Archive for the ‘Handler Training’ Category

Technical Rear Cross

January 19, 2016

BLOG1089

Early on I observed that crossing behind the dog on the approach to a contact obstacle is likely to cause a fault (notably a refusal). Consequently I resolved that changing sides on the dismount is almost always better handling.

But sometimes those crafty evil judges will design a course that traps us and takes away the option to cross on dismount. So it is a prudent matter to train and condition both the dog and handler to understand the technical Rear Cross[1].

There are an abundant number of scenarios which demand our attention in training. I have presented here a simple intro.

Follow these simple rules:

  1. You must allow the dog to go forward of the handler in a Rear Cross (you can’t cross behind if you’re not behind.)
  2. Work in a very straight line until the dog is committed to the obstacle (if the dog is on the A-frame, you can call him committed.)
  3. Don’t take the crossing step before the dog is committed. It is the premature step that elicits the refusal.
  4. Try to minimize the transitional line… that is, the length of the handler’s movement from side to side. The longer is that line, the greater the chance that the Cross will fail.
  5. If an all possible, the handler should appear alongside the dog before it even occurs to the dog that the handler has changed sides.

Please note that in the intro exercise another Rear Cross might be practiced on the second approach to the A-frame. We always endeavor to be ambidextrous in agility.

[1] No movement in agility NQs more dogs that the Rear Cross. It’s good to have a Rear Cross for the emergency. Not every emergency should not be of our own invention.

Blog1089 Home

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.

 

Advertisements

Stretch Mistakes

December 5, 2015

The December game is locked in a 50′ by 50′ space and yet manages to pose several interesting technical challenges. I’m faced with solving for my own while at the same time offering coaching to my team mates. I’d like to teach my students to stretch their abilities and expand their repertoire of skills. This is no easy task.

The Stretch Mistake is an interesting concept that came up in conversation with Marsha a few days ago (from something she heard on NPR). Stretching is a tangible application of a new skill; it is experimenting and being playful. A “stretch mistake” is the foundation for learning and refining the details of that new skill. We have to be willing to make mistakes. A handler’s propensity to rely always on a small (but comfortable) repertoire of skills retards learning.

Approaching this game in a completely playful manner, I might crash ‘n burn and make a mess of it. But those mistakes I make are the foundation for learning. And frankly I’m looking for an application of skills that I’ve been keen on teaching my dogs. And just may be, those skills will give a competitive advantage.

BLOG1077_01

In the pre-game analysis I want to break this course down into little bits. Ultimately those bits will have to fit together and flow from each into the next. And so the riddle of handler position and the speed and direction of the dog’s movement cannot be discordant and will have to work in symphony, each with the other.

BLOG1077_02

In the opening I’ve drawn two lines. The black line is the shorter and more efficient path. And I expect the dog who wins league will have this nice flat approach. But it’s a bold path fraught with peril because of the speed elicited in the dog’s movement and the short distance from jump #2 into the weave poles from a nearly perpendicular angle. The red path assumes a handler actually taking a little extra distance to give the dog more approach to the weave poles and avoid a costly weave pole fault.

Be mindful that the handler is the architect of the dog’s path.

I expect I should make this an exercise for class, after our league run. I’m tantalized by the notion of testing whether a student understand the “handler is the architect” and has the skill to create whichever path he desires. Visualizing the path and exploring the variety of handling options to effect that path are the training objectives.

 

BLOG1077_03

Out of the weave poles is a basic serpentine of three jumps. In case you’re wondering, I’ll be sure to have a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #4… because I want dog on right for the next three obstacles. The really interesting bit follows the three-jump serpentine.

What I’ve tried to illustrate here is a solution to #7 and #8. I don’t really want to get caught in a blocking position at the A-frame on the approach to the backside jump #8. And so after jump #6 I will send my dog to the tunnel giving a clear verbal, relying on the “named obstacle” discrimination training I do with my dogs.

As soon as I feel the dog committed I need to slide back up to jump #8. As the dog comes out of the pipe tunnel I will give a Back Pass command (“Come By” for me) to create the approach to jump #8.

My momma used to tell me “If it doesn’t work, it’s not showing off.” So I’m really hoping I’ll get to show off in this part of the course.

 

BLOG1077_04

#9 through #14 is the most straight-forward sequencing part of the course. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that this section will have as many faults as any other bit in the game. When everything looks obvious and easy handlers tend to be less disciplined and less focused on the meat and potatoes handling.

For my part, I’ll again rely on the “named obstacle” training on the approach to the A-frame at #12… though I might indicate a modest counter rotation after jump #11 to lend insurance to the moment. Frankly we’ll probably have a sequence in class in which I discuss the difference between blocking position and body-magnet position on the approach to an obstacle discrimination.

I’m a bit concerned about the approach to the weave poles. I’m running Marsha’s bat-shit crazy red dog Phoenix who is a magnificent weaving dog, when he actually remembers to get in the poles. So I’ll likely push extra hard out into the corner and remind him that I’m about to sell him to a Chinese restaurant if he doesn’t engage his brain and get in the poles.

 

BLOG1077_05

This next bit was kind of complicated to draw… I’m hoping it won’t be so complicated to do.

Note that as the dog weaves I need to layer to the opposite side of the jump between the weave poles and jump #15. On the dog’s dismount of the weave poles I’ll strike a posture to Back-Pass my dog into an open approach to jump #15 that favors an approach to jump #16. I’ll call my dog into a left turn, getting as close to the #16 jump as I can… and call my dog into a counter Back-Pass for the closing pipe tunnel.

We are studying, in the back-pass exactly how to establish a release that gives the dog a good line in the direction you want them to move. It’s clear that this is accomplished with the “counter” foot and is made clear by a step at the instant the dog is released.

Coaching / Class Exercises

It seems that I am ever studying some arcane handling skill that is a decade away from more widespread use and acceptance. I was studying the Blind Cross and the Flip (called the Ketchker today) something like a dozen years ago. These skills are gaining wider acceptance today, though on a somewhat one-dimensional basis.

I clearly cannot require my students to handle the same way I do. Frankly, a lot of what I do is because I don’t move the way I used to with my arthritic knees. None of my students have such a fine excuse, and so we will have discussions on movement and how the handler’s movement conveys direction to the dog. And once that is understood, the handler becomes the master.

But I do want them to stretch and learn.

Training by Minuet

The minuet is a classic agility game in which a handler will run a sequence until his time expires. The objective then, is to do the sequence as many times as possible in the time allotted. A minuet becomes a study of the adequacy of movement both in terms of giving good direction to the dog; and in terms of motivating the dog to his best speed.

Note that a Minuet should be designed to fold back into itself, meaning that a transition is provided from the last obstacle to the first.

The advantage of the Minuet approach to mixed group classes is that everyone will have a specific time-limit on the floor, and what each handler chooses to do with it is entirely up to them. Often in a group class there is a notable disparity on the floor as someone struggling (or wrestling with a petulant inner child) will occupy more than his share of time on the floor, while another handler will nail the sequence and be done! So, the Minuet is intended to provide balance and parity.

Minuet in the Middle

Here’s the sequence:

 

BLOG1077_06

A Study of Discrimination

A discrimination is a riddle in agility in which two obstacles are placed in close proximity. The overt or obvious discrimination in the following exercises is the tunnel under the A-frame. But we should not overlook the fact that the jumps are often presented in “pairs” to the dog’s approach and so those too are discrimination challenges.

The two classic handling positions in a “discrimination” are 1) the blocking position and 2) the body magnet position. The drawing below shows sequences (each can be run as a minuet) for practicing both of these handling positions.

 

BLOG1077_07

The white numbers ~ This is practice for the blocking position on a discrimination. It’s important to understand that when taking the blocking position on a discrimination the handler is obligated to do only one thing … block.

The approach to jump #5 is a discrimination of two jumps. A Front Cross on the landing side of jump #4 will neatly put the handler in position to block the dog’s approach to the wrong-course jump.

The dark red numbers ~ This is practice for the body magnet position. The presumption is that when the handler is the side of the obstacle that is the correct choice the dog will naturally gravitate towards that closer obstacle. In practice the handler is too often not nearly as attractive as he or she would like to be. And so we will practice an “insurance” movement when taking the body-magnet approach to the discrimination… using an RFP (counter-rotation) to draw the dog to the nearer.

Squaring the A-frame & Technical Tandem

 

BLOG1077_08

Now that we’ve had a discussion about the “blocking position” I’d like to carry the logic of the handler’s hedging movement to a sequence in which the handler will be obligated to create a square safe approach to the A-frame. This is a matter usually accommodated by careful course design.

Note that I’ve drawn lines from corner-to-corner on the A-frame. These lines represent a zone of safe approach to the A-frame. So in this exercise, the handler will be obligated to push the dog out, over the line, before making the turn to the A-frame.

On the dismount of the A-frame, the handler will turn his dog away into the pipe tunnel. The Technical Tandem is a bit more difficult than a Tandem when the dog is jumping or moving on the flat, because as often as not there is no inertia to carry the dog into the turn.

Jumping Into the League

This is the final game of the 2015 winter series.

It is a simple (?) numbered course that is scored Time, Plus Faults.

We welcome all new clubs who would like to establish league franchises. The National Dog Agility League stands apart from most agility organizations in the world. This is not a titling organization; and it’s really inexpensive to play.

Think of it this way… The National Dog Agility League is the only world championship forum to which all dogs are invited.

You can download the score-keeping worksheet for final game of the Winter 2015 series here: Scoresheet.

Results from the November league game can be found here: Nov Results

Blog1077 Home

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 Van Deusen Riddle

September 9, 2015

The National Dog Agility League September league course was designed by Wayne Van Deusen. This course features some interesting handling challenges, with a definite international flavor.

BLOG1043_01

In my own classes (which attend league play) we spend a bit of time walking through the league course to talk about handling strategies to solve the course we are running. My mission as instructor is ever to teach my students the basic skills to solve the riddles posed by the course designer.

The handler is the architect of the dog’s path. And so handling should always begin with a visualization of the dog’s path. Once we set that very basic goal, just about anyone can rummage through the inventory of skills they might have to conduct the dog upon that path. Whether the plan is right or wrong will sort itself out when we test the proposition with a dog in motion (with time-keeper, scribe and judge all playing their part in the drama).

BLOG1043_02

These days most of us own some rudimentary approach to a “back-side” jump. Clearly the approach to jump #2 is a managed approach. On this course, however, the back-side is the beginning of a more complicated riddle.

Jump #2 actually gives the handler a choice of turning directions. I’m inclined to begin with the natural turning direction as the natural choice unless other factors talk me out of that choice. What the drawing shows is that a right turn (which is the natural turning direction) at jump #2 will expose the wrong course tunnel option at #4.

BLOG1043_03

Turning the dog to the left at jump #2, as previously noted, fights against the natural turning direction. It also exposes a wrong course option (presenting jump #1 again to the dog). And it also calls for a considerably depressed angle approach to jump #3. But, the consequential path sets the dog up neatly for the correct entry to the pipe tunnel at #4.

BLOG1043_04

On the dismount of the #4 pipe tunnel the handler might simply attack jump #5 and work to pre-cue the turn to #6. This strategy probably raises the odds of the dog dropping the bar at jump #5, and clearly sets up jump #2 as a wrong course option.

The red line in the diagram shows the handler creating a corner of approach to jump #5 which lines the two jumps up neatly, with a consequential path that carries to the weave poles. This will probably result in a longer path than the “attack jump strategy”, but not much longer.

BLOG1043_05

After the excruciating grind of the opening this course opens up into a bit of a helter-skelter romp around and to the A-frame. The handler should be aware of the not terribly obvious challenges in this simple part of the course: a) The dog dismounting from the pipe tunnel at #9 needs to be turned to jump #10; b) the #3 jump is exposed as a wrong course option after jump #11; and c) the weave poles are set as a wrong-course option after jump #12. The handler might be advised not to take it all for granted.

BLOG1043_06

The interesting turn the course takes here is really a question of the handler’s downfield control position. While the dog is on the A-frame the handler must be calculating how to get in position to handle the closing bit, jump #17 to the pipe tunnel at #18. But the handler is obligated to turn the dog out of the #14 pipe tunnel to tag jump #15. And in that moment of prudence the handler might surely sacrifice the forward-of-the-dog control position after jump #17.

And the handler should be aware of the wrong course options presented to the dog. The A-frame is surely an option for the dog coming out of the pipe tunnel; jump #3 looms again after jump #16; and the weave poles are somewhat compelling after jump #17.

BLOG1043_07

I shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a left turn at jump #17, though to my own thinking it’s crazy and perilous. The right turn clearly opens up the wrong course side of the pipe tunnel.

It was clearly not my intention to open the discussion to the handling skills needed to solve Van Deusen’s riddle. Maybe I’ll return to this course after we’ve run it in league play so that I can inventory handling skills that proved to be successful, and some that weren’t particularly so.

Jumping in to the League

If you have interested in jumping into League Play, you still have time to play on the second course of the summer league. The workbook can be downloaded here: September League

If you have interested in jumping into League Play, you can still play on the first course of the summer league; but under our league rules results submitted after August 31 cannot be counted towards league standing. The workbook can be downloaded here: August League

The score-keeping workbook for the out-of-league course can be downloaded here: Pick-up Game

Earned LPP

The National Dog Agility League has published Top Dog standings based on the accumulation of Lifetime Performance Points: LPPMaster

The details of LPP earned can be found here: LPPDetail

Blog1043 Home

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.

Intensity Agility

March 9, 2015

BLOG992_01

Here’s the course. It’s somewhere between icy and muddy outside, so I set the course up in the training building. The 3/4″ mats are shrunken, cold and hard. But our dogs are used to the surface and move in a collected fashion. I expect about anybody running on grass or on one of those Astroturf surfaces will have a clear advantage.

We filmed my run with Kory: http://youtu.be/TZbQW6pgYRE;

and Marsha’s Run with Phoenix: http://youtu.be/gVeWMGMitEM.

Phoenix actually ran first you can see where the wild man broke one of the weave poles. I had to go down in the lower field and grab several poles from my pound-in-the-ground weaves to fix the set.

To be sure, I am attempting to demonstrate the Back Pass as an important movement in the sport of agility. This short course features at least two threadles and a pull/push through. I used the Back Pass for each. You’ll note too that Marsha made use of a couple of Back Passes… she does train with me, after all.

An important attribute of the Back Pass is that the dog drops out of obstacle focus and into handler focus, allowing the handler’s position to constitute the corner of approach to the course. Once you start using this movement it will be an invaluable part of your agility repertoire.

Incorporating the League Course into Agility Classes

I ran a league at Dogwood for something like eight years. That was 150 students a week. So I would set the league course on Sunday and base all of our classes on that set of equipment. We were pretty serious about everyone running the same course… so it was necessary to mark the position of equipment on the floor (or on the field) so that if it got kicked around a bit, we could continue to nudge it back into position.

We’re starting now a series of classes for a very small family of students with the earnest intention of training them to masters level skills. Each week will begin with the league course and have a special topic for study and practice. And, each week, there will be homework. Please note that an instructor always knows who is doing their homework…and who is not.

Homework

  • Back-Pass in both directions
  • Weave Poles with progressive oblique separationThis is a simple concept. As the dog weaves the handler will gradually increase his/her distance from the dog. At first the angle of dismount is at a modest angle. But over time the handler should increase the oblique angle until it is virtually 90 degrees.
  • Weave Poles with handler at high energyCompetition should not be the first time your dog sees you being excited and agitated. Practice the weave poles while pushing energy with the dog.
  • Weave Poles with a variety of approach angles; and practice rear crossing the entry.

Lesson Plan March 9, 2015

I shall probably have to return to these over the next few days to write a bit on each of the sequences to share with you what I learned in the teaching of them. You’ll note that because my floor is bigger than the published league course, I’ve added additional equipment and have incorporated that equipment into our lesson plan.

BLOG992_02

BLOG992_03

 

BLOG992_04

 

Blog992

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.

A solemn day

December 27, 2014

Today was pretty much given over to the funeral of James Martin, my father in-law. He was 89 years old. He served his country honorably in World War II. And he was a good provider for his family. A large number of family and friends attended to pay their respects.

When I die, I would not like a funeral. Maybe I’ll donate my body to science. If they can find any usable parts, take them with my blessings. I’m sure I won’t need them.

Instead of a funeral or a wake, my friends will have an agility trial and run some of the toughest courses I’ve ever designed. Then I can go on to my final rest with people cursing me and behaving pretty much as they did when I was alive. I’d like that.

Those that don’t actually have dogs can be put to productive use… you know, leash running and fluffing the chute.

No Cheating

Okay, I promised to write a new blog entry for 100 days in a row, repeating an exercise I did a few years ago. I want to cover some new ground… I’m especially interested in giving good documentation to the Back Pass, including some video to make my training points for me.

There’s a book I’ve wanted to write for several years to cover the fundamentals of agility handling. The working title has been Agility Chi. I’ve actually written most of it already. The material needs to be gathered up, organized, and presented in a consistent voice.

The thing about fundamentals is that fundamentals never change. Consequently the need for the exposition of the basic science of agility handling is, if anything, as relevant today as it has ever been. I’ll let you know how that project progresses.

I have another project up and coming. We are going to endeavor to launch a Top Dog agility league in southern California in the February/March 2015 timeframe. I’m ever the optimist.

Errors in the Tandem

This is a variation of the Tandem that I call the “New Jersey Left,” or the “Whiplash Turn.” Have you ever driven a car in New Jersey? In order to turn left you actually have to turn right three times.

BLOG04_06Sure, it gets the job done. The handler changes lead hands and goes on without mishap. The bad part of this movement is that it uses about three seconds without actually going anywhere.

Sometimes the New Jersey left is done intentionally. Sometimes it’s done by accident. Refer to the same drawing, above. The handler picks up his counter-arm and points the wrong direction. Sometimes the handler will actually lean in the opposite direction of the turn, or take a little sidestep that way, before pushing into the turn.

The only fix for this is to demonstrate how a person turns a corner. You move to the corner, and then you turn and go in the direction of the turn. What you don’t do is flap your arms, or lean away from the turn. The handler, in a Tandem Turn, should turn the corner the very same way he’s been turning corners his entire life.

BLOG04_07This illustration shows the handler stepping in front of the dog, intruding on the dog’s path, turning the dog more sharply than intended. This is not a Tandem Turn. The handler isn’t in position to do anything about it. The Tandem is a cross “behind” the dog. If there’s any question of anatomy, the “behind” is the bit with the tail, a difficult concept for those who own Aussies or Corgis.

When teaching the dog the Tandem a handler who consistently steps in front of the dog rather than behind the dog may shut the dog down. Great care should be taken to avoid stepping in front of the dog.

BLOG04_08In this illustration the dog has taken the off course jump. The Tandem Turn tends to go wide in the presence of an “option” or a “trap.”

This might be saved first of all by showing a very aggressive rotation of the handler’s shoulders. In the illustration the handler is using an inside-arm Tandem. It might be better to use the counter-arm so that the turn goes hard and deep.

The real problem here is the selection of movements. On the approach the handler probably should plan on a Back Cross rather than a Tandem. One of the attributes of a Back Cross is a tightened turn on the landing side of the jump. This is an instance in which a tightened turn might be desirable.

The Tandem Turn is fast dog handing. The handler is mostly behind and pushing.

The handler should practice with both the counter-arm signal and the inside-arm signal.

Blog990 13-of-100

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 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.

Blog969 12-of-100

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.

BLOG04_01

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.

BLOG04_02

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.

BLOG04_03

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.

BLOG04_04

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.

BLOG04_05

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.

Blog967 10-of-100

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.

What Did You Learn Today?

December 23, 2014

Years ago, at the end of a seminar I taught, somebody asked me “What did you learn today?” The interesting thing for me then, and ever since, is that I had an immediate answer for her. It never fails that when I teach, I get to learn.

8 Kinds of Front Cross?

The mechanics of each type of Front Cross is different.

The basic attribute of a Front Cross could be stated: Counter rotation draws the dog to the handler.  So the 8 different kinds of Front Crosses all (mostly) rely on the basic “drawing the dog”. Subtle differences in the mechanics deliver different strategic objectives without losing sight of the basic attribute.

Each is like a choreographed dance. Posture, position and timing define each movement.

Simple Front Cross – the handler changes sides to the dog in a Front Cross on the flat; this is an simple change of sides, unworried and unhurried. All other types of Front Cross are variations of the Simple Front Cross.

Layered Front Cross – The handler layers to the landing side of a jump then: 1) using counter rotation to create a corner of approach to the jump; or  2) using position to a turn the dog after the jump.

Pre-cue Front Cross – The handler cues the dog to an impending turn by prematurely showing the counter-rotation of the Front Cross or by adopting a posture facing back to the dog.

Rolling Front Cross – The handler rolls through space while counter rotating

Squaring Front Cross – The handler uses the Front Cross to set a  square corner of approach

Serpentine Front Cross – The handler turns the Front Cross into a combination movement: either Post & Cross or Cross & Post.

Technical Front Cross – The handler Front Crosses the dog on the dismount of a technical obstacle (contacts or weave poles).

Blind Cross – This is a racing movement. The handler effects the change of sides by turning away from the dog rather than to.

Drop Dead Boring

I sure managed to make all of those Front Cross notes above sound drop-dead boring. Well, I’m an old technical writer where drop-dead boring is a way of life. But to be kinder to the muse I’m not ashamed of a “Just the facts, ma’am!” attitude towards writing.

Behind the stone-faced presentation there’s some real emotion in those words too. And I can prove it:

The handler approaches a moment in the course where he’s got to change sides to his dog, and the change of sides must set the dog up square for the path ahead. But the handler doesn’t know where to set the corner, or even where the corner is, and begins the counter-rotation of the cross before he’s in the correct position and before it was time to turn the dog in any case. His run goes to hell! He cries, he spits, he blames the course! It’s a very emotional moment.

Blog966 9-of-100

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.

Measuring Success

December 16, 2014

When judging, I occupy myself with studying handling methods. There is this new thing that people are doing where the handler shakes a fist at a jump. I’m presuming that the signal is for the dog to collect and wrap the jump in a neat turn back to the handler. I’m all for something new. I always have been.

It’s fairly easy to ascertain if a handling device actually works. Did it communicate to the dog and deliver the desired results?  Did the dog collect? Did the dog wrap neatly back to the handler? Or, did it cause the dog to drop the bar or earn a refusal in the face of it?

So far as I can tell, the “fist” thing at a jump is as likely to succeed because of what the handler does with his body as with his hand. Rotating slightly back to the dog indicates a turn. Making the presentation with the counter arm does the same. Facing back more fully to the dog (back-peddling to support the forward movement) is a favorable cue for the dog to collect for the jump.

At any rate, I measured the success rate of the “fist” at a cool 50% which isn’t terribly impressive, don’t you know. But I’m reminded that like the game of Zoom where a clear message is whispered from ear to ear that the spoken phrase at the end of the line mightn’t much resemble the phrase that began the whispering. And so the teaching of whatever innovator is out there teaching this “fist” thing is most likely obscured by the sloppy passing on of the technique.

What I want to know, of course, is this something that is supposed to be intuitive to the dog? Or, is it something that has to be taught to the dog? If it is not intuitive… why the heck does it have to be a fist? Couldn’t it be a hippy peace sign? And, if it is intuitive, why doesn’t it work to a greater extent.

I’m sure somebody will step up to share the “science” with me.

While we’re on the subject

The Ketchker is getting to be more common in competition. This is a movement that I began studying and teaching 12 or 15 years ago. I called it the “Flip” and defined it as a combination movement, Front Cross to Blind Cross. Unfortunately in the present incarnation it is used in a very narrow and one-dimensional context… solely as a wrapping movement at a jump. The world at large hasn’t discovered the application of the Flip out on the flat. And, there are several dandy applications on the flat.

Note that like the RFP the handler’s lead in the Flip/Ketchker resolves to the side on which it started. Unlike a simple cue for the dog to collect and wrap (as in the “fist” thing or a simple “backy-uppy”) the handler doesn’t really want to change leads. So it was natural, predictable, and logical for the movement to come into common use.

The following I’ve extracted from a web log entry from about seven or eight years ago:

Day 75 – Footwork/Path for Flips

I have for a number of years catalogued handler movements in agility and tried very hard to understand how they influence the dog’s understanding of the direction of the course. Since it is the handler’s job to direct the dog it makes some sense that we should understand movement as a form of communication with the dog. Indeed, movement surpasses verbal speech in nearly every way. This is a radical notion in today’s game. It seems so obvious to me that I am always surprised when I run into the brick wall of incomprehension and, frankly, belligerent denial.

Carole Schlaes wrote this comment: “Since you still have 27 days or so to go in this latest endeavor, can one of those days be a tutorial on the Flip?” I suppose that I’m obligated to do so now.

Mitchell Flip

I’m pleased to call this a “Mitchell” Flip one last time, just to acknowledge how I first began to study this movement. In a class back at Dogwood many years ago we were doing an RFP exercise. Once of my students did this thing that clearly was not an RFP. But what struck me on the moment was that a) it worked, and b) it was quite elegant. Mitchell has moved on to a Border Collie and training with someone who disdains handler movement as a form of communication with the dog. So the movement really doesn’t need to be named after him.

The Flip is a combination movement, Front Cross to Blind Cross. It is the poor second cousin to the RFP, and can be used instead of the RFP in many situations. In one way the Flip is superior to the RFP. The Flip allows the handler to remain in motion, and to get going, when the RFP grinds the handler to a halt.

BLOG170_01

The Flip acknowledges three lines and creates two distinct corners in the dog’s path. Note that the first movement is a Front Cross, which starts towards the dog. But the handler does not want the dog to come all the way up on the new lead hand. Before the dog can actually catch the handler, the handler will do a Blind Cross, continuing to turn in the direction started with the Front Cross yet moving in a direction corresponding to the third line.

In the drawing the dog’s path is indicated by the solid line. Notice that the handler flips into the Blind Cross before the dog can actually overtake the handler in the initial Front Cross.

BLOG170_02

The Flip compels the dog to turn two distinct corners, and draws the dog towards the handler’s position. It is a marvelous tool for solving simple discrimination problems. On the face of the movement, it looks like a simple 360º turn. That’s not exactly true. It’s actually a 270º turn, followed by a 90º turn. It’s unfortunate that those two numbers add up to 360.

This is a very business-like movement. The handler must move convincingly and without any sort of hesitation, because it is the movement that turns the dog. In this illustration the handler’s cue to begin the first element of the Flip, the Front Cross, is the dog coming up through the tire. The cue for the second movement is the dog turning and moving in the direction of the handler.

BLOG170_03

The Flip is also a very powerful tool for tightening a dog’s turn. This is great for the very ballistic dogs, as the handler’s movement is very compelling.

The rotation of the handler’s body might actually be very tight, nearly a pirouette (and nearly a 360º turn.) Yet the handler should not lost sight of the fact that it is two distinct movements, each with their own cues and objectives.

When the two are put together back-to-back the handler’s movement and the effect on the dog can be a thing of grace and beauty, a moment of poetry.

RFP vs Flip

I have distinct criteria for whether I would use a Flip to solve a riddle rather than an RFP. The RFP is a movement in which the handler wants to be very precise and maintain a control position. The Flip is to the RFP as the Blind Cross is to the Front Cross… the Flip is a racer’s movement meaning that the handler has a compelling interest to race the dog. What a novel concept in these times of micromanagement!

And in the same way that the Blind Cross is kinder to old knees than is a Front Cross, the Flip is kinder to old knees than an RFP. A single Cross is a grind against inertia so the double-cross of the RFP is a double-grind against inertia.

Blog959 2 of 100

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.

BLOG952_01

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.

BLOG952_02

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

BLOG952_03

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.

Blog952

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.