Archive for the ‘Handler Training’ Category

Meet Me in Latrobe

September 16, 2014

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

Petit Prix

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

Top Dog

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

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

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

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

Top Dog Challenge at Home

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

Class Plan

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

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

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

The Lesson Plan

August 31, 2014

I’ll often approach development of a lesson plan with some absurd notion of a challenge that forces me and my students to hone a practical handling or dog training skill. Lately I’ve been preoccupied with the pull/push through course challenge and the use of a Back Pass to solve.

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This is the initial sketch. The moment of the Back Pass is clearly in the transition from the weave poles to the blind approach pipe tunnel at #4. I’ve got to chuckle just a bit at the presumption of the handler being forward in the gap as the dog dismounts the weave poles. This demonstrates that I design for my own pre-requisite skill set. A more novice students may struggle both with the send to the tire and the call-through the weave poles required for the handler to have the required forward position.

This sequence calls for a second pull/push through in the transition from the pipe tunnel to the backside of jump #5. Ye gods.

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While I might be tempted to do an entire class with a diminutive smattering of obstacles on the floor, it really isn’t very practical. As this lesson plan was put up the week before a three-day agility trial I knew I had to have other equipment on the floor.

This sequence/course begins with a contact obstacle the philosophical underpinnings of which require a whole separate article/blog. Let’s just say for now that it’s a protocol for smoothing impulse control.  I’m tempted to end with a contact obstacle as well.

You’ll note that I’ve changed the nature of the pull/push through challenge. Can’t say I like it too much as it’s more like a threadle and might be solved with a simple Front Cross.

In the design of the lesson plan I can pop this drawing on my printer and head out to the training building to set it up. This is lovely exercise in the hottest part of the summer, requiring a light cotton shirt and a tall iced tea. I’ll take Kory with so that he can follow me around the training building optimistically dropping a tennis ball under my feet while I work.

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What ultimately gets set up on the floor is this bit. The transition from jump #6 to the opposite side pipe tunnel suited my desire to test the Back Pass for drawing the dog neatly out of obstacle focus for the push/pull through challenge.

I added the tunnel on the other side of the A-frame for a bit of a discrimination challenge (faced twice, mind you). Last week we had a discussion of and tutorial for teaching the dog to discriminate between tunnel and contact on verbal command only. I don’t expect my students to master a thing on its introduction. But I do remind them of why they’d better get going with the training protocol after I’ve made that introduction.

Jump #14 is a bit of a puzzler as there is a choice of turning directions both of which are challenging in their own way.

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

The Alchemist

August 31, 2014

I’ve been struggling with the implications of the running Back Pass and a variety of applications that have the handler folding through the rotation to give the dog an early dismount. The more you think about this, the more the whole thing resembles a Blind Cross. Rather than engaging in a mind-numbing attempt to differentiate and dignify the two movements as separate, I’m inclined now to accept that they were related all along and have been held apart only by context.

The Back Pass is a skill taught to the dog; The Blind Cross is a handler movement. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to the Back Pass as a movement. Just be mindful of the difference.

I accept the alchemy of the two concepts bonded not only as relations; but as intrinsically related. The discussion could get exciting on this small point. While I’m a considerable advocate of the blind cross as a handling tool, I have long believed that in the presence of a wrong course option, the blind cross is too weak a signal.

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This illustration might be both drastic and obvious. Often enough it’s the not-so-obvious wrong course options that catch up the Blind Cross handler. But the illustration serves (and clearly, there’s a lot of Stevie Wonder in the Blind Cross).

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Let’s suppose then that the handler uses his clockwise Back Pass command in the moment before committing to the Cross. The ostensible Blind Cross is set upon a verbal cue and not the dog’s pure response to movement.

Mind that this is a complete swag with an incomplete statistical sampling. Though, don’t you know, in my own house are more dogs that know a Back Pass than I could otherwise name out in the rest of the world. So I’ll test and refine with my own dogs; and call the sampling good enough.

A Note to the Future Agility Guru

The most interesting attribute of the Back Pass as a handling movement is that the dog drops completely out of obstacle focus and into handler focus for a tightly controlled movement around the handler’s body.

On the face of it, one would think that the “tightly controlled movement” is the most important/interesting attribute of the movement. But the clever fellow (Guru in training) will recognize that “drops completely out of obstacle focus” is the amazing and important attribute of the movement.

In the age of “Something Wicked This Way Comes” the Back Pass becomes the canny handler’s solution to pull/push through, backside approach, threadle and other impending demons.

There’s about a dozen of us in the whole world studying the Back Pass. I reckon that in ten years it will be required study by serious students of the game.

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

Ripsaw

May 12, 2014

“Ripsaw” is terminology that I pretty much made up to apply to a sequence that uses a pipe tunnel that sets the handler up to run into his dog on the exit of the tunnel. This is easy to illustrate:

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In this sequence the handler probably wants to try to get the dog on his right side on the exit of the tunnel. Without drawing the lines myself I’m trusting that you’ll see that the dog’s path and the handler’s path cross like a scissor cut on the exit of the tunnel. This is a recipe for collision.

When I review courses I typically try to discourage this convention. But I’ve noticed in the real world that it occurs often enough. From time to time I’ll intentionally put the rip-saw tunnel into play in my own classes; but not without a discussion about how it should be handled.

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This is a fun sequence that features no fewer than two ripsaw tunnels. It’s a bit on the technical side; be content that I’m considering this for some USDAA Masters Challenge course down the line.

Without belaboring the handling advice, I find the thing I most often have to teach in a sequence like this is that the handler points more with his toes than with his arm and hand. So picture the handler in the transition from the #6 pipe tunnel to the #7… running the dog past the #7 tunnel, pointing at it with his hand, but ignoring it completely with his feet. <heavy sigh>

On the Road Again

I’m about set for a long road trip. This next weekend I’ll be in Pottstown, IL for a TDAA trial at Dinky Dogs! And then it’s on to Golden, CO for the Western Petit Prix. I’ll do the usual two-day warm-up workshop before the three day event. I’m actually competing with two dogs, Hazard and Haymitch; though I’m not holding out to be terribly competitive on these old creaky knees. I’ll also be bringing along my by Kory. He’s been carrying is rear left leg and so the trip will be nothing but crate rest for him.

The Petit Prix is about my favorite competition in agility. We don’t have any sudden death events. Everybody gets to stay in the game ‘til the very end and will ultimately be measured for placement by overall performance. Some of the finest small dog athletes in the country will be in attendance. It’s like small dog agility heaven.

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

Slightly Crazy

April 18, 2014

I am in Cincinnati this weekend, showing both Kory and Marsha’s young boy Phoenix. It’s been a tough week for us. We lost our old boy Dash. So this evning I’m unlikely to be either pithy or elegant in my writing.

This weekend past I was in Grand Junction, Colorado for a handling seminar. My seminars in that area are typically arranged by a long time student and friend, Sue Sternberg. I will end a seminar with a chat in which I ask each person who participated what they learned.

What I learned, I take home with me.

An interesting development… I have had a protocol for the introduction of a jump (bar hurdle) to a dog for something over 20 years. And now I’m going to change it. It’s not that I didn’t think it through. I just didn’t understand that the world was going to go slightly crazy; an event which needs to be accommodated in our agility foundation.

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The intro protocol I’ve used forever goes something like this:

  • The handler presents the jump on his right
  • The handler presents the jump on his left
  • The handler leads out and calls the dog over on his right
  • The handler leads out and calls the dog over on his left
  • The handler sends the dog to jump on his right
  • The handler sends the dog to jump on his left

On first glance it looks like I have everything covered. You’ll note that even this short list is full of prerequisite skills. The obvious stuff is a dog who will stay while the handler leads out… and a dog who will go away to jump. Less obvious is the tantalizing shaping of a handler who doesn’t know which arm/hand to use.

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The addition to the jump introduction protocol is:

  • The handler draws the dog around on his right side and presents the jump from the backside
  • The handler draws the dog around on his left side and presents the jump from the backside

This too has an interesting prerequisite skill which is by no means automatic and will have fruitful consequences to the handler who practices: the ability for the handler to draw a dog tightly around his body.

I say the world went slightly crazy. Well, the blind approach jump or the backside approach surely is a skill worth putting into a dog’s foundation as well as the handler’s. We compete in a slightly crazy world.

What have you learned today?

I said that I left Grand Junction with a shortlist of what I learned. I learned (reaffirmation actually) that a conditioned performance of a jump is one of the most overlooked skills in the sport of dog agility. Ironically, the jump is the last obstacle in agility for which the dog truly learns focus.

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

Black Hole Night at Class

October 9, 2013

I had a little fun with class last night. I didn’t do that exercise with the sublime technical undercurrent that I chatted about in my blog a couple days ago. No, like I said, we did something fun, instead.

The premise of “Black Hole Night” is basically this… the dog on the floor is never allowed to go into a pipe tunnel. That’s the basic rule. Okay, if you’re an absolute purist the way the rule is supposed to work is that if the dog goes into a pipe tunnel it’s like being sucked into a black hole (and lost, don’t you know). So the handler is instructed to gather his dog and leave the floor. Okay, so that’s not all that much fun. So I gave everybody a choice. If the dog gets into a tunnel the handler has two choices: 1) End of exercise, go back and sit down and wait until your next turn, or 2) The handler can put a finger on the top of his head and spin around once while saying “Oh my God! A two-headed cow!” I relented on that second rule and allowed my student Beverly to say instead “Oh my Garsh!” (sic) “A two headed-cow!”

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This was the basic set of the floor. The way the evening went, we started with very simple sequences which got longer and more varied until the end of class. And it was quite a lot of fun. Needless to say there was a lot of spinning and chanting about two-headed cows going on.

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For my Beginner class (week 7 of 8 mind you)… I changed the equipment on the floor slightly. All of these dogs are too novice to deal with a contact obstacle with a tunnel stuffed under it.

By the end of the hour we were doing sequences of about 8 obstacles (weaving our way through the tunnel slalom out to the A-frame and all the way back to the front of the floor. It was fun. It was interesting to note, and completely predictable, that the obstacles for which these novice dogs showed the least focus, were the jumps.

I know there are a lot of places you can go teach your dog agility where they nit pick “foundation” stuff and it’ll be upward of a year before the dog actually gets to start doing agility (sequencing). But I’m not of that ilk. And I say phooey to those boring-assed training regimens.

As a side note, a couple of my Beginner students are true beginners. You know what that means… it means they’ve never trained a dog to do anything and have no concept of the road in front of them. These are also folks who are least likely to do any homework and so they get bound up in the ego-boo of comparing themselves performance-wise to others in class with them who have considerable more experience and are more likely to do their homework. That’s a terrible thing to do to your ego.

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Okay… got a busy month in front of me. TTYL

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

Turning Choices

October 6, 2013

Last weekend I was in Grand Junction, CO for an agility seminar. While the participants were largely novice, they were willing and brought along a nice bunch of dogs to work with. I look forward to working with them again.

Did I mention this is my busy season? I’ve tried to stay up on chores and miscellaneous projects around the property. Sometimes I wish I owned two mules and a 14 year old boy. But it’s just me and Marsha. I’d share my list of chores and projects with you. But you know, it’ll just sound like a bunch of work.

Aside from the torture of physical labor I’ve been reviewing courses until my brain turns numb. And you know, I have a trial coming up next weekend (USDAA) and I’m only just now wrapping the course design process with reviewers. I’ll be on the road by Friday, heading for Louisville. Is it Louisville? I’d better check.

I’ve also been continuing to work with my girl Prim. At the moment I’m concentrating on Left and Right, a back-pass, and the weave poles. And I’m enjoying playing with about a 50’ send. She can be amazing.

And, don’t you know, we have the TDAA Petit Prix coming up. This is my favorite event of the year and I’m really looking forward to the competition. Some of the best small dogs and handlers in this country will converge on Latrobe, PA to show their skills. It’s on the calendar (http://tdaanews.wordpress.com/tdaa-events-calendar/). I hope you are planning on coming! I know that I need to write some white paper notes on the games we’ll be playing, and publish them in this web log. Need to get started on that. The Petit Prix is in about three weeks.

As is our tradition, I’ll be heading up two days early for the Petit Prix Warm-up Workshop. It’s packed full. Of course I intend to give everyone a real intense work-out, and get them primed for the competition.

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For my Tuesday night class I have the set of the floor pictured here. There’s something I saw in a course I was reviewing that I’d like to present as a lesson to my students. I’ve talked about it before… the logic of turning direction when a jump presents a choice of turning directions. Just to pick out an obvious example of turning direction: in the sequence pictured above, what direction should the handler turn his dog after jump #3?

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If you follow my writing at all you probably know that I have an analysis I go through to make an informed decision about turning direction. I take into account things like “natural turning direction”, risk, length of path… and as this exercise illustrates: “consequential path”.

This illustration seems to be a bit of a no-brainer. Though surely when some people put their dogs on course they don’t even do the no-brainer analysis.

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It wouldn’t take much to draw some of the other elements of analysis into turning direction analysis. And yet “consequential path” still makes its own powerful argument. Maybe what it really argues for are handling skills.

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It’s late now and I think I’m just going to go to bed. There are some things I leave for solving while I sleep and I need to get to those.

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

The Education of Prim

September 24, 2013

We have this young Border Collie pup named Prim. She comes to us from a dog shelter in Cincinnati. She didn’t really fit with the pack very well, from the beginning. We didn’t get a good bond. There’s no question about that. We placed her for a bit with Marsha’s sister. But that pretty much ended when Prim bit her (Marsha’s sister). Prim isn’t like a vicious dog or anything. She has a startle response that resolves to a bite… a bite that doesn’t draw blood or anything; but a bite none-the-less. Indeed, Prim has bitten Marsha once, and me twice.

When Prim was returned to us, about a week ago, I pretty much knew that I had to amend my slothful approach to her education. I have resorted to a dog training methodology for which I have never been a zealous advocate. It’s basically a “nothing in life is free” kind of thing. I housed her down in the training building, segregated from the pack. And I’ve spent the week doing seven-a-day sessions with her. About every two hours I go out to the training building, get her out of her x-pen (on-leash); walk her to do her business, and then do a training session with her.

The early results have been spectacular. I’d do a blow by blow; but the hour is late and I need to move on to other compelling tasks. But I’ll catch you up with what we’re doing in the next couple of days.

Class Tonight

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This is a very old exercise in my repertoire. It’s a crossing exercise that allows the handler to practice and perfect a couple different kinds of Front Crosses and/or a couple different kinds of Rear Crosses.

It occurs to me that old exercises can be dusted off and updated with new skills that demand our attention in competition today. I’ll illustrate:

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This is not just a back-side approach to a jump, but also a pull/push-through to set up the approach to the jump. I personally solve this with a Back Pass. But you should know that there are several interesting solutions.

Lost Lesson Plan

Here’s a part of a lesson plan from a couple weeks ago. While I was “unplugged” I didn’t actually share it with you. As you can see, I was still obsessed with cluster work.

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Ass Pass Class

Okay, I reported in my last blog that Queen City has started offering an Ass Pass Class. My bad. The class is actually a “Backside Jumping” class. That means they are training strategies for the blind or managed approach to an obstacle. Just to be clear… it was reported to me as an Ass Pass Class. You can see the confusion between Backside and Ass.

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

Proofing the Skill

August 12, 2013

We’ve been having an interesting discussion about the (evil?) challenges that have been emerging in our sport. The emerging dichotomy in the discussion contrasts the handler’s athletic ability with dog trainer’s skill in preparing the dog for independent performance.

Those who enjoy and occasionally solve the “Masters Challenge” caliber of agility course riddles resent the implication that the athletic handler doesn’t require a well-trained dog.

I’m especially interested in the blind approach jump (managed/back-side approach). I submit that this skill is largely a matter of micro-management/handling and obviously easier for the athletic handler to get into position to do that micro-managing.

Just to cut to the chase, I’d offer that it’s very easy to test a dog’s training for performance by putting together a simple proofing exercise.

I can be proven wrong!

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Here’s the proofing exercise. The handler remains behind jump #1 while sending the dog down-the-line. The handler must give the dog a command to take jump #3 from the blind side. I have kindly nudged the #3 jump to the side so that the dog can get to the back-side with nearly a straight line.

Please share your YouTube videos in your comments to this blog entry. Of course I’ll expect to see dozens of videos (based on all the times I’ve heard “I’ve trained my dog to do that”). Until I see this proof I will refuse to believe this is a training issue.

En Passant

I wrote the other day that I’m not quite ready to say the European game has the intellectual lead on interesting course challenges. The course below has a very interesting bit that I’d like to put into a USAAA Masters Challenge jumpers course… the En Passant.

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The concept is simple. The handler is required to turn the dog through a box with multiple options with the target obstacle blind to the initial approach. In this course the in passant occurs twice, from jump #1 to #2, and then again from jump #10 to #11.  

The course has other interesting challenges as well and should be approached with a sense of humor.

Discussion

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An important attribute of this challenge is that the transitional distance between obstacles is considerably longer than the usual distances found between obstacles in an agility course. With this in mind, it might be hard to get course reviewers to understand and approve the challenge.

USDAA News and Events

The USDAA web site has for some time featured interesting training bits. The hard working editor of these training bits, Brenna Fender, as selected several of my legacy exercises to put up on the page. You can visit here: USDAA training bits.

I’ve got a million of them! ~ Jimmy Durante

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

Top Cat Course Review

August 10, 2013

An old friend of mine sent me this course. What I would like to do is review the course, understanding that it has never been put up in the world and that the review therefore hypothetical. I find this course illustrative of the types of challenges that face us in agility. My anonymous friend’s contribution to the topic is serendipitous.

Top Cat, I’ll call him, says in a note to me: “Thought I would share with you a sample of what I would love to design for my AKC courses!  Problem is 90% of the exhibitors would want my head on a pike!”

Let’s see if he still loves it when I’m done with my review.

This is the course design question of the day: Is our sport only for the young long legged kids who can outrun their dogs? And, if that is what the course demands, is it a huge design flaw?

Should those of who don’t fit the “long legged kids who can outrun their dogs” description run off to find a not-very-challenging flavor of agility where they hand out qualifying ribbons like pop-corn?

Anyhow, here’s the course:

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I pretty much know that I will crash ‘n burn with my dog on this course; though I’d have fun giving it a go. Mind you I don’t play the same game that most AKC players do, with the dog tied at my hip, running from obstacle to obstacle like a game of connect-the-dots. I’m an older fellow though not real old; but I have arthritis in my knees and so must rely on “training my dog” to perform wicked stuff when I might be at a considerable distance.

I’ve annotated this course with three markers: A, B and C, in dark circles. These are what I consider “control positions”, which is a place on course where I must be in the picture near to the dog in order to solve the technical challenge at hand. I’ll explain each as I go along. But right now I want to point out to you that given my dog’s rate of travel there’s absolutely no way that I get from “B” to “C”. So I must choose which one of them I’ll have to attempt from a distance (whilst yelling out verbal directionals, crossing my fingers, and trying to hold my mouth right). I’m guessing that position “B” will be the distance try, which promises a failure likelihood up in the 90 percentile range.

Walk Through

The “A” control position is intended to solve the opening which offers a subtle “option” challenge.

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The typical novice player might be a bit of a goober, making an approach to jump #1 too square (the red line), which would create a hard to solve option challenge after jump #2. The more advanced handler has the black line. This line too is uncomfortable. The net effect is for the dog to have a depressed angle approach to both jump #1 and jump #3. While I recognize that this is a common challenge I am nervous about the potential for injury to a dog for slicing into the sharp little jump cups on the standards. And it’s not as though this were a flat serpentine in which the dog could assume a natural turning radius to gain focus on each jump. The dog will power through the opening line with no turning radius whatever excepting a bit of a concave approach to jump #3.

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This is my favorite part of the Top Cat course. From control position “B” I can pretty much verbally direct my dog from jump #4 all the way back to jump #11. There are two wrong-course options in this segment of the course (after jump #4 the #14 jump is the option; and after jump #5 the #8 jump is the option); but I’m confident that if I put enough urgency (and panic) in my verbal directives I can solve easily.

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The difficulty really arises at jump #11. I have a choice of turning directions.

A turn to the left (black line) surely presents jump #2 as an option to a dog with considerable work ethic. To the left is the natural turning direction; but the handler needs to be there (in the “B” position) to affect the pull-through.

A turn to the right (red line) offers less risk but results in a longer and less efficient dog’s path. For someone who can outrun his dog, on the other hand, it probably presents a better opportunity to get to the courses chief technical challenge, in the vicinity of jump #14.

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This is the wicked challenge on the course. We can for the moment overlook that the course designer stretched the handler between two control positions so that only the long legged kid who can outrun his dog can be at both places.

The moment at jump #14 begins with a blind/managed approach to the jump followed by a virtual threadle from #14 to the weave poles at #15. The black line represents a perpendicular approach to the weave poles which will, I guarantee, result in a 50%+ NQ rate in a class of Masters/Excellent players (who on some level believe they have trained dogs). The red line represents a managed approach to the weave poles in which the handler will micro-manage the dog around to square up the approach and hope upon hope that the over-zealous judge doesn’t see a refusal in the solution.

Note that the blind/managed approach to jump #14 is constrained by the #5/9 jump which leans in applying compression against the real estate afforded the handler to get the job done.

A final observation on this course is that the two jumps which require hard-aback turns, jumps #11 and #17, are both designated as wingless single-bar jumps. Both of these attributes lower the visual acuity of the jumps and raise the likelihood of a dropped bar or refusal caused by the dog just running past it because it didn’t stand out to him.

Can this course be saved?

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I’ve tweaked the course subtly (not so subtly, maybe). I wanted to maintain the challenges envisioned by the original designer. But I really didn’t. I took out both of the hard-aback turns, preferring instead to allow jumping sequences in which the handler can release his dog to work, rather than be in the picture, micro-managing the dog’s work.

I’ve moved the blind/managed approach challenge to jump #13 because it’s easier for the handler to be in position to solve.

I also took out that silly threadle to the weave poles and replaced it with an ugly-butt approach that will allow the dog to demonstrate his understanding of the performance. I’ve actually replaced the threadle approach with a blind/managed approach; which at least provides the handler with adequate real estate to do whatever it is he needs to do.

Note that I got the obstacle count up to 20.

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