Archive for February, 2017

Ambition

February 16, 2017

In this blog I have been publishing a series of homework exercises for the up-and-coming distance seminar with Canine Manners in Broken Arrow, OK. I’m near to finishing the series, not so much because we’re really done. I’m frankly concerned with heaping too much in the way of work and expectation on those brave souls who’ve elected to attend the seminar.

Distance seminars have always been difficult for me. The real topic in these seminars is “train the dog”. In two or four days you really can’t realize the central ambition of the task. Training the dog is a matter of patience and persistence.

I’ve always said that I’m patient with training a dog because I know exactly how long it takes. The punch line, of course is … “It takes as long as it takes.”

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NOUN

1.a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.

synonyms: aspiration · intention · goal · aim · objective · object · purpose · intent ·

Send Around a Barrel

This is a very basic skill that I’ve taught to by agility dogs for about 30 years now. It’s simple and fundamental. Because it’s low impact, sending around a barrel can be taught to a very young pup. Consequently one of the first lessons learned by a dog is to go out and offer an independent performance.

In the Jokers Notebook (issue #0) refer to “Go Around” on page 30.

This was a demonstration video only. Working with Kory, I made a bit of a mistake in putting his reward (the Fisbee) on top of the barrel. But you can get the feeling of it.

Backside Jump

It strikes me that the “Go Around” the barrel might be leveraged into solving a fairly advanced challenge in International style agility coursework… the “backside” jump.

Using “Go Around” to teach a “Backside” is an interesting concept.

In competition the handler might only resort to such a thing when faced with one of those bloody-minded courses with control positions stretching to corners of the ring.

Minuet

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How would you handle such a challenge? Note that in a Minuet the handler will run the same sequence over and over again until the expiration of time.

In a minuet each successfully performed sequence scores 1 point. Should the dog take a wrong course, then the sequence must be started from the beginning. If the dog drops a bar, the handler is required to reset that bar, and resume from that point. When time expires the dog must be directed to the table to stop time. The Minuet is scored: Points, Then Time.

Let’s say you have 30 seconds to run this Minuet. How many times do you suppose you can do this sequence? What distance skills would you use?

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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. 

Proofing in Competition

February 13, 2017

Be clear from the onset that distance skills can be amazing and tantalizing. But on the technical courses you’re bound to encounter in any of the international-style agility organizations, using distance skills alone is a very tough way to make a living. It’s a lot like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. Have fun, and be humble.

As promised we have set up the February 2017 NDAL 50×70 Fast & Fun league course. Note that the perimeter of the course is nothing but a big pinwheel, with some interesting set of obstacles stuffed into the middle.

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The course calls for a couple solid absolute directional turns, and a good “Go On” in the big seven hurdle pinwheel.

Pictures

I got to chuckle… I gave Kory a “Right” command on the turn from the A-frame to the pipe tunnel when it’s clearly a LEFT turn. But don’t you know he found what I did with my body (a solid technical Tandem) to be more compelling. That’s an important lesson all by itself.

Notes Aside

This is a continuing series of homework exercises for the up-and-coming distance seminar with Canine Manners in Broken Arrow, OK. We’ve got most of the foundation exercises

I’ll surely have more training snippets to add to this series. I’ve already described enough of a curriculum on which to spend a year or more with an individual dog. That might seem overwhelming; though I’ve never felt overwhelmed by having a focused plan for training my dog. It’s a lot like building a big brick wall. You start at the bottom and lay one row at a time. The only thing that stops the wall from being finished is for you to stop laying bricks. It will be done when it’s done. What’s the hurry?

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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.

Combination Exercise

February 12, 2017

In this series of homework exercises for the up-and-coming distance seminar with Canine Manners in Broken Arrow, OK we have shown a mix of training exercises aimed at a variety of distance skills. What I should like to show today is a combination exercise that tests several of those skills in the same sequence.

I’m mindful that the assigned homework might easily take months and months of patient work and practice. And in that patience and in that practice we fashion a dog that plays the game of agility without being affixed to the bum of the handler.

Let me show the challenge, followed by brief discussion, and supplemented by a short YouTube video.

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The Strategy

  1. The handler will begin this sequence with a Back Pass. The Back Pass is a means of making a “sling-shot” start to the course. In this sequence it also serves to start the dog on a bendable line that serves as an introduction to the four-jump pinwheel.
  2. On the landing side of jump #1 the handler will turn the dog into the pinwheel with a layered Tandem Turn. Truly the handler won’t have much room to make a compelling step to sell the turn. Note that a dog with absolution directionals the initial turn is accomplished with a “Right” command.
  3. Of course the handler will stay outside of the pinwheel. The red line on the course map indicates that the handler must, stay outside. Note that the handler’s movement and the direction he is facing while the dog is in the pinwheel is very important. That movement and facing must give pressure to each jump in turn.
  4. In the turn from jump #4 back to jump #5 the handler will also show a Tandem Turn. This Tandem is far more advanced than the first as the handler is at a fair distance from the dog and at an obtuse turning angle from the dog. This turn in the dog’s path might also be accomplished with a “Left” command so long as that has been taught to the dog.
  5. The exercise ends with the performance of the dogwalk with the dog at an impressive lateral distance.

The Aftermath in Video

Truly the discussion of strategy took a lot longer than it will actually take to run the sequence.

Katniss Phoenix ComboExerciseFeb17 ~

Notes Aside

This topic may expanded and continued tomorrow! I am going to set up the February 2017 NDAL 50×70 Fast & Fun league course. This course promises a couple opportunities to send the dog out in huge pinwheel outruns while the handler seeks control positions on the opposite end of the floor. It should be a complete hoot.

By the way, after the seminar in Broken Arrow I’m heading across town to lead a judges’ clinic for the Teacup Dogs Agility Association. The TDAA judges clinic will have judge candidates actually practicing their judging in a real TDAA trial after two days of grueling classroom work and testing. I will share the calendar posting for the trial:

OK

Mar  18 – 19 , 2017  TDAA trial number T17001
Canine Sports Academy – Agility
Norman, OK
Judge:  Bud Houston is judge of record, Judge applicants will do judging duties
Contact:  Dennis Gorman at Dgorman11@cox.net
Indoors on Greatmats.
Classes include four standard rounds and four games.
Premium

It would be fun for some of the NDAL players down in Broken Arrow to come out for TDAA in Norman. Note that the TDAA is limited to dogs measuring 20″ or less.

Back in the day when I ran my old boys Bogie and Birdie I found that the TDAA made me a much better technical handler. The challenges come quick with short intervals between obstacles. The original objective of the organization, after all, was to give small dog handlers a taste for what big dog handlers face every weekend.

These days I like TDAA for a very different reason. I’m an old man with bad knees and the smaller rings spaces allow me to find control positions on course.

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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.

Lateral Distance on Technical Obstacles

February 11, 2017

To be sure so called “distance work” in agility is nothing more than a matter of independent performance.

The element of performance most overlooked by the typical agility handler is the extent to which the handler by position and movement are embedded in the context of the performance. For example, a handler may believe that a dog understands the dogwalk and will make both the approach and the dismount as taught.

But in fact some dogs understand that performance only so long as the handler is in proximity and, in the case of the dismount, either putting on the brakes or stopped altogether, and for all practical purposes sitting on the dog’s head. Even a running contact may require the handler to run in perfect parallel to the dog at a proscribed lateral distance.

The training objective for any technical obstacle is disengage the handler from the context of performance. Following is a recording of a training session calculated to incrementally extract the handler from the dog’s performance. In this case the subject obstacle is the dogwalk:

Progressively increasing lateral distance training should be applied to all of the technical obstacles including the A-frame, the teeter, and the weave poles.

In the Jokers Notebook (issue #0) refer to “Lateral Distance” beginning on page 92 and “Lateral Distance Work on Technical Obstacles” on page 94. It’s a simple and nearly obvious method.

See Also: In the Jokers Notebook (issue #0); “The Two Minute Dog Trainer – Killer Weaves” beginning on page 90. This introduces training on technical obstacles for an increasing oblique; (though the text focuses on the weave poles).

Caveat ~ While the training method is “simple and obvious”, the independent performance of technical obstacles is one of those skills that is earned or deserved from training and practice. If the dog trainer fails to train and practice it follows that the skill is neither earned, nor deserved.

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).

This topic is expanded and continued tomorrow! I will present a combination exercise in which distance skills from several of the topics discussed in this Blog over the last few days are all a part of the same exercise. And I should like to show how some of these skills are used on one of the NDAL League courses scheduled for this month (February, 2017). [I’m mindful before using fanciful distance work in the league course of something my mother used to say to me. She said “If it doesn’t work, it’s not showing off!”]

League Play Connection

Canine Members, the club in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma is an active franchise in the National Dog Agility League. The NDAL is a consortium of clubs around the world that each month will compete on the same courses under the same rules. And then all results are aggregated as a single event.

One very fun thing about NDAL league play is that for most dogs running the results include a link to a YouTube recording for each performance. It is very fun seeing how different handlers in different parts of the country solved the same course that you ran with your dog.

The NDAL fondly desires new clubs in: New Zealand, Belgium, United Kingdom, Finland, Mexico, Singapore, Switzerland, Russia, and Japan. Our league players are very curious about these different agility communities and would love to play and compete with them each month!

Here is an example of the results to a recent NDAL league competition:

January 50×70 Results

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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.

Secret Weapon for Distance Work

February 10, 2017

We can’t really divorce working a dog from a distance from “handling”. Handling of course is what the human member of the agility team does to communicate the order and direction of performance on the agility course. It is the verbalization of that handler ; it is how the handler cavorts in physical movement in his dance with the dog.

Imagine a handler movement, then, that creates acceleration in the dog and separation between dog and handler. Imagine a handler movement that is considerably more powerful and dynamic than a flat-footed send! That movement is rightfully the handler’s secret weapon for distance work.

Introducing:

The Tandem Turn

I’ll present the YouTube recording first; and then a comprehensive (long-winded) discussion.

CedarsTandemTurn ~

A Tandem Turn is a cross behind the dog on the dismount of an obstacle (i.e. landing side of a jump) or on the flat. It’s important to differentiate the Tandem from the Back Cross, which is a cross behind the dog on the approach to an obstacle.

We rely on the premise that our dogs already understand how we move. So in the Tandem we turn towards the dog, distinctly and boldly. The dog, understanding our movement should make the turn in this new direction although the turn is toward his side.

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This illustration shows the “counter-arm” Tandem. As the dog comes up over the jump the handler brings up his opposite arm, pointing out in the direction of the turn.

Of course, the turn is more than just an arm signal. At the same time the handler is rotating his body, turning, and moving in the direction of the turn. It’s also a good idea to develop a verbal command to coincide with all of these other cues.

Note that the handler’s position should be only slightly forward of the dog. The handler must be ahead enough for the dog to actually see the cues for the turn, while at the same time not so far ahead that the handler can’t step behind the dog.

There is a bit of a controversy with the Tandem Turn, that is, which arm should be used to signal the turn. It’s reported that Susan Garret once called the “counter-arm” the “evil-Ohio-arm,” and advocates using only the inside arm. Okay, “inside” arm sounds kind of obtuse, something that might belong to a Martian. To simplify, the “inside” arm is the arm nearer to the dog.

The inside-arm Tandem was originally shown to me by a lady from Los Angeles (Barbara Mah.) I thought it looked so silly that for a long time I called in the “La La” turn.

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However, I discovered that one of my dogs, who I’d been struggling for over a year to teach the off-arm Tandem, understood the “inside” arm immediately. He got it the first time he saw it, and made the turn perfectly. So, I no longer call it the La La turn. This is now the Inside Arm Tandem.

All the other elements of the turn are the same. The handler should rotate his body, turn the corner, and move in the direction of the turn.

Another significant difference between the counter-arm and inside-arm presentations is that the off-arm signal becomes the new lead hand at the moment of the signal. When using the inside-arm, the handler needs to switch to the opposite arm immediately after making the signal with the inside arm. He also has to remember to rotate his body. One thing that using the off-arm does, it forces the handler to rotate his shoulders. The inside-arm signal doesn’t do that.

Oh, as to the controversy about which arm to use. I like to operate under the assumption that we’ll use the arm that our dog implicitly understands. There are no “one size fits all” solutions in agility. The Tandem Turn should always be learned with experimentation.

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In fact, with some dogs respond to both signals, but give a different response to each. This illustration shows a scenario in which the turn is still away from the handler’s position, but the true course is the gentler path up to jump #2.

I would always use the inside-arm Tandem in this situation. I have a dog (Bogie) who takes the off-arm as a “hard and deep” instruction. He’d flip back to jump #3, giving jump #2 a pass. He’d interpret the inside-arm Tandem as a gentler turn, and would be, properly, directed to jump #2.

These aren’t hard and fast rules of the performance. The handler should experiment with both arms and understand the dog’s response to each. Know thy dog.

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The technical Tandem can be used on the dismount from technical obstacles, on the exit of a tunnel. The biggest danger is that the handler’s turn mightn’t have enough “push” to get the dog away before turning back. A Tandem is only successful when the dog believes in the turn. It must be convincing, and compelling.

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Oh, one final detail worth mentioning. The Tandem Turn “creates” distance. It’s a great movement to use to open up the real estate between dog and handler. In this illustration the handler is working parallel to the dog over the first two jumps with a bit of lateral distance. At the “corner” the handler surges into the turn showing the arm signal for the turn.

To the dog’s point of view the handler is making the turn; and the dog frankly won’t know until after jump #3 that the handler did not attend. It doesn’t matter. The dog should work faithfully in a path parallel to the handler to get to jump #4, even at a substantial distance.

Some dogs don’t immediately “get it.” They’ll turn towards the handler, rather than in the direction of the turn. Sometimes this is due to an error in the handler’s motion. But more often, it’s a plain fact that the dog turns most naturally in the direction of the handler.

For a dog like this you should take exceptional training measures. You’re in luck if the dog is toy or ball motivated. The handler can shape the turn away by throwing the toy or ball at the corner of the turn. This should be repeated, over an over, until the dog is taking the movement of the arm as a cue, even before seeing the toy go whizzing by his nose.

Next the handler will approach the turn and pretend to throw the toy. But immediately after the dog makes the turn the handler should throw the toy. The handler/trainer has made a transition from “lure” to “reward,” a very important concept in dog training. Just because a dog understands the turn in one direction, that doesn’t mean he understands it in the opposite direction. Both turns should be trained repeatedly. Don’t forget to experiment with both the off-arm signal and the inside-arm signal.

Errors in the Tandem

This is a variation of the Tandem that I call the “New Jersey Left,” or the “Whiplash Turn.” Have you ever driven a car in New Jersey? In order to turn left you actually have to turn right three times. What’s that about?

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Sure, it gets the job done. The handler changes lead hands and goes on without mishap. The bad part of this movement is that it chews up a minimum of about three seconds without actually going anywhere. You can see people do the New Jersey Left in competition all the time. It’s really quite funny.

Sometimes the New Jersey left is done intentionally. Sometimes it’s done by accident. Refer to the same drawing, above. What the handler is doing is picking up his right arm, the lead hand change used to signal the dog into the turn. The problem is that the arm is pointing the wrong direction. Sometimes the handler will actually lean in the opposite direction of the turn, or take a little sidestep that way, and then push into the turn. Of course by this time the dog has already turned in the wrong direction.

The only fix for this is to demonstrate how people turn corners. You move to the corner, and then you turn and go in the direction of the corner. What you don’t do is flap in the opposite direction, or lean first in the opposite direction. Remember, dogs already understand how we move. That includes how we turn corners. The handler, in a Tandem Turn, should turn the corner the very same way he’s been turning corners his entire life.

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In this sequence the handler steps in front of the dog, intruding on the dog’s path, turning the dog more sharply than intended. This is not a Tandem Turn. The handler isn’t in position to do anything about it. The Tandem is a cross “behind” the dog. If there’s any question of anatomy, the “behind” is the bit with the tail, a difficult concept for those who own Aussies or Corgis.

In this sequence the dog has taken the off course jump. The Tandem Turn tends to go wide in the presence of an “option” or a “trap.”

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This might be saved first of all by showing a very aggressive rotation of the handler’s shoulders. In the illustration the handler is using an inside-arm Tandem. It might be better to use the off-arm so that the turn goes hard and deep.

The real problem here is the selection of movements. On the approach the handler probably should plan on a Back Cross rather than a Tandem. One of the attributes of a back cross is a tightened turn on the landing side of the jump. This is an instance in which a tightened turn might be desirable.

Note that there are dogs that hate the Tandem Turn. On a percentage basis they are relatively few. But if a dog hates the Tandem, the handler should be advised to find another answer. You can tell when a dog hates it. The dog will come to a complete stop or otherwise simply shut down. It’s never the handler’s objective to shut down the dog.

When teaching the dog the Tandem a handler who consistently steps in front of the dog rather than behind the dog may shut the dog down. Great care should be taken to keep the handler from doing this to the dog.

The Tandem Turn is fast dog handing. The handler is mostly behind and pushing.

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).

I am chagrined to realize that this comprehensive discussion of the distance handler’s “secret weapon” was not included in the Jokers Notebook issue #0. Consequently I’ve included the full text in this Blog. And I will edit issue #0 to include this discussion. [The text was written so long ago that I was still using CorelDraw to illustrate my lessons for agility.]

This topic is expanded and continued tomorrow!

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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.

The Exploding Pinwheel

February 9, 2017

The purpose of this training mission is to teach the dog the performance of a pinwheel as though it were a single obstacle with multiple elements. Think of pinwheel as you might think of the weave poles. The Poles are only one obstacle. Take the same ambition with a pinwheel.

A discussion of the Exploding Pinwheel can be found in The Jokers Notebook (issue #0 on pages 77 and 78/of course those page numbers will change after we’ve added a lot of new text and links to YouTube videos).

We have a YouTube recording of Cedar… being introduced to the “Exploding” Pinwheel:

Introduction to the Exploding Pinwheel

The text below comes from a lesson plan I wrote something like 15 years ago. It is included here as the writing credits the person who probably invented the method.

I learned this conditioning bit from Patty Hatfield-Mah. The idea is to teach the dog to understand the pinwheel, and take ownership of this common jump configuration.

We begin with the jumps in the pinwheel pushed very close together as in this illustration. The handler can draw the dog through the entire performance while remaining in one quadrant.

Note that the jumps should be set very low as there is scarcely 6′ of transition between the jumps.

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Before we move on from this step, we should be fairly certain that the dog has taken ownership of the pinwheel and will bop around the four jumps without a hint of luring or showing on the part of the handler.

As in any obstacle conditioning program, the handler’s keen use of a marker combined with praise and reward are essential to the dog’s learning. Any failure should be met with a neutral response from the handler. We want a keen dog emboldened by never being corrected or treated harshly. We allow the dog room to worry through the problem and discover that thing that earns the praise and reward.

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We gradually and patiently explode the pinwheel, advancing each jump from center in rational incremental steps, each of which we hold until the dog demonstrates a keenness and understanding of his job in the pinwheel before advancing to the next step.

The handler should be able to work entirely from one quadrant of the pinwheel. But this doesn’t mean that the handler should stand like a stump in the woods. We teach that a handler should face and move in the direction the dog should face and move.

A good handler would move in a robust manner that compliment the dog’s path in the pinwheel (and anywhere else on course). The teaching of the pinwheel in this manner is not about good handling, it’s about good training. When you combine good handling habit with good training discipline, good things happen in the course of the dog’s career in agility.

As the Exercise Advances

Dog training is most effective when the trainer approaches the objective with modest progression. “Modest” means that you take small discrete steps that allow the dog to succeed. “Progression” means that the trainer always raises the expectation for performance.

The exploding pinwheel exercise should fairly early on introduce the very real possibility that the handler himself/herself mightn’t even enter the pinwheel while releasing the dog to do the entire pinwheel. Even this objective should be approached with modest progression:

CedarExplPinwheelTandem ~

As the dog becomes more confident the pinwheel itself should be big and robust, like any pinwheel in competition. Each time the pinwheel is “exploded” to larger dimensions, the dog trainer should review modest intro steps with the dog:

Katniss Phoenix ExplodingPinwheelFeb17.wmv ~

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).

This topic is expanded and continued tomorrow!

BLOG1197 NDAL

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.

The Back Pass

February 8, 2017

It has been a few days since I’ve left any homework for the upcoming distance seminar at Canine Manners in Broken Arrow, OK. I expect that everyone who has decided to do any homework has been working with a pretty full dance card.

The Back Pass

Let’s add something simple to the dance card. I would like to teach my dog a “Back Pass”. While this might not immediately seem to be a “distance” skill; I promise to make the case with a rational argument later in our curriculum.

The Back Pass is a simple concept. The handler teaches the dog to circle around his body. This may at first blush seem like a Blind Cross, but it’s not a handler movement at all. It is a skill taught to the dog and might later be interchangeable with the Blind Cross.

Obedience handlers sometimes teach a Back Pass as a finishing movement to bring the dog to heel position. Of course obedience handlers are sided where agility handlers are ambidextrous. So the agility handler must teach both a clockwise and a counter-clockwise Back Pass as distinctly different performances.

This skill is ridiculously easy to train. I’ll share with you the introductory steps:

You’ll note that the command that I’m using is “Come By” which has surely spoiled my herding career. The command means for the dog to circle around my body in a clock-wise direction or, to be precise Come By way of the clock.

This second training session was only a day or two after the first. So you can see that it doesn’t take very long.

For circling counter-clockwise I use the verb “Switch”. It doesn’t really matter what words you use for the Back Pass, so long as you keep them straight for yourself. Please be aware that you may begin with an arm signal to supplement the verbal… but the arm signal must be faded as soon as possible.

I’ll leave you with a video from NDAL league play. This is Brenda Gilday with her dog Leela running in the January 2017 50×70 Fast and Fun League. Brenda and Leela, by my count, do the Back Pass no fewer than four times.

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).

I promise new homework tomorrow!

BLOG1196 NDAL

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.