Archive for January, 2017

Absolute Directionals

January 25, 2017

It is my opinion that distance training for an agility dog is incomplete until the dog knows “Left” and “Right”.

So far our homework has focused on teaching the dog to work independently at a distance. That’s a great start. But the handler must have the capacity to indicate the direction of performance.

To hazard a guess as to the percentage of agility dogs that today know “Left” and “Right”… I would say less than 10% and reckon that I am being generous in that estimation. This low percentage is not the fault of any dog. It is the fault of the dog’s trainer.

Approaching this training objective yields two positive results: building a distance dog, and making you a superb dog trainer.

The Introduction

The first Introduction to “Left” and “Right” I ever published was an appendix footnote in Go the Distance entitled “Linda’s Kibble Toss.” I will credit Linda Mecklenburg with this very basic introduction.

This is a free-shaping approach. The handler sits in front of the dog and utters the verb “Right”! The dog of course has no idea what the word means and may offer a series of behaviors while seeking out what the handler wants. Any indication to the dog’s right… will be marked and rewarded by his trainer (tossing a bit of kibble).

Before too long the trainer will want to draw the dog into the “Right” turn. This is essentially a luring action, drawing the dog into a spin. Please note that Right is always a clockwise movement. The trainer may not be too fixed or dependent on the luring motion although the hand and arm signal can be a supplemental cue to the dog. Remember that the objective is to teach the dog a verbal command.

The video below shows a point in training in which physical cues are extinguished:

Adding a “Left” Command

We started with “Right” and only “Right” to avoid the complication of making the dog try to grasp two new complicated skills at the same time. This may or may not be right. Regardless, it’s how I approach this training.

When introducing “Left”, the trainer goes right back to the free-shaping step just as we did when we introduced the “Right” command. It looks something like this:

Note that most of my training with a young dog is meal-time training. As I feed my dogs twice a day it allows me to be routine and structured in any training objective. And it allows me to train a dog that is keen and clever (coinciding with meal-time, of course).

Putting together the Mix of “Left” and “Right”

When we put both “Left” and “Right” into the same training session the dog’s trainer is obligated to keep statistics. The dog has learned to spin both Left and Right; but now we give a choice with only the verbal command. Initially the dog will be right just about 50% of the time. But you will become fascinated and thrilled as the statistic begins to rise above 50%!

Putting Left and Right on Agility Equipment

Ultimately we want more than a dog that faces us and spins either left and right, as impressive as that is by itself, our objective is to put those directionals onto the agility field. The following recording shows the introduction of directional commands in relationship to the agility jump.

Note in the video that in introducing the turning commands on a jump I always put myself on the side away from the turn. A dog turns most naturally toward the handler. So, I wanted to test the power of the verbal directional without regard to my relative position.

Clearly we are missing dozens of training sessions that didn’t actually get recorded. Teaching the dog to turn a specific direction on a verbal command is a deliberate process that takes time and patience and humor. The reward for this teaching is having the capacity to give the dog a cue to turn on a verbal cue and not have to always “handle” the dog into every turn.

Advanced Application

I already shared this recording with you when we were talking about “Named Obstacle” training. Now that we look back at it you should appreciate how absolute directionals are a constant feature of dog training and help us test other skills while working the dog at a distance:

Notes Aside

This is an ongoing series intended as homework for Canine Manners distance seminar students; March 20 and 21 2017 in Broken Arrow, OK, (and others interested in training great distance skills who might visit these pages).

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.

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Errata

January 18, 2017

Yesterday I misreported that the “Named Obstacle” training method was not included in the Joker’s Notebook issue #0. That was incorrect.

The Named Obstacle training method is included in Joker’s Notebook #0 beginning on pages 51 through 58. The Notebook uses the “restraint and release” method for beginning the training. Not all dogs are comfortable with the “restraint” part of this method, which is most appropriate for a type of dog eager to forge forward into the work.

As I am using this opportunity to update the Notebook [primarily to include links to YouTube videos]… so of course the page numbers won’t jive with the next publication of this volume.

Discrimination?

Obstacle “discrimination” is defined as two obstacles placed in close proximity (right next to each other) as options to the dog. In the Named Obstacle training we endeavor to take the time and effort to actually teach the names of obstacles to the dog.

But what if the obstacles are the same obstacle? Here’s a good example:

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We’re going to have to call this a “directional discrimination”. At #3 it’s not enough just to tell the dog Tunnel! And at #5 it’s not enough to tell the dog to Jump.

Tomorrow we will begin a discussion on teaching the dog absolute directional commands, notably… Left, and Right.

Notes Aside

This is an ongoing series intended as homework for Canine Manners distance seminar students; March 20 and 21 2017 in Broken Arrow, OK, (and others interested in training great distance skills who might visit these pages).

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.

Named Obstacle Recognition

January 17, 2017

This is an ongoing series intended as homework for Canine Manners distance seminar students; March 20 and 21 2017 in Broken Arrow, OK, (and others interested in training great distance skills who might visit these pages).

Homework Review

Before moving on with a new discussion of “Named Obstacle Recognition” we should review our homework on Progressive Sending. I think I said earlier that I’m giving my potential students at Canine Manners about a year’s worth of work to accomplish in about 60 days. You must realize that I completely understand that it takes time and patience and practice to teach a dog skills. The ambitious dog trainer will find a couple times a day to attend to the dog’s training. And each of those sessions might be only five minutes long, give or take.

Below is a video of Cedar taken in a proofing step in her “Go On” training. Be mindful that progression to this point was weeks and weeks in the making and certainly not accomplished in only a few days:

Solving the obstacle discrimination by naming the obstacles

Years I spent solving the handling riddle for the “discrimination”… which is when two obstacles are placed side-by-side as options to the dog’s approach. And then I think I got lazy (or smart?) and decided to take a dog training approach to this omnipresent riddle of agility.

What if we just taught the dog the names of these obstacles… and then trust in the dog’s training just by giving the name of the obstacle we want him to take? What a concept.

The training steps are really quite simple. For the sake of illustration we start with a common discrimination in dog agility… the pipe tunnel under the A-frame. My method for teaching the dog the name of these obstacles is amazingly simple. I give the name of the obstacle that I want, if the dog gets it right… she gets a reward; if not, there is no reward.

Make it easy for the dog to succeed at first. The clever dog trainer wants the dog to succeed more than fail while being mindful that the training must progress by modestly increasing performance criterion.

Below I will share a series of YouTube videos to demonstrate the progression of this training. Don’t be fooled by the fact that you can “watch” all of these in less than ten minutes. The training itself will require weeks and weeks of investment by a patient and disciplined dog trainer.

The Introduction

The video below shows the introduction of “named obstacle” work with other objectives in the same training session.

And next we take the introduction out into the training building and begin the work with a solitary objective. Note that we begin with the tunnel and will save the A-frame for a later date. In this exercise I give a nice verbal introduction to the exercise.

Progression

A good dog trainer will often work at the edge of his or her comfort level, pushing the envelope of expectation so that the training doesn’t become flat and complacent. Note that we’re still working exclusively on the tunnel in this exercise. However, the shaping sequences change a bit as we work so that it doesn’t feel completely repetitious to the dog.

The next YouTube recording shows a training session in which I’ve added the A-frame to the choices for my dog. We will randomly alternate between the two. Note that I constantly make use of statistics. A statistic very much less than 50% indicates I should step back to a previous level of expectation. A statistic much over 50% indicates I should increase the criteria for performance.

Note that there was likely a day or two of A-frame only in advance of this alternating step in the progression of this dog’s training.

Proofing

Progress in the dog trainer’s expectation for success in an exercise like this is typically measured by distance. We established early on that what the handler would like to do is give a command for the correct choice of obstacles in the discrimination and trust the dog to understand the performance without the benefit of “handling”.

This exercise demonstrates prerequisite skills that are outside of the “named obstacle discrimination” training; notably, I am using “left” and “right” directionals to direct the dog.

This is a proofing exercise:

Notes Aside

The Named Obstacle training method is included in Joker’s Notebook #0 beginning on pages 51 through 58. The Notebook uses the “restraint and release” method for beginning the training. Not all dogs are comfortable with the “restraint” part of this method, which is most appropriate for a type of dog eager to forge forward into the work.

As I am using this opportunity to update the Notebook [primarily to include links to YouTube videos]… so of course the page numbers won’t jive with the next publication of this volume.

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.

Progressive Sending and Kentucky Windage

January 14, 2017

This is an ongoing series intended as homework for Canine Manners distance seminar students; March 20 and 21 2017 in Broken Arrow, OK, (and others interested in training great distance skills who might visit these pages).

In the following discussion we’ll use bits from the January 2017 Masters league course for the National Dog Agility League. It is a reasonable practice to find training opportunities in the set of the floor.

Around the Clock ~ A Progressive Sending Exercise

Everybody wants to learn distance work. The real difficulty of distance work is two-fold: a) the dog must know how to perform obstacles independent of the handler; and b) the dog needs to be taught that he has permission to work at a distance from the handler.

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So we begin the day with an obstacle conditioning exercise on the tire that I call “Around the Clock”. The handler works at positions on the clock-face sending the dog to seek out the aperture and go through. Upon which the handler will mark the performance (praise or clicker) and then reward the dog. The first position is at 6:00 and then at 5:00, then at 4:00 and finally at 3:00. 3:00 o’clock is perhaps the toughest position because the dog will have to go out, give himself a square approach and the jump through.

As we work, the clock-face should expand. At first the handler works closely, represented by the white numbers; and then sends from a greater distance, represented by the black numbers.

I’ve put this exercise on a YouTube video. Though I didn’t use a tire, you can at least see the pace I set for this training.

Using Kentucky Windage in the Dead-away Send

The following illustrates a simple kind of distance challenge; send the dog away over two jumps, into a pipe tunnel, and call him back.

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You’ll note in this illustration that the dog is set square to the first jump. When my students do this kind of thing, it makes the hair in my beard turn grey. And don’t you know, I have a pretty grey beard these days.

The dog should not be set square to the first jump… the dog should be set square to the course which, as you can see is off to the right.

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Setting the dog up for a straight line for jumps #1 and #2 mightn’t be enough as a compelling option has been placed to the left. One of the Laws of a Dog in Motion says: “A dog forward of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position.”

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A thoughtful handler might begin with dog on left so that the dog has nothing to curl to, on the side of the handler. That doesn’t mean the dog won’t curl… and if he did, it would certainly spoil the send. In any case, the handler had better have reliable left & right directionals to direct the dog after jump #2.

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What the savvy handler will do in this case is use a bit of Kentucky Windage, leaning the shot into the wind so that the curl brings the dog to target.

You will note that in the last blog entry we showed a YouTube video of “Strategy for a Distance Handler” in the opening of the January 2017 course. In this video Marsha Houston very intentionally uses Kentucky Windage as insurance for solving the two-tunnel discrimination that opens the course:

Notes Aside

  1. Another of the Laws of a Dog in Motion worth mentioning is this: “Nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of a well-trained dog.” So the tendency to curl back toward the handler when the dog is ahead mightn’t be as big a risk for the superbly trained distance dogs. But I, for one, believe in insurance.
  2. Feel free to attend the written homework. All of these skills are documented in The Joker’s Notebook issue #0: Progressive sending (to the #2 pipe tunnel); [JN00 “Around the Clock” p 46-47; “Progressive Sending” p 59.] The send to the pipe tunnel begs that you understand the principles of Kentucky Windage; [JN00 “A Discussion of Kentucky Windage” p 63-65.]
  3. The problem with YouTube is that you have to download a video every time you look at it. Unfortunately the quality of the presentation is tied to the bandwidth of the download. So it can be a pain to watch a video of any size because the picture stops or stalls as the download buffer catches up. It’s downright painful, especially if you have a less than optimum internet connection. Furthermore, we mostly get charged for our use of that bandwidth. So if you want to watch a YouTube more than once, you pay for it in bandwidth every time you watch it. YouTube does not make the video resident on your computer. I use a utility called aTube Catcher (Studio Suite DsNET Corp). It is absolutely free and it’s easy to use. The link to the official site to download your own copy of aTube Catcher:

http://www.atube.me/video/

Play with the NDAL

New clubs are always welcome to join the National Dog Agility League. Preview our January courses here:

http://natldogagilityleague.com/blog/2017/01/02/january-2017-ndal-courses/

Contact us if you are interested in joining play. Getting started with the NDAL is simple.

Like the NDAL on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TopDogAgilityPlayers/

Visit the NDAL blog: http://natldogagilityleague.com/blog/

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.

Strategy for a Distance Handler

January 12, 2017

This is an ongoing series intended as homework for Canine Manners distance seminar students; March 20 and 21 2017 in Broken Arrow, OK, (and others interested in training great distance skills who might visit these pages). Canine Manners is an active franchise in the National Dog Agility League. It is useful to use the NDAL courses as a context for the study of teaching the agility dog an independent performance (sometimes called… distance work).

As I study the January 2017 Masters league course for the National Dog Agility League I can’t help but see the course through the lens of a distance handler running a dog that is perfectly comfortable with independent performance.

At the same time it’s clear that the plan I’ve devised for myself has a list of prerequisite skills. Allow me to demonstrate:

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Plotting only the first four obstacles of this course serves up, for me, a list of prerequisite skills. On the course map I’ve drawn a line to demonstrate exactly what I want to do as a handler. I want to move in a straight line from the start to a position intermediate to the A-frame and the pipe tunnel at #4. The transition between #3 and #4 is a “technical moment” and requires the handler to be right in the big middle of the action.

The skills list includes, from the start:

  1. A send to the pipe tunnel;
  2. Performance of the A-frame at a lateral distance;
  3. A back-pass in the transition from #3 to #4

Are you ready for some homework? In the next few days we will talk about each of these skills; and provide YouTube videos to demonstrate. If you practice any of these sequences feel free to send me your videos so that they can be used for illustration and comment on the pages of this web log.

Feel free to attend the written homework. All of these skills are documented in The Joker’s Notebook issue #0:

Progressive sending (to the #2 pipe tunnel); [JN00 “Around the Clock” p 46-47; “Progressive Sending” p 59; “Training & Handling #2 p 122.]

The send to the pipe tunnel begs that you understand the principles of Kentucky Windage; [JN00 “A Discussion of Kentucky Windage” p 63-65.]

Performance of the A-frame with the handler at a lateral distance; [JN00 “Unambiguous Contact Finish” p 19-22; “Back to the Abridged Training Plan” p 60; “Lateral Distance” p 92; “Lateral Distance Work on Technical Obstacles” p 94.]

A Back Pass on the approach to the #4 pipe tunnel; [JN00 “Come By” p 28-29]. Note that the discussion of the Back Pass when this issue of the Joker’s Notebook was written is quite primitive. We’ve learned a lot about the movement since then.

Illustration of Concept

We couldn’t leave this page without having video as a proof of concept. The video shows Marsha Houston running her wild dog, Phoenix, in the opening four obstacles of the January Masters NDAL league course.

Notes Aside

Play with the NDAL

New clubs are always welcome to join the National Dog Agility League. Preview the NDAL January courses here:

http://natldogagilityleague.com/blog/2017/01/02/january-2017-ndal-courses/

Contact us if you are interested in joining play. Getting started with the NDAL is simple.

Like the NDAL on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TopDogAgilityPlayers/

Visit the NDAL blog: http://natldogagilityleague.com/blog/

Page Number References

Yesterday I began this series as a context for homework for distance seminar students at Canine Manners, March 20 and 21 2017 in Broken Arrow, OK. In that discussion I failed to refer to page numbers in The Jokers Notebook (issue #0). When I have this page published I shall go back to that blog post and edit it to include the JN00 page number references.

The crazy thing about page numbering is that as I work I am editing the original issue #0 to include the YouTube recordings that so nicely illustrate the teaching from the original text. This means, of course, that when I republish issue #0 all of the page numbering from this blog will no longer match up.

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.

Homework for K9Manners

January 11, 2017

Canine Manners distance seminar students… this blog is for you!

On March 20 and 21 2017 I shall be in Broken Arrow, OK to lead a Distance Skills seminar. We’ve concocted a unique and fun format in which I will post nearly daily homework exercises in the lead-up to that clinic.

A distance seminar is a devilish thing. You must know that “independent performance” is all about training the dog. You don’t do it in a minute. And, frankly, you don’t do it in a couple days. Dog training is a patient and daily discipline that can easily span month and, in some cases, years.

So, it is my objective in the ten weeks leading up to this seminar to share about a year’s worth of dog training work. I will introduce foundation exercises. And when I have students in front of my we can do an assessment of

Our reference for this training shall be The Jokers Notebook, issue #0. You’ll find this workbook in our web store: www.dogagility.org/newstore.

Lesson 1 “Go On” Intro for Baby Dog

Go On is a very basic directional command. It means, continue working in a straight line without regard to the handler’s position or movement. Go On is the basic command verb, and may be punctuated with commands for specific obstacles.

Part 1 ~ As we were working with a very young dog, we used the “hoop” obstacle which is a staple for play in NADAC. There’s no jumping involved and so it is completely appropriate for a young dog. As far as that goes, a jump with the bar laying on the ground would serve just as well.

Part 2 ~ Adding depth and dimension

Once the dog understands the basic performance of a single obstacle we can add some depth to the exercise by adding more of that obstacle. Note that the training method is quite simple. When the dog gets it right there will be praise and reward. When the dog fails to finish the praise and reward are denied. The handler shouldn’t apply a negative marker. Allow the dog to sort out what it takes to earn the reward.

Part 3 ~ Modest Incremental Escalation

Each day we spread out the jumps or hoops… just a few inches. It doesn’t take very long for the distance to become impressive. In our example below we’ve included a pipe tunnel at the end of the line of hoops. And the tunnel is “framed” to the dog by the hoops.

Lesson 2 “Go On” Intro for a Mature Dog

If you think your dog already has decent focus for the jumps you can certainly begin with a slightly more advanced introduction to “Go On”. The YouTube below demonstrates this very nicely.

Notes Aside

Okay, I haven’t written to my personal blog for a long time. I’ve been blogging, of course, but not here. Most of my writing has been going to the Teacup Dogs (TDAA) blog, and to the National Dog Agility League (NDAL) blog.

I return to these pages expressly to for my upcoming seminar (March 20 and 21 2017) with Canine Manners in Broken Arrow, Giving out homework in advance is kind of a unique approach to a seminar. But don’t you know, teaching skills to a dog, especially teaching the dog to work independently at a distance demands that we engage in a very specific and intentional training program that frankly requires months and months of diligent work. It doesn’t happen on a single weekend.

Other people may also use the instruction that’s coming in the following 60 days or so. You are all welcome. A couple of old friends and associates have recently acquired new pups. I invite you, friends… to follow along. A dogs skills in working at a distance are earned and deserved through training and practice. Without training and practice they are neither earned, nor deserved.

ALSO… I’m going to use this opportunity to update the Joker’s Notebook issue #0 and embed the YouTube recordings that illustrate the teaching in the book. There’s something very two dimensional about the written word. The visual expression of those words might really make a difference in bringing home basic training concepts to a student of the game.

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.