Archive for the ‘DABAD’ Category

Just For Fun Agility

March 2, 2016

I’m tempted by the mission of the Dog Agility Blogger’s Action Day topic:

Three little letters that I’m afraid some
people involved in  our sport may have lost
track of. There is so much focus on
foundation, cues, systems,training, etc. So
much pressure to do *everything* exactly

Let’s not just give lip service to the idea of having fun in agility. I’m doing something about it right now.

We have created the National Dog Agility League. It’s not a titling organization; and it’s not some big money making scheme. The NDAL is a coalition of clubs around the continent (and hopefully one day, around the world) who put up the same course, and run their dogs under the same rules, and then roll up all of the results as it were a single competition.

Central to the League is the Team Score. The Team Score is derived from the top five scores in the franchise club. So obviously a club that is running 50 dogs has some advantage over the club running only 10 dogs. Within each franchise everybody would dearly desire to earn one of those top five scores; but if you don’t, your score doesn’t hurt the team, and you can take pride in your franchise’s performance against all of the other clubs in the league.

The Rational Standard

The “rational standard” that plagues our sport that any fault is a death penalty fault.

The National Dog Agility League seeks to establish a standard for performance that allows the equitable comparison of performance in agility dogs. About the only way to earn a score of “E” in an NDAL course is for your dog to poop on the top of the A-frame [sorry if that sounded graphic… ].

In the NDAL a dog gets 5 faults for: a dropped bar; a wrong course; a missed down contact; a missed weave pole; a fly-off the teeter; on-and-off the table; and refusals (faulted on contacts only). A dog gets 20 faults for failure to perform.

And here’s the fun part: The scoring basis is Time, Plus Faults.

The Fun Stuff

We are treating all NDAL courses as open competitions. That means you can pick up a course that 100 dogs have run (maybe several years ago) and add your scores to that record. This year we will publish a suite of training courses, all of which have historic competition records.

What’s fun about this is that you might run a course in your club maybe once a year; and each year you can compare the scores of the same dogs and thereby measure progress in skill and development. Or, if you take it a step farther, you might have a young dog now and pick up a course that was run by an old family dog who is waiting for you over the bridge. So two generations of dogs, or more, can participate in the same competition.

Also be aware of the YouTube data. We collect with a dog’s score a “YouTube” link. This is a lot of fun because people in different parts of the country/world can look at how a dog and his person who might be thousands of miles away fared on that same course.

So when you compare a dog’s growth in skill over time, or compare different generations of dogs on the same course, it is just so fun to have a YouTube recording of each.

Allow me to share with you a posting of NDAL results. Follow it through to find the YouTube records: 60×90 Intermediate to Masters Games and Courses ~ 60×90 League Standings

Lifetime Performance Points

In the National Dog Agility League, individual scores (and team scores) are derived from earned LPP. We use a rational system of Time, Plus Faults on numbered courses for the purpose of providing granularity of performance. If a competition features 100 dogs and your dog comes in at 20th place… that performance might be a devastating travesty in the traditional agility organization; but under the NDAL system, your dog accrued 80 LPP from that performance. So the measurement isn’t about how poorly you did on the day, it is about how well you did.

Though the NDAL is not a titling organization, we are contemplating a system of certification that recognizes earned LPP for individual dogs.

Out Takes

The world of agility has really changed in the last 28 years. Well for sure, 28 years ago the sport was just getting a start in the United States and around the world. In those days there were no books, no videos, and no gurus of the sport. So you might say that we created the monster that agility has become.

I chuckled at the DABAD notion that there is “so much pressure to do everything exactly right.” The part that gets me is the prevailing definition of “exactly right”… and that is, you tie your dog to you like a Velcro-bunion and race around the ring scraping the dog off your side on a series of obstacles numbered by the judge.

And the rational standard has it that if you make any error your score goes zap nq nt and you can slink away to the parking lot in ignominious defeat. Oh! How fun is that?

Apparently it’s very fun as the money extraction factory goes ka-ching ka-ching every weekend across the land in this artificial measurement of skill and validation.

Clearly when you see me out in the world running my own dogs I’m a hot mess to be sure. And I am clearly playing a different game than most of the people out there. Oh don’t get me wrong, there was a time I made a living out of out-running little old ladies. But I’m an older man now with arthritic knees and I would very much like to approach the game in a more playful fashion with skills trained on my dogs that pretty much have little value under the “rational standard” that dominates our sport.

Nearly 20 years ago I started up Just for Fun Agility which is an early incarnation of the National Dog Agility League. What I liked about it … JFF wasn’t about money and completely without ambition. Foolish man! How could I so completely miss the obvious? Our sport is completely driven by profit and ambition.

We are adjusting the model to make the Franchise/Club the main recipient of “profit” while passing on the greatly reduced expense to clients & students & league players as an inexpensive approach to the game of agility. The gurus of the sport aren’t likely to be big fans of a form of the game that isn’t all about profit and ambition. But we don’t really need them, and we never did.

Jumping Into the League

Playing with the NDAL is a simple matter. We’re running three separate leagues based on the size of the working space. So, if you have a working space big enough you can participate in any or all of the three leagues.

Each of the leagues also has a flavor or level of difficulty for the courses played.

The series will run for three months (and began in January). The course maps for each are contained in the scorekeeping worksheets.

Dogs must be registered with the National Dog Agility League. For now, the franchise clubs keep the fee or pass it along as a perk to your league players. You can download the registration form HERE.

All courses in the first series will be conducted under Top Dog Agility Players rules for performance. The Top Dog Rules and Regulations can be downloaded HERE.


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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Confessions of an Aging Agility Die-hard

March 4, 2015

The Dog Agility Bloggers have a special topic this month, having to do with “health and happiness”. I don’t typically jump in with every topic that dabad throws out there; but this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart these days.

You can read all of the dabad blogger creative writing efforts on this topic HERE.

Do you remember the old Saturday Night Live sketch Middle-Aged Man? That sketch provides adequate context for the persona of the aging agility fan… an amazing repertoire of knowledge offset by waning physical prowess. It is a dilemma, to be sure.

I’m not heartened by people blathering bromide like “you are only as old as you feel!” No kidding Sherlock (paraphrasing, mine).

As I get older and slower I find that my game has changed considerably. Back in the day I was a runner, and taught to my students a game of movement. Movement is pure to the dog and is the essential language of our sport. But now, I find my game transformed. I’m committed to a system of “compensatory” training. That means that I’m obligated to teach my dog to compensate for my lack of ambulatory grace. The very basic change in my own health has transformed my game; and kind of invalidates


I find myself on a curious mission these days. I’m going to call that “relevance”. Not a long time ago while standing in line with my dog in agility competition, waiting for my turn to approach the line… I overheard a man sitting nearby explain to his wife that I am a “has been”. OMG… I thought. Do you mean to say I’ve “been”… but nobody told me? And now I’m not anymore? That is a bummer of a thought.

The second part of the Bloggers theme is happiness. Aye, there’s the elusive bit. Maybe we struggle our entire lives for contentment, actualization, acceptance or whatever it is that blows your skirt up. Happiness is something we’re always striving for… meaning that the soonest it’ll get here is tomorrow, or next year, or later in life.

I’ve decided that starting the National Dog Agility League will make me happy. Starting the League has nothing to do with making money. I’ve designed it so that it can’t be an engine of income. My motive is a matter of legacy. It’s like this last little bit I’ll do with a long career in this sport that perhaps will have me remembered as a character relevant to our sport… a contributor, and an innovator.

Surely it’s self-serving for a man to write material for his own obituary. I’m not really trying to die or anything like that. Lord knows I have a few more years in me. Though clearly I’ve started work on the bucket list. Thinking back to that Saturday Night Live sketch… after young man comes middle-aged man, and then comes old man… and finally, dead man. Better get busy living.

Not Apologizing

Every now and again I write a blog that is just me sharing the crazy things that bang around in my head. Tomorrow I promise to be dead-pan serious again.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Starting a New Pup

March 5, 2014

No, I’m not starting a new pup… I’m just writing about it. This is my contribution to the agility bloggers action day. Follow this link to read a rich variety of writing and viewpoint: Starting a New Pup.

In my own life I’ve gone through an amazing transformation as a handler and as an enthusiast of agility. For a couple decades I was a Sheltie guy with a keen pure-for-motion sense of the game. And so training a young pup was a simple matter of conditioning: performance; a love for playing; and responsiveness to handler motion cues.

Since I really can’t run the way I used to, the game has redefined itself for me. Necessity is the mother of invention. The foundation I want for a young pup is independent performance. Here’s a sample of me running my boy Kory: Facebook

I’ve written the step by step… it’s in the pages of the Joker’s Notebook. All of that on my web-store: Seriously, I’d put it right here, but it’s like 5 or 600 pages. Down below… I’ll treat you to a taste, one of the dozens of foundation exercises you might be doing with a young pup.

There’s a philosophical question that needs to be answered in terms of independent performance. Most handlers wait until their dogs have been thoroughly conditioned to work virtually in heel position. Though I’ll give you that we alternate sides in glorious ambidextrous fashion. These then, are dogs who only understand performance with the handler bound to the context of that performance. And then it’s a difficult trick to train beyond this flawed foundation.

What I’m faced with when bringing up a young dog is both to teach him his job; and to teach him to get that job done at a great distance from me. Consequently the game becomes pure-for-verbal rather than pure-for-motion.

Distance Training Foundation

One of the first rules of distance work is that the dog must learn an independent performance of all agility obstacles. While this might seem an obvious notion it tends to be an overlooked element of basic training. For example, a handler might be working to teach a dog a good two-on/two-off performance of a contact obstacle; but will practice the performance almost constantly while hovering over the dog’s head. The real problem with this is that the handler becomes embedded in the context of performance. Indeed, relatively early in the training the handler should introduce movement and varying relative distance from the dog so that the dog can demonstrate that he truly understands the performance without the handler hovering over his head.


Sadly the most overlooked obstacle for distance training is the jump. Many handlers (and dog trainers) content themselves with a brush-by performance; meaning that the dog performs the obstacle because the handler is running forward and pointing at it.

Early in jump training I do a simple progressive sending exercise with the jump. From a couple feet away I’ll give the command to jump whilst pointing at the jump and giving it focus. Naturally I praise and reward the dog for a successful performance. Then, gradually, say 4″ or 6″ at a time, I’ll move back, continuing to send, praise and reward.

The key to a progressive sending exercise is that is should progress. I don’t spend much time staying in one relative position. I continue to move backwards. But the steps I take are small rational incremental steps, because I’m not in a hurry to get it done and I don’t want to back up so quickly that the dog ever fails.


I do the progressive sending exercise with all obstacles, actually. The dog must learn independent performance all of the agility obstacles. I don’t really separate individual obstacles as though one needs to be mastered before moving to another.

The basic sending drill can begin to incorporate more than one obstacle. I might, for example, position myself equidistant between a bar-hurdle and the tire. Or, if the dog’s send to the tire is weaker my station might be slightly closer to the tire.

When doing send-away training I’m asking the dog to demonstrate to me that he understands the performance of the obstacle. So I want to avoid tricking him into space. That means I don’t use a lot of verbalization intended to get him out closer to the obstacle and only then give the verbal command for performance. I also avoid “pick-up truck” logic.

You know how the pick-up truck theory of distance training goes? The question is… how do you get distance work on a dog? So think of it like this… you’re going down the highway at 60 miles an hour in your pick-up truck. The dog is sitting outside up on the top of the cab of the truck. How do you get distance? You slam on the brakes… and there goes the dog whirling into space.

Well that trick might work with a pick-up truck. But it’s less likely to work with agility. What we find out in practice is that slamming on the brakes is as significant to the dog as mashing down on the accelerator. It will cause the dog to come up short, turning back to ask the question… Why have we stopped?

While it’s true that impulsion is required for the dog to go any distance through space, I want the sense of impulsion to come from that narrow space between the dog’s ears. Nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of the well-trained dog.

The Discipline of Distance Training

Websters Dictionary defines the word discipline to mean[1] “to train or to develop by instruction and exercise esp. in self control.”  We seek in dog agility distance training both instruction and exercise. But at the end of the day it’s about “self control”. We hope to teach powerful habit in the trainer’s approach to teaching the dog his job; and equally powerful habit in the handler’s approach to handling.

Train the dog to perform all agility obstacles

This seems obvious, that the dog has to know how to do all agility obstacles. This should be stated that the dog needs to understand the independent performance of all agility obstacles. Does the dog really know how to weave? Or does he only know how to weave when his person is moving coolly alongside, flapping her arms, and giving verbal cadence.

Give the dog permission to work at a difference

Velcro is a two-part fabric, and it takes both parts for a good stick. The dog’s trainer should begin quite early allowing the dog to work at a distance. Give your dog early permission to work at a distance.

I’m fairly convinced that a dog offering the performance of an obstacle without your permission… is never wrong. With my own students I often have to remind them not to tell the dog “No!” every time the dog offers the performance of an obstacle. To be sure the dog was most likely responding to what he believed to be your cue or presentation  for performance. And so, if the  dog is wrong every time he leaves your side, then he is likely to learn that he should stay right next to you were he can be safe and usually right.

Make distance work routine

Every training session with your dog should include some routine distance objective or exercise. This is easier than it sounds. Remember… you want to teach independent performance of all obstacles. You can have a fine training session sending your dog 15′ to do a jump; or 15′ to do the weave poles!

Mostly the serious student of the game should routinely include distance challenge in his work. If a sequence is terribly simple from a handling point-of-view it would be a benefit to the dog’s training to give him permission to work the sequence at a distance. This gives you the opportunity to practice your distance handling and to test the dog’s training for independent performance.

Do your homework

You shouldn’t expect to teach the dog too much given an hour a week at class. It would be a good idea to have daily exercises that can be practiced in the backyard, or in the basement. Ideally you should have a checklist of objectives for training a dog.

The weekly lesson plan will always include homework. The homework may be thought provoking discussion for the discipline of handling at a distance, or step-by-step instructions for training a dog for a distance skill. And it’s worth remembering that your instructor will always know who is doing their homework.

Test your training

The best test of your training foundation is probably weekend competition. In most communities in America there are agility competitions within driving distance nearly every weekend. And all most all of them play some brand of distance game.


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.

[1] Actually the first definition for “discipline” has to do with punishment. So we’re going to skip along to the second definition for the word!

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.

Internationalization pt 3 ~ Ketschker

March 7, 2013

Okay this movement is all the rage right now. It can be defined as a combination movement: Front Cross followed by a Blind Cross. I’ve been teaching it for about 15years. I originally called it the Mitchell Flip; because the first time I ever saw it was by a student of mine during an RFP[1] exercise. He did this thing that clearly was not an RFP. Though what he did worked in the exercise. Being one never to dismiss a thing that works, I began to study the movement, and then to teach it.

Mitchell went on to train with a smart aleck in the sport who forbade him from using this movement. And so I’ve pretty much trimmed the “Mitchell” from the description of the term and in my own writing now call it the Flip. With some irony I note that the “smart aleck” now, some 15 years later, has incorporate the Flip in her own handling repertoire because she has observed it winning in competition.

I looked back to find where the Flip might have first appeared in my own writing. On my web store, by the way, I have something like five years of unique weekly lesson plans; for three training levels and nested with a weekly league play game. These are documented in the pages of the JFF Agility Notebook; available at: Notebook. Anyhow, here’s a PDF sample page from the October 2000 Notebook: Sample.

About eight years or so ago I got a note from Pati Mah; after she read something I’d written on the Flip to tell me that she had been using the movement for a couple years. So, we really shouldn’t give everything over to the Europeans as the onliest innovators in agility. We’re just slow to adopt in this country.

In the same time period I got a note from somebody in Europe who told me this was a movement they were playing with in Europe, where they call it the Ketschker.

The set of equipment I typically use to teach the Ketschker comes from the opening sequence of a course once used at the AKC Nationals. Correct me if I’m wrong I think it was 1999 or 2000; and I’m pretty sure it was round 4.


 Do you remember this sequence? Animal Planet covered the event. They showed this bit with Elicia Calhoun and her dog Soni… earning a refusal at the #2 tire. They played that bit over and over again; and she made the same mistake every time. To be fair, she was approaching the riddle as a Vee-Set. Soni went into the fourth round leading the pack. Had Elicia pulled this off, she very likely would have won that year.

The handler starts the Front Cross as the dog commits up through the tire. The handler must pull the dog in the perpendicular transitional line and then commit to the Blind Cross before the dog can actually catch him. The amazing thing about teaching this… most people are successful the first time they every try it. And yet, a big number of them fail when using their default handling plan. Of some 350 masters dogs and their handlers, about 25% of the field failed on this opening.

Only two dogs got to see a Flip to solve this opening at the AKC Nationals that year. And both of them were successful. I even remember the names of the two dogs[2] after all these years.


This YouTube video demonstrates the Ketschker that is used simply to tighten the dog’s turning radius: [Chip, handled by Rosie Ison.]. Note that the handler might simply have drawn the dog on Post. But she gambled, effectively, on the notion that the Post is a softer cue and the dog’s turn might have been much wider than necessary.

Here’s a video complete with schmaltzy music that gives the movement a real workout

Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day

If I were pressed to define what it means I’m not too sure I could come to a definition agreeable to everyone. If you craft a good one, I’ll put it on the Glossary of Agility Terms.

I was going to do a full rant on Internationalization. Indeed, this is third is a series I’ve been working on in anticipation of the Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day Internationalization topic. The first two I wrote were: Part 1; and Part 2.

In a broad sense Internationalization is two-fold: Course challenges, and handling skills. If I sound like I object to the course challenge side of the coin; It is not the challenge itself that I object to. It is the course designer’s bloody-minded approach to placement. Many movements require control position by the handler. That means the handler needs to be right there with his dog to get it done. So imagine that the course designer puts a control position challenge in the upper-right corner of the course map; followed by a diagonal speed building run to the lower-left corner of the ring. Now we’ve created a scenario in which only fast long-legged kids can race from corner to corner keeping pace with their Border Collies. Us old folks are left pitifully out of position just wishing we were there.

Challenge Course

Here’s a very short and interesting course that several clubs are running (under the aegis of Top Dog Agility Players) over the next couple weeks. We’d be delighted if you would join us. Please note… all scores will be aggregated as a single competition. If you want to play drop me a line at I’ll send you a score-sheet and give you a heads-up to rules for performance and faults.


A More Fulsome Grind

This is not a Top Dog course (but could be!) I included this just to make it a more full-length course.


Course Design College ~ Understanding the Dog’s Path

I’ve been reviewing a lot of courses the past few days. I would very much like to address the course designer’s responsibility for engineering a square and safe approach to contact obstacles.


This is the kind of thing I’ve been seeing (and way too much of it). Taking the picture at face value you must be thinking “What’s the big deal?” The dog’s path looks perfectly straight and safe for the approach to the dogwalk.

Here’s the problem… the line was drawn by the Clean Run Course Designer. And what you must know is that CRCD is an idiot robot. Note that the corner of approach is out modestly on the left of the jump labeled #2. In truth, there is no corner of approach at all to the jump… you should draw a straight line out of the pipe tunnel through the jump to truly understand the dog’s path.


This is the dog’s path, more truly rendered. Most dogs will actually manage the up-ramp of the dogwalk just fine. But a dog working at any real speed will get on the ramp out of square and will dump off the ramp, losing footing, about half-way up.

This was not the dog’s fault nor truly the handler’s fault. It was the fault of the course designer.

Most challenges on course are essentially the course designer’s riddle. What is never an appropriate riddle to the competitor is… do you know how to do this without hurting your dog?


  The problem of approach is really easy enough to fix. The course designer might move the jump more to the south (down); or could rotate the dogwalk in anticipation of the dog’s turning radius.


All the foregoing being said, this is a perfectly acceptable on-course challenge. The placement of the pipe tunnel will surely protect the dog from too perpendicular an approach from the left side. And now the riddle is a valid one… do you know how to do this without earning the wrong course fault?

And you must know that the dog’s true path favors the wrong course.


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.

[1] The RFP, don’t you know, can be defined as a combination movement: Front Cross followed by a second Front Cross.

[2] Bogie and Birdie


February 20, 2013

This is first in a series. The up and coming topic for the Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day (DABAD) is Internationalization. This reminds me of a science fiction novel I read about 30 years ago, or so… What Entropy Means to Me, by George Alec Effinger, which had all to do with failing gravity.

In dog agility, as a vague notion Internationalization means whatever it is that the Europeans are doing. This might mean either course challenges or handling methods. Too often I think that we look at the Europeans through a narrow window mostly opened for about a week once a year when we field a “Word Cup” team.

In a more dramatic sense Internationalization is a complete myth and an excuse to engage in amazingly bloody-minded course design.

Let me share with you this:


 Judge from the UK… competition in Budapest. Note that the challenges are subtle, and the flow encourages the dog to work in speed building intervals. The most acute turn in the entire course is probably from jump #16 to #17.

I’m not going out on that particular limb to say that this is a “representative” course. But in general the difference I find in American design and European is that the American course designer tends to unleash every fad demon that haunts him; and does so without the merit of experience or empathy for the demands on the handler.

This is the first in a series. Come back tomorrow for more.



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.

Backyard Zen ~ enlightenment through meditation and insight

December 6, 2012

The purest expression I can make as a dog trainer is in those private moments with my dog in the back yard. I come to the task presumably equipped with some objective. And I am prepared to take small thoughtful steps to accomplish that desired goal. My mind is uncluttered, and unfettered.

I begin with a vision of the immediate objective that is well focused and granular. That one tangible goal however is a small bit that is completely influenced by and tied to my philosophy of dog training.

Let me try to give a bit of definition to the idea of a training philosophy, specifically as that philosophy is applied to dog agility:

  • Teach your dog in the context of play; it’s all an extension of the game.
  • Allow your dog to think; allow your dog to offer; allow your dog to solve the puzzle.
  • Be happy when your dog is right. Be neutral when he is wrong.
  • Be patient and undemanding. You have the advantage of knowing exactly how long it takes for a dog to learn a thing.
  • Foundation is never a completed task.

Down to Earth

That sounded a bit lofty I suppose. But it was short; and that’s what I was going for. None of this is really very complicated. Funny, I’m gearing up for foundation training with four dogs through the upcoming winter. We have three rescues pup in our house: an 8 week-old (Katness), a one-year old (Phoenix), and a two-year old (Haymitch). I also have my boy Kory who is nearly four now. I have training plans for all of them for the upcoming winter.

For the baby pup we’ll be doing the Two Minute Dog Trainer thing. That’s the name of Marsha’s blog, don’t you know (

My attention is going more to Phoenix and Haymitch. Both of them are on a program for wicked good distance skills. My guiding objective is to make them both perfect dogs for an old man. That means I have absolutely no intention of wearing a dog on my hip when we do agility. The dog has to be out there working. My job is to give direction… not to micromanage.

I could go through a list of everything we’re going to do from a training POV. But you know, I’ve already put most of it in writing. It’s all in the Joker’s Notebook, issue #0.

With Kory I’m doing new stuff. Right now I’m teaching him to do a Switch. I should define: The command “Switch” means that I want him to circle my body tightly in a counter-clockwise direction.

I know this seems like a curious objective. You’re just going to have to trust me. I expect in ten years everybody with a fast (and trainable) dog will have both the Switch and the ComeBy in their basic foundation training. The upshot of the skill is that on course I can create corners and set lines without handling. Ooh, what a concept.

I’ll draw a picture to tantalize you:

BLOG886_01The green figures showing the handler sending the dog out to do the pinwheel (you’ve taught that to your dog, right?) The red figures shows the handler turning around to assume a post position, actually facing the pipe tunnel, and calling the dog to Switch as he comes over jump #4. You’ll note that the dog’s path coming over jump #4 favors the wrong course side of the pipe tunnel.

Due Diligence

This is Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day! And today’s topic is Backyard Training. You will find a index to a fine family of posts on the topic here:


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.

When One Teaches, Two Learn

September 18, 2012

I had a good time reading the Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day posts on the question: What Makes a Good (agility) Coash/Instructor? You can find the various posts here: Reading over some of them I realized that it could have been a brilliant opportunity for self-promotion. Lolz… I’ve never been very good at that.

You’ll find my post in there in which I gave homage to Pati Mah for unselfishly giving her time to give me a bit of coaching. This past weekend, after about a week of implementing her advice, I got a chance to test Kory’s progress in competition.

Well, it wasn’t a terribly successful weekend in terms of raw Qs (1 of 4). Of the six contact obstacles Kory got to visit, he gave me a perfect 2o2o on four. Of the two he did not assume/or hold position… both of those moments cost us the Q on courses we otherwise owned. So I measure my success as fairly glorious on the weekend. It is a validation of what Pati told me. Imagine how we’ll be doing with a couple months of the protocol under our belts.

I haven’t shared yet what she told me? If not, I’ll revisit in a few days.

Notes on AKC judge Greg Beck

There was a lot of grumbling about Greg’s courses at this trial. Personally I loved his courses and found considerable genius in his presentation of options. Just to define terms, and “option” is a course that makes more sense to the dog than the one the course actually numbered. Greg’s courses would be routine to USDAA players, but quite challenging in venues like CPE and the AKC. But every course flowed beautifully and everything was doable.

I’d love to see Greg judging for the USDAA and TDAA. He has a sense of humor even in the presence of tremendous carnage. You gotta like that.

Greg is way quick on the trigger on refusal calls. He has no preoccupation with anything like the “rule of thirds”; so if a dog spins, it will be a refusal, with no objectivity about “beginning the approach”. I’m not going to argue. I reckon that must be a definition of performance specific to the AKC.

Back Yard… More for Kory

This is what I’m setting up this week for Kory. I suppose I should have a teeter out there too. Maybe next week.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

I spent an afternoon giving a good scrubbing to several of pairs of shoes. I try to rank my shoes by usage. If I’m working waste-deep in muck I use a pair on one end of the rank; If I’m out leading a seminar I wear my newest & shiniest.

Occasionally giving your shoes a soak and scrub will make them all look fresher and extend their practical lives. I’m not an Amelda Marcos-class shoe hound or anything like that. If I have to pay more than about $80 on a pair I start to get sticker-shock.

I’ve discovered, by the way, that the local John Deere dealer keeps a display of New Balance shoes and regularly will feature their discontinuing lines which can be had in the range $28 to $38. That’s much more to my liking.


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.


September 5, 2012

This past weekend, as I worked my way through a judging assignment, I had the opportunity to sit down with Pati Mah at ring side and have a chat with her about a problem my boy Kory has been having. Specifically he gets his 2o2o perfectly at home while in our own training field, but in competition he is hurried and unreliable.

She asked a couple questions, and then gave me five minutes of coaching. And I’ll tell you, she set me on a forever training path. Of course I’ll implement what she told me immediately. The forever part is important; what she told me fundamentally changed my understanding of the training relationship I have with my boy in regards to his contact training. I’ll share it with you over time.

But this blog is about coach, right? What makes a great agility coach?

I’ve known for many years that Pati is a phenomenal dog trainer and can put it all together, with objective shaping methodology (rather than the other way around.) The thing that really struck me about Pati this weekend is the unselfishness of her presence. She is accessible and friendly and frank. She gets it.

Right now my concept of the great agility coach is exactly the picture of Pati Mah; both for her clear genius and her unselfish sharing. She is a rare treasure among us.

The Agility Instructor – Summary Paragraph (Rerun)

Care about your students. Learn their names. You don’t know everything; don’t even pretend. Learn some good jokes. Pay attention to their progress. Socialize with their dogs; and give them treats out of your own hand. If you must set them back to repeat a class, allow it to be their idea and praise them for being prudent and clever dog trainers. Give everyone equal value. Allow everyone equal time on the floor. Don’t bullshit them. They come to you for instruction, so be honest. Don’t forget to get them signed up for the next session of classes early; they won’t take it as nagging or selling, but will feel that you honestly care about them. Leave your prejudices about certain breeds of dogs at home. Smile occasionally and laugh often. Always apologize for being stupid. Don’t try to fix everything at once; it’s okay to take the long view. Try to be clever about finding just the right thing to fix or help with. Remind your students from time to time that agility is just a game. Remind yourself from time to time that agility is just a game. Prepare for every class that you teach. Feel free to state objectives and offer handling advice and remedy; but remember ultimately that they come to get out on the floor working their dogs not to hear you lecture. Be humble about your own accomplishments; but ask your students for their brags every week. Be mindful that you know your students in a narrow context – they may contend with drama and tragedy in their own lives of which you are unaware. Always inquire about dogs and family members who have been ill or injured. Be a student of the game. Don’t express extreme political views to your students. Remember that they come to class to chat and socialize not to hear you lecture; so when you must address the class to take a teaching moment, interrupt politely, be brief, and let them get back to chatting and socializing. Be consistent in your training advice. Remember that teaching is a game of repetition. An adult must hear a thing 28 times before it finally sinks in. You have no choice but to be patient; tearing out your hair only loses you your hair. Never chastise a student angrily. You can make fun of a student in a jovial way, but only if you really did have fun with it and only if you are prepared to help your student with your training genius. Teach with games whenever possible. Follow current trends in the sport; collect course maps and study video. Don’t be afraid to cheer for your students and encourage them to cheer for each other. Introduce new students to your classes. Celebrate graduations. Give your students homework. Honor the accomplishments of your students’ dogs. Hang their ribbons in your training center. Give homework. Check to see who’s been doing their homework. Remember that new students often don’t know simple things or fundamental things. Feel free to teach when you are instructing. Remember that nobody absolutely nobody wants to use up class time listening to you brag about your past accomplishments. Be a mentor. Teach from a philosophical perspective. Use positive reward-based training methods. Teach your students to be clever dog trainers. Remember that they don’t learn much when being spoon fed. Problem solving is good. Welcome back students who have been away for awhile. Always start an exercise with the entertainment round in which your students can solve with their own handling choices; otherwise you won’t be so clear on what you need to teach. Don’t be catty in your conversation about people who are not present; it’s a small small world, and it’s not very attractive to the listener[1]. You are responsible for your students’ dogs’ safety. Don’t allow any dog to be terrorized or attacked by another dog. Get rid of aggressive dogs from your program immediately. Always check the safety and repair of your equipment. Provide a clean and pleasant and safe training environment for your students. Remember that everyone wants and deserves basic respect. Always address or speak of other instructors in front of your students with fundamental respect. Keep in mind that some of your students are actually smarter than you and have more education. It might be possible that some of your students are a lot smarter than you and actually have less education. It doesn’t pay to be pompous. Be skillful with students who interrupt, or disrupt, or undermine. Get rid of aggressive handlers from your program immediately. Your other students deserve a safe place to play. It just doesn’t mean any more than it is. Have special events and socials with your students. Encourage a sense of community. When your students arrive for class be sure to say hi to their dogs too. Use your students as the good example when they are. Have a long range vision for your students. Track progress if you can. Keep in perspective that agility is a game we play with our dogs on the weekend in a park.


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.

[1] Somebody tell Gail Storm, AKC Agility Rep!


June 6, 2012

I retired this evening from teaching agility classes. I’m not completely retired of course, because I have a lot of duties and interests outside of the weekly class. I sat down with my students this evening and told them that I will longer be instructing the weekly classes.

By the way if you’re one of my students and weren’t here tonight to hear the fine speech… get in touch.

Teaching agility classes has been an avocation to me, a profession. So, what’s my attitude tonight? Okay, I’ve never abandoned a student, not one, in over 20 years of teaching public classes. I’ve watched every metamorphosis from puppy to retired champion. I’ve witnessed multiple generations of dogs in the sport. And here I am walking away from my current/former students, all of them unfinished projects.

I feel relief; wistful regret. Nothing really earth shattering. It’s just another passage.

My Attitude About Dog Agility

I apologize for not writing a slick, erudite and pithy essay to describe “what attitude means to me”. Today has been a work day and leaves me with only a bit of time to wedge into my office chair to write my rambling blog.

Agility is just a game. We’ve propped it up with really artificial stuff like qualifying scores and titles and plenty of pretty ribbons to hang where we will. But it’s just a game, with a dog, in the park, on the weekend.

As an enthusiast, the only thing I have any interest in, is having a bit of fun with this game. This past weekend I had more fun playing with Kory than you can imagine! My boy is just coming into his own. Every time in the ring is a really fun puzzle. Mind you I was about one third natural-born-killer and about two thirds road-kill on the weekend. And, I was having fun even though I was on the verge of being crippled with an arthritis inflamed knee, and aching feet because it was a “new tennis shoes” weekend.

It’s hard to make a case for being passionate about not giving a damn (it’s only a game) without it sounding slightly discordant. That being said, I’m a student of the game, and a coach in the game. But on a very personal level, it’s just a game I play with my dogs.

I’ll see you out there. And I’ll have a hoot of a time watching you run your dog.

New Pup

Hey tomorrow I am going to pick up my new BC pup. This is another cast off rescue dog. So the household will now officially be: 2 pure-bred AKC registered dogs; and 4 rescued pups.

How do you like the name Django?

Anyhow, we’ve decided it’s a complete crap shoot whether you get a pure bred dog or something from Petfinders. Getting a dog from a breeder is no guarantee of the dog’s working attitude (hey, there’s that word); his overall health, or his mental fitness. So I’m good with the idea of a “rescue” dog.


Synonyms: view, opinion, feeling, mental outlook, approach, belief, bent, bias, pretended behavior.


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.