Archive for the ‘CPE’ Category

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.


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Jackpot ~ from the CPE Nationals

May 27, 2010

The CPE held their national tournament this past weekend in Kissimmee, Florida. In league play this week we’ll be playing the Jackpot course from the weekend that garnered about a 3-1/2% qualifying rate. Oh yes, this one’s a booger. I’ll write my analysis (below) before we actually run the game.

The course fits neatly into my building. While it is unusual for a  “national”  tournament to be held in such a small space (unless it’s the TDAA) I think that  someone at CPE recognizes that clever course design can make even a small space suitable to big fast dogs running with ample room between obstacles for collection.

A Note about CPE

Canine Performance Events is the fastest growing agility venue in this country. It is a venue that appeals to the recreational player who does agility with the family pet. While other major agility venues shunt away the recreational player into a “P” class CPE embraces this player as their key and primary customer.

Agility is kind of like baseball. Most baseball players in this country are recreational players involved in local non-pro leagues or simple pick-up games in a corner lot. The “Pros” are a rarified and small percentage of the game. So while the rest of the agility venues are catering to the small market of top players, CPE is cannily focused on the vast majority.


A variety of rules might be applied to the Jackpot game in the CPE. This one was run like “traditional” gamblers in which there is a point accumulation period and a certain amount of time for the performance of a gamble or joker at the end.

I have the rules to the game second-hand and anecdotally; that is, somebody who attended the tournament told me how it was played. I make no warranties as to the accuracy of this rule set. Also I should note that the course is being reprinted without permission of its author, CPE judge Terry Scofield. So, my abject apologies are extended to Terry for this presumption. I think after this game design they’ll be calling him “The Scofield Kid” like that character in Clint Eastwood’s movie… Unforgiven.


Here are the facts as I understand them…

  • In the opening period little dogs will have 35 seconds and big dog s 30 seconds;
  • In order to qualify 32 points must be earned in point accumulation (for level 5… whatever that means);
  • For the joker little dogs will have 20 seconds and big dogs 18 seconds (time is clearly not the issue);
  • The joker is worth the accumulated value of the obstacle numbers assigned to each. I must mean its worth 20. While it is numbered like an old-style NADAC gamble there is no real significance… because the dog is do the entire gamble to earn the points. So, they might as well have numbered it 1-4 and called it worth 20 pts. Eh?
  • As in traditional gamblers there is a prohibition against doing two gamble obstacles one after the other during point accumulation.

An Analysis of the Gamble

This is a difficult gamble on several levels. After the very first jump the dog is faced with a triple discrimination and must get out to the farthest of the three options. One would think that the dog’s natural flow lends itself more to the pipe tunnel that the two nearer options. And yet we have to figure that most handlers will be behind (since that’s where the containment line is) and putting on the brakes, which will draw most dogs back in to the handler.

The pipe tunnel itself is problematic. While it is fairly aimed at the weave poles, any good movement the handler gives while the dog is engaged in the performance of the tunnel is surely lost because the dog doesn’t actually see it. Many dogs make turning and trajectory decisions while they are in the tunnel so the handler has a scant moment of opportunity to redirect on the dogs exit. And as simple as it seems (tunnel to weave poles) it requires both a handler will canny timing and a dog with resolute work ethic and a good training foundation.

And just to add a cruel twist, the finish turns out to be the toughest element of the gamble. The dog is faced with yet another discrimination challenge with two jumps side-by-side and most dogs as inclined as not to want to take the jump nearer to the handler. This is an opportunity for a well-timed and well conditioned “get out” directive to the dog (since we can’t rely on the dog “discriminating” between the names of two distinct obstacles). Note that the placement of the teeter  in that bit of real estate alongside the containment line hogs up an important bit of real estate in which the handler might have taken a couple of pressuring steps against the dog’s path to sell the jump farther away.

The set of obstacles for point accumulation course has a fairly predictable flow. But that’s no real indicator as there is nothing quite so unpredictable as the idea of strategy in the mind of a handler. I take it from high scoring dog’s handler in this game (Mark with Ebby the Corgi) that his strategy was flow; while a lot of his competition approached the set of obstacles with herk & jerk choppy flow and handling.

I don’t much like the idea of dictating the starting jump as such a device will limit the number of possible strategies. But it makes sense in a national venue in which smooth ring administration is highly desirable. Also they were using electronic timers and so allowed the tail to wag this particular dog.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What was the model number of “nickname” of the original Smith & Wesson cowboy pistol with a hinged frame that opened to reveal the end of the cylinder and an automatic ejection system for faster reloading of cartridges?

First correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the June Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special04” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.