Archive for the ‘Dog Agility Training’ Category

Distance Skills in Standard Course Work

August 13, 2022

If you train a dog for independent performance you should find opportunities to practice those skills in standard course work. Resist the temptation to resort to “traditional” handling strategies that demand for you to drag your dog along behind you.

Here’s a simple example:

Study this sequence, imagining how you might handle it. Resist the temptation to use comfortable and familiar drag-the-dog-around handling. What independent performance skills might you use to solve? Using these skills allows you to practice with them in competition; grow your confidence when they work, (and learn valuable lessons in timing when you aren’t.)

I’ll share a short video below; and talk through the handling plan after.

My old boy Kory and I ran this sequence as part of a larger course about eight years ago. The most interesting bit in the handling strategy was using a Back Pass to set up for jump #7 to solve the interesting transition to #8. The opening serpentine was solved using Left and Right directionals. We also had good practice sending to pipe tunnels.

How does that strategy compare to your own? If you get a chance to set up this sequence, please share a video.


A Facebook page (The Jokers Notebook) has been set up to share homework and discussions of training a dog for independent performance. This is a private page which will require you to ask permission to join. If you have ANY difficulty getting access, please email me so I can figure it out.

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Wrapping Transitions

August 9, 2022

Wrapping Transitions ~ This is a simple conditioning exercise intended to teach and practice a transitional “wrap”, from a pipe tunnel onto the dogwalk; and from the dogwalk, into a pipe tunnel.

In this exercise the handler is expected to work from the side of the jumps away from the dogwalk. When first teaching a dog these skills the handler might begin by working closer, and then gradually move back until working exclusively on the other side of the jumps.

If you are very confident in your directional commands, “Left” and “Right”, these commands should neatly solve the riddle of the exercise.

Directional commands should be supplemented by strong handler movements (albeit, from a distance). In the transition from the dogwalk to the #4 pipe tunnel the handler should show technical tandem movement. The technical tandem was introduced in Module #16; and reviewed with more complexity in Module #29.

Mirror Image

This exercise was designed so that it can be mirrored to practice the transitions using Left turns.

Generously reward your dog when he gets it right.


A Facebook page (The Jokers Notebook) has been set up to share homework and discussions of training a dog for independent performance. This is a private page which should require you to ask permission to join. If you have ANY difficulty getting access, please email me so I can figure it out.

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Questions Comments and Impassioned Speeches to Bud Houston, Connect with me on FaceBook!

Handling Plan for a Novice Course

July 7, 2022

You have spent considerable time training the young dog, preparing for competition. In your first time in the ring you are likely to be presented with a course that is less complex than the sequencing that you have been practicing.

That being said, let’s take nothing for granted. Allow me to share with you a Novice course that was recently played in competition.

This is a tough course for novice dogs, and probably presents an inappropriate challenge. What strikes me immediately is the wrong-course trap presented to the dog after jump #4. This trap features two contact obstacles, with the wrong-course A‑frame inviting and compelling to the dog.

The handler who has spent time teaching the dog skills for independent performance must learn to seek out the control position. On this course I have marked the control position with a big red “X” after jump #4. The handler’s job here will be to turn the dog—away from the A-frame—to address the teeter. The handling plan must obtain that objective.

I want to say straightaway that I will not do a lead-out with a Novice dog. My rule has ever been that the dog must demonstrate to me that I have to do the lead-out. The day that he burns me in competition I’ll give my dog a grin and a wink and there foreverafter incorporate the lead-out. Until that day, we will always wind up and go.

You’ll note that I begin this course with a Back Pass. This is a sling-shot opening that starts the course off with vibrant movement. [The Back Pass was introduced in the Joker’s Notebook, module #2

The approach to the tire is at a considerable oblique angle. Students of the Jokers Notebook began practicing an exercise called “Around the Clock” which is specifically intended to teach a dog to seek out and square up for an obtstacle. regardless of the angle of approach.

Here’s a video of the teaching method:

Note that I personally assume a two-on/two-off finish on the dogwalk. We taught our dogs this skill using the Sternberg Method (Both the “Around the Clock” exercise and the Sternberg method were introduced in the Joker’s Notebook, module #3

During the performance of the dogwalk the handler increases lateral distance to the dog. This is what allows the handler to arrive at the control position on this course. The handler must keep pressure on the #3 jump; which is why the red line representing the handler’s movement is drawn straight at the jump. (The concept of progressive lateral distance on contacts was introduced in Joker’s Notebook module #10 but started work in earnest in module #13

Here’s a video of the teaching method for lateral distance on the dogwalk:

Please note that on the course map I’ve shown two lines dismounting the #3 jump. I learned a long time ago in my judging / course designing career that the turning radius for the small dog can be considerably different depending on the size and speed of the dog. The small dog will make a much neater turn that the big dog, and set a trajectory that favors the A-frame to a greater extent than the big dog’s turn.

A Simple Front Cross

The entire handling plan to this point has been to allow the handler to arrive at the control position forward of the dog. As the dog comes over jump #4 the handler, who should be forward of the dog, can conduct the dog into the turn with a simple front cross.

I have long observed an important discipline. I will not say the name of an obstacle until I have the dog’s nose pointed at the obstacle. Where the nose goes, the rest of the dog tends to follow along. This discipline really defines the handler’s job, which is, to get the dog aimed in the right direction.

The Rest of the Course

The rest of the course is relatively straight-forward. Success fill come from keeping good pressure of every obstacle in turn. Both the table and the long jump deserve considerable attention and pressure from the handler. Note that the table doesn’t demand a lead-out from the handler.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston We’re putting together a new class for the Joker’s Notebook series. Let me know if you’re interested in playing with us.

Jokers Notebook ~ Module #40

April 29, 2022

This is the 40th and final training module of the Jokers Training. In this module we will talk about ongoing training methods to master the foundation skills introduced in this series.

If you started the program with a young pup by this point you are working with a keen agility partner completely comfortable with the independent performance of obstacles at a considerable distance from you; and with no need for handler micro-management. There is no Velcro.  

The Jokers Method

~Bud Houston

The methodology that I’ve used to train my own dogs for independent performance over the years has been a matter of my own growth and learning, adaptation and inspiration. I make no claim that this is the “one true way”. But it is a way. It has simple rules, identifiable objectives, and straight-forward methods for obtaining those objectives (especially if you are inclined to do your homework).

The Ongoing Training

Skills learned by a dog in his first year are typically learned for life. Mastery of those skills and the developing a comfortable partnership between dog and handler are the ongoing training ambition.

The Jokers modules have introduced a lot of very specific training methods to release a dog to independent performance while at the same time developing complimentary skills aimed at directing a dog working out in space. For example, we teach a dog to send in straight-away line 60 or 100 feet from the handler; or work lateral to the handler at comparable distances. But these would be hollow and one-dimensional skills if we don’t master, for example, “Left and “Right” directional commands.

Returning to Resource

The Jokers Training modules are designed to allow you to return to the training resource if you are struggling with a specific skill, or you have not mastered it yet. Above, I mentioned teaching Left and Right as necessary skills. And you really should return to the resource methodology on a regular basis; (Modules #2, #5,#9; and every Module featuring the Tandem Turn which is the “relative” avatar of the “absolute” directional.)

Some dog trainers are intimidated by teaching Left and Right. Especially because it’s more than rare to get immediate gratification of the dog’s learning and understanding. Patience grasshopper! You should be relaxed in the certainty of knowing exactly how long it takes to teach a dog a thing.

It takes as long as it takes.

Applying What You’ve Learned

When your dog is old enough you will likely give competition a try. And if you are an avid and committed student of the skills we’ve presented in the Jokers Notebook series you will approach competition with a keen desire to practice those skills.

The video below shows a simple overview of a numbered course.

What you’ll learn to do, over time, is to identify the “control positions” on a course. A control position is a place on-course where you, the handler needs to attend the dog. What are the control positions on this course? And to obtain those control positions, assuming that your dog can outrun you, what skills should you employ?

The video below shows Bud and Kory on this numbered sequence, using Bud’s calculations for handling and skills choice:

You’ll find three examples of “own-the-pinwheel” skill; at least two Back Passes; a Named Obstacle recognition, Left and Right directionals and nearly constant work at a lateral distance.

The dog that actually won this competition happens to be a student of the Jokers method. (I protest that her club’s running surface is to-die-for superior.) This is Brenda and Leela (who was a very young dog then):

Teach yourself to accept failures in your dog’s learning progression and in competition as information. If a dog failed a bit, it informs your training mission and gives you focus.

Training the dog as a day-by-day task

This section should probably be viewed on-line. As a printed document it’s not much as a presentation; but when viewed in WordPress all the links to videos open up as big pictures and manage to summarize the developing story.

The Two-Minute Dog Trainer

I’ve had more than a few dogs in my house that never so much as got a meal in their first year of life without “working” for it. The method of the Two-Minute Dog trainer is to mix feeding the dog (which you must do) with training the dog (which you should do).

Below is a video of Pip and Cedar working for their breakfast:

You’ll note in the video that the key skill we were practicing during meal-time training was “Named Obstacle Recognition”. Rather than spending your career handling the tunnel under contact discrimination… why not just teach your dog the names of these obstacles?

The Indomitable Dog Trainer

The video below makes a continued argument for the two-minute dog trainer discipline. It is amazing what you can accomplish with a dog when you endeavor to train the dog for the skills you desire the dog to master:

The Devil’s in the Details

You know, I might have written a step-by-step lesson plan for this final training module. It would have been a repeat or regurgitation of foundation exercises that we have been practicing over these 40 weeks.

While you may certainly return to Return to Resource as I suggested earlier, what you are more apt to do is find the opportunity to practice a skill on a floor that was set for an entirely different objective.

I’ll show a couple short exercises below; nothing fancy. But the finding of the training opportunity will ultimately come from your own closely held and prioritized list of training refinements specifically for your dog.

Preparing for Pole Jacks

The Joker Training modules haven’t put a lot of emphasis on training the weave poles, mostly because that training should begin in earnest about where the puppy foundation training ends.

The video below was taken from the Two-Minute dog trainer discipline. With weave poles you should take some care maintain the dog’s enthusiasm for the training; and not to become irksome in your demands for repetition.

You’ll recognize in the following video a challenge sequence from course-work described earlier in this module. You should always find an opportunity for practice of foundation skills from the set of equipment on the floor.

I will likely publish advanced curriculum for superior weaving skills. But the cool thing about being a dog trainer… if you can state the training objective, it’s very likely that you can design an appropriate training method.

A Departing Lecture

In earlier modules we did quite a bit of work with progressive sending. Now that you have nearly mastered the skill, it shouldn’t hurt to see the opening lecture with a few details for successfully sending a dog ahead to work:

Video Homework

Send links to one or more recordings of your practice of the exercises in this module:

  1. The two-minute dog trainer meal-time training session
  2. Your dog in competition.
  3. A bit of work with the weave poles.

This is Module 40. When you submit homework you should include the Module number and, if possible, the exercise you’re practicing.

The Fuller Brush Principle

The Fuller Brush Principle, according to my logic in 2009 applied largely to the dog. But don’t you know, I’ve decided that it applies in equal if not greater measure to the dog’s trainer and handler.

A reminder of the Fuller Brush: “If twisted it in your hands you’d have this twisted brush. However, if you dropped the twisted brush into hot water it would revert or reform to its original shape.” I wrote a blog post on this topic back in 2009:

An agility student might be taught advanced skills in handler movement and dog training. Yet when in competition/hot water… that student will revert to “original shape”. That means he/she will return to handling that is comfortable even though the handling is one-dimensional and assures results that are mediocre at best.

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Questions Comments and Impassioned Speeches to Bud Houston, Connect with me on FaceBook!

Protected: Jokers Notebook ~ Module #39

April 16, 2022

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April 10, 2022

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