Archive for the ‘Agility Instructor Training’ Category

Stretch Mistakes

December 5, 2015

The December game is locked in a 50′ by 50′ space and yet manages to pose several interesting technical challenges. I’m faced with solving for my own while at the same time offering coaching to my team mates. I’d like to teach my students to stretch their abilities and expand their repertoire of skills. This is no easy task.

The Stretch Mistake is an interesting concept that came up in conversation with Marsha a few days ago (from something she heard on NPR). Stretching is a tangible application of a new skill; it is experimenting and being playful. A “stretch mistake” is the foundation for learning and refining the details of that new skill. We have to be willing to make mistakes. A handler’s propensity to rely always on a small (but comfortable) repertoire of skills retards learning.

Approaching this game in a completely playful manner, I might crash ‘n burn and make a mess of it. But those mistakes I make are the foundation for learning. And frankly I’m looking for an application of skills that I’ve been keen on teaching my dogs. And just may be, those skills will give a competitive advantage.

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In the pre-game analysis I want to break this course down into little bits. Ultimately those bits will have to fit together and flow from each into the next. And so the riddle of handler position and the speed and direction of the dog’s movement cannot be discordant and will have to work in symphony, each with the other.

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In the opening I’ve drawn two lines. The black line is the shorter and more efficient path. And I expect the dog who wins league will have this nice flat approach. But it’s a bold path fraught with peril because of the speed elicited in the dog’s movement and the short distance from jump #2 into the weave poles from a nearly perpendicular angle. The red path assumes a handler actually taking a little extra distance to give the dog more approach to the weave poles and avoid a costly weave pole fault.

Be mindful that the handler is the architect of the dog’s path.

I expect I should make this an exercise for class, after our league run. I’m tantalized by the notion of testing whether a student understand the “handler is the architect” and has the skill to create whichever path he desires. Visualizing the path and exploring the variety of handling options to effect that path are the training objectives.

 

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Out of the weave poles is a basic serpentine of three jumps. In case you’re wondering, I’ll be sure to have a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #4… because I want dog on right for the next three obstacles. The really interesting bit follows the three-jump serpentine.

What I’ve tried to illustrate here is a solution to #7 and #8. I don’t really want to get caught in a blocking position at the A-frame on the approach to the backside jump #8. And so after jump #6 I will send my dog to the tunnel giving a clear verbal, relying on the “named obstacle” discrimination training I do with my dogs.

As soon as I feel the dog committed I need to slide back up to jump #8. As the dog comes out of the pipe tunnel I will give a Back Pass command (“Come By” for me) to create the approach to jump #8.

My momma used to tell me “If it doesn’t work, it’s not showing off.” So I’m really hoping I’ll get to show off in this part of the course.

 

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#9 through #14 is the most straight-forward sequencing part of the course. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that this section will have as many faults as any other bit in the game. When everything looks obvious and easy handlers tend to be less disciplined and less focused on the meat and potatoes handling.

For my part, I’ll again rely on the “named obstacle” training on the approach to the A-frame at #12… though I might indicate a modest counter rotation after jump #11 to lend insurance to the moment. Frankly we’ll probably have a sequence in class in which I discuss the difference between blocking position and body-magnet position on the approach to an obstacle discrimination.

I’m a bit concerned about the approach to the weave poles. I’m running Marsha’s bat-shit crazy red dog Phoenix who is a magnificent weaving dog, when he actually remembers to get in the poles. So I’ll likely push extra hard out into the corner and remind him that I’m about to sell him to a Chinese restaurant if he doesn’t engage his brain and get in the poles.

 

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This next bit was kind of complicated to draw… I’m hoping it won’t be so complicated to do.

Note that as the dog weaves I need to layer to the opposite side of the jump between the weave poles and jump #15. On the dog’s dismount of the weave poles I’ll strike a posture to Back-Pass my dog into an open approach to jump #15 that favors an approach to jump #16. I’ll call my dog into a left turn, getting as close to the #16 jump as I can… and call my dog into a counter Back-Pass for the closing pipe tunnel.

We are studying, in the back-pass exactly how to establish a release that gives the dog a good line in the direction you want them to move. It’s clear that this is accomplished with the “counter” foot and is made clear by a step at the instant the dog is released.

Coaching / Class Exercises

It seems that I am ever studying some arcane handling skill that is a decade away from more widespread use and acceptance. I was studying the Blind Cross and the Flip (called the Ketchker today) something like a dozen years ago. These skills are gaining wider acceptance today, though on a somewhat one-dimensional basis.

I clearly cannot require my students to handle the same way I do. Frankly, a lot of what I do is because I don’t move the way I used to with my arthritic knees. None of my students have such a fine excuse, and so we will have discussions on movement and how the handler’s movement conveys direction to the dog. And once that is understood, the handler becomes the master.

But I do want them to stretch and learn.

Training by Minuet

The minuet is a classic agility game in which a handler will run a sequence until his time expires. The objective then, is to do the sequence as many times as possible in the time allotted. A minuet becomes a study of the adequacy of movement both in terms of giving good direction to the dog; and in terms of motivating the dog to his best speed.

Note that a Minuet should be designed to fold back into itself, meaning that a transition is provided from the last obstacle to the first.

The advantage of the Minuet approach to mixed group classes is that everyone will have a specific time-limit on the floor, and what each handler chooses to do with it is entirely up to them. Often in a group class there is a notable disparity on the floor as someone struggling (or wrestling with a petulant inner child) will occupy more than his share of time on the floor, while another handler will nail the sequence and be done! So, the Minuet is intended to provide balance and parity.

Minuet in the Middle

Here’s the sequence:

 

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A Study of Discrimination

A discrimination is a riddle in agility in which two obstacles are placed in close proximity. The overt or obvious discrimination in the following exercises is the tunnel under the A-frame. But we should not overlook the fact that the jumps are often presented in “pairs” to the dog’s approach and so those too are discrimination challenges.

The two classic handling positions in a “discrimination” are 1) the blocking position and 2) the body magnet position. The drawing below shows sequences (each can be run as a minuet) for practicing both of these handling positions.

 

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The white numbers ~ This is practice for the blocking position on a discrimination. It’s important to understand that when taking the blocking position on a discrimination the handler is obligated to do only one thing … block.

The approach to jump #5 is a discrimination of two jumps. A Front Cross on the landing side of jump #4 will neatly put the handler in position to block the dog’s approach to the wrong-course jump.

The dark red numbers ~ This is practice for the body magnet position. The presumption is that when the handler is the side of the obstacle that is the correct choice the dog will naturally gravitate towards that closer obstacle. In practice the handler is too often not nearly as attractive as he or she would like to be. And so we will practice an “insurance” movement when taking the body-magnet approach to the discrimination… using an RFP (counter-rotation) to draw the dog to the nearer.

Squaring the A-frame & Technical Tandem

 

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Now that we’ve had a discussion about the “blocking position” I’d like to carry the logic of the handler’s hedging movement to a sequence in which the handler will be obligated to create a square safe approach to the A-frame. This is a matter usually accommodated by careful course design.

Note that I’ve drawn lines from corner-to-corner on the A-frame. These lines represent a zone of safe approach to the A-frame. So in this exercise, the handler will be obligated to push the dog out, over the line, before making the turn to the A-frame.

On the dismount of the A-frame, the handler will turn his dog away into the pipe tunnel. The Technical Tandem is a bit more difficult than a Tandem when the dog is jumping or moving on the flat, because as often as not there is no inertia to carry the dog into the turn.

Jumping Into the League

This is the final game of the 2015 winter series.

It is a simple (?) numbered course that is scored Time, Plus Faults.

We welcome all new clubs who would like to establish league franchises. The National Dog Agility League stands apart from most agility organizations in the world. This is not a titling organization; and it’s really inexpensive to play.

Think of it this way… The National Dog Agility League is the only world championship forum to which all dogs are invited.

You can download the score-keeping worksheet for final game of the Winter 2015 series here: Scoresheet.

Results from the November league game can be found here: Nov 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 Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

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Life is Like a Piano

September 29, 2015

… what you get out of it depends on how you play it. (Tom Lehrer)

I spent this past weekend in Medford, Oregon. It was a marvelous experience with a group of fun and kindly folks. The first day was a handling seminar; and the final two days I spent judging. Below I’m going to share the basic training steps for teaching a dog a Tandem Turn. This was one of the exercises we did in the clinic.

You must know that I consider the Tandem one of the basic tools of an agility handler. The dog turns most naturally toward the handler. So the handler should embark on a specific mission to teach the dog to turn away, because sometimes the course demands it.

Teaching the Tandem

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When teaching the Tandem I use a three-step methodology. This drawing shows the first step… what I call the intro step. Basically the handler just works near the dog and will arrive at the jump at the same moment of the dog, cue the turn and cross behind the dog.

We do this over and over again until both the handler and dog understand the movement.

I always must make a special point when showing this method, whether in class, camp or seminar… that we are now in dog training mode. That means that we must control the variables of the lesson for the dog. The most important details are: a) the handler should arrive at the jump at the same moment as the dog, and b) the handler will cross behind the dog.

Before going to the second step I am looking for certain elements of performance. First of all, the handler should be making a clear signal and stepping behind the dog. Also, I look for the dog to turn readily away from the handler in the new direction of the course, in spite of the obvious fact that the course is going away from the handler’s position, rather than towards the handler. This runs contrary to the riddle of sides which suggests that the dog turns most naturally in the direction of the handler.

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The second step I call the lateral distance step. Now the handler should work a distance away from the dog’s path, but in a path parallel to the dog’s path. Many handlers are initially skeptical of the handler’s path compared to the dog’s path. But most dogs with even a modest basis of training will work happily a distance apart from the handler.

This step works quite like the intro step. The handler should arrive at the corner of the turn at approximately the same moment that the dog arrives at the jump. Now the handler will have to move convincingly towards the dog as he cues the turn.

What we are looking for in this step is a dog that sees the cue to turn and takes it. Most dogs will get around the jump and head for the next obstacle (the tunnel) even before the handler has crossed the face of the jump. Indeed, before going to the next step we want the dog to take the cue to turn and actually separate and accelerate away from the handler.

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In the final step, the proofing step the handler will once again work with a lateral distance from the dog’s part. The real difference now is that the handler won’t actually cross the face of the jump at the corner of the turn. Instead the handler will layer the line of jumps while the dog works away, into the pipe tunnel.

A proofing step is important in any dog training objective. It is a step that allows the dog’s trainer to assess whether the dog really understands the object of the lesson. Some handlers will make an essential error in this step. While they might work a lateral distance apart from the dog… they won’t actually use it. The purpose of the lateral distance is to give the handler room to move towards the dog and to sell the turn away.

Finishing Notes

In retrospect teaching the Tandem was the wrong building block for this particular community of agility fans. I learned a lot more about them in two days of judging.

What I really should have taught was the Riddle of Sides. As I said above “the dog turns most naturally towards the handler.” This is fundamental to the extent that I include the rule in the Laws of a Dog in Motion. But what I saw in the trial (when I was no longer in my teaching uniform) was a whole bunch of gratuitous rear crossing.

The really excellent handler will put changes of side forward of the dog rather than behind. I appreciate having a rear cross for the emergency. But every single emergency should not be of the handler’s invention.

Quoth

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. ~ Albert Einstein

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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 Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

The Van Deusen Riddle

September 9, 2015

The National Dog Agility League September league course was designed by Wayne Van Deusen. This course features some interesting handling challenges, with a definite international flavor.

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In my own classes (which attend league play) we spend a bit of time walking through the league course to talk about handling strategies to solve the course we are running. My mission as instructor is ever to teach my students the basic skills to solve the riddles posed by the course designer.

The handler is the architect of the dog’s path. And so handling should always begin with a visualization of the dog’s path. Once we set that very basic goal, just about anyone can rummage through the inventory of skills they might have to conduct the dog upon that path. Whether the plan is right or wrong will sort itself out when we test the proposition with a dog in motion (with time-keeper, scribe and judge all playing their part in the drama).

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These days most of us own some rudimentary approach to a “back-side” jump. Clearly the approach to jump #2 is a managed approach. On this course, however, the back-side is the beginning of a more complicated riddle.

Jump #2 actually gives the handler a choice of turning directions. I’m inclined to begin with the natural turning direction as the natural choice unless other factors talk me out of that choice. What the drawing shows is that a right turn (which is the natural turning direction) at jump #2 will expose the wrong course tunnel option at #4.

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Turning the dog to the left at jump #2, as previously noted, fights against the natural turning direction. It also exposes a wrong course option (presenting jump #1 again to the dog). And it also calls for a considerably depressed angle approach to jump #3. But, the consequential path sets the dog up neatly for the correct entry to the pipe tunnel at #4.

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On the dismount of the #4 pipe tunnel the handler might simply attack jump #5 and work to pre-cue the turn to #6. This strategy probably raises the odds of the dog dropping the bar at jump #5, and clearly sets up jump #2 as a wrong course option.

The red line in the diagram shows the handler creating a corner of approach to jump #5 which lines the two jumps up neatly, with a consequential path that carries to the weave poles. This will probably result in a longer path than the “attack jump strategy”, but not much longer.

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After the excruciating grind of the opening this course opens up into a bit of a helter-skelter romp around and to the A-frame. The handler should be aware of the not terribly obvious challenges in this simple part of the course: a) The dog dismounting from the pipe tunnel at #9 needs to be turned to jump #10; b) the #3 jump is exposed as a wrong course option after jump #11; and c) the weave poles are set as a wrong-course option after jump #12. The handler might be advised not to take it all for granted.

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The interesting turn the course takes here is really a question of the handler’s downfield control position. While the dog is on the A-frame the handler must be calculating how to get in position to handle the closing bit, jump #17 to the pipe tunnel at #18. But the handler is obligated to turn the dog out of the #14 pipe tunnel to tag jump #15. And in that moment of prudence the handler might surely sacrifice the forward-of-the-dog control position after jump #17.

And the handler should be aware of the wrong course options presented to the dog. The A-frame is surely an option for the dog coming out of the pipe tunnel; jump #3 looms again after jump #16; and the weave poles are somewhat compelling after jump #17.

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I shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a left turn at jump #17, though to my own thinking it’s crazy and perilous. The right turn clearly opens up the wrong course side of the pipe tunnel.

It was clearly not my intention to open the discussion to the handling skills needed to solve Van Deusen’s riddle. Maybe I’ll return to this course after we’ve run it in league play so that I can inventory handling skills that proved to be successful, and some that weren’t particularly so.

Jumping in to the League

If you have interested in jumping into League Play, you still have time to play on the second course of the summer league. The workbook can be downloaded here: September League

If you have interested in jumping into League Play, you can still play on the first course of the summer league; but under our league rules results submitted after August 31 cannot be counted towards league standing. The workbook can be downloaded here: August League

The score-keeping workbook for the out-of-league course can be downloaded here: Pick-up Game

Earned LPP

The National Dog Agility League has published Top Dog standings based on the accumulation of Lifetime Performance Points: LPPMaster

The details of LPP earned can be found here: LPPDetail

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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 Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Intensity Agility

March 9, 2015

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Here’s the course. It’s somewhere between icy and muddy outside, so I set the course up in the training building. The 3/4″ mats are shrunken, cold and hard. But our dogs are used to the surface and move in a collected fashion. I expect about anybody running on grass or on one of those Astroturf surfaces will have a clear advantage.

We filmed my run with Kory: http://youtu.be/TZbQW6pgYRE;

and Marsha’s Run with Phoenix: http://youtu.be/gVeWMGMitEM.

Phoenix actually ran first you can see where the wild man broke one of the weave poles. I had to go down in the lower field and grab several poles from my pound-in-the-ground weaves to fix the set.

To be sure, I am attempting to demonstrate the Back Pass as an important movement in the sport of agility. This short course features at least two threadles and a pull/push through. I used the Back Pass for each. You’ll note too that Marsha made use of a couple of Back Passes… she does train with me, after all.

An important attribute of the Back Pass is that the dog drops out of obstacle focus and into handler focus, allowing the handler’s position to constitute the corner of approach to the course. Once you start using this movement it will be an invaluable part of your agility repertoire.

Incorporating the League Course into Agility Classes

I ran a league at Dogwood for something like eight years. That was 150 students a week. So I would set the league course on Sunday and base all of our classes on that set of equipment. We were pretty serious about everyone running the same course… so it was necessary to mark the position of equipment on the floor (or on the field) so that if it got kicked around a bit, we could continue to nudge it back into position.

We’re starting now a series of classes for a very small family of students with the earnest intention of training them to masters level skills. Each week will begin with the league course and have a special topic for study and practice. And, each week, there will be homework. Please note that an instructor always knows who is doing their homework…and who is not.

Homework

  • Back-Pass in both directions
  • Weave Poles with progressive oblique separationThis is a simple concept. As the dog weaves the handler will gradually increase his/her distance from the dog. At first the angle of dismount is at a modest angle. But over time the handler should increase the oblique angle until it is virtually 90 degrees.
  • Weave Poles with handler at high energyCompetition should not be the first time your dog sees you being excited and agitated. Practice the weave poles while pushing energy with the dog.
  • Weave Poles with a variety of approach angles; and practice rear crossing the entry.

Lesson Plan March 9, 2015

I shall probably have to return to these over the next few days to write a bit on each of the sequences to share with you what I learned in the teaching of them. You’ll note that because my floor is bigger than the published league course, I’ve added additional equipment and have incorporated that equipment into our lesson plan.

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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 Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Cedar’s Intro to the Teeter

December 29, 2014

I brought our teacup teeter into the basement this morning because it’s time for Cedar to get her introduction the obstacle. You’ll note that I don’t spend a lot of time on a tippy board or a Buja board. I want to see right off the bat how she deals with the movement and noise. If I go to a tippy board it will be for remediation.

Here’s the video: http://youtu.be/x-eQK-90pIs

In the back of my mind

An experienced agility trainer will be well aware of the difficulties associated with the Teeter. Here’s a web log entry I wrote maybe five years ago: Review of Teeter Fear

I’m a little surprised, looking back at it, how much I had to say on the topic. With any luck, all of that is in my mind as we bring a new dog along in her training.

I note that there’s a picture of my old girl Hazard (when she was young) in the blog post. She’s getting an introduction to movement under her feet with a foot pedestal that rocks back and forth. Marsha, armed with a clicker and food treats, has had Cedar in the living room on that very same pedestal in the last couple of days. So my protestations about disdaining intro/training devices should be taken with a grain of salt.

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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. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Left and Right

December 28, 2014

When teaching a dog absolute directional I begin by luring her into the turn while giving a name or command to the performance. Gradually I stop luring… and indeed I stop giving any physical cue at all. Ultimately I want the dog to understand the performance based on the verbal command only.

Then, for the longest time, each session will focus on a single direction.

I’ve progressed with Cedar to the point that I’m using both Left and Right in the same training session. Now I’m keen to see how she differentiates between the two distinctly different commands. Here’s a video of today’s session: http://youtu.be/tB5BKsCfdVI

You can hear Marsha in the tape explaining how I deal with Cedar’s choice of turning direction. If she gets it right, I praise her and give her a bit of food. If she gets it wrong, I briefly turn my back on her, just to make an emphatic point.

There’s nothing complicated in the pattern of my commands at this point. I do “Right-Right-Right” then “Left-Left-Left”, and repeat. When she’s getting it right in the 80 percentile range, I’ll start using more complicated patterns.

Ass Pass

Chris Miele asks to see a video of the Back Pass (aka the “Ass Pass”). What I really want to do is show the training steps, using our young girl Cedar as a for reals learn-it-from-scratch dog. But, I did dredge up at least one video that shows me doing a Back Pass with my boy Kory. On this jumpers course the dog’s approach to the weave poles was nearly perpendicular; and there was a high NQ rate for dogs missing the entry. So I used the Back Pass to bring Kory around square to the entry:

http://youtu.be/ZVEhSkitJ7Y ~ Thanks to Brenda Gilday for the recording.

Blogging

It strikes me that in about a month I will write my 1000th web log.

When I started this I ran a big training center, doing six or eight camps each year. I was out in the world doing a lot of seminars, and on many weekends showing my dogs. I lived agility pretty much every waking hour of the day.

The pace has certainly slowed down, mostly because I’ve slowed down. Arthritis has brought a premature end to my campaigning days. My boy Kory is almost constantly lame these days, though it’s a bit of a phantom condition that comes and goes almost at whip. And I don’t much feel an urgent need either to cure him or rush out and get another dog.

The Teacup Dogs Agility Association keeps my brain in the sport. It’s not a big titling organization compared to just about any other. But it is honest and challenging and provides a modest income (add to our “landlord” income, and at least we have a roof over our heads).

Early next year there’s a group of agility fans who will descend on us for a “Training with Bud ~ old-timer’s camp”. The camp is being organized by the notorious Sue Sternberg, one of my favorite students. That should be fun. I’ll see if I can still make them cry.

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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. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

A solemn day

December 27, 2014

Today was pretty much given over to the funeral of James Martin, my father in-law. He was 89 years old. He served his country honorably in World War II. And he was a good provider for his family. A large number of family and friends attended to pay their respects.

When I die, I would not like a funeral. Maybe I’ll donate my body to science. If they can find any usable parts, take them with my blessings. I’m sure I won’t need them.

Instead of a funeral or a wake, my friends will have an agility trial and run some of the toughest courses I’ve ever designed. Then I can go on to my final rest with people cursing me and behaving pretty much as they did when I was alive. I’d like that.

Those that don’t actually have dogs can be put to productive use… you know, leash running and fluffing the chute.

No Cheating

Okay, I promised to write a new blog entry for 100 days in a row, repeating an exercise I did a few years ago. I want to cover some new ground… I’m especially interested in giving good documentation to the Back Pass, including some video to make my training points for me.

There’s a book I’ve wanted to write for several years to cover the fundamentals of agility handling. The working title has been Agility Chi. I’ve actually written most of it already. The material needs to be gathered up, organized, and presented in a consistent voice.

The thing about fundamentals is that fundamentals never change. Consequently the need for the exposition of the basic science of agility handling is, if anything, as relevant today as it has ever been. I’ll let you know how that project progresses.

I have another project up and coming. We are going to endeavor to launch a Top Dog agility league in southern California in the February/March 2015 timeframe. I’m ever the optimist.

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.

BLOG04_06Sure, it gets the job done. The handler changes lead hands and goes on without mishap. The bad part of this movement is that it uses about three seconds without actually going anywhere.

Sometimes the New Jersey left is done intentionally. Sometimes it’s done by accident. Refer to the same drawing, above. The handler picks up his counter-arm and points the wrong direction. Sometimes the handler will actually lean in the opposite direction of the turn, or take a little sidestep that way, before pushing into the turn.

The only fix for this is to demonstrate how a person turns a corner. You move to the corner, and then you turn and go in the direction of the turn. What you don’t do is flap your arms, or lean away from the turn. The handler, in a Tandem Turn, should turn the corner the very same way he’s been turning corners his entire life.

BLOG04_07This illustration shows the handler stepping 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.

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 avoid stepping in front of the dog.

BLOG04_08In this illustration the dog has taken the off course jump. The Tandem Turn tends to go wide in the presence of an “option” or a “trap.”

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 counter-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.

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

The handler should practice with both the counter-arm signal and the inside-arm signal.

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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. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Cedar’s “Go-On” Training

December 24, 2014

When teaching a “Go On” directional I will continue to advance the exercise, always keen to take it to the next step. Young Cedar is showing plenty of willingness and aptitude for the training. We shot this video this evening: http://youtu.be/o_hKS3qd8vo

It’s about time for me to take the exercise into the back yard to give me a bit more room for the send.

Notes on the Tandem Turn

A Tandem Turn is a cross behind the dog on the dismount of an obstacle, or on the flat. Contrast this with the Back Cross, which is a cross behind the dog on the approach to an obstacle.

An experienced handler will try to be positioned on the side of the turn because the dog turns most naturally towards the handler. The clever and evil judge may design a course that intentionally traps the handler on the wrong side away from the turn. The handler needs an answer to that riddle.

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.

This illustration shows the “off-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.

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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.

The handler’s position should be only slightly forward of the dog for the dog to see the cues for the turn. At the same time the handler should not be so far ahead that he can’t step behind the dog (it is a form of the Rear Cross, after all).

Which arm should be used to signal the turn is a bit controversial. It’s reported that Susan Garret calls the counter-arm Tandem the “evil-Ohio-arm,” and advocates using only the inside arm (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.

Oh, as to the controversy about which arm to use: 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 practice.

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.

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I would always use the inside-arm Tandem in this situation. I had a dog (Bogie) who always took 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.

The Tandem Turn 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.

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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.

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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. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

What Did You Learn Today?

December 23, 2014

Years ago, at the end of a seminar I taught, somebody asked me “What did you learn today?” The interesting thing for me then, and ever since, is that I had an immediate answer for her. It never fails that when I teach, I get to learn.

8 Kinds of Front Cross?

The mechanics of each type of Front Cross is different.

The basic attribute of a Front Cross could be stated: Counter rotation draws the dog to the handler.  So the 8 different kinds of Front Crosses all (mostly) rely on the basic “drawing the dog”. Subtle differences in the mechanics deliver different strategic objectives without losing sight of the basic attribute.

Each is like a choreographed dance. Posture, position and timing define each movement.

Simple Front Cross – the handler changes sides to the dog in a Front Cross on the flat; this is an simple change of sides, unworried and unhurried. All other types of Front Cross are variations of the Simple Front Cross.

Layered Front Cross – The handler layers to the landing side of a jump then: 1) using counter rotation to create a corner of approach to the jump; or  2) using position to a turn the dog after the jump.

Pre-cue Front Cross – The handler cues the dog to an impending turn by prematurely showing the counter-rotation of the Front Cross or by adopting a posture facing back to the dog.

Rolling Front Cross – The handler rolls through space while counter rotating

Squaring Front Cross – The handler uses the Front Cross to set a  square corner of approach

Serpentine Front Cross – The handler turns the Front Cross into a combination movement: either Post & Cross or Cross & Post.

Technical Front Cross – The handler Front Crosses the dog on the dismount of a technical obstacle (contacts or weave poles).

Blind Cross – This is a racing movement. The handler effects the change of sides by turning away from the dog rather than to.

Drop Dead Boring

I sure managed to make all of those Front Cross notes above sound drop-dead boring. Well, I’m an old technical writer where drop-dead boring is a way of life. But to be kinder to the muse I’m not ashamed of a “Just the facts, ma’am!” attitude towards writing.

Behind the stone-faced presentation there’s some real emotion in those words too. And I can prove it:

The handler approaches a moment in the course where he’s got to change sides to his dog, and the change of sides must set the dog up square for the path ahead. But the handler doesn’t know where to set the corner, or even where the corner is, and begins the counter-rotation of the cross before he’s in the correct position and before it was time to turn the dog in any case. His run goes to hell! He cries, he spits, he blames the course! It’s a very emotional moment.

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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. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Training with Games

November 26, 2014

It’s a relatively simple matter to cleverly disguise training objectives within the context of a simple agility game. Playing a “game” has certain benefits for the agility instructor. The game can be used to measure skills and analytical abilities for each student. And, of course, by putting a stopwatch on the dog and scoring his performance puts the special pressure competition on the handler.

Below I’ve adapted a very old agility game called “Power and Speed” to work on very specific training objectives. In case it’s not obvious, we’re working on a nice stable finish on the dogwalk in the Power section and pose a nice handling riddle to test analytical skills in the Speed section.

Power and Speed

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Briefing

Each handler and dog runs a course that is split into two sections: Power and Speed.

Power – The Power section is occupied only by the dogwalk on this course. It is performed back-to-back-to-back.

The Power section is un-timed. Consequently the start-line is positioned between the last obstacle of the Power section and the first obstacle of the Speed section.

Any faults earned by the dog will be added to the dog’s score. For example, if the dog misses a contact or earns a refusal on a contact obstacle, his score would be 5 for the Power section. Obviously, the ideal score for the Power section is 0.

Speed – The Speed section contains a straightforward Jumpers sequence. The goal is for the dog to run the course as fast as possible, preferably with no faults.

Scoring

Scoring for Power and Speed is Time, Plus Faults: faults from the Power section plus time from the Speed section plus faults from the Speed section. The dog with the lowest score wins.

Catching Up

Okay, it’s been a long time since I’ve written to my blog. You’ll have to forgive me for finding priorities that are higher. It’s kind of a perfect storm of circumstances. I have of chores and work to do; and I don’t have the stamina I used to have for working all day. There was a time I could work a full-day… then flip a switch, and work well into the evening. I just don’t have that switch working much anymore.

I have to ramp up for our month of Top Dog. And so I’m going to do a training series that features a new game or course each week.

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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. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.