Archive for the ‘Distance Training’ Category

Life is Like a Piano

September 29, 2015

… what you get out of it depends on how you play it. (Tom Lehrer)

I spent this past weekend in Medford, Oregon. It was a marvelous experience with a group of fun and kindly folks. The first day was a handling seminar; and the final two days I spent judging. Below I’m going to share the basic training steps for teaching a dog a Tandem Turn. This was one of the exercises we did in the clinic.

You must know that I consider the Tandem one of the basic tools of an agility handler. The dog turns most naturally toward the handler. So the handler should embark on a specific mission to teach the dog to turn away, because sometimes the course demands it.

Teaching the Tandem


When teaching the Tandem I use a three-step methodology. This drawing shows the first step… what I call the intro step. Basically the handler just works near the dog and will arrive at the jump at the same moment of the dog, cue the turn and cross behind the dog.

We do this over and over again until both the handler and dog understand the movement.

I always must make a special point when showing this method, whether in class, camp or seminar… that we are now in dog training mode. That means that we must control the variables of the lesson for the dog. The most important details are: a) the handler should arrive at the jump at the same moment as the dog, and b) the handler will cross behind the dog.

Before going to the second step I am looking for certain elements of performance. First of all, the handler should be making a clear signal and stepping behind the dog. Also, I look for the dog to turn readily away from the handler in the new direction of the course, in spite of the obvious fact that the course is going away from the handler’s position, rather than towards the handler. This runs contrary to the riddle of sides which suggests that the dog turns most naturally in the direction of the handler.


The second step I call the lateral distance step. Now the handler should work a distance away from the dog’s path, but in a path parallel to the dog’s path. Many handlers are initially skeptical of the handler’s path compared to the dog’s path. But most dogs with even a modest basis of training will work happily a distance apart from the handler.

This step works quite like the intro step. The handler should arrive at the corner of the turn at approximately the same moment that the dog arrives at the jump. Now the handler will have to move convincingly towards the dog as he cues the turn.

What we are looking for in this step is a dog that sees the cue to turn and takes it. Most dogs will get around the jump and head for the next obstacle (the tunnel) even before the handler has crossed the face of the jump. Indeed, before going to the next step we want the dog to take the cue to turn and actually separate and accelerate away from the handler.


In the final step, the proofing step the handler will once again work with a lateral distance from the dog’s part. The real difference now is that the handler won’t actually cross the face of the jump at the corner of the turn. Instead the handler will layer the line of jumps while the dog works away, into the pipe tunnel.

A proofing step is important in any dog training objective. It is a step that allows the dog’s trainer to assess whether the dog really understands the object of the lesson. Some handlers will make an essential error in this step. While they might work a lateral distance apart from the dog… they won’t actually use it. The purpose of the lateral distance is to give the handler room to move towards the dog and to sell the turn away.

Finishing Notes

In retrospect teaching the Tandem was the wrong building block for this particular community of agility fans. I learned a lot more about them in two days of judging.

What I really should have taught was the Riddle of Sides. As I said above “the dog turns most naturally towards the handler.” This is fundamental to the extent that I include the rule in the Laws of a Dog in Motion. But what I saw in the trial (when I was no longer in my teaching uniform) was a whole bunch of gratuitous rear crossing.

The really excellent handler will put changes of side forward of the dog rather than behind. I appreciate having a rear cross for the emergency. But every single emergency should not be of the handler’s invention.


Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. ~ Albert Einstein

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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.

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:


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.


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.

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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.

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 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.

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:

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.

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: 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 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.

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:

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


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 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.

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:

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.



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


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.


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


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.


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.

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


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


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


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.



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


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


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
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
Indoors on rubber matting over padding


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.

Meet Me in Latrobe

September 16, 2014


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 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


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.


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.


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