Archive for August, 2017

Distance Trained Dog in Seven Days

August 12, 2017

Have you ever noticed the Novice dog in competition who might happily run past any number of jumps… but maybe veer inexplicably out of the handler’s control to dive into a pipe tunnel or jump into a two-on/two-off position on a contact obstacle? I’ve call this “returning to the scene of the crime!” The dog is offering performances for those obstacles where he earns a lot of reward!

This is easy to fix: Include in the dog’s foundation exercises that build obstacle focus for the ubiquitous bar jump. The dog should understand the performance unattended by the handler. By definition, this means “independent” performance.

Return to the Exploding Pinwheel

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.

Day 1 ~ We begin with the jumps in the pinwheel pushed very close together, virtually touching in the center of the “wheel”. The handler from the beginning remains in one quadrant.

We began the training with a three-jump pinwheel. At the beginning of the exercise the wings were touching, making it impossible for the handler to step in to attend every jump. Our objective, after all, is to teach the dog to seek out the jumps without the handler being imbedded in the context of presentation or performance.

This is our young Pip… a terrier with an introduction to the exercise:

Day 2 ~ On the second day a fourth jump is added to the pinwheel with the spacing between jumps pretty much where we left off on day one. During the exercise we will “explode” the jumps modestly farther apart. Note that the handler is teaching the directional command “Go On” in this training.

Day 3 ~ On the third day the jumps are “exploded” to a greater extent. The dog’s training is constantly studying the focus of the dog… that is, the dog keeping his/her attention forward studying the work ahead. Note that the handler when not moving well (albeit intentionally)… will face each jump in turn. When the handler isn’t moving he can give focus and direction to the obstacle by facing it, looking at it, and pointing to it.

Day 4 ~ On the fourth day Pip gets a new handler. This is a nice easy test of generalization. Pip understood the exercise working with another handler. We’ll test to see if she still knows her job (or if her brain explodes) when we approach the (even bigger) pinwheel with a new handler.

Days 5/6 ~ On the fifth day we made the pinwheel modestly bigger, asking for Pip to work with the handler putting progressively more distance in the send. We did not get a video recording of Pip’s fifth day in the Exploding Pinwheel exercise.

On the sixth day the pinwheel was “exploded” to be quite a bit bigger, getting to be more like the pinwheels we see in competition. We also had the distraction of a barking dog.

Day 7 ~ On the seventh day of this protocol we’ve endeavored to try Pip on the distance challenge from our NDAL League Play course. To earn a bonus the handler is required to send the dog over a big flat pinwheel of jumps while the handler is constrained by a containment line. This is a pretty challenging bit for a nine-month-old dog.


That was a lot of fun! I’m frankly pleased with Pip’s progress in this exercise. Don’t you know my entire agility career I’ve trained and handled dogs from the Herding Group. I’m sure I’ve said from time to time that I require a dog that makes me look smarter than I really am.

So I don’t know if Pip’s apparent success in the exercise means she’s an exceptional dog (in the Terrier Group)… or if it’s an absolute validation of the training method.

But I am tickled pink by her progress.

Below, I will share the NDAL league game that we trained on in Pip’s seventh day of Pinwheel training. The league is really quite fun. We have several hundred dogs in clubs around the world competing each month on four league games (based on the size of the floor, naturally). And most performances are on YouTube! It’s fun to see how handlers in faraway places (Australia and South Africa) solve the riddles posed by the games we play.

The NDAL league courses are invaluable for training and (for my part) the recreation.

NDAL 60×90 Masters



Power & Speed is a two-part game. The first part, POWER is untimed. Any faults earned are added to the dog’s overall score. Refusals will NOT be faulted. However, three “on & off” refusals will be deemed a Failure to Perform.

The SPEED part is timed. This game is scored Time, Plus Faults, Less Bonus.

A TimeWarp Bonus (10 points) is earned for the dog working away at jumps #7 through #9 without fault, while the handler works on the opposite side of the handler containment line (red line).

New players are always welcome in the NDAL

If you would like to join us for play in August you can download the scorekeeping worksheet here:

Dogs are required to be registered with the NDAL to be eligible for play. You can download the registration form here:

You are bound to have questions about how we work. Please direct these questions to the NDAL League Secretary ~ Bud Houston

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