure, I am attempting to demonstrate the Back Pass as an important movement in the sport of agility. This short course features at least two threadles and a pull/push through. I used the Back Pass for each. You’ll note too that Marsha made use of a couple of Back Passes… she does train with me, after all.

An important attribute of the Back Pass is that the dog drops out of obstacle focus and into handler focus, allowing the handler’s position to constitute the corner of approach to the course. Once you start using this movement it will be an invaluable part of your agility repertoire.

Incorporating the League Course into Agility Classes

I ran a league at Dogwood for something like eight years. That was 150 students a week. So I would set the league course on Sunday and base all of our classes on that set of equipment. We were pretty serious about everyone running the same course… so it was necessary to mark the position of equipment on the floor (or on the field) so that if it got kicked around a bit, we could continue to nudge it back into position.

We’re starting now a series of classes for a very small family of students with the earnest intention of training them to masters level skills. Each week will begin with the league course and have a special topic for study and practice. And, each week, there will be homework. Please note that an instructor always knows who is doing their homework…and who is not.


  • Back-Pass in both directions
  • Weave Poles with progressive oblique separationThis is a simple concept. As the dog weaves the handler will gradually increase his/her distance from the dog. At first the angle of dismount is at a modest angle. But over time the handler should increase the oblique angle until it is virtually 90 degrees.
  • Weave Poles with handler at high energyCompetition should not be the first time your dog sees you being excited and agitated. Practice the weave poles while pushing energy with the dog.
  • Weave Poles with a variety of approach angles; and practice rear crossing the entry.

Lesson Plan March 9, 2015

I shall probably have to return to these over the next few days to write a bit on each of the sequences to share with you what I learned in the teaching of them. You’ll note that because my floor is bigger than the published league course, I’ve added additional equipment and have incorporated that equipment into our lesson plan.







Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Are you kidding me?

March 5, 2015

We woke this morning to about a foot of new-fallen snow from the Thor weather system.


Along about 2:00 pm our power winked out. So I determined to start up the generator. There was no gas for the generator because clever me likes to run all of our garden equipment out of gas by the end of the season (because, as everyone knows, gas goes bad if it just sits there for six months). So I rolled the Ford into town… which is about 8 miles. The roads were on Level 2 snow emergency status; which means you’re allowed to be out there on the roads if you aren’t particularly gifted with common sense. That’s me, for sure.

By the time I got back, our electric was working again. So about the only thing I really accomplished is buying a small over-priced bag of gummy bears and 4 suet cakes for the wild birds. Oh… and I have about 8 gallons of gas to begin the year.

The weather reports say that the temp will be up in the 50’s within about four days. 50 degrees is downright balmy and will melt all the snow and ice. That means there will be floods and there will be mud.

March is always an interesting month.

Out Like a Lamb

My spring-time chores make for quite a list. I’m looking forward to getting outside and doing some work! I have a major case of cabin fever. I’ve got to: start my seeds indoors; repair the lawn/turf; paint and reassemble the pond raft; turn the garden; box-grade the entry road; spring clean the tractor shed; repair the barn roof at the upper cabin; cut the brush intruding on the dam road; clean up the roto-tiller; clean up the training building; set agility equipment aside for repair and painting. And none of it particularly in that order.

What will be in the garden this year? We had a great crop of tomatoes last year. I definitely want to do that again. We just added the last package to Marsha’s yummy chili. I might not do Jalapenos this year because I still have like 3 or 4 half-quart bottles (and trust me, I use them in everything). I did put up however some of those hot little red peppers like you’ll get in a Chinese restaurant. I’m thinking I could make some killer hot sauce. Oh… and I want potatoes. I’m brewing a pecker-wood scheme; I have this old bath tub, you see, and I’m going to put about 6″ of peat on the bottom and crowd in a layer of starter potatoes. I’ll put the tub on a downhill slant so that it drains promptly. As the plants come up I’ll continue to shove peat and soil around the emerging tubers. I’m curious to see how high I can build it before they start blooming. I’m betting I can make about 100 lbs in a bath tub. I’m also going to grow 2 or 3 varieties of squash this year. I’m not a huge squash fan; but Marsha wants them and I’m thinking it’ll be easier to get her to help me keep the weeds hoed down. I’m looking forward to my garlic crop this year too. Got them in on Columbus day. I’ll take them out on the 4th of July. That’s the way it’s done. Part of the problem with a garden is keeping the dogs out of it. Most of my dogs would be keen to help harvest tomatoes.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Confessions of an Aging Agility Die-hard

March 4, 2015

The Dog Agility Bloggers have a special topic this month, having to do with “health and happiness”. I don’t typically jump in with every topic that dabad throws out there; but this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart these days.

You can read all of the dabad blogger creative writing efforts on this topic HERE.

Do you remember the old Saturday Night Live sketch Middle-Aged Man? That sketch provides adequate context for the persona of the aging agility fan… an amazing repertoire of knowledge offset by waning physical prowess. It is a dilemma, to be sure.

I’m not heartened by people blathering bromide like “you are only as old as you feel!” No kidding Sherlock (paraphrasing, mine).

As I get older and slower I find that my game has changed considerably. Back in the day I was a runner, and taught to my students a game of movement. Movement is pure to the dog and is the essential language of our sport. But now, I find my game transformed. I’m committed to a system of “compensatory” training. That means that I’m obligated to teach my dog to compensate for my lack of ambulatory grace. The very basic change in my own health has transformed my game; and kind of invalidates


I find myself on a curious mission these days. I’m going to call that “relevance”. Not a long time ago while standing in line with my dog in agility competition, waiting for my turn to approach the line… I overheard a man sitting nearby explain to his wife that I am a “has been”. OMG… I thought. Do you mean to say I’ve “been”… but nobody told me? And now I’m not anymore? That is a bummer of a thought.

The second part of the Bloggers theme is happiness. Aye, there’s the elusive bit. Maybe we struggle our entire lives for contentment, actualization, acceptance or whatever it is that blows your skirt up. Happiness is something we’re always striving for… meaning that the soonest it’ll get here is tomorrow, or next year, or later in life.

I’ve decided that starting the National Dog Agility League will make me happy. Starting the League has nothing to do with making money. I’ve designed it so that it can’t be an engine of income. My motive is a matter of legacy. It’s like this last little bit I’ll do with a long career in this sport that perhaps will have me remembered as a character relevant to our sport… a contributor, and an innovator.

Surely it’s self-serving for a man to write material for his own obituary. I’m not really trying to die or anything like that. Lord knows I have a few more years in me. Though clearly I’ve started work on the bucket list. Thinking back to that Saturday Night Live sketch… after young man comes middle-aged man, and then comes old man… and finally, dead man. Better get busy living.

Not Apologizing

Every now and again I write a blog that is just me sharing the crazy things that bang around in my head. Tomorrow I promise to be dead-pan serious again.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Agility League March Course

March 3, 2015

This is a discussion of the technical elements of the Top Dog Secretary’s Choice for March, 2015.

Any course or sequence is a unique riddle and will reveal over time the handling challenges that were in the mind of the designer. And occasionally a riddle will be revealed that wasn’t imagined at all by the designer.

In my instruction I will almost never specify handling of a sequence. We’ll begin with the Entertainment Round in which each student will demonstrate their own instinctive solution to the sequence. My job is to improve the handler’s instinct.


The first thing we see in this course is that it is very short, only having ten obstacles. This is the course designer having fun with the preconception of a rational standard. It is a non-stop handler’s course that challenges the handler in virtually every transition.


The opening of this course has all to do with the handler being in position to handle the transition from jump #3 into the weave poles at #4. The handler will probably want a modest lead-out. And so the key handling bit will be in Bending the dog into the turn from jump #1 to jump #2. Bending is the reciprocal of the Post turn. The handler is on the side away from the turn.


The transition from jump #3 into the weave poles is a threadle, pure and simple. Even though there is ample room for the handler to work, it is a complicated riddle for the handler. First of all the handler wants to cue to the dog into an efficient turn off the jump, and then draw the dog around for an entry to the weave poles.

The approach to the weave poles is really the make or break moment in this course. If the handler must shape the dog’s approach into the weave poles he’ll surely sacrifice a second or more to his competition. On the other hand, if the handler hasn’t trained the dog to gain the entry, then a bold approach would be foolhardy.

Sometimes the homework just writes itself.


The transition from jump #5 to the counter-side pipe tunnel is a bit ham-handed; but a very real challenge on this course. The first thing the dog sees after the turn from the jump is the wrong-course entry to the pipe tunnel. So it’s not enough to turn the dog. He needs to keep turning until his nose comes to line with the correct entry to the tunnel.

The handler must be aware that he needs to be in position on the next approach to the weave poles. But almost anything the handler does to solve this sequence gives the handler a two second advantage in time and space over the dog… because the dog needs to do the tunnel.

There are a lot of possibilities for a handling solution here. The handler might use a Front Cross, or an RFP. I like to teach a Flip (Ketchker) here just to have some fun with the handler communicating with his dog through movement.


The transition from jump #7 to the weave poles is also a threadle, though not nearly as obvious as our first approach. Every point I made about the first threadle and approach applies here as well.

Note that jump #7 can be taken for granted by the handler who will view the dog’s approach as a matter of obviousness. If a dog is going to run past a jump on this course… it will be jump #7.


The closing of the course is a bit bloody minded. But don’t you know it’s the kind of basic skill that the grown-ups are studying. The approach to jump #9 is a back-side, exacerbated by a pull-through/approach.

I initially drew the pull-through out of the weave poles to go between jumps #9 and #10. Even though a lot of people will try it that way… I want to give my dog better flow.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.