Archive for November, 2015

Agility Dreams

November 17, 2015

I spent the weekend judging a USDAA trial in Camarillo, CA. You know, I showed my long gone Sheltie dogs Winston and Kelsi there circa 1991. I used to know all the folks that played in agility in southern California. I half expected to see a bunch of my old cronies. But it wasn’t that way at all. I did see Marq Cheek; and of course Karen Moureaux was host of the trial.

It is inescapable that agility is the same thing today that it was 25 or 30 years ago. I’d say that the average competitor is basically the same kind of creature that we all were back then. The better handlers and dogs are possibly a bit better than they used to be. But on average, it’s the same sport.

I put up a Masters Challenge Jumpers course that came to me in my dreams. I was quite nervous about it because it demanded skills that aren’t routine at all. I’ll share it with you:


The design premise is basically a “cluster”; an arrangement of obstacles that create multiple entry and exit possibilities. In my dream I envisioned contiguous hexagonal shapes. What I discovered about the basic design principle is that it created a variety of transitional distances. From the dismount of the weave poles through jump #11, for example, the dog is working in full extension. Jump #11 through jump #13, however, is a very tight pinwheel in which the dog must be held in collection.

While the qualifying percentage on this course was quite low, it was not by any means a skunk of the class. Dogs qualified at about every jump height… demonstrating then that it could be done.

The biggest design challenge ever in the Masters Challenge Biathlon courses is giving the dog plenty of room to work at full extension and at full speed. If a class is skunked on account of time, then it means that the course demands too much in the way of collection.

The Demands of Judging

You know, people don’t really appreciate the work of an agility judge. I spend a minimum of three or four days designing courses. A weekend assignment usually requires a couple of grueling travel days. And, you get to stand out in the sun and rain all day long collecting a $buck a dog as the sole compensation for the work. Yep, it’s pretty close to minimum wage. And frankly, it was a $buck a dog 20 some years ago.

The part of this that I really like is course design. I’m not one to recycle courses. And, while I might obsess on a type of challenge over time, I’m constantly exploring new kinds of challenges that test the handler’s analytical abilities.

I have a variety of rules for design that are my own, and not the dictate of the respective agility organization. I’m a big fan of nesting. I believe in designing appropriate to level. And I’m very sensitive to the separation of control positions on a course (I’ll be damned if I’ll design a course that only long legged kids can survive).

The physical demands of judging are getting to wear on me a bit. Sun burnt and sun struck and chasing damned border collies back and forth on contacts are the relentless demands of a weekend of judging. All the while you’re expected to have a mind like a steel trap. I’ve learned to forgive myself when the trap is a bit rusty.

People don’t jump in and help like they did when I was coming up. They complain a lot and want to be served. Jesus… what’s that about?

Speaking of Dreams

The weekend took a lot out of me. And I’m trying to wrestle down a variety of thoughts. I probably sound like I’m contemplating retirement. That’s an illusion. I don’t know how to quit or stop or retire.

I’ve been working on agility league play for years now. In 2016 I’ll promote it in earnest. I’m not a salesman or anything like that. I just want an outlet for competition that isn’t based on the same old tired “rational” model for the sport… you know what I mean, the grind for titles.

The National Dog Agility League finally has some traction. I do believe that Australia is coming on board shortly.

Today success in agility demands micromanaging the agility dog. I believe that agility can be something amazing and spectacular. The game should be open and inviting to anyone who wants to play. It should be inexpensive. It should be fun. That is the model that we should strive to create.

I’m aware that the agility small business operator wants to make a living. And so the model should nearly exclusively reward that person/business who takes all the risks and does all the work… with an appropriate income. And so the model should do exactly that.

This is tricky business. And it’s the perfect opportunity for the early adopter.

Jumping in to the League

If you have interested in jumping into League Play, the November workbook for the first game of the winter series can be downloaded HERE. We’ll be accepting results for this event through the end of the day, November 30th.


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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.

Nov 2015 Pick-up Game

November 7, 2015

The following is a simple numbered course that we’ll set up for our Monday night class. To tell you the complete truth, I wanted something with a lot of generous flow and not so much reliance on “international” skills. The international stuff frankly gets tedious after a while and borders on technical micro-management. And it doesn’t particularly favor the “pure for motion” dog who wants a handler running with… not a micro-manager.


I have a couple students who need an old-timey lesson from me about raw movement. I believe that movement is the most compelling directional cue that a handler can provide to his dog. And most importantly, that movement is fundamental to the dog’s motivation.


While I won’t be sharing all of our planned sequences, I’ll share a couple to give you the spirit of the training and practice.


In this sequence I will argue for a Blind Crossing strategy. The Blind Cross is a racing movement. And if the handler can inspire in his dog the joy of the race this simple sequence can be a real romp. But don’t you know, you don’t run the plan, you run the dog. So if indeed the dog is inspired by the “racing movement” there’s a very real chance that the dog will outrace the handler. And since you can’t really cross in front of the dog when you’re not actually in front of the dog, the handler needs to develop a simple extemporaneous skill… the speed change. This means that the handler transitions from slow dog handling (forward and pulling) to fast dog handling (behind and pushing).

I will save specific handling advice for my Monday night students. The lesson isn’t dictated; it is found.


We’re also going to do a share of work on contact obstacles. I personally have an ambition that my dogs will understand the unambiguous finish position on a contact obstacle. But whether a dog is expected to do a 2o2o or a running contact, a bit of practice is good practice for the diligent dog trainer.

A Word about Pick-Up Games

This is not a NDAL League game. However, the game is going to be registered with the NDAL and dogs will earn Lifetime Performance Points. All registered games become permanent artifacts and are eligible for play by any NDAL member club, at any time. A club in some faraway place could pick up this game in five years or so… and run it. And their scores would be recorded alongside the scores my students earn on this Monday next.

As a teaching tool, I could play this game again in a year… or in three. And those recorded scores can be compared and possibly reveal something interesting about the dog’s development over time.

And the really fun part of this is that NDAL records include a data field to a YouTube recording of the run. While the YouTube data is optional, the use the game as a teaching tool is considerably enhanced. At the very least the use of the game as a nostalgic reference is also enhanced.

Post Script

Since I’m registering the game as an NDAL competition, I will provide the link to download the scorekeeping worksheet: HERE

Blog1068 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.