Jokers Notebook ~ Module #26

This is the training plan for the 26th week of the Jokers Training Program. This is a loaded training week; and it might take you more than a week to work through all the progressions. We will focus on lateral distance exercises, with discussions of the Accelerating Step and Triangular Pressure.


More and more, each week, the lesson plan will reinforce and rely on “prerequisite skills” while developing new skills.

Accelerating Step

An “Accelerating Step” defined in simple terms is a fast step the handler takes just as the dog is passing. The step is intended to goose the dog forward.

This is a simple enough exercise.

We are basically practicing a progressive send to the pipe tunnel. However, in order to practice the “Accelerating Step” we must give the dog a chance to pass the handler who will practice the step.

In looking at the video (above) the exercise might have been better served by taking jump #1 from its other side. That being said, starting the sequence with a Back-pass might very well set up the accelerating step. So we could dispense with jump #1.

Tunnel Dogwalk Wrap

In this exercise we want to teach the dog to make the transitions between tunnel and dogwalk with the handler using directional commands.

In the drawing above the handler would use a “Right” command in both transitions. You could mirror this exercise to practice the transitions with a “Left” command.

Scale this exercise for the skill and experience of the dog.

Triangular Pressure

A dog tends to move in a path parallel to the handler’s path. A stationary handler has no path. One of the hardest things to teach a handler who is accustomed to running parallel to his dog, is what he should do when not running.

And the answer is: The handler should face and give movement to the next target obstacle, creating “triangular pressure.”

In this exercise the objective is for the handler to work at a progressive lateral distance to the dog as the dog does jump #3 and the tire at #4. Jump #3 quickly emerges as the obstacle on which the handler should provide focus. Focus can be defined as what the handler is looking at, facing, pointing towards, and moving towards if there is any movement at all. We’ve left the lines of the dog’s path and the handler’s path on the course map so that you can see the “triangle”.

The red lines represent the lateral distance progressive. We begin by working close and gradually work farther and farther away.

The video above shows the entire progression of this exercise.

Teaching Lateral Distance Skills

You know in dog agility “Distance Work” is really a misnomer and a miscomprehension. You seek in your training to teach independent performance. That means that the dog knows how to do an obstacle without the fussy-fussy micromanagement of the handler.

An important skill for the dog to learn is the performance of the technical obstacles while the handler works at a significant lateral distance.

For the sake of clarity and definition, the “technical obstacles” are the contacts and the weave poles.

Lateral Training for the Teeter

The teeter can be a formidable obstacle to teach a dog to understand without the handler getting all tangled up in the context of presentation and performance. Overcoming initial fear of movement and clatter can be a notorious complication to the training objective.

In all lateral distance training the basic methodology is for the handler to work farther and farther from the dog at a lateral distance. The clever dog trainer will rely on simple training tools: praise and reward for the dog when he gets it right; denial of the praise and reward when he does not.

A Performance Caveat

The training protocol that follows calls for a two-on/two-off performance of the teeter. If you are working a very small dog you might not want to do it this way at all. Some teeters will finish with a bounce and recoil that have sufficient force to flip a very small dog ass over teakettle as the board bounces back up. So with a very small dog you might want the dog to run to the end, ride it down, and get off and away as quick as possible.

An Intro Example

In this YouTube video a young dog is introduced to the training steps. Note that this video is not full of instant success. That’s not the way it works in the real world (unless the dog is a mutant, as some are):

You’ll note in the video that the handler even at a distance has a gravitational attraction to the dog. The handler might play with running forward to keep the dog working straight. But this beguilement might convince the handler of success, even though the dog is still on the gravitational tether.

An Example with a More Experienced Dog

Lateral distance exercises belong to the foundation training for a dog. But foundation should be reinforced over time

Our more experience dog was pretty solid in the video. Note that the dog trainer incorporates other skills into the basic lateral-distance-training objective. The handler uses a Back Pass to sling shot the dog; and sending the dog forward to jump, relying on “around-the-clock” training sending the dog from the 9:00 o’clock position to the starting jump.

An Example with a Crazy Red-Headed Dog

Dogs whose brains are constantly exploding from exuberance can be a training challenge, even when they have heaps of experience. But even the crazy red-headed dog needs basic reinforcement of skills, possible more so than a steady-betty kind of dog.

You’ll note with dogs that work for food the “reward” is but an eye-blink. When using a toy reward, however, the dog’s trainer might have significant interruptions between reps, especially when the dog has a robust playful agenda for the toy.

A Combination Exercise

As we have already begun “named obstacle” training, this should be an ongoing element of our work with the dog.

In this drawing we’ve drawn a pipe tunnel alongside the teeter. You should spend a working session training these obstacles by name; rewarding the dog when he gets it right; and denying the reward when he does not. Provide balance in your training sessions paying nearly equal attention to both the tunnel and the teeter.

When we feel comfortable that our dog understands these obstacles by name, we can advance the sequencing, as in the drawing below.

In this short sequence the handler begins on the side away from the turn. We will rely on the Right command to direct the dog into the turn. The red lines in this drawing indicate that the handler will work at a progressively greater distance from the dog as he performs either the teeter or the tunnel.

Proofing the Skill

Pictured below is a game called Time Warp. In the play of this game the dog is rewarded for performing sequences at a distance from the handler. The course looks like this:

In this game, the dog earns a bonus for the performance of the teeter at a lateral distance to the handler. Indeed, the handler must be on the other side of the dogwalk to earn the bonus.

You should allow courses you see in competition to establish training objectives for your own dogs. In this case, as I was the game designer, the design of the course dove-tailed very nicely with my training objectives at the time.

Following is a YouTube video of my old boy Kory who shows off his independent performance skills running this course:

It’s worth noting that Kory was trained to his independent performance skills.

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Video Homework

Send links to one or more recordings of the exercises in this module. For example:

  • Lateral distance to teeter
  • The accelerating step
  • A tunnel dogwalk wrap
  • Tri-angular pressure

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Questions Comments and Impassioned Speeches to Bud Houston, Houston.Bud@gmail.com. Connect with me on FaceBook!

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