Archive for the ‘AKC’ Category

Top Cat Course Review

August 10, 2013

An old friend of mine sent me this course. What I would like to do is review the course, understanding that it has never been put up in the world and that the review therefore hypothetical. I find this course illustrative of the types of challenges that face us in agility. My anonymous friend’s contribution to the topic is serendipitous.

Top Cat, I’ll call him, says in a note to me: “Thought I would share with you a sample of what I would love to design for my AKC courses!  Problem is 90% of the exhibitors would want my head on a pike!”

Let’s see if he still loves it when I’m done with my review.

This is the course design question of the day: Is our sport only for the young long legged kids who can outrun their dogs? And, if that is what the course demands, is it a huge design flaw?

Should those of who don’t fit the “long legged kids who can outrun their dogs” description run off to find a not-very-challenging flavor of agility where they hand out qualifying ribbons like pop-corn?

Anyhow, here’s the course:


I pretty much know that I will crash ‘n burn with my dog on this course; though I’d have fun giving it a go. Mind you I don’t play the same game that most AKC players do, with the dog tied at my hip, running from obstacle to obstacle like a game of connect-the-dots. I’m an older fellow though not real old; but I have arthritis in my knees and so must rely on “training my dog” to perform wicked stuff when I might be at a considerable distance.

I’ve annotated this course with three markers: A, B and C, in dark circles. These are what I consider “control positions”, which is a place on course where I must be in the picture near to the dog in order to solve the technical challenge at hand. I’ll explain each as I go along. But right now I want to point out to you that given my dog’s rate of travel there’s absolutely no way that I get from “B” to “C”. So I must choose which one of them I’ll have to attempt from a distance (whilst yelling out verbal directionals, crossing my fingers, and trying to hold my mouth right). I’m guessing that position “B” will be the distance try, which promises a failure likelihood up in the 90 percentile range.

Walk Through

The “A” control position is intended to solve the opening which offers a subtle “option” challenge.


The typical novice player might be a bit of a goober, making an approach to jump #1 too square (the red line), which would create a hard to solve option challenge after jump #2. The more advanced handler has the black line. This line too is uncomfortable. The net effect is for the dog to have a depressed angle approach to both jump #1 and jump #3. While I recognize that this is a common challenge I am nervous about the potential for injury to a dog for slicing into the sharp little jump cups on the standards. And it’s not as though this were a flat serpentine in which the dog could assume a natural turning radius to gain focus on each jump. The dog will power through the opening line with no turning radius whatever excepting a bit of a concave approach to jump #3.


This is my favorite part of the Top Cat course. From control position “B” I can pretty much verbally direct my dog from jump #4 all the way back to jump #11. There are two wrong-course options in this segment of the course (after jump #4 the #14 jump is the option; and after jump #5 the #8 jump is the option); but I’m confident that if I put enough urgency (and panic) in my verbal directives I can solve easily.


The difficulty really arises at jump #11. I have a choice of turning directions.

A turn to the left (black line) surely presents jump #2 as an option to a dog with considerable work ethic. To the left is the natural turning direction; but the handler needs to be there (in the “B” position) to affect the pull-through.

A turn to the right (red line) offers less risk but results in a longer and less efficient dog’s path. For someone who can outrun his dog, on the other hand, it probably presents a better opportunity to get to the courses chief technical challenge, in the vicinity of jump #14.


This is the wicked challenge on the course. We can for the moment overlook that the course designer stretched the handler between two control positions so that only the long legged kid who can outrun his dog can be at both places.

The moment at jump #14 begins with a blind/managed approach to the jump followed by a virtual threadle from #14 to the weave poles at #15. The black line represents a perpendicular approach to the weave poles which will, I guarantee, result in a 50%+ NQ rate in a class of Masters/Excellent players (who on some level believe they have trained dogs). The red line represents a managed approach to the weave poles in which the handler will micro-manage the dog around to square up the approach and hope upon hope that the over-zealous judge doesn’t see a refusal in the solution.

Note that the blind/managed approach to jump #14 is constrained by the #5/9 jump which leans in applying compression against the real estate afforded the handler to get the job done.

A final observation on this course is that the two jumps which require hard-aback turns, jumps #11 and #17, are both designated as wingless single-bar jumps. Both of these attributes lower the visual acuity of the jumps and raise the likelihood of a dropped bar or refusal caused by the dog just running past it because it didn’t stand out to him.

Can this course be saved?


I’ve tweaked the course subtly (not so subtly, maybe). I wanted to maintain the challenges envisioned by the original designer. But I really didn’t. I took out both of the hard-aback turns, preferring instead to allow jumping sequences in which the handler can release his dog to work, rather than be in the picture, micro-managing the dog’s work.

I’ve moved the blind/managed approach challenge to jump #13 because it’s easier for the handler to be in position to solve.

I also took out that silly threadle to the weave poles and replaced it with an ugly-butt approach that will allow the dog to demonstrate his understanding of the performance. I’ve actually replaced the threadle approach with a blind/managed approach; which at least provides the handler with adequate real estate to do whatever it is he needs to do.

Note that I got the obstacle count up to 20.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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.

Bright Spot

July 9, 2013

I’d like to share with you a YouTube of my Jumpers run with Kory this past Sunday at Queen City. It was a fun course, quite suited to us (Kory and me); and everything went as scripted. I even got to do a Back Pass to manage Kory’s transition to the weave poles.

With thanks to Brenda Gilday: use this link:  

This was the bright spot of the weekend. I had two runs with “one little thing” to glitch the run. And I had two runs that were complete train wrecks. I humbly accept this difficulty. I think I’ve reported to you that I don’t move well (not like I used to move). And so I try to do most everything at quite a distance. As I’ve said for many years, distance handling is like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. So when you get a card into the hat as I did in the Jumpers run… you can be happy. And when you don’t…  oh well.

A Current Obsession

One of our judges this past weekend put up an interesting challenge that I’m taking back to my training barn. Two jumps are set for a 180 turn… with the jumps set side-by-side, the wings touching.


I’m a bit fascinated by this side-by-side jump challenge. As a course designer I know that the jumps are too close together to support the turning radius of any dog that works with the teeniest bit of inertia. But then, as handler and dog trainer I know that the tightened turning radius can be pre-cued to the dog.

Certainly an argument can be made for the handling on the landing side of jump #3. However I’d like to solve on the approach because I am fond of any opportunity to throw cards into a hat on a windy day.


There are obviously some other fun sequences that might spawn

A Word Aside

On Saturday night… and I mean about 2:00 am in the morning something crept into my brain that I got me out of bed to work a bit at my computer to document. I had an epiphany about contact performance that I immediately knew in my heart is exactly the kind of thing I need to do with Kory.

It works like this… the contact obstacle is the starting point and, mind you, a resting point. Before I embark on the sequence I’ll put him over the contact and he will come to rest at the bottom in a nice 2o2o position, until released.

I know this doesn’t seem extraordinary at first disclosure. What I’m really trying to do is treat the dismount of the contact obstacle like a stay at the start line or on the table. As a basic rule of performance I’ll expect my dog to hold position until I give a verbal release. And frankly I don’t care if I’m standing still having a conversation or running in some random direction… my expectation is that he will stay.

Dogs are creatures of rules. The performance you get out of them in agility (and in life) are based on the rules that you set for them. In a broad general sense this is precisely true. And so now, in my training, I will embark on establishing this new rule which is simply a fortification of the softer (though identical sounding rule) under which we previously operated.

I’ll keep you informed.  


This is the bit that I leapt out of bed to sketch, when I had the epiphany. I could have numbered a lot of interesting things after either or both of the contacts; and I did, in fact. But then I deleted all the numbering but those that identified the contacts as the starting point… just to remind myself of the core concept.

You’ll note that in the first sequence I drew (above) I managed to insinuate the teeter as the starting obstacle.

Ted Cruz & the Abolish the IRS Campaign

Ted Cruz is a liar and a scumbag. Clearly he is a magnet for stupid people. I’m closely watching his campaign to abolish the IRS, mostly because I’m curious about how frigging many really really stupid people there are in this country (people who don’t read or keep up with current events and base there thinking on the raw propaganda and hate mongering of Fox Noose). I know there’s a whole bunch of them.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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.

Agility Organizations

June 5, 2013

Today, don’t you know, Dog Agility Action Bloggers has challenged the bloggers in our sport with the topic “Improving Agility Organizations”. That’s pretty close to home. I’m involved in the management of the Teacup Dogs Agility Association and have slowly been working at the beginnings of Top Dog Agility Players (a low key recreational venue).

Okay, I’ve just come back from a judging clinic in Salt Lake City for the TDAA. So I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that developing the quality of the judging corps is paramount to improving any agility organization. Running a close second is the education of course designers.

I’ll look forward to perusing blog posts on this subject. I believe that any organization should be mindful of both perception and attitude of the enthusiasts who support them (and even those who enthusiastically damn them). It’s just good business. If you’d like to peruse as well, you can find all of the posts on this topic here: Improving Agility Organizations.

Since you are here, I’ll say a word about Top Dog. Believe it or not, I’ve been working at starting this organization for something like 15 years. Clearly I’m not in enough of a hurry. Dog Agility is for everybody. It should be as inexpensive and natural as a pick-up game of baseball in the corner lot. So here’s an agility organization that doesn’t charge anything to play… no memberships, no applications, no registrations. Play the game, and send in your results. Oh my! It’s pretty crazy right? I’m working hard at finding the right people to be our Directors; and clubs who want to play.

Think of Top Dog as an “Open System”. The model will ultimately be defined by those who play. If you want to look at the basic model, visit our web page at: Top Dog.

No Joy in Mudville

At the risk of sounding slightly retarded I’ve only just realized that for the purpose of obtaining an exhibitor’s course map I’ve not bothered to embrace the new technology and, as a consequence, have kept my life unnecessarily complicated. You see, I have a phone in my pocket that is also a camera. Don’t you know I grab these little pieces of paper at the trial site, and I obsess on them while I’m there (because they are my course maps and my duty is to obsess over them); and then I take them home and sometimes, if the course is wicked or very interesting I will ponderously recreate the course in the Clean Run Course Designer so that I can slap it up on my Blog and talk about it.

But like I said, I have a phone in my pocket that is also a camera. This means that I didn’t even really have to pick up the piece of paper at all. I might have just leaned over it and taken the quick snap; and then I would have the course for the cross purposes of obsession, and blogging.

I know there’s some youngster who might read this and have a good smirk at my “slow on the uptake” grasp of today’s technology. In my day I was a mimeograph operator and an AB Dick operator. Hell, I even worked with a guy who threw hot lead for newspaper copy. That was cutting edge technology, don’t you know, back in the day. Okay… I’m getting off-track here (and slightly defensive about my age and technical abilities).

Last Weekend

I’ve been in Salt Lake City for a TDAA Judges’ Clinic over the weekend; having just returned from an AKC trial at Queen City in Cincinnati the weekend before that.

Kory was good in Queen City. I had a blast every time onto the field; though every run we were haunted by one small error; usually a dropped bar, but once a wrong course. I’m liking our teamwork right now because we’re solving some very technical courses, and usually while working quite a distance apart. Compared to where we were this time last year I’m happy.

Here are a couple courses from the weekend, complete with MOV files taken by my friend Erica (presumably moved to YouTube when I get home because while you can count on a microwave oven in the lobby of a La Quinta, you can’t really count on working WiFi):

Sunday JWW



Oh My

I just realized that the video I have is not matched to the course map. I’ll share both with you but you need to know what one has little to do with the other. First I’ll show you the video of the Monday Jumpers run: Monday Jumpers. Note that the Sunday jumpers started with a three jump serpentine… the Monday Jumpers started with a four jump serpentine. Oh my.

Here’s the course map I wanted to share with you:


The bit I wanted to talk about here is at the back-left of the course. You’ll note yet another serpentine, with the dog destined for a wrong course approach to the u-shaped pipe tunnel. You know, I did a couple “back passes” here that were the best exhibition of those movements I’ve ever accomplished; and I was really too far from any side of the ring from which a good video could be taken and far too close to the judge who had absolutely no idea what she was seeing. A shame that.


From the dogwalk I went him into the serpentine which I conducted with simple Right & Left instructions (all verbal). I stepped into position as he was coming over the third jump and told him “Come By”… and he wrapped neatly around me for the proper approach to the tunnel.


While he was in the tunnel I moved to a new position so that as he came out I gave him a command to “Switch” (come around my body in a counter-clockwise direction). I used this to line up the jump to the weave poles. As it turns out, in the running of the class, that jump and the approach to the weaves were a popular source of NQ scores if the handler just gave the dog a straight line out of the tunnel. The bar got dropped on a fair percentage, and bad approaches to the weaves didn’t help as much either. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t have handled it with the switch. But I was content to make it square and make it work.

Just so you know, on this course I had a wrong course fault after the #11 jump as Kory went ahead into the #19 pipe tunnel. At the height of laziness I sent him from the table to do the four jumps, wanting to rely on directional control. I’d have done much better to step into the pocket and show him the turn.

Calling all Back Passers

I’d very much like to find out who else is using the Back Pass in agility. I find this an extraordinary “movement” that solves a number of interesting riddles in agility. And, I’d very much like to compare notes with others who are using it.

La Quinta Woes

As I begin to write this… it’s my last night in Salt Lake City and I’m holed up in air Airport hotel (La Quinta) so that I can get an early ayem shuttle. The airport/hotel area is a bleak region of hotel upon hotel; a desert of concrete and bad landscaping. And the Wifi at the La Quinta is broken. I’ll have a lot of work to do when I get home… since I can’t actually do it here. How about a movie?


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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 Wild Rollacoaster Ride

May 22, 2013

You know, I’ve seen some nice course design in AKC agility. This venue… I’m sorry, I mean, this agility organization has matured. There are more and more AKC judges out there who design courses that pose interesting central challenges and provide nice flow.

And then there will be weekends like the one I just had showing under a matched pair of judges with an incredible technical streak who manage to humble every driven-dog handler by putting up challenges that only the slower tied-at-the-hip kind of dog will manage to solve.

I’m truly not complaining. I have pretty much decided that for me it will be a long campaign to the MACh because I’m a slow moving arthritic old man and my dog is a driven beast with a great work ethic. Given the qualifying requirements, I’ll be lucky to get to the ACK nationals… ever. I am content in that knowledge. So I approach every every trial weekend like a duffer in golf. The course is a puzzle and I finish happy when I Birdie and just about as happy when go way over par.

The JWW courses from Saturday and Sunday are worth sharing with you, so that you appreciate my definition of “incredibly technical”. I’ll share Sunday’s JWW today. I have a bunch of out of doors chores to do today.

Sunday Rollacoaster

This was the course put up by AKC judge Sherry Jefferson (at Westmorland County Obedience Training Club at B&D in Latrobe, PA). Take a moment to decide how you would try to survive this wild ride.


By my count this course features no fewer than seven wrong course options. An option, mind you, is a course that makes more sense to the dog than the one the judge actually numbered. It is a trap. And at least two of the options are set by gratuitous dummy jumps (as though the 5 naturally occurring options aren’t enough).

There’s not a lot of herk n’ jerk in this course; no wrapping, hard-aback turns, acute angle redirections. This is an important consideration. It means that the dog will get up to full speed when working, and stay there so that every challenge in the course comes at harrowing speed.

Here’s a YouTube of my run with Kory:

We went off-course after jump #17 (stupid gratuitous dummy-jump). Dang… I was already doing my victory dance.

This course was a heap of fun for me. I wish I had it to do over again so that I could have put more urgency in that last left turn after jump #17. Oh well.


Marsha had a very nice weekend with our young boy Phoenix. He’s showing a lot of promise and starting to demonstrate that he’s getting the game. It’s rewarding to see a wild thing like him come along so nicely. He’s actually more steady than Kory was, at the same age. I’m sure she’ll share her exploits on her own blog (

JazzMe UFoo


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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.

Games of the 2012 Petit Prix ~ Part 6

September 26, 2012

The game to be played as the final round of the TDAA Petit Prix, our national championship tournament will be Jumpers. This is a game that doesn’t need much of an introduction as it is a popular format played by every agility venue in the world.

The Game Within the Game at the Petit Prix (you’ll have to see tomorrow’s blog) is the steadiness and overall performance of a dog in this competition. In a departure from all years previous there will be no elimination of dogs from the competition for falling below some arbitrary set-point of accumulated score. That means every dog will compete in every competition.

And, mind you, this is not a winner-take-all round.

At the 2012 Petit Prix the top 40 dogs will be set aside for a final showcase run on the Jumpers course. They will be run by jump height in reverse seed order. This round will be theirs to win or lose. It’s possible, and actually somewhat likely, that some of the exhibitors sitting as spectators during the showcase round will move up into the top 40 on the basis of their performance in the final round.


The Jumpers class measures a dog’s ability to jump and turn and the handler’s ability to exert control and timing in this fast-paced version of the agility game. Though the dog only needs to learn to jump to begin competing, Jumpers is one of the most difficult games to perfect as dogs move at a much greater speed than in other classes.


Jumpers courses consist only of hurdles and tunnels, with some limitations between the different venues. The dog is required to run the course in the sequence indicated by the judge.

Follow the numbers. And keep the bars up.

Jumpers is judged according to the performance rules for the respective venue.


Jumpers is usually scored Faults, Then Time the winner being the dog with the fewest faults. If two dogs have the same number of Faults, Then Time breaks the tie.

Jumpers can be scored Time, Plus Faults. The winner would be the dog with the lowest score.

Course Design

This is an example of a USDAA Masters course. A USDAA course requires the performance of at least three spread hurdles. These courses are not inconsequential in terms of challenge and handling. You’ll see options and traps and the need for excellent timing and deft handling.

This is an example of a Novice course. Note that it is nested perfectly with the Masters course example. The course designer may want to move out unused obstacles so that the lower levels are not presented with “dummy” jumps.

Excepting play in the AKC (and possibly in USDAA Team/PVP) only tunnels and hurdles may be used on the course. As the level of competition rises, so does the complexity of the course. In addition, as the level of competition increases, the time to perform the course decreases.

This is an example of a Jumpers course designed for play in the TDAA. The spacing between obstacles is considerably tighter than in any other venues. What’s worth remembering about the TDAA is that it is intended for dogs of small stature. And so the Jumpers course especially emphasizes the central idea of the TDAA, to present to the small dog handler challenges that are comparable to what big dog handlers face on any given weekend.

This is an example of an important variation of Jumpers called, appropriately, Jumpers With Weaves. The performance standard for AKC Excellent Jumpers With Weaves requires an unflinching mastery of the course.

This is an example of a DOCNA Jumpers course (arguably it would be suitable for NADAC as well). You’ll note that DOCNA does not use tunnels, and all of the jumps are wingless. In the NADAC-style venues the courses are devoid of challenges that are routine in venues like the USDAA, AKC, and TDAA; you’ll find no options, or traps, hard-about turns, or wicked handling moments. Everything is flow and go. As a consequence, the rates of travel for NADAC and DOCNA are more aggressive and demanding than in any other venue.


The basic advice in the Jumpers class is to follow the numbers, and keep the bars up.

Since only jumps and tunnels (where allowed) are used, Jumpers courses tend to be more difficult for handlers to memorize than other types of courses. To be successful in Jumpers, it is more important than ever to remember course flow and sequences rather than individual obstacles.

Also, the handler’s movement and timing are important on Jumpers courses in the control of the dog as the action is coming fast and furious. The handler should be sharp, and timely.

The most common faults in Jumpers are wrong courses and refusal. Thus, emphasis should be placed on considering approaches, angles, and distances to obstacles during the course walk-though.

The key strategy for Jumpers is to train the dog to jump and to be responsive to handling in fast and flowing situations.

Qualifying and Titles

Nearly every venue features Jumpers as a titling class and an element of the respective championship programs.

Qualifying is based on the measured length of the dog’s path; usually at considerably more aggressive rates of travel than the standard classes. Whether the scoring basis is Time+Faults or Faults, Then Time, the score must be equal to or less than the established SCT. The lowest score wins.


  • Jumpers with Weaves ~ This format is used by the AKC. In a departure from the Jumpers class in most venues, Weave poles are featured in the jumpers course.
  • USDAA Dog Agility Masters® (DAM) tournament Jumpers – The format for DAM Jumpers is different from the Jumpers played in USDAA titling classes: 1) weave poles are often included; 2) a refusal is penalized 2 points; and 3) The scoring system is Time, Plus Faults.
  • Land Rover Drive – This game, also known as Jump and Drive, is perhaps a historical footnote. The Land Rover Drive and Jumping contest grew out of the sponsorship by Land Rover for agility trials in the U.K. The handler loads his dog into a Land Rover, drives a designated course, parks the vehicle in a garage and then jumps out to run his dog over a Jumpers course. The judge will designate the starting point for the Land Rover, the path of the vehicle and the garage where the vehicle must be parked. Dog and handler (and the course clock) start on foot across a starting line designated by the judge.
  • Black and Whites – This British variation is Jumpers for black and white Border Collies only (or black and white dogs with any hint of BC in them).
  • Jumpers with Weaves Plus ~ loosely based on the AKC Jumpers with Weaves titling class, but with multiple weave pole challenges. The Purpose of the game is to complete the course in the specified order, as quickly as possible, without faults.

This is an example of a Jumpers with Weaves Plus course (closely based on a course designed by Ilze Rukis for play in the TDAA in Warrensburg, IL on April 12, 2003).

Premium Blurb

Jumpers is a favorite game in the dog agility world. Courses are made up of jumps and tunnels only, so the play is fast and furious. Follow the numbers and keep the bars up.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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.

Chamber of Horrors

May 16, 2012

A friend sent me a few courses from the AKC World Team Tryouts in Hopkins, MN. In general these were more technical than the usual offering on an AKC weekend. You might expect that from a “World Team Tryout”… dontcha know.

I stumbled across one course that literally made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. So I must share with you.

This is a course designed by Anne Riba, a judge from northern Illinois. A modest course analysis exposes these technical challenges:

  • Blind/managed approach from #1 to #2 (yep, it starts right out with a demand for micromanagement)
  • A pull-through blind/managed approach from the teeter at #4 to jump #5.
  • A counter-side tunnel discrimination at #9.
  • A rip-saw turn out of the pipe tunnel at #9.
  • A two-jump directional discrimination on the dismount of the dogwalk at #11 (clearly favors dogs with 2o2o contacts; deadly to dogs with running contacts).
  • A tight pull-through from jump #12 to the A-frame at #13.
  • A perpendicular approach to the entry-side weave poles (out of a wrong course trap).

There are two places where one can actually release the dog to work. The first is a two obstacle sequence (#7 to #8); and the next/last is a two-obstacle sequence (#16 to #17).

Where have all the flowers gone?

As a strictly philosophical matter, I really don’t like this course. I’ve invested a lot in teaching my dog to work independently without constant micro-management. This is a course in which a dog with superb independent working skills is of no value whatsoever.

The trend to ridiculously technical has been mostly a USDAA thing the past few years. I’ve noticed that AKC courses—at least where I’ve been showing—tend to be more thoughtful with flow that allows the dog to get up working at full speed so even subtle challenges require spot-on timing on the part of the handler. Consequently, I was surprised to see this chamber of horrors.

Where are we going as a sport? I know for sure that no-one really looks to me for the philosophical underpinnings for course design. I’ll vote with my pocket-book.

I apologize to Anne Riba for the tough review. I know that course reviewers are a powerful influence on what the AKC judge puts up in the world. The role of the course reviewer should be to save the designing judge, not to damn her.

Yes Erica, I Agree

I’ve been remiss on keeping up with my blog. It kinda works like this… I’ve had a long string of weekend obligations. So when I get home I’m caught up in chores and work obligations related to the TDAA.

This past weekend I was in Tennessee leading a TDAA judges clinic. This is ostensibly a 7-1/2 hour drive each way. The return trip was pretty awful. There was a huge rain system… and I was driving along with it; so I couldn’t get out from under it at all. You’ll remember that last year I totaled my Suburban and nearly killed myself. Thus today I’m a more cautious driver in funky weather. I had a recurrent image of hydroplaning so I slowed down about 15 MPH below what I might be driving on a dry road.

Apparently not everyone was driving cautiously. Early in the afternoon I got caught up in a huge highway backup in which I traveled about three miles in three hours. There was apparently a multi-car pipe-up somewhere ahead.

Later in the day I ran into another stopped traffic scene; again, a multi-car accident some miles ahead of me. This time I find myself near a “No U-Turn” crossing. I promptly took the U-turn, drove back about six miles and went off the Interstate and found a country road. After about 30 miles of my Garmin insisting that I take a U-turn to go back to join the stopped traffic, it finally plotted a course forward. I got home at 1:30 in the morning.

In the spirit of Live to Run Again, I spent the trip listening to the first two books of the Hunger Games trilogy. The second book finished neatly as I arrived home.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. 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.

Real Dogs Don’t Wear Tags!

March 24, 2012

After a seminar day at QCDTC I stayed over for the weekend AKC trial hosted by the Greater Cincinnati Poodle Club. The morning started with a very fun romp of a jumpers course designed by AKC judge Karen Wlodarski. I got to run both Hazard and Kory on this. Hazard ran clean tho not terribly fast. Kory is a different matter altogether in terms of both speed and challenge. I must say that the course went exactly as planned; we escaped all the subtle options (I’ll describe below). He gave me a stunning run, according to plan.

The judge NQ’d us anyhow, because I failed to take his tags off before the run. The judge was very nice about it and didn’t blow the whistle until after our run. I was nonetheless very pleased with Kory and don’t care that much about the Q anyhow, as it turns out. Just to make myself feel better about it I phoned home and blamed Marsha for not reminding me as I walked out the door, as she usually does.

Those of you who run more than one dog are familiar with the idea that you can take very different views of course strategies based on the individual needs and quirks off your dogs. In my whole agility career I’ve never run two dogs who were so dramatically different than Hazard, who I drag laboriously through the course, and Kory who I push great distance with little effort, and a lot of conversational handling.

The first half of the course is dog-on-left which might seem unimaginative. It is, in fact, a speed building rip that has a couple subtle wrong-course options for the unwary. While these options weren’t so compelling for the smaller dogs a number of the big dogs demonstrated the possibilities. After jump #3 is the triple in a nice straight line. And after jump #4 is the gratuitous and flatly presented dummy jump.

The technical part of the program begins on the dismount of the weave poles with, again, a couple wrong-course options when entering the pinwheel.

As it turns out the real challenge in this course was the awkward approach to the #18 jump. A simple analysis of the dog’s path in this course will show a line that slices by the #18 jump for a refusal. We saw that plenty today, even with the small dogs. What I did with Kory at this point was turn him to the right as though we were going back to the weave poles, then flip him left as the approach to the jump opened up. Funny thing, I had also agonized about the final wrong course  option, presented by jump #1.

The Standard Course

I Q’d both Hazard and Kory in the standard course, so, not a bad day. With any luck my pups will have the same edge tomorrow!


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Cinci Poodle Club Day 1

December 10, 2011

I had a fun and interesting day at the Poodle Club AKC trial in Cincinnati.

I have this great relationship with the Cincinnati club. I lead a seminar on Friday in exchange for entries and expenses for the weekend (travel, accommodations and entries). So they get this inexpensive and hard hitting warm-up for the weekend… and I get to show my boy on a great surface in a top notch facility. Not a bad trade at all. Tho next time I think I’m going to upgrade my hotel. The Motel 6 is rather more Spartan that a Red Roof… if that’s saying anything.

In the analyses that follow I want to remind you that I’m cultivating the Old Man’s Handling System. Fundamentally that means the I look for the control positions on course and then use my dog’s terrific distance working skills to allow me  to work from control position to control position while he works away on the more mundane and obvious sequences.

This is a unique system in our culture. And since no-one else has taken the effort to document the beast, I will endeavor to do so with my own exploits.


I was slow to rouse in my hotel room even with a timely wake-up call this morning so I missed the walk-thru for T2B. But don’t you know T2B is about as complicated as a Novice course so I scammed it on the course map and it all went just hunky dory.

Watching most of the class before I went into the ring  the problematic part of the course was on the dismount of the weave poles as many dogs had such focus on the pipe tunnel ahead that the turn to jump #13 was a rocky moment in the course.

I took a nice long parallel path lead-out before releasing my boy and then sent him down through jumps #5 and #6, calling him back up through jump #5 to the teeter at #8. My control position was near the dismount of the teeter. I gave him a “Left” at jump #10 and layered to the opposite side of jumps #9 and 10 as he did the weave poles away. My answer to the problem bit in the course was to have the distance to easily sell the turn to jump #13 and then flip him away to the pipe tunnel.

This was a fun start to the day as Kory had a nice clean run and the fastest time of all dogs. It was THE Time to Beat. He’s been in T2B four times now and has 40 points going forward.


Straight away I need to identify my control positions on this course. This was easy for me to figure. Note the hard dismounts from both the teeter and the dogwalk. Kory is a leggy enough dog that he can have a 2o2o on a contact… and not actually have his back feet in yellow paint. So my control positions had to be at the tippy end of both obstacles so I could keep his body straight. I suppose I should teach a straight dismount; but it’s counter-intuitive that he should face straight away when I’m behind him. The answer is to not be behind him.

So I started with him up around jump #3 and send him down to do the 180 turn. This allowed me to do a nice front cross and draw him through the double at #3 and had me right there with him on the dismount of the teeter. So I pulled him around right and sent him down through #6 and on to #8 while I layered to the opposite side of the table.

Yeah it was an impressive bit of distance work. Get over it. That’s Kory through and through. He doesn’t need me in any proximity at all… he’ll just keep working.

I worried a little over the dummy jump beyond jump #8. But you know, I told him “Left! Lie down! Walk up!” (yes, I really did say all that) and it wasn’t anything but the dogwalk for him.

Before I go on I should say that Kory won the class as was fastest time in the building… I mention it here because it was the neat turn from the dogwalk to the table that made the difference in his time and just about every other fast dog time. With most every other handler racing their dogs the length of the dogwalk, no other dog but Kory had the perfect 90° turn off the dogwalk to the table. And that was the consequence of my control position.

From the table it was simple to turn him left at jump #11, through the tire, on to the tunnel and into the weaves, the turn to the collapsed chute, the turn away into the pipe tunnel at #16. Now we arrive at the place in the course that NQ’d most everyone who NQ’d on this course… and that is the turn from #17 to #18. You’ll have to recognize that the dog has a very foreshortened turning radius between these two jumps and with the compelling collapsed tunnel in the transitional turn more than a few dogs got the refusal at jump #18. So savvy handlers would step up to the corner of jump #8 to show a squaring Front Cross… but this left them hopelessly OOP to manage the approach to the tunnel under the A-frame discrimination.

For me it was a magic moment. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching Kory the name of the obstacles in the discrimination; and he has about a 90% success rate with the discrimination by name only. 90% was good enough for us today. I didn’t have any kind of control on the downside of the A-frame. But Mr. Etzel determined that it was good to go… so I released him on to the final jump while I was considerably behind.


By the time the dust settled on the standard class I was feeling pretty invincible. Can you say “Cocky”?

What I was most worried about on this course was selling the turn from jump #9 to #10 without losing my boy into the pipe tunnel. I was prepared to show a pre-cued Flip that would absolutely thrill the natives. But I lost Kory to the wrong-course single-bar jump along side the triple in the turn from jump #6 to #7. I had the good grace (I’m thinking) to depart the course with my failed plan.

So, I won’t bother to share the rest of my handling plan.

Pride goeth before the fall, don’t you know.

The Joker’s Notebook Issue #0

Issue #0 is the training manual for distance work intended as the foundation for the continuing series. The Jokers Notebook is the natural progression and evolutions of Bud Houston’s distance training originally published as Go the Distance.

These lesson plans and exercises are suitable for classroom instruction or back yard training by the intrepid enthusiast of dog agility.

Jokers Notebook #0 is an electronic book for download only: Our Price: $10.00.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

The Architect and the Manager

August 31, 2011

I’m sometimes disheartened by the trick and trap nature of course design in agility, and by the notion that ugly equals challenge. It is small wonder that growing majority of agility competitors in the U.S. are fleeing to CPE where they give out qualifying scores like popcorn.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not daunted by ham-handed flow-breaking challenges. I’m ultimately an architect of my dog’s performance and I know and use the theoretical and practical skills to solve nearly any sequencing challenge. That doesn’t mean I always do. I’m an old man with a fast dog and arthritic knees. A single misstep or an error in timing makes the entire engagement for naught in the all-or-nothing criteria of the International rules course.

At the end of the day, I’m never really hard on myself for getting it wrong. We’ll live to play again tomorrow.

The Europeans seem to be better conceptual agility course designers than Americans. I don’t sense the mean streak. They tend to provide better flow that gets the dog working at full speed, punctuated by the occasional handling challenge that will raise an eyebrow, if not the hair on the back of your neck.

In the U.S. on any given weekend you can see handlers fail with their dogs on some ridiculous challenge that looks like it was designed by someone who has never run an agility dog. I feel like saying to the judge the same thing I occasionally reply to those email scam artists who send out mass emails phishing to steal your money… “I bet your mother is proud of you!”

We’re beguiled and misled by the appearance of the athletic kid with long legs who runs in and forcefully hammers that square peg into the round hole; or by the master handler who eats sleeps and drinks dog agility every waking hour of every day. So he/she qualified. Does that mean everyone else is somehow insufficient and wanting? We can overlook the idea that the lady with creaky knees and the fast dog never ever ever was going to solve that riddle; and neither were 80% of the field. That much is preordained. The riddle was designed for that kid with the long legs or that master handler and even they had to be a bit on the lucky side to solve it.

Monday Morning Letters

The consumer is the ultimate arbiter of the evolution of the sport. That’s theoretical, I know. I’m a huge advocate of the Monday Morning Letter! Rather than fleeing to a low-end agility venue consider writing a letter to the head of your favorite agility organization sharing your experiences on the weekend. Heck, they don’t have much to do on Monday’s anyhow. You’ll be enriching their lives, in a way. If a rep has been inappropriate and rude to you, or if the course design was absolutely OMG silly, it is a good idea to share your observations. Often enough they would not know if you don’t take the time to tell them. And if they hear it enough they might start to believe that they lose even more customers if they don’t get it fixed.;

Be a squeaky wheel. Who knows maybe you can be a catalyst for change.

Too Broad a Brush

We remember those judges who are trick and trap artists and those who are rude and mean-spirited. In the long run, they’ll judge less because they’ll get fewer invites.

There are a lot dog agility judges out there who design marvelous courses that are thoughtful flowing challenges, appropriate by level, and just plain fun to run. I apologize to any and all of them who might feel I’ve splattered them with my critical paint job.

The Architect and the Manager

I’ll be unapologetic about the diatribe I offered above as I present to you below how to solve a butt-ugly approach to the weave poles. My mantra has ever been… “we train for ugly.” You have to admit, there’s plenty of ugly in the world.

In the perfect world we will train our dogs to understand his entry to the weave poles and how to collect himself when given an ugly perpendicular approach. In the sequence I’ve shown here we’ll get a good test of the notion and typically will discover that it’s a fairly low percentage that live in the perfect world.

You must recognize that the dog’s trajectory of movement over jump #3 in no way resembles an orderly approach to the weave poles. Often enough the handler will turn the dog towards the weave poles and then assume the more passive rol of horrified spectator to the dog’s performance. The perpendicular approach is a tricky bit.

An important rule of handling for the weave poles: If the dog requires a managed approach ~ then manage.

To solve the “managed” approach to the weave poles the handler must understand the dog’s path. Let’s figure it out together:

A good starting point for the analysis is the bits of the dog’s path that are known/given. The line through jump #3 (green line) is the trajectory of the dog’s initial approach. The line into the weave poles (red line) is the optimal line for the managed approach.

That means the handler is obligated to create a transitional line to connect the two widely disparate paths. It fits like a puzzle piece.

Seeing the shape of the dog’s path is critical. If you don’t see the dog’s path, how can you expect to conduct him upon it? Also, seeing the dog’s path will recommend the handling solution.

One possible solution is two Front Crosses (actually, it’s an RFP with a healthy transitional movement between the two elements of the movement.)

Finishing the Weave Poles

I shouldn’t leave this tutorial without noting the abrupt right-turning dismount to jump #5. In an ideal world the dog will be trained to finish the weave poles without regard to the handler’s antics. However we should not be surprised by a dog that stops working on the weave poles when the handler stops working on the weave poles.

An important rule of handling for the weave poles: If the dog requires management of the weave poles through completion ~ then manage! Support the dog until the job is done.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running.

Alphabet Drills

August 11, 2011

For awhile I’m going to work through the Alphabet Drills designed by Nancy Gyes. Being an orderly person, I’ll just start at “A” and work my way through. While this practice furthers my own training goals with my boy Kory, I tend to inflict what I’m working with on my own students in equal measure.

We used the Tin Cup training format. In this format we approach each sequence like a game of golf. I documented the rules for that format here:

We wound up running 8 sequences. I know that 9 would have been more poetic. But we just ran out of time. I mostly went through this feeling invincible making one hole-in-one after another… and then I got to exercise #16:

Note that I added the two double-bar hurdles to the exercise. Nancy’s original uses all single-bar jumps. I include them because we’ve seen so many badly presented spread hurdles in AKC play lately that I want to make sure to include them in our practice.

Anyhow, I picked up two strokes on this sequence; having otherwise played a perfect game in the other 7 holes.

The letter “A” Alphabet Drill originally appeared in The Clean Run Magazine in February of 2005. Monica is sending me a copy of the compilation workbook (it’s in the mail) which includes a CD with all of the drills in .agl format. You really should get your copy to follow along with me as I work through these drills.

I know I have a thousand of my own exercises. You should know that I make it a point to run courses that I didn’t design, and practice exercises that I did not conceive. It’s a funny psychological thing; I tend to design to my own strengths and my own warped perspective of the world. It’s very important for me to experience the warpage of other agility designers; because that’s what you get in the real world.

The Alphabet Drills are the copyright of Nancy Gyes.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. Be sure to check out my distance training series: The Jokers Notebook; an (inexpensive) elaboration and improvement on the work I did in Go the Distance.