Named Obstacle Recognition

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.


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.


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 The web store is up and running. 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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