Archive for the ‘Distance Training’ Category

Memorial Weekend at Stockade Agility

May 28, 2015

If you design a course with a very low Q rate it possibly says something significant about the design. Maybe it’s too technical and should be reserved for a Masters Challenge class. But looking back at the course I cannot really spy the painfully technical bits. You tell me!

I’ll share the course with you:

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It’s clear that when designing a course I see myself in the context of that design; I mean, me as handler and competitor (as opposed to me the unrelenting design Grinch.) This means that I design for an old guy with arthritic knees who runs a dog with really excellent independent performance skills. As a practical matter most sequences will fold back in on themselves, allowing me to move from control position to control position while allowing the dog to work at speed.

On the course map I’ve marked two places I know I have to be to give good direction in a technical moment. The first “X” solves the #6 pipe tunnel while the dog is faced with three options on the dismount of the dogwalk. The second “X” solves the modest backside approach to jump #11.

Legendary

I had the pleasure to judge Wendy Cerilli at this trial. Understand that I was witnessing a legend in the making here. Wendy runs TEN Aussie dogs… in every class. If you grasp what this means… this is no wimpy AKC trial with two runs a day. This is the USDAA where the big dogs play. That means Wendy was in the ring 50 times a day.

The fun thing is that she used the same handling plan with all dogs; with considerable success, mind you. This made it easy for me to understand and predict my judging position, even in the dog’s choice games.

I’ve had the luck to judge many legendary figures over the years. I’m tickled to add Wendy to that list.

Speaking of Legends

Fran Seibert came out to the trial site just to say hi to me. Many of the real heroes in this sport are folks who’ve run agility schools since the early days of agility in this country, and have introduced hundreds and hundreds of people to our sport (like Zona at Rocky Mountain Agility out in Denver; Terry Bessler out in South Dakota; and dozens of others around the country).

Years ago I did a seminar at Fran’s place. I was talking to the group about the “Laws of a Dog in Motion”. Fran tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the back of the building… where the “Laws” are stenciled in a big bold display:

The Laws of a Dog in Motion

  1. The dog turns when the handler turns
  2. The dog tends to work in a path parallel to the handler’s path
  3. A dog ahead of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position
  4. The dog gets his speed cue from the handler’s speed
  5. The dog gets his direction cue from the handler’s shoulders, toes, hips, and movement

You can put an asterisk next to #3 with the notation: Nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of a well-trained dog.

Masters Standard Continued …

Okay, my analysis of why the Q rate was so low on this course. The “Laws of a Dog In Motion” fundamentally describe a context for handler discipline and timing. It was early in the trial. People were still tight and more than a bit nervous. A minor error, the tic of a bar, half an inch outside the yellow, a bobble in the weaves … it doesn’t take much to elude the Q.

In fact, the players at the Stockade trial were amazing to watch, and brought considerable skill and grace to the field. Reminds me of why I love dog agility.

Giddy Up

Lisa Barrett ran a little Toy Poodle named Giddy Up all weekend. This little dog was amazing, yipping and digging her nails into every moment, attacking the course with every ounce of her little body. Lisa is an accomplished handler who understands every nuance of handler movement and pressure. Together the two were a show for the big tent.

Returning Home

I was about sun struck over the weekend. Standing out in the sun for three days is physically demanding. Like an idiot, I had left my Akubra (hat) sitting by the door at home. <sigh>

I continued working with our young girl Cedar when I got home. We’re getting her ready to raise hell at the TDAA Petit Prix this year. And you need skills to survive in the little dog venue.

http://youtu.be/Y6PuGWTsBc8

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

The Tandem Turn ~ Continuing Discussion

December 26, 2014

I started a discussion a couple days ago on the Tandem Turn. I propose that dogs understand natural movement and a clever handler will use that movement to communicate direction and speed to the dog.

The Tandem is a tricky bit in some ways. A dog is disposed to turn most naturally towards the handler. The Tandem, being a form of the Rear Cross does just the opposite. The handler is asking the dog to turn away.

Some dogs don’t immediately “get it” and will towards the handler rather than away. Sometimes this is due to an error in the handler’s movement.  More often it’s simply counter-intuitive to the dog.

For a dog like this you should take exceptional training measures. You’re in luck if the dog is toy or ball motivated. The handler can shape the turn away by throwing the toy or ball at the corner of the turn. Practice this with the dog with a lot of repetition until the dog is taking the movement and arm as a cue to turn.

To test the method, handler will approach the turn and pretend to throw the toy. When the dog makes the turn the handler will throw the toy as a reward. The handler has made a transition from “lure” to “reward,” a very important step in training the dog.

Just because a dog understands the turn in one direction, that doesn’t mean he understands it in the opposite direction. Both directions should be taught to the dog.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Cedar’s “Go-On” Training

December 24, 2014

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

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

Notes on the Tandem Turn

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

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

We rely on the premise that our dogs already understand how we move. So in the Tandem we turn towards the dog, distinctly and boldly. The dog, understanding our movement should make the turn in this new direction although the turn is toward his side.

This illustration shows the “off-arm” Tandem. As the dog comes up over the jump the handler brings up his opposite arm, pointing out in the direction of the turn.

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Of course, the turn is more than just an arm signal. At the same time the handler is rotating his body, turning, and moving in the direction of the turn. It’s also a good idea to develop a verbal command to coincide with all of these other cues.

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

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

The inside-arm Tandem was originally shown to me by a lady from Los Angeles (Barbara Mah.) I thought it looked so silly that for a long time I called in the “La La” turn.

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However, I discovered that one of my dogs, who I’d been struggling for over a year to teach the off-arm Tandem, understood the “inside” arm immediately. He got it the first time he saw it, and made the turn perfectly. So, I no longer call it the La La turn. This is now the Inside-Arm Tandem.

All the other elements of the turn are the same. The handler should rotate his body, turn the corner, and move in the direction of the turn.

Oh, as to the controversy about which arm to use: we’ll use the arm that our dog implicitly understands. There are no “one size fits all” solutions in agility. The Tandem Turn should always be learned with practice.

Some dogs respond to both signals, but give a different response to each. This illustration shows a scenario in which the turn is still away from the handler’s position, but the true course is the gentler path up to jump #2.

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I would always use the inside-arm Tandem in this situation. I had a dog (Bogie) who always took the off-arm as a “hard and deep” instruction. He’d flip back to jump #3, giving jump #2 a pass. He’d interpret the inside-arm Tandem as a gentler turn, and would be, properly, directed to jump #2.

These aren’t hard and fast rules of the performance. The handler should experiment with both arms and understand the dog’s response to each. Know thy dog.

The Tandem Turn can be used on the dismount from technical obstacles, on the exit of a tunnel. The biggest danger is that the handler’s turn mightn’t have enough “push” to get the dog away before turning back. A Tandem is only successful when the dog believes in the turn. It must be convincing, and compelling.

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Oh, one final detail worth mentioning. The Tandem Turn “creates” distance. It’s a great movement to use to open up the real estate between dog and handler. In this illustration the handler is working parallel to the dog over the first two jumps with a bit of lateral distance. At the “corner” the handler surges into the turn showing the arm signal for the turn.

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To the dog’s point of view the handler is making the turn; and the dog frankly won’t know until after jump #3 that the handler did not attend. It doesn’t matter. The dog should work faithfully in a path parallel to the handler to get to jump #4, even at a substantial distance.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Fantasy Dog Agility

December 21, 2014

I have this really cool fantasy about a reality show for television. On this program several dog agility trainers will each work with a big Hollywood celebrity to teach them how to run an agility dog. And then we have an agility competition with the celebs and their borrowed dogs.

I’ve got first dibs on Mark Wahlberg! He can run my boy Kory (or even Marsha’s Phoenix). I’m comfortable taking on any smart aleck agility trainer in the business to train up a celeb to beat us! I believe Mark could be a hell of an agility handler. It’s just a hunch.

Go On Then

I’m sorry that we’re not capturing the full granularity of Cedar’s ongoing training. By rights we’d be filming twice a day. We are only filming about every other day. So you miss some of the incremental steps we take in the training.

Here: http://youtu.be/J4EoJXrAANs. We’ve progressed to three hoops. As she becomes comfortable with our performance expectations and begins to own the exercise, we’ll move them farther and farther apart. I fully expect that in about a month I’ll be sending Cedar straight away from me a good 40′. . The dead-away send is truly one of the most difficult distance challenges in agility.

The training methodology we’re using here is completely documented in The Joker’s Notebook, which is available on my web-store. The cool thing about distance training is that all skills that we own with our dogs are earned and deserved through training and practice. If you take the time to establish the foundation, you will have those special skills.

Top Secret

I’m fairly excited by developments with Top Dog. I’m sorry to say that it’s all secret and amazing. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Cedar at 19+ Weeks

December 17, 2014

She’s still a young thing, growing like a weed, and getting lots of early training. It’s an interesting commentary that this young dog, in her foundation training, has both “Right” and “Left”, a 2o/2o contact, does a pipe tunnel, and will send to a Hoop… but isn’t much house trained yet (doing her business outside).

I’ll share this rambling video with you: http://youtu.be/AAzXmyhy2RM

Only in the last couple of days I’ve introduced Cedar to the performance of a NADAC-style hoop. This was initially trained by free-shaping. She’s a clever enough girl, is well conditioned  to offering performance, and can figure out pretty quick what earns her praise and reward.

We begin with the simple performance of a hoop. I will add new hoops over the next few days and teach her to run through the lot of them for her reward. Then gradually, over a period of weeks, I’ll spread them out more and more until she is giving me the performance at a fantastic distance. When they are spread out I’ll include the “Go On!” directional which shall ever mean to continue working in the line of obstacles in front of her.

I’m mostly fascinated with teaching these skills to a small dog. She’s going to be whipstitch fast. So there’s no way I intend to make the error of gluing her to me for the simple work of agility.

Cedar’s Nobel Growth Chart at 19-1/2 Weeks

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You can see that during my “busy” period… I’ve left a gap in the chart. Nonetheless, Cedar is riding the classical Sheltie pattern of growth on a constant curve.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Cedar’s Training 17th Week

November 26, 2014

I’m afraid that some of the directional training I’ve put directly on Facebook (Cedar has her own page: .) Consequently you can’t step back through my blog and put the pieces together nicely. I’ve resolved to make sure I publish each in the blog.

Here is a recording of Cedar’s “Right” directional training with only about 10 days of work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMJg5SUVq80

I’m well pleased with her willingness to work and learn. The Right command developed nicely into a full turn on nothing but a verbal command (little or no physical help or support).

Shortly after making the recording above, I introduced Cedar to a “Left” directional.  Of course this made her brain explode because she’d pretty much decided that offering a Right turn was the magic. She might as well get used to the idea that there’ll be a lot of new magic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akPPBuqqxxs

It feels a bit like I’ve skipped over the intro. Even in this recording Cedar has already figured out that if she just turns her head slightly to the left she’ll get my praise and a tasty treat reward. Making the intro requires a bit of patience. I believe in free-shaping. That means little more than waiting for a dog to offer a performance or behavior that I want to build on. So, after giving the “Left” command (in the intro)… I just wait for her to serendipitously look to the left. And when she does, I’ll praise and reward. After a bit she’ll be able to focus on what thing she has to do to earn the reward. It’s really quite as simple as that.

The next step will be to get her to make a full turn when I give a “Left” command. Initially I may lure at this step to enhance the performance that she’s already offering. Then gradually I will minimize and make smaller the physical cues until there is nothing left but the verbal.

Next week, hopefully, I’ll publish an update on the Left directional training.

Growing like a Shetland Weed

I had to take the week 17 measurement a couple days early. I’m going to be judging a USDAA trial in Milwaukee this weekend and I’ll be on the road on her official measuring day.

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At any rate, I’m impressed that Cedar is growing like a Sheltie, the breed that the Nobel was intended to chart. Our measurements fit neatly on the top of the curve. So if her growth remains true, she should come in right at about 16″, which is top of the standard for a Shetland Sheepdog.

In case you missed the story, Cedar’s dam is a feral sheltie. A dog rescue angel over in West Virginia manages to scoop up the dam’s occasional litters, though the dog herself has managed to escape capture. We have no idea what is the sire. I’m thinking it must be something like a Rat Terrier. She does have a hard-headed “what’s in it for me” kind of mind-set, which is consistent with the nature of a terrier.

Cedar is now 4 months old, and weighs roughly 10 pounds.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Gamblers ~ Petit Prix Warm Up

October 2, 2014

This is third in a series, taking a serious look at the games of the 2014 Petit Prix. Please note that B&D has extended the closing date for the Petit Prix. You can get a copy of the premium here: Petit Prix Premium.

Gamblers is an old game in the dog agility world. I’ll present an example of Gamblers (a Teacup Dogs course) and then follow up with a discussion of strategy.

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Briefing

The objective of Gamblers is for the dog to accumulate as many points as possible in a specified time and then to perform a designated gamble (sometimes called a joker), also within a specified time, which consists of a sequence of obstacles with the dog and handler working some distance apart. Gamblers is a two-part game: the point-accumulation period and the gamble period.

Point accumulation period – You can take obstacles in the order and direction of your choosing. The dog may perform obstacles only twice for points. Back-to-back performance is permitted. There is no restriction as to order and direction except that the dog may not take two gamble obstacles, one after the other, during point accumulation. Obstacle values are:

  • Jumps are worth 1 point;
  • Tunnels and tire are worth 3 points;
  • The A-frame, teeter and weave poles are worth 5 points;
  • The dogwalk is worth 7 points.

The time allotted for the point-accumulation period shall be 25 seconds for big dogs; and 28 seconds for small dogs.

Gamble period – Successful performance of the gamble is worth 25 points. Time for the gamble shall be 16 seconds for big dogs; and 18 seconds for small dogs.

  • Gamble points will be lost if any of the following occurs:
  • The dog exceeds the time allotted for the gamble period or faults a gamble obstacle.
  • The handler steps on or over the containment line to aid the dog in performance of the joker.
  • The dog is directed to loiter near the start of the gamble while time remains in the point-accumulation period;
  • The dog performs any two gamble obstacles one after the other during the point-accumulation period;
  • The dog knocks down a jump included in the gamble sequence during point accumulation, making correct performance of that jump in the gamble period impossible.
  • The dog commits any performance fault during performance of the gamble.

Scoring and Qualifying

Gamblers is scored points then time. The team with the most points wins. Time is a tiebreaker only.  To qualify:

GI – 16 points; and successful completion of the gamble

GII & GIII – 18 points; and successful completion of the gamble

Strategies for Play in Gamblers

Timing

Be armed with a strategy that delivers enough points to qualify, and positions the dog near the start of the gamble with options for productive loitering.

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I’ve drawn on this course map a dog’s path that works the obstacles in the upper-right corner of this course. The line actually shows two performance of each of the obstacles in that corner.

Be mindful of the rules of the game. First of all, the dog is allowed to do obstacles only twice. And, you should understand the rule about “loitering” near the start of the gamble. If you are running your dog in a circle over obstacles your dog has already taken twice the judge—with a mind like a steel trap—will likely call you for loitering and negate the dog’s gamble. So, you should take care to reserve the performance of the obstacles in your “productive loitering” strategy until it’s time for that strategy to reveal itself.

If the dog already has the points to qualify (that’s what I said to do first, if you’ll remember), than chances are that the whistle will blow while working this performance of obstacles. But that’s the whole point. From anywhere in this corner the dog will have a good run at the opening jump of the gamble.

Where you almost certainly don’t want to be is coming down the A-frame in the direction going away from the gamble. The gamble time isn’t really that generous.

The 7 Point Obstacle

An important tradition in the Gamblers class is for the judge to give a higher value to an obstacle on the field. This is usually a technical obstacle, and typically gives a bonus of 2 points; so the 5 point dogwalk becomes a bonus obstacle worth 7 points.

Note that the 7 Point Obstacle is typically one that has some risk associated with it. For example, it might be so far away from the start of the gamble that it becomes a timing risk.

However, on this course, the risk associated with the 7 Point Obstacle is clearly the possibility that the dog could do two gamble obstacles, one after the other, during the point accumulation period. If you’ve paid attention to the briefing… doing two gamble obstacles (one after the other) will negate the gamble.  NQ

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On this course map I’ve numbered an opening strategy that neatly picks off the 7 Point Obstacle. The plan avoids going anywhere near the two jumps that start and the gamble. We’ve already established that the dog isn’t allowed to do two gamble obstacles (one after the other).

Dropping a bar in the gamble during point accumulation will also negate the gamble.  So, stay away from those jumps if at all possible.

This strategy delivers a qualifying score for the class. It would be fairly easy now to slide into the Timing strategy for the end of point accumulation that I described above.

Play to Your Dog’s Strengths

If your dog has a weakness, say on the teeter or in the weave poles you should not waste time with an optimistic reliance on the performance of those obstacles in the point accumulation period. Save that optimism for a standard class when performance of the risky obstacle is required, rather than optional.

On the other hand, if there are obstacles on which your dog will demonstrate amazing speed and skill, these obstacles should be the centerpiece of your point accumulation strategy. For example, the dog might have an amazing running contact and so the A‑frame might be highly desirable during point accumulation.

Flow and Transitions

Turning a dog degrades the dog’s rate of travel. A good point accumulation strategy for the Gamblers class should not feature a lot of gratuitous technical movement. Instead, the canny handler will devise a flowing plan of attack that allows the dog to work at full extension and at his best speed.

A notable exception to pure flow is the back-to-back performance. Obstacles like a pipe tunnel, the tire, the A-frame… maybe even the dogwalk are candidates for back-to-back performance. If you think about it, by turning the dog straight back you’ve made the transitional distance between obstacles negligible. Steal a second, earn a point.

The Gamble

A dog is well directed by movement, even when the handler is at some distance. The handler should calculate his movement to give a steady signal to the dog, and give pressure to the dog to move in the direction of the numbered sequence.

The gamble in the sample course above features a discrimination (two obstacles in close proximity) and the performance of a technical obstacle at a distance. Don’t be tongue tied as the dog makes his turn after jump #1 in the gamble. Give your command/verb for the dogwalk; Face the dogwalk; Point to the dogwalk; Move toward the dogwalk. And don’t step over the line.

It’s nearly fruitless to try to describe what the handler should do to raise the chance for success in a Gamble. They are always different.

A terrific strategy for success in Gamblers is to train your dog to work independently and at a distance.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

The Essence of Gamblers

September 30, 2014

I have an up and coming TDAA Judges’ Clinic. One of the participants writes to me: “I don’t have a confidence that I can design an appropriate game for all three levels. I admit that don’t do very many gambles in any of my aspects of agility. I haven’t taught my dogs (or been taught myself) how to do them.

She correctly assumes that experience is the best teacher. Inasmuch as I’ll be leading the judges’ clinic, I will endeavor to be the second best teacher. (The clinic and subsequent trial are in Lynnwood, Washington… October 9-12. Are you going to be there?)

A Few Quick Notes

Working a dog at a distance basically means that the dog has been taught his job and doesn’t require the handler to always be forward and always “dragging” the dog through every performance. The dog should be taught his job for every obstacle with no requirement that the handler be embedded in the context of the performance.

I’d be delighted to write a primer on the subject. That’s too big a job for this one blog. So the following is hardly comprehensive. I will write more on it and put it all together in the fullness of time.

The Handler’s Job

The handler’s job is to direct the dog. An important part of the distance riddle is how the handler provides direction. The easy answer to this is that the handler provides focus, verbalization and movement to frame the objective obstacle.

Focus is what the handler is looking at and pointing at. Note that pointing is not really a wagging finger. It is more defined by the set of the handler’s shoulders, hips and toes.

Verbalization is the verbal command or imperative annunciated by the handler to cue the dog to the objective obstacle.

Movement rightly belongs at the top of the list. The pressure of movement surely gives the dog his directional cues. The handlers movement tells the dog both where “we” are moving, but how quickly we intend to get there.

The Dead Away Send

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If it’s true that movement is the most fundamental cue to direct the dog, then we’d have to assume that sending the dog straight away (the “dead away” send) is the most difficult kind of distance challenge. In a gamblers’ class the judge will draw what’s called the “handler containment” line. The gamble/distance challenge is negated if the handler steps over that line.

In this drawing a 10′ line and a 19′ line are shown. Obviously the 19′ line is the greater challenge. How does the line not remove movement… the most important directive or cue for the dog to continue on working?

I should love to leave that question just hanging out there. An answer would actually be better. Let me give two answers, actually:

  1. The handler’s movement should be calculated to arrive just short of the line at about the moment the dog is arriving at the objective obstacle.
  2. All skills are earned through training and practice.  At the bottom of my blog in that little section “Questions comments & impassioned speeches” I routinely point to series of books I’ve written on distance training. If you need a series of exercises that lead to amazing distance skills… read and do the exercises in the 5 volumes of The Joker’s Notebook.

Parallel Path

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A typical kind of gamble that appears in distance classes of every sort is the parallel path. In this drawing, after the initial send, the dog and handler work for some distance in parallel. The course designer has to determine where the handler’s containment line should be, relative to the obstacles being performed at a lateral distance. Dogs at different levels might do the same series of obstacles, but at distances appropriate to the level of players.

Technical Obstacles

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The parallel path gamble is made more challenging by the use of a technical obstacle (contacts and weaves) at the parallel distance. This is probably not an appropriate challenge for Novice/Games I players. But surely, Advanced/GII players can show off their training with this simple distance challenge.

One of the real complications in terms of the handler’s movement (required to direct the dog) is woven into the context of the handler’s application of that movement to assist the dog in the performance of the technical obstacle. Without careful training, the dog mightn’t understand the movement at any appreciable distance.

When a technical obstacle is used dogs should be judged by performance rules and faults appropriate to their level. In a numbered sequence the A-frame, in this example, is eligible to earn the dog a refusal fault, which would negate the gamble.

Discrimination

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The course designer can raise the caliber of the challenge a bit by giving the dog a discrimination challenge in the performance of the technical obstacle at a lateral distance.

Change of Direction

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This distance challenge begins with a “change of direction”  challenge at an appreciable distance. This is a fairly tough kind of challenge, to be reserved for the Masters of our sport. Not only does the gamble feature a change of direction, but also a technical obstacle at a distance, and a discrimination challenge. It’s hard to get much more evil that this.

The Masters/GIII challenge doesn’t have to be anything more than a change of directions (at a distance), or a discrimination challenge (at a distance), or the performance of a technical obstacle (at a distance). The course designer really doesn’t have to do all three in one gamble!

Establishing Gamble Time

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I’ve softened the previously drawn gamble challenge (considerably), mostly to talk about how times are assigned for performance of the gamble. In general the judge would take the wheeled distance of the dog’s path and then add 5 to 7 seconds to allow the handler to move the dog into position to begin the gamble.

Using this logic this gamble would be in the range of 13 to 15 seconds for dogs with 3 YPS (three yards per second) rate of travel. The course designer should acknowledge that turning the dog degrades the dog’s rate of travel. So we might add a second for the two turns that initiate the gamble.

Technical obstacles also degrade the dog’s rate of travel. So for each contact obstacle you might add 2 seconds. For the weave poles, add 3 seconds.

Designing for the TDAA

Please note that the sequences I’ve designed here are “big dog” distances. The distances between obstacles would be considerably tighter in the TDAA.

If there is an error that TDAA course designers make (too often)… it is in not giving adequate room to work. Interval distances might be opened up just a bit at a distance. But in general we subscribe to the same kind of spacing that we would use in any standard course. By definition:

  • 8′ in the straightaway
  • A minimum of 12′ to solve wrong course options, or on the approach to a technical challenge, or when requiring the dog to turn.

The TDAA course designer should also give the working dog credit for some distance working skill. I’ve reviewed courses in which the “distance challenge” was no more than 18”. That’s not really a distance challenge.

Yard Sale!

I’ve been loading thing up for a couple weeks now for a yard-sale at my in-laws place down in Williamstown, WV. Click HERE for details!

TDAA Judges’ Clinic and Trial in Lynwood, WA

Oct  9 – 10, 2014  TDAA Judge’s Clinic

Four Paw Sports Center, LLC
Lynnwood, WA
Clinic Presenter:  Bud Houston
Contact:  Robin Carlstrom robin@fourpawsports.com
Indoors on rubber matting over padding
Clinic Application

Oct  11 – 12, 2014  Trial  T14005-9
Four Paw Sports Center, LLC
Lynnwood, WA
Judge of Record:  Bud Houston (judging will be done by judge applicants, who may also enter the trial)
Contact:  Robin Carlstrom robin@fourpawsports.com
Indoors on rubber matting over padding
Premium

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Meet Me in Latrobe

September 16, 2014

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Here’s a picture from our front porch that I took a couple days ago. Fall has arrived with an abrupt turn in the temperature, chilling just enough to scare the tomatoes and make the humming birds consider the southern horizon. It’s a beautiful view and begs for sitting on the porch in the morning with a hot cup of coffee, wearing your robe a bit longer into the day than most people do.

Petit Prix

Hey, I have a couple events up and coming that will take me to Latrobe, PA. Obviously, there is the 2014 TDAA Petit Prix my very favorite agility event. That’s like six weeks away. For two days before the Petit Prix we’ll be doing the warm-up workshop. I get to work with canny competitors to gear them up for the tournament and give them a competitive edge in understanding the strategies of the games we’ll be playing. There might be a couple working slots still available. Contact Marsha Houston.Marsha@gmail.com for information.

Top Dog

This Saturday we’re doing a Top Dog league intro in Latrobe. I have no idea if anybody is actually going to show up. I didn’t take advanced reservations (because it’s not my league). But we’re going to film it with our vague notion of a reality show; and we’re going to play three games. It’ll be fun discovering who the Latrobe league team will be for the September Top Dog Challenge.

Now, if you’ve read down this far you’re actually reading my blog. I can loosen my tongue and not have to sound like I’m selling something. I have this vision you know, of an inexpensive/recreational approach to the game of dog agility. These are terms that easily slip off the tongue but don’t have much real definition in the world.

So let me put it like this, I’m a semi-retired man living in a cabin in the country. I have half a dozen continuing students. My wife and I run a small but very fun agility organization. And I subsist by the occasional seminar and selling ebooks for training dogs in agility. And you know, I can’t really afford to do dog agility like I want to. Agility trialing is like 10 times more expensive than a golfing habit.

I’m trying to create in Top Dog a model for play of the game that is as inexpensive and natural as a pick-up game of softball in the corner lot. Very few people really understand Top Dog. There’s plenty of information out there; I know because I’ve published it. But dang, we’re in the age of information over-load.  Being semi-retired I’m not in any hurry. I know that this new lonely outcast idea has to be built a brick at a time, a dog at a time, a club at a time.

Top Dog Challenge at Home

The weekend following the Top Dog intro in Latrobe, I’m going to invite a bunch of people to our place here in Watertown to run the challenge courses. This might be the last bit we can do outside this year.

Class Plan

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I pulled out an old skills exercise for our class this past week. This set-up is used for teaching the Tandem Turn which, as you should know, is a form of the rear cross in which the handler crosses behind his dog on the dismount of an obstacle, or on the flat.

We filmed most of the exercises (I bought a new camera last month!) I’m thinking that I want to make a DVD though I have no experience or particular expertise at that kind of publishing. I do know how to teach people to be master handlers… and that is the bit I’d like to share. It seems like a lot of work and bandwidth to put it all up as YouTube.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

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: www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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.

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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.

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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.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.


[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!


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