Life is Like a Piano

… what you get out of it depends on how you play it. (Tom Lehrer)

I spent this past weekend in Medford, Oregon. It was a marvelous experience with a group of fun and kindly folks. The first day was a handling seminar; and the final two days I spent judging. Below I’m going to share the basic training steps for teaching a dog a Tandem Turn. This was one of the exercises we did in the clinic.

You must know that I consider the Tandem one of the basic tools of an agility handler. The dog turns most naturally toward the handler. So the handler should embark on a specific mission to teach the dog to turn away, because sometimes the course demands it.

Teaching the Tandem

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When teaching the Tandem I use a three-step methodology. This drawing shows the first step… what I call the intro step. Basically the handler just works near the dog and will arrive at the jump at the same moment of the dog, cue the turn and cross behind the dog.

We do this over and over again until both the handler and dog understand the movement.

I always must make a special point when showing this method, whether in class, camp or seminar… that we are now in dog training mode. That means that we must control the variables of the lesson for the dog. The most important details are: a) the handler should arrive at the jump at the same moment as the dog, and b) the handler will cross behind the dog.

Before going to the second step I am looking for certain elements of performance. First of all, the handler should be making a clear signal and stepping behind the dog. Also, I look for the dog to turn readily away from the handler in the new direction of the course, in spite of the obvious fact that the course is going away from the handler’s position, rather than towards the handler. This runs contrary to the riddle of sides which suggests that the dog turns most naturally in the direction of the handler.

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The second step I call the lateral distance step. Now the handler should work a distance away from the dog’s path, but in a path parallel to the dog’s path. Many handlers are initially skeptical of the handler’s path compared to the dog’s path. But most dogs with even a modest basis of training will work happily a distance apart from the handler.

This step works quite like the intro step. The handler should arrive at the corner of the turn at approximately the same moment that the dog arrives at the jump. Now the handler will have to move convincingly towards the dog as he cues the turn.

What we are looking for in this step is a dog that sees the cue to turn and takes it. Most dogs will get around the jump and head for the next obstacle (the tunnel) even before the handler has crossed the face of the jump. Indeed, before going to the next step we want the dog to take the cue to turn and actually separate and accelerate away from the handler.

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In the final step, the proofing step the handler will once again work with a lateral distance from the dog’s part. The real difference now is that the handler won’t actually cross the face of the jump at the corner of the turn. Instead the handler will layer the line of jumps while the dog works away, into the pipe tunnel.

A proofing step is important in any dog training objective. It is a step that allows the dog’s trainer to assess whether the dog really understands the object of the lesson. Some handlers will make an essential error in this step. While they might work a lateral distance apart from the dog… they won’t actually use it. The purpose of the lateral distance is to give the handler room to move towards the dog and to sell the turn away.

Finishing Notes

In retrospect teaching the Tandem was the wrong building block for this particular community of agility fans. I learned a lot more about them in two days of judging.

What I really should have taught was the Riddle of Sides. As I said above “the dog turns most naturally towards the handler.” This is fundamental to the extent that I include the rule in the Laws of a Dog in Motion. But what I saw in the trial (when I was no longer in my teaching uniform) was a whole bunch of gratuitous rear crossing.

The really excellent handler will put changes of side forward of the dog rather than behind. I appreciate having a rear cross for the emergency. But every single emergency should not be of the handler’s invention.

Quoth

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. ~ Albert Einstein

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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. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

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