Archive for the ‘Obstacle Training’ Category

Move Over Fast Eddie

October 22, 2012

Most of the discussion below has to do with something I saw doing course review (for the TDAA). I tried to explain to the designing judge a fundamental rule for dogs in motion, that “the dismount is dictated by the approach”.

You probably know that I’ve been working on contacts in my training. This is the bit that I put up on the lower field. I tried to create a course design challenge comparable to the dog’s path problem shown in the first illustration.

The real question is… is it an error in course design or a subtle and cruel riddle intended all along by the evil judge?

Surely, you see it?

Just in case you don’t see it… I’ll help out. The red line coming off the dogwalk is the dog’s true path through jump #5. It won’t take much for the dog to run through the plane of jump #6 to earn the refusal.

I set this sequence up for myself, frankly, because I’d very much like to solve these minor kinds of riddles myself in competition.

Before you can solve the riddle of the dog’s path, you have to see the dog’s path.

I’ve thrown away the sleepy/dreamy line drawn by the Clean Run Course Designer. It was a pretty line, but doesn’t much help our analysis.

The dog’s path from jump #5 to jump #6 is a two-corner transition and requires a two-corner solution. What I was playing with in my own practice of this sequence is using the “come-by” to solve. In the “come-by” I ask my dog to circle my body in a clockwise direction (come, by way of the clock).

However there are a number of interesting compound handler movements that will solve. A handler might get away with a simplex movement (single-corner); but that’s all they’re doing, is getting away with it. The fail rate will be considerably higher than for handlers who see both of the turning corners.

Top Dog Agility Players

I’m working at launching a new, very low-key, recreational agility venue. It has been my dream for many years to develop a recreational approach to agility that is affordable to just about anybody who wants to play. And I think I’ve finally got the correct model.

I’ve started a “blog space” for the venue at: The rules will be published soon.

Look for more information right here in my ongoing web log. I’ll tell it from my heart here. I’ll tell it from my brain there.

Handling Systems

The Handling System is a notion growing in popularity in the dog agility world. A handling system is a form of branding that dictates the handler’s methods for crafting and conducting the game with his dog using the recipe of some notable authority in the sport.

The subscriber to a handling system can be nearly impossible to teach. The more one-dimensional and dogmatic the system is then the less receptive the subscriber to adopt a balanced and rich repertoire of handling skills. A pity!

The downside of any handling system is that it’s really impossible to put into that recipe the rich abundance of thought and skill and love of that “notable authority.” He cannot give you what he is. He can only sketch out that bleak commercial product.

It’s hard to make an argument against the one true way. Always I’m left wondering why a famous handling system doesn’t allow for finding by scientific curiosity the correct mix of skills and methods for the individual dog. Whatever works is right. Right?

I guess an open-ended system is not a system at all. And without the system we defy the mystique of the guru. More the pity.


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.

When One Teaches, Two Learn

September 18, 2012

I had a good time reading the Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day posts on the question: What Makes a Good (agility) Coash/Instructor? You can find the various posts here: Reading over some of them I realized that it could have been a brilliant opportunity for self-promotion. Lolz… I’ve never been very good at that.

You’ll find my post in there in which I gave homage to Pati Mah for unselfishly giving her time to give me a bit of coaching. This past weekend, after about a week of implementing her advice, I got a chance to test Kory’s progress in competition.

Well, it wasn’t a terribly successful weekend in terms of raw Qs (1 of 4). Of the six contact obstacles Kory got to visit, he gave me a perfect 2o2o on four. Of the two he did not assume/or hold position… both of those moments cost us the Q on courses we otherwise owned. So I measure my success as fairly glorious on the weekend. It is a validation of what Pati told me. Imagine how we’ll be doing with a couple months of the protocol under our belts.

I haven’t shared yet what she told me? If not, I’ll revisit in a few days.

Notes on AKC judge Greg Beck

There was a lot of grumbling about Greg’s courses at this trial. Personally I loved his courses and found considerable genius in his presentation of options. Just to define terms, and “option” is a course that makes more sense to the dog than the one the course actually numbered. Greg’s courses would be routine to USDAA players, but quite challenging in venues like CPE and the AKC. But every course flowed beautifully and everything was doable.

I’d love to see Greg judging for the USDAA and TDAA. He has a sense of humor even in the presence of tremendous carnage. You gotta like that.

Greg is way quick on the trigger on refusal calls. He has no preoccupation with anything like the “rule of thirds”; so if a dog spins, it will be a refusal, with no objectivity about “beginning the approach”. I’m not going to argue. I reckon that must be a definition of performance specific to the AKC.

Back Yard… More for Kory

This is what I’m setting up this week for Kory. I suppose I should have a teeter out there too. Maybe next week.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

I spent an afternoon giving a good scrubbing to several of pairs of shoes. I try to rank my shoes by usage. If I’m working waste-deep in muck I use a pair on one end of the rank; If I’m out leading a seminar I wear my newest & shiniest.

Occasionally giving your shoes a soak and scrub will make them all look fresher and extend their practical lives. I’m not an Amelda Marcos-class shoe hound or anything like that. If I have to pay more than about $80 on a pair I start to get sticker-shock.

I’ve discovered, by the way, that the local John Deere dealer keeps a display of New Balance shoes and regularly will feature their discontinuing lines which can be had in the range $28 to $38. That’s much more to my liking.


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.

A Fan for Collapsed Tunnel Training

August 6, 2012

We have traditionally approached teaching a novice dog the Collapsed Tunnel as a two person operation. One person holds the dog on leash while the other person (usually the dog’s person/handler) goes to the other side, lifts open the fabric and calls the dog through. The dog will come to the end of the leash if he tries to go around, left or right; but the leash will release if he offers to move through the tunnel. It’s an effective method, to be sure.

But what if… you are working alone? It is counter-intuitive to the dog to go into the tunnel when he can plainly see that it is closed at just the other end.

So what we’re going to do here is bring into the picture a big barn fan. Got the picture?

Now when you make the presentation of the collapsed tunnel it looks to the dog more like a pipe tunnel. He can see daylight on the other side. It works better if you turn the fan on.

The learning curve for this obstacle is considerably shortened.

Over time, you should rotate the fan in one direction or the other to reduce the amount of air being pushed through the fabric, so that it settles down lower and lower as the dog works.

In about 10 minutes we have a dog who will readily push through the fabric of the collapsed tunnel. We had a little help from a handful of juicy beef treats!

I apologize for the generally poor quality of the pictures. These  were taken with a smart phone. Our little rescue Chihuahua/something Haymitch was the canine talent in this production.


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.

Global Warming Contributes to Disaster in Indianapolis

July 11, 2012

On June 29th, 2012 a derecho swept across the Midwest and intensified precisely as it drew over my property near Marietta, Ohio. This weather system with a name I’ve never heard of before made a mess of my property, knocking down trees and bringing down power lines. Amazingly, None of the structures on the property were damaged.

Now, I shared last week a “daily” exercise I intended to work on through the week with Kory because, as I noted, he wasn’t showing a clear understanding of the full height A‑frame for big dogs; (about 5’11-3/4″ in case you were wondering).

Rather than training my dog through the week I was busing myself around the property, mostly with a chain-saw working very hard to clear out internal roads.

So off we went on the weekend to a USDAA trial in Indianapolis. And here’s how it went… I don’t believe he hit a down contact for the whole weekend. You know, we qualified in Pairs… but that’s a time plus faults game and we qualified in spite of Kory’s missed down contact on the dogwalk.

I actually left in some disgust, actually skipping an Advanced Standard class at the end of the day on Sunday. That’s something I never do. I didn’t really see much sense in stepping on the floor to embarrass myself with an untrained dog one more time.

This is no commentary on the courses designed by USDAA Masters judge Becky Dean. Her courses were lovely and appropriate; and her judging was professional and spot on.

Kowabunga ~ A Mind Bender

I returned home knowing that something was broken. Here’s a boy who has been doing a 2o2o since he was two months old (albeit on a contact trainer then). And suddenly he has no concept. For the next couple days I took him out to the training building prepared to remind Kory of his job on every contact. And… on every contact… he jumped into a perfect 2o2o. I’m talking multiple reps, on nice flowing sequences, the teeter, the A‑frame, the dogwalk… a perfect 2o2o every time.

This evening I took the 36′ dogwalk and put it on the lower field. From the top of the hill I sent him 50 yards running down the hill onto the field to the performance of the dogwalk… and he stopped at the bottom in a perfect 2o2o.

Getting Real

There’s an interesting part of a story in James Micheners Hawaii. The pineapple crop on the islands was failing. So the plantation owners roused the horticulturist who had designed the system from his drunken stupor and put him on the problem when he was sober and steady. After a bit he identified some insufficiency in fertilizer. Having solved the problem he returned to his drunken binge until some future time when he might be called on again.

You must know that I’m a lazy dog trainer. I’m not real mental about pounding and drilling my dogs. Now I know that something’s wrong with the basic crop… so I need to sober up and fix it.

The hardest part of this is for me to understand what I’m seeing. I’m not one to anthropomorphize my dogs. You won’t catch me saying silly crap like “He was just blowing me off.” Slightly congruent to this idea… there might be an argument that Kory is “ring wise” and knows he can get away with it in competition. And so I might have to become one of those fellas who swoop their dogs out of the ring when we fail to get a good 2o2o. Okay, that’s not going to happen either. If you want an explanation, I’ll have to write a whole blog just on that notion. But right now I’m faced with fixing my problem and I don’t have time for a lot of foolishness.

To be very honest I’ve felt the encroachment of this problem and did not honestly acknowledge it. It is a problem of stimulation.

Kory, when he enters the ring, is over the top. Rather than solving it there (in the ring), I’m going to solve it here. Marsha, the consummate dog trainer, has a devilish scheme to make things so exciting that Kory will be enticed to fail, whereupon I can apply my completely neutral but very clear correction.

I’ll keep you posted.


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.


June 28, 2012

Next weekend I’ll be in Indianapolis for a USDAA trial, as an exhibitor. I’ve come up with a set of the floor for the week for my dailies. I’m mainly interested right now in getting a good review of the A-frame; but set for USDAA height for big dogs, 5’11ish”.

This is a bit of a course concept. It doesn’t really show how I’ll for the most part use the A-frame in training and sequencing bits. There are a couple bits in this longer sequence that interest me outside of working on a solid 2o2o.

In these representative sequences I’ll be working on controlled turns (to the A-frame) in the face of wrong course options.

This is a variation on the same theme. Significantly the angle of approach to the turning jump is more square and will challenge my ability to be in a handling position. Well, it won’t challenge my position much as I am comfortable working on both the teeter and the weave poles at a pretty good distance.

Reversing the direction of one of the previous sequences introduces another bit that has my interest… the 0° approach (to the #2 jump). There are of course several interesting handling approaches to solving this. I will likely practice using a Post & Tandem solution, and a Front Cross solution.

An Interesting Week

At the end of last week and over the weekend we had the Ohio 4-H Teen Dog Experience for their third annual outing here at our facility. They take advantage of our facility rate. That allows them, for the rental of the two cabins (into which they stuffed like a dozen kids and their leaders) to get the full run of the property, including the training building, the pond & field and so forth. We’re of course delighted to have them.

As it turns out on the last day we had a scheduling conflict. We had invited the exterminator to do his thing (we’re waging a battle against “bat bugs). Of course Ohio 4‑H had the cabins… and we were locked out of our own house until like 5:00 in the afternoon. So here is the ad hoc office I set up for Marsha and myself in our tractor building. All of the dogs got to hang out in the x-pen which you can barely see to the left.

We survived. No worries.

It’s been a bit of a work week for me. I weeded the parking lot and front drive. I built a shelf of brood boxes for the chicken coop. And I refinished the deck on the house (a 3/4 wrap-around deck, obtw).

Here’s a good before-and-after look at the deck as I refinished it. It looks sexy, doesn’t it? It’s an oil-based finish and will hold that umber color for a couple years, I imagine.

In my spare time… mind you we have three young, untrained dogs in our house. We’re just getting a handle on the training implications. I probably shouldn’t include Marsha’s pup Phoenix in the “untrained dogs” statement. She’s made an introduction to weave poles using two-by-twos and the boy’s performance is looking sweet. Not bad for a six-month-old dog.

Haymitch, our Chihuahua/something rescue boy, is probably a year and a half old. He’s just being introduced to agility training and the whole concept of the training relationship. I’m thinking he’s a very promising prospect. Note we’ve had a lot of rescue dogs over the years… and they are rarely promising.

Finally my young rescue (???) Django is getting a really basic puppy introduction to the two-minute dog trainer. He’s gotten most of his meals in a 2o2o on our contact trainer. And I’ve just begun working with him on a sit-stay. After only a couple days I can put him in a stay, walk away six paces, and return to him without him breaking position. I’ve just introduced a recall (at the end of the six paces)… because he really needs a lot of development of the recall foundation.

This Weekend

I’m off to judge a USDAA trial in Macedon, NY this weekend. Tomorrow I’ll have about an eight hour drive from here to there. I expect it will be a dreadfully hot weekend. But I confess to loving a good out-of-doors trial. It’s the way agility was meant to be played.

I am really looking forward to this. The courses for the weekend incorporate several interesting riddles that provide lots of opportunity for my continued education.

My Republican Heroes

Okay, this is a short list… but it grew today:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Chief Justice John Roberts


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.


June 5, 2012

You must know that I have to rely on considerable distance work in agility. I just don’t move the way I once did. Kory put on quite a show on the weekend, working generally at a spectacular distance. Of course, nobody really wanted to be me. I’ve said for a very long time that working at a distance is like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. And that’s how the weekend went for us. We were at about 50% qualifying vs 50% crashing & burning in spectacular fashion.

Following is the Round 2 Steeplechase, designed by USDAA judge Richard Deppe. The following account is the anatomy of my crash ‘n burn on the course.

The key to using distance work to survive technical bits is to make those technical bits control points. That means the handler will have a close proximity to the dog to demonstrate, by handling the direction of the course. When walking the course I was torn between the blind/managed approach to the long jump and getting Kory to see the oblique presentation of jump #11 on the dismount of the A-frame. Oh, I could give him a good “Right” command from some distance, to be sure.  He would be just as likely to turn hard into a wrong course pipe tunnel (#12) with that strategy.

So, I decided to trust in Kory’s turning radius at jump #8 to carry him out wide enough for a square approach to the long jump. I got the judges whistle as I turned him over jump #11 into the pipe tunnel. I hadn’t even bothered to watch the performance of the long jump. The judge confirmed that he had a cross-cut performance (a refusal) on the hurdle.

So, I just left the course without finishing. What would be the fun in that?

To tell you the truth, a Steeplechase course is typically a wide open zing compared to Masters standard, or the Grand Prix. When the technical control points are presented on either end of a span, as in this course… I simply will not be able to be in both places. I don’t believe that many judges consider old arthritic farts like me in their course design. It’s all about the long legged youngsters.

I’m not daunted, mind you. Because I had a lot of fun this past weekend. And I’m fully aware that Kory is a very young dog, getting better all the time. My only real regret is that I didn’t capture the big cash winnings so I could stop at McDonalds on the way home.

It also occurs to me that I’ve never done “around the clock” training with the long jump [though I’ve asserted in writing that I’ve done around the clock with all agility obstacles.] I’m thinking I’ll take this project into my training program. Imagine actually training your dog to completely understand which approach/dismount is correct on the long jump. Now there’s a thought.


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.

Training in the Ring

June 1, 2012

I’m all settled in to the Red Roof. This isn’t my favorite. But, it has all the essentials and is a comfortable enough routine for me. Kory is getting to be a bit of a veteran hotel guest as well. He knows how to tell me when he needs to go out to get busy (sometimes at 2:00 in the morning); he knows when he gets his meals; and he knows when it’s time to go to play.

I’m away this weekend for a USDAA trial with BRAG in Cols, OH. I’m on a team draw, and all the usual classes. He’s all in Advanced in the USDAA, don’t you know, except for the tournament classes. I’ll be six or seven times in a ring each day. It’s a wicked grind compared to the lah de dah pace of the AKC.

And I’ll be training in the ring.

Of course there are explicit rules against training in the ring, in all venues. Oh pish. The definition of “training in the ring” as written in any set of agility rules is a simple acknowledgement of the most ham handed clumsy kind interference with the dog as you can imagine. That certainly isn’t what I intend.

What I really want to do is take a deliberate course, work all my contacts for an extra second or two, and give my boy basic and enthusiastic validation for his work. This is training, and there’s no question of it.

Training in the ring has a different vantage point as well. It’s a thing I call “Samurai training” which is really basic parry and thrust with a wooden sword. The team, dog and person, each are learning every nuance of the other, whether deliberate or subtle.

I’m not really going to judge our weekend in the field by the arbitrary and artificial measurements of Q and title. It is only training. And it is, after all, only a wooden sword.

At Home Warm Up

I wanted a little reminder before we went away for the weekend of contact performances and Kory’s “named obstacle discrimination” training. In this sequence, for example, I pretty much hung out at jump #1 while giving Kory verbal directionals. The reward of choice was a Frisbee, which I delivered for a good stick on the A-frame.

This set of the floor allowed several interesting training sequences. I had to get a good look at the weave poles as well. I was also interested in this sequence in getting him to turn away (to the left) neatly at jump #5. Again, my “handling” position was somewhere between jump #1 and the A-frame.


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 Optimism of Spring

May 18, 2012

This is the first part of a three part series. The Optimism of Spring will be followed by: The Carnage of Summer, and The Wistful Regret of Winter.

We think of a garden “plot” as a bit of scraped earth with seeds carefully sown in a masterfully choreographed dance of nature and intent. The master gardener in the minds eye is a green thumbed wizard who is already planning recipes for the abundance of fruit that will be drawn out of the earth by his planning and labors.

Note that “plot” has more than one useful definition.

For me the garden plot is more a calculating scheme much like the planning of some felony robbery where little effort might return undue and undeserved reward. The plot begins about the end of November when the previous year’s garden plot lays failed, weedy, and unyielding, and waiting to be tilled under.

Some years ago I became an advocate of a scheme called “square foot gardening.” It’s an inviting concept designed to eek vegetables arranged in supposed compatible harmony from every square inch of available earth. I’m only now ready to admit that these gardens are almost impossible to tend, being densely plotted and incredibly labor intensive to weed. It might as well be called “square foot weeding”.

The gardeners’ scheme unfolds with careful calculations of square footage, the “footprint” of an individual plant, and the interval distance required between each and every until a picture unfolds like a pattern on a woven cloth, intricate and geometric. The plan must include engineering of irrigation and the distribution of water so that each plant will get its’ share, and none will be drowned.

My own diabolical plot hatched this past winter is to put a fair share of my garden in containers; and in the tilled earth I will give big expanses between each plant, making them easy to hoe. I will rely on some partnership with the almighty to water my garden when obligations of business and my favorite hobby carry me away from home.

Tending the garden becomes a matter for New Year’s resolutions. The idea of careful maintenance of these plants is in immediate conflict with my working schedule which might have me out of town for weeks on end during my busy season, which is predictably the very busy season of a garden.

I’ll let you know.

Circular Logic

While contemplating the silliness of World Team/International course design, I heard this wheedling voice at the back of my head… “Train, don’t complain.” Okay, fine then.

I immediately took my boy out into the training building and introduced him to a new command. I called it “Circle!” mostly because it has a distinct sound and seemed fitting for a distinct, new skill. The performance I’m trying to teach is for my dog to go around a jump, and take the jump coming towards me. This picture optimistically shows the handler at about 15 or 18′. To be very honest, after a couple of days I’m more at 15 or 18″.

Always uppermost on my mind is training my dog for an independent performance. So these blind/managed approaches might become, simply, blind approaches. The “Blind approach,” to my mind, means simply that there’s no natural or intuitive approach to the next correct obstacle, and so the dog cannot be released to work (which to me is the essence of dog agility.)

If I can actually teach my dog this skill I will not have to manage my dog through these moments of silly course design and can actually release him to work. The first essential rule of distance training is that the dog must understand his job. This then is a new kind of job.

I’ll let you know.


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.

Morrow, Cronkite, Wallace and Maddow

April 14, 2012

Mike Wallace died last week. He was a powerfully honest journalist in the tradition of great American journalists through the years from Edward R. Murrow to Walter Cronkite. The role of the honest journalist is to confront wickedness and injustice and to expose the truths and lies of our times and our lives.

I’ll miss Mike Wallace and the standards that he set. He was one of the great journalists of my generation. He was 60 Minutes!

In the past few years I’ve grown fearful that the honest and ardent journalist has become a thing of the past. The optimism and faith of children of the 50’s and 60’s in America has been dashed by the emergence of hate-filled propagandists the likes of which you’ll see on Fox News every day and all day long; and we see hate mongers like Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and Savage enjoy huge popularity on the radio. Now they will brainwash us. Now they will poison us with lies. And it’s not even considered a crime.

I see a light in the darkness. Her name is Rachel Maddow.

Rachel Maddow is emerging as the most important journalist of the 21st Century. She has a simple quality that is rare in today’s world… tell the truth and be not afraid. In today’s struggle for the heart and soul of America, reporting the truth is as dangerous as it is rare. If the truth conflicts with political partisanship, profits of the already rich or with cherished belief systems… then the messenger is liable to be shot.

We are the ones truly responsible for our government. That is what Democracy means. Before the up and coming national elections we all owe it to ourselves and our children to understand the issues of this election, and what side of political issues is taken by those standing for election.

Want to hear the truth? Just once? Find Rachel Maddow’s blog ( or watch her news program on television.


I’m in Pocatello this weekend leading a three-day handling seminar. In case you are wondering exactly where is Pocatello, it is in Idaho, somewhere very near the top of the world. This is the view from the south side of my hotel (The Best Western CottonTree Inn). It’s a stunning view the likes of which are enjoyed throughout the Rocky Mountains.

This is the third year they’ve had me back up here in Pocatello, at the top of the world. That’s me in this pic, by the way. You can tell because the sign is pointing right at me. I’ll have to accept that this is about as grand a marquee as I will get for my public appearances. You’ll have to trust me… it’s an economy of scale kind of deal.

Last night they took me out for a taste of local culture. The destination was kept secret from me right ‘til the last. Well… it was roller derby. I did learn a thing about roller derby. It comes to me as a bit of surprise that it is a legitimate sport that has rules and everything. It’s a tougher sport than dog agility to be sure. One of the ladies, who was supposed to do all the scoring for her team, was knocked down like 40 times by other women with big hips. While it was held in a soccer arena it was a bit seedier a venue than we’re used to in agility. But there were considerably more spectators; some of them resembling extras in a Mad Max movie!

We should consider adding some element to the agility game in which maybe bar setters or chute fluffers will jump out of their seats and knock down handlers as they pass. It really could add to spectator appeal; or so it seems.

We began the day on Friday with this sequence. You might recognize it from sequences I’ve been playing with over the past couple of weeks. I restored the long “L” approach to the threadle transition from jump #4 into the weave poles. It provided a wonderful opportunity to give the lateral lead out both discussion and training.

The day was largely spent exploring the mechanics of pre-cue turns. And we got to play a bit with combination movements. I apologize for not sharing every last bit with you. It was a very long day.

In case you were wondering… this course resembles a steeplechase only in terms of the obstacles used. I found it far more technical than a steeplechase should ever be.

Day 2 started with this sequence. It led to a day-long exploration of the Front Cross and the Tandem Turn.  I don’t do much lecturing, don’t you know. I rely on solid handling exercises that speak to my teaching points. I got to make some interesting notes in my own “What did I learn today” journal.

Tomorrow I want to begin with the following sequence and study. When I got back to the hotel this afternoon I had to search back through previous writing to find it. So I’ll share that writing with you as well.

April 29, 2006


Misdirection is one of the favorite tools of the course designer. The dog is set on an implicit path towards an obstacle… but the course veers away to another.

Here is a course that shows almost constant misdirection. If you trace the path of the dog it is fairly smooth and flowing. And yet, the dog is constantly offered wrong course opportunities should the dog care to allow the direction of his movement to come to a logical conclusion.

The Opening: #1 to #4

You’ll note also that handling options have been limited. For example, the handler cannot easily V-set the turn from jump #2 to jump #3 in order to line up jump #3 and the A‑frame because of the looming presence of the wrong-course pipe tunnel after jump #2.

However, the handler might V-set the turn from jump #1 to jump #2 in order to take the pipe tunnel out of the picture altogether. This opening is a bit problematic and risky because hard-right dismount of the A-frame. If the handler is caught with dog on right at the A-frame then the dog had better have a pretty good “stick” position at the bottom so that the handler can bend around to redirect the dog to jump #5.

It’s worth remembering that the A-frame is an accelerator. The dog will be about as easy to turn as a bowling ball if the handler is on the side away from the turn.

It could be what the handler really needs in the opening is a K.I.S. approach (Keep It Simple[1]): dog-on-right through the first three obstacles into a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #3.

Midcourse: #4 to #7

In the opening the handler has already considered risk reward scenarios for the A-frame. It will be easier to turn the dog away from the pipe tunnel to jump #5 if the handler is on the dog’s right side. However, if the dog has a pretty good stick at the bottom contact the handler might work the A-frame dog-on-right and then step in front of the dog on the dismount to bend the dog away.

The turn from jump #5 to the pipe tunnel at #6 warrants some discussion. The handler might simply Post Turn the dog to the jump. This is about the weakest signal for a turn the handler might give[2], no matter how logical or intuitive it seems. I’ll leave it to your imagination what all might happen when the handler gives too weak of a signal as the dog is dismounting an accelerating obstacle with a pipe tunnel looming.

The handler could, with dog-on-left use an RFP to convince the dog into the turn. So whether the handler uses a Post Turn (that actually works) or with an RFP for insurance, he makes the approach to jump #5 with the dog on his left side. The handler’s options are now to use a Back/Rear Cross at jump #5 (risking bar down, refusal, or inefficient turn) or a Tandem Turn (landing-side cross). It’s worth pausing a moment to consider the attributes of both of these turns. The Back Cross when well-executed creates a tightened turn on the landing side of the jump. The Tandem tends to sweep wide.

Another approach to solving the dismount of the A-frame would be for the handler to use a Front Cross as the dog comes down. This would at least predispose the handler to the dog’s left side, making the turn to the pipe tunnel at #6 logical to the dog. The difficulty in performance will have to do with the dog’s speed relative to the handler’s speed and, once again, the dog’s ability to stick the bottom performance. The handler cannot cross in front of the dog if the handler isn’t actually in front of the dog.

Midcourse: #7 to #11

This is a lot more difficult than it looks[3]. The tire looming in the dog’s path after jump #8 is an obvious misdirection option. However, it is so obvious that not many handlers will overlook it, and will successfully turn their dogs to jump #9. But that’s where the fun starts. If the handler is on the inside of the curve then the dog will come off of jump #9 looking very hard at the A-frame. And even if the handler successfully turns the dog off of the A-frame if the dogs turn goes too wide then he’ll be thinking of the left side of the tunnel.

For the handler who can outrace his dog, this sequence is no great challenge. It could be and should be solved using slow dog handling (putting turning movements forward of the dog). The handler can simply Front Cross after jump #8 to draw the dog back in line for jumps #9 and #10.

What’s not too obvious is that jumps #8 through #10 line up very nicely for the handler clever enough to set the corner of the approach.

The handler taking the dog out of the pipe tunnel at #6 is faced with a long transitional stretch of real estate and will have to know precisely how to set the corner of approach. The handler might pick up the dog on left after jump #7 and push out for a Post Turn approach. Or, the handler could draw the dog through jump #7 on his right side to set the corner with a Tandem on the flat. In either case the handler is predisposed to the dog’s right side. So, the dog had better have a pretty good directional turn cue for jump #10 or the handler had better be prepared with a deft Back Cross.

The Closing: #11 to #16

There might be several pretty good solutions for the closing. The easiest thing might be to simply layer to the landing side of jump #9 for a Front Cross. Now the handler will have dog-on-left for an easy finish. The most persistent error in this handling plan will be for the handler to prematurely pull to get into position for the landing-side Front Cross, consequently drawing the dog away from the tire, and earning a refusal. A bit of discipline, keeping focus on the tire is not too dear a price to pay.

The “fast dog” handlers are more inclined to keep dog on right from the exit of the pipe tunnel at #11 through jump #14.

It’s worthwhile at jump #14 to reexamine the attributes of the Back Cross and the Tandem Turn. The most important attributes of the Back Cross (cross on the take-off side) is that it creates a tightened turn on the landing side of the jump. The Tandem Turn (cross on the landing side) tends to create a wide sweeping turn. A very high percentage of dogs compelled into the turn with a Back Cross will earn a refusal at jump #15. The Tandem Turn is almost certainly a better option. However, if the dog drifts wide after jump #13… then the handler will actually want to tighten the turn after jump #14.


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.

[1] I never mention the second “S”

[2] The weakest possible signal would be “talking”.

[3] It’s the kind of sequence that I will very often put in my own courses because it asks of every smart aleck with a Border Collie to prove that the dog has a handler.

Putting It All Together

January 18, 2012

I’ve spent several days now designing training sequences and skill sets. What I need to do is put them together as a lesson plan for my students. In addition to that, I must find a game for league play, or two, in the set of the equipment.

I started the design with a discussion of a “discrimination” working set. It fulfills a basic obligation to approach sequencing with a training objective. That is, I want my students to understand how to solve for two obstacles placed in close proximity… and have a well-rehearsed handling answer to the riddle.

I moved on to another and very different set of obstacles, somewhat varied sequencing, and yet another skill objective; the Tandem Turn to solve a distance challenge. In this set of the floor we will also have an opportunity to work on a variety of specialty hurdles.

So the question becomes, how do we put them together?

This works for me. When I write a lesson plan I have to consider conflict between the two sides. The area of greatest conflict will be when the dog in the lower sequence is moving between the two winged hurdles (above the broad jump); while the dog at the top is making a transition between the U-shaped pipe tunnel and the A-frame. We’ll put dog fencing in that area to separate the possible conflict between dogs.

Now… on to the design of our league play games.

Standard Course

I have several choices to work with. If we do a standard course I should like to do something for my novice students, and something for my advanced/masters students.

This is an acceptable novice course, I think. Unfortunately it avoids the teeter (we already didn’t have a dogwalk on the field this week; darned shame, because I own four of them). However, it has some fairly tricky technical stuff for the novice handler. We get to approach the A-frame/pipe tunnel discrimination twice; and we have the nearly blind approach to jump #7 out of the weave poles.

This is acceptable as an advanced/masters course. It certainly has a higher obstacle count; and the challenges from the novice course are slightly compounded. I will probably go with this one… though I had something slightly more bloody-minded in my sights.Here’s my bloody-minded vision. The only real difference between this design and the previous is that we’ve swapped the #2 and #15 approaches to the A-frame/pipe tunnel discrimination to the considerably more difficult of the two choices; and I’m asking for a counter-side approach to the #11 pipe tunnel.

Setting the Floor

A bit I don’t always share in my lesson plan is the map I make for setting the building.

My training building is actually 120’ long by 62’ wide. I don’t sweat the extra 2’ wide, and use it for a general fudge factor. It is the length of the building that always complicates.

About the back 10′ is used for equipment storage. Those four dogwalks I mentioned earlier need a place to be stored securely out of the way, rather than putting them in the weather outside. Also I need plenty of room at the front of the building for my students to sit, for dog crating, and so forth. And that area needs to provide plenty of room for the approach to and dismount from obstacles at the front of the floor without conflicting with dogs and handlers waiting their turn.

I always have to make this map for myself… otherwise the numbers on my walls drive me crazy as I have to figure out how many feet to add or take away from each of the 10′ markers.

* * *

For our next league play I would like a game, in addition to the standard sequence. So tomorrow I’ll deal with the game we’ll play.

Editing the BLOG

Hmm… you may have noticed that today I’m participating in the internet blackout to protest and oppose the proposed U.S. legislation (SOPA/PIPA).

Unfortunately when I try to preview my draft I get the blackout window. It used to be when I would just publish my blog… and then edit it in the next few minutes. The downside of this tactic was that all the people who “subscribe” to the blog got immediately by email the messy, unedited bit (complete with code for CRCD graphics and hidden text for things like the answer to the Google-Proof trivia contest). So I took to editing the draft completely before I published it.

Because of the black-out I won’t get to see what this blog post actually looks like published. So I’ll content myself with editing on the coding page.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.