Archive for the ‘Two Minute Dog Trainer’ Category

Agility Nerds

May 13, 2013

The weekend before last I had a fun weekend judging USDAA for Sky Blue Events in Indianapolis. They are fun people in that part of the world.

Course design took longer than judging. I worked pretty hard for this trial. I’m mostly enthralled by the problem of “leveling”. That means I want to present to each level of competitor (Starters, Advanced, Masters & Extreme) a course that is appropriate and balanced. I try to have a vision for each level. I had at least one course that my mutterer made me promise to never to do again (the last Masters standard for the record). For the most part though, I loved the courses and watching those Hoosiers solving my riddles.

League Play Game

Okay here’s what we’re playing (from Top Dog, of course).




This is a simple numbered course. If the handler can run the entire course without ever stepping inside the red box, 15 bonus points will be earned. If the handler can run the entire course without ever leaving the red box, 25 bonus points will be earned.

Jumplers is scored: Time, Plus Faults, Less Bonus. 0


4″                    60 Seconds
8″                    53 Seconds
12″                  48 Seconds
16″                  43 Seconds
20″+                39 Seconds

If you want to play along with us… click. Visit our web site and see what other courses and games we are running:

The Back Pass

Okay, I have a new agility “movement” for you. There’s not many of us doing it yet. I’ll predict, however, that in ten years it will be a stock movement in the sport of dog agility.

I call it “The Back Pass”. It’s a simple concept: On command, your dog circles your body. The two types of Back Pass are: clockwise, and counter-clockwise. For a couple years I have been studying and practicing the Back Pass and have found a rich variety of possibilities for this movement in agility competition.

In the next few days I will try to video some applications for the Back Pass. Of course I’ll share those with you.

The tricky part that scares the hell out of even experienced dog trainers is that if you ever want to own the Back Pass you’ll actually have to train your dog to circle your body. But I will go out on a limb here and say that it’s just about as complicated as teaching a dog to do the collapsed tunnel. It seems a bit like Mission Impossible at first; but then the dog gets it, and you go on.

Quoth for Agility Nerds

You find the things that you Love, and you love them the most that you can.

~ Wil Wheaton
[Click HERE if you are a nerd.]


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.

Columbus Weekend

April 12, 2013

I’ve gone up amongst the Yankees for a weekend of play in the USDAA. Pulled into Columbus in the afternoon rush hour and found my way to the La Quinta while commuters swarmed about like angry hornets.

I suppose there are several good stories I’ve failed to tell as I’ve neglected my BLOG. I killed the rooster, and put the raft into my pond; and Marsha and I joined a community theatre group. No we’re not going to act. We’re going to be active. So far about our only dealings with the group was to spend a day helping a handful of others clean up a back-stage area that apparently hasn’t been cleaned up since the 1930’s.

We’ve got yet another rescue BC pup. Her name is Prem. And as you might guess she’s smart enough, being a Border Collie and all. Within the first week I had her I taught her to send away from me over a jump at a distance of about 30 feet. And I’ve taught her to turn “Right”. On the downside, she showed early a remarkable fear of the training teeter. So for several days now I’ve taken a page out of the two-minute dog trainer and have given her meals in the proximity of said training teeter. In the first lesson all she had to do was put a foot on the ramp to get a handful of food. Now, after three days, the criterion has escalated to putting both feet on the up end and driving it to the ground. She’s still not a huge fan of the teeter; but her association is gradually changing to something positive, given that it earns her meals.

For the past couple of weeks Marsha has been building me “snarky” courses go help me get back in a handler’s groove, mostly in preparation for the weekend now at hand. She’s put up some real ugly stuff, almost bad enough to make a USDAA Masters handler cry and shout. I wasn’t allowed to preview or practice any little part of these courses. I’d walk them as I would at a trial… and then run them. And in running we observed a no melt-down rule. If something went wobbly I had to pick myself up and go on, just like real life. And Kory had to jump 26.

I’ve been for several months rebuilding Kory’s contact performance. I think I like where we are at. But this weekend will be the acid test. My goal is to keep it all meat and potatoes… do my job, work hard, and always be aware that Kory needs basic training reinforcement, when in the ring.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

League Game


The league game this week was designed by Brenda Gilday. I’m really impressed with the quality of her design work. The challenge and flow she set on this course is spot on.

They ran this course at Kuliga in league this past week; and we ran it here at Country Dream. The best performance in our league was put in by Beth Murray with her girl Koda. They looked really good.

I’ll be posting it (this evening I hope) as a Top Dog challenge course. Maybe we can entice Katie and Dave to come out to play!


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.

Backyard Zen ~ enlightenment through meditation and insight

December 6, 2012

The purest expression I can make as a dog trainer is in those private moments with my dog in the back yard. I come to the task presumably equipped with some objective. And I am prepared to take small thoughtful steps to accomplish that desired goal. My mind is uncluttered, and unfettered.

I begin with a vision of the immediate objective that is well focused and granular. That one tangible goal however is a small bit that is completely influenced by and tied to my philosophy of dog training.

Let me try to give a bit of definition to the idea of a training philosophy, specifically as that philosophy is applied to dog agility:

  • Teach your dog in the context of play; it’s all an extension of the game.
  • Allow your dog to think; allow your dog to offer; allow your dog to solve the puzzle.
  • Be happy when your dog is right. Be neutral when he is wrong.
  • Be patient and undemanding. You have the advantage of knowing exactly how long it takes for a dog to learn a thing.
  • Foundation is never a completed task.

Down to Earth

That sounded a bit lofty I suppose. But it was short; and that’s what I was going for. None of this is really very complicated. Funny, I’m gearing up for foundation training with four dogs through the upcoming winter. We have three rescues pup in our house: an 8 week-old (Katness), a one-year old (Phoenix), and a two-year old (Haymitch). I also have my boy Kory who is nearly four now. I have training plans for all of them for the upcoming winter.

For the baby pup we’ll be doing the Two Minute Dog Trainer thing. That’s the name of Marsha’s blog, don’t you know (

My attention is going more to Phoenix and Haymitch. Both of them are on a program for wicked good distance skills. My guiding objective is to make them both perfect dogs for an old man. That means I have absolutely no intention of wearing a dog on my hip when we do agility. The dog has to be out there working. My job is to give direction… not to micromanage.

I could go through a list of everything we’re going to do from a training POV. But you know, I’ve already put most of it in writing. It’s all in the Joker’s Notebook, issue #0.

With Kory I’m doing new stuff. Right now I’m teaching him to do a Switch. I should define: The command “Switch” means that I want him to circle my body tightly in a counter-clockwise direction.

I know this seems like a curious objective. You’re just going to have to trust me. I expect in ten years everybody with a fast (and trainable) dog will have both the Switch and the ComeBy in their basic foundation training. The upshot of the skill is that on course I can create corners and set lines without handling. Ooh, what a concept.

I’ll draw a picture to tantalize you:

BLOG886_01The green figures showing the handler sending the dog out to do the pinwheel (you’ve taught that to your dog, right?) The red figures shows the handler turning around to assume a post position, actually facing the pipe tunnel, and calling the dog to Switch as he comes over jump #4. You’ll note that the dog’s path coming over jump #4 favors the wrong course side of the pipe tunnel.

Due Diligence

This is Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day! And today’s topic is Backyard Training. You will find a index to a fine family of posts on the topic here:


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.

Reference Library

December 7, 2011

When training dogs and practicing my handling I’m constantly aware that dog’s operate from a Reference Library. When I want this thing… it looks like this; when I want that thing, it looks like that.

So with this in mind my lesson plan this week will be to work with my students and their dogs To sharpen language from the Reference Library with very specific meaning. These are jumping exercises with very basic handler instructions:

  • Go on!
  • Soft turn
  • Close turn

This is a simple go on exercise with a soft turn in the transition from jump #3 to #4. Taking a lead-out is entirely up to the handler; but since we’re practicing a physical cue for a soft turn it would be a dandy idea for the handler to be in the picture to make the turn.

The instruction might be a pre-cue on the approach to jump #3 or a keep-it-simple Post on the landing side of jump #3. We reserve the pre-cue for dogs moving with considerable inertia. It gives the dog a chance to ease back on the acceleration and come over the jump already dedicated to the turn.

Mindful of developing the dog’s “reference library” what should the pre-cue instruction look like? That’s probably up to you… but for me I will bring up my counter-arm on the approach to the jump while rotating my inside shoulder subtly away.

In terms of the “Go on!” instruction to the dog the handler loses the Go on in the opening line by taking the lead-out. But it truly is a pay me now or pay me later proposition. After jump #4 the handler will certainly have to release the dog to Go on!

In this exercise the turn at jump #3 has to be a close turn. Certainly this will be accomplished with a Front Cross. I’m very interested in this context in making the physical cues for the hard-aback close turn look considerably different from the soft turn instruction. So now, in addition to bringing up the counter-arm on the approach to jump #3 I’ll also counter-rotate back toward my dog on the approach, approximating what’s being called in the world a “backy uppy”.

After the turn back to jump #4 the handler has to set up for a soft turn at that jump. This will be an interesting timing bit. Good movement (physical cues) is lost when addressing the rear end of the dog.

This sequence also gives us an opportunity to practice Post and Tandem in the transition #4 through #6. Of course if the handler can actually outrun his dog the #4 to #5 turn should be a Front Cross.

This is a short sequence with no fewer than three pull-through moments requiring almost constant pre-cue advice to the dog. Anybody that practices this movement understands the double-edged risk of the movement. If the handler’s physical cue is too stern or demanding it might very well stop the dog on the approach to the jump (consequently earning a refusal in competition). The handler must learn exactly how much pressure of counter-rotation to use and how much pressure of movement. Note that the term “backy uppy” implies movement rather than standing still.

This simple sequence affords a little fun with a Go on instruction to the dog. I haven’t provided much discussion of what the physical cues for Go on might be. It would be a bad idea in this discussion to over-look the obvious. It’s pretty simple, keep your shoulders square, power down the line, and use only your inside arm to lead.

We might have a bit of fun with the turning direction at jump #3. If the dog turns to the left he probably has a shorter consequential path. However the line doesn’t lead precisely to jump #5 and, as we all know, a dog forward of the handler might curl to the handler’s position. This would offer the dummy jump as a real wrong course possibility.

If we wrap to the right the handler needs to give a hard-wrap turning pre-cue. Note that there’s a real possibility of a back-jump wrong course if this turn is mishandled.

Now that we’ve conditioned the dog to Go on, we’ll ask the dog to turn. With a straight line wrong course option the handler might be tempted to harden the turning cue. But remember that we’re trying to condition the “Reference Library” understanding of the cues. In this sequence we’re giving soft-turning cues to the dog and should stick to the plan.

This is a simple enough sequence beginning with dog on left; then making an interesting change of sides transition at jump #7; and finishing with dog on right.

This is the set of the floor for class this evening. The game for the evening will likely be this simple follow-the-numbers course. Naturally it incorporates some of what we’ve worked on through class.

I have to include contact obstacles and usually weave poles on the floor. While most of the handler training issues can be addressed in jumping sequences my students (and probably yours) will want to do some obsessive training with the contacts and weaves.


The set of the floor was inspired by Tom Kula’s “Course Memorization” puzzle ( The “Reference Library” is central to the teaching of Marsha Houston’s Two Minute Dog Trainer (


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.

A Boy and His Dog

August 20, 2010

I have a couple days to myself. I thought I’d get out in the building and train my dog. Imagine that!

I’m especially interested in teaching Kory a solid “Get Out!” A lot of people use the words; but it strikes me that not a lot of them actually teach a performance; and so the dog is more likely following their movement at the moment of delivery rather than responding to a command for performance.

Get Out means “increase lateral distance” or “bend away.”

I’ll no doubt incorporate this training sequence as a part of our Sunday mini-clinic. There are lots of things you can do with it aside from teaching a “Get Out”.

Kory learns things so fast that it’s scary. We did some stationary “Get Outs” positioned forward of the wingless dummy alongside jump #3. And he got that pretty good. Then I incorporated a straight line (towards the wingless dummy) over jump #2. And then we backed up to the table and did it again.

Then I repeated the whole series as a mirror image exercise, going to the right instead of to the left. I expect to continue reinforcing the skill in two-a-days over the next ten days. I’d like very much to trust the “Get Out” without an intrusive step.

New AKC Club ~ Needs Charter Members

We are seeking to make a start to a new AKC club representing SE Ohio (from Athens to Zanesville to Marietta; and surrounding areas). We invite you to become involved as charter members.

Our vision of the club at this time is to affiliate with the American Kennel club and to engage in a wealth of AKC programs including: Conformation, Herding, Tracking, Agility, Obedience, and as many of the specialty classes as warranted by the diverse interest of founding members.

If you would like to become involved contact me at: and leave your phone number and address. I’ll get back in contact when the list of interested persons reaches critical mass.

Thank you for your attention!

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

How many points does it take to qualify at the GIII level in the game Double Dog Dare Ya? What is the more common name for this game?

First correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the August Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special00” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Homework for Tempest

July 6, 2010

I wanted to go back to reconstruct some of the early exercises I did with Kory now a year ago so Marsha can do some of the same foundation work. Kory is a fantastic distance working dog.

Fundamentally a dog really should learn to work independently at a distance as one of the first steps in the training curriculum. Bear with me here. What we’re trying to fix in the dog’s brain is an understanding of the game. And the game is to be out there away running and jumping and so forth.

With this in mind we’re going to introduce the toy as the primary reward for work. There are several good things about toy work. The toy becomes a principal motivator and instills “game” in the game. And, you can give the toy a toss to promote continuation of movement.

I’m pretty sure I started Kory on hoops rather than jumps. But it really doesn’t make too much of a difference. Tempest is only four months old, and the jumps will be set down at 8″. We start with the jumps (or hoops) in a modest curl with the handler beginning at a station about mid-way, and ready to take a step or two to support the dog’s movement. As the dog goes over the #3 jump we give the toy a toss to the red X to promote continued movement.

As we work with the dog the handler begins farther back in small incremental steps and moves forward supporting the dog less. It’s possible that the dog will pull out of the curl of jumps. The dog trainer’s response is simply to deny praise (the marker) and the toss of the toy (the reward).

Gradually we straighten the jumps and add a bit more distance between them. The dog trainer’s ambition with opening up the jumps should not exceed the dog’s ability to be successful.

The simple verbal directive is “Jump, Go On!”

What’s going to get to be more difficult is placing the toss of the toy in a timely manner forward of the dog to promote continued movement. What I found myself doing with Kory was anticipating his success and giving the Frisbee a toss so that it would be sailing over his head about the moment he was sailing over the jump.

It’s possible that we could have a reward for the dog turning out of the line of jumps. In other words, I’ve thrown the toy in anticipation of a successful rep. Oh well.

Don’t forget… the simple verbal directive is “Jump, Go On!”

The thing to do is not really be in too much of a hurry. Ultimately we’d like to own a simple three jump send away with the handler remaining behind the first jump. The dead away send is the toughest distance challenge we’ll ever face in agility. By any definition of the game the handler will not and cannot be moving well or much supporting the dog in any way.

The verbal directive is “Jump, Go On!” really is all  the support we have left to give the dog.

Our lesson next month… how do we turn the dog?

Playful Pinwheels ~ Thinking Outside the Box

While it’s true that I practice an “own the pinwheel” kind of training with my dogs, when push comes to shove I will reserve moving badly for some class that absolutely demands it. Think Gamblers, for example. In routine course work however I will endeavor to move in a way that inspires the dog and ensures that he is well directed.

I’ve written a great deal about pinwheels over the years. There’s something about a pinwheel that inspires the handler to move like an old musty stump in the middle of a swamp. Moving badly is good training… but it is not good handling.

The conundrum is ever that the dog’s path is this big robust thing while the handler’s path is more diminutive and restrained. Even a slow handler can outrun a fast dog in a pinwheel. The real painful match is when a handler is working a dog of moderate speed and handler is so completely defined by the inner limits of the pinwheel that the dog gets no sense of excitement or electricity at all from the handler. Just between you and me and the wall, if your dog isn’t one of those ballistic self starting everything-at-top-speed kind of dogs, then handling him as if he were is an error.

Blind Cross as a Pinwheel Movement

The trick in a pinwheel is to find a way to move. That means more real estate. Frankly there’s only so much real estate inside the pinwheel. But if I think outside the box, there’s plenty of new real estate for handler movement. In this first playful attack on the pinwheel I have the handler step outside the box in the transition between jumps #4 and #5 using a Blind Cross to race the dog to the outside. The transition and the moment of the Blind Cross are indicated in this illustration by the red colored paths for dog and handler.

Tandem Turn as a Pinwheel Movement

Another important skill in a pinwheel is the Tandem Turn. The Tandem is a cross behind the dog on the dismount of an obstacle or on the flat.

To play with this the handler will approach jumps #2 and #3 with dog on right, crossing behind the dog into the Tandem on the landing side of jump #3. Note that if the handler intends a Tandem Turn then he should endeavor to arrive at the jump at the same instant of the dog. The Tandem tends to create a wide sweeping turn in the dog’s path and accelerates the dog’s movement. These are perfect attributes for a pinwheel. Though you might get into a bit of trouble with it if you have an Afghan Hound or a leggy Border Collie.

Using All of Our Pinwheel Tools

Both tools, the Blind Cross and the Tandem Turn can be applied to the same pinwheel. In this illustration the handler executes the Blind Cross in the transition from jump #3 to jump #4 and then promptly uses a Tandem Turn to step back into the box after jump #4. The Blind Cross is indicated by the red paths for dog and handler; the Tandem Turn is indicated by the green paths for dog and handler.

This is an interesting handling choice that requires a speed change. The handler begins with slow dog handling (forward and pulling) into the Blind Cross; and then abruptly transitions to fast dog handling (behind and pushing).

Note that in the conduct of the Tandem Turn the handler actually wants to arrive at the jump at the same instant as the dog. We might argue that a Front Cross would be better than a Blind Cross because the Blind Cross is a racing movement and might make the handler arrive at the jump prematurely. However this is really a “know thy dog” condition. If the dog slips forward of the handler prematurely out of a Front Cross then the handler is behind the dog at the turning jump and so a Blind Cross would have been a better choice of movement.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Who is this fellow?

First correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the June Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – June 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special05” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Collected Jumping

April 25, 2010

I’ve studied the pre-cue Front Cross for a number of years now. That’s the bit where the handler strikes a back-facing posture towards the dog while the dog makes his approach to the turning jump. A couple years ago it was positively epidemic in this part of the world…

And I had the constant observation that it had a terribly low success rate; and is as often as not used on dogs that have no need of it whatever. You’re probably wondering just what I mean by a “low success rate”. To me this is obvious. The handler is going through some pains to give the dog early information and to tell the dog that a turn is impending and the direction of the turn. It’s an obvious matter as to whether the dog understood the pre-cue.

My students have given me an ample laboratory to study this sans movement. And so I have a growing repository of data. Here’s what I’ve found.

  • A relatively small percentage of dogs understand the back-facing posture intuitively and will take the pre-cue of information.
  • The pre-cue might be taught to the dog

Early in my boy Kory’s training I’ve concentrated to a great extent on giving him permission to work at a distance. He will never be what you’d call a Velcro dog; that’s for sure. If there’s a downside to this training approach it is that he’s always looking forward and seeking out what’s next. So if I were to want him to wrap a jump into a tight turn (picture a Front Cross here) his turning radius will be way too big and unmanageable and frankly a terrible grind on him physically.

I find myself wanting him to understand the pre-cue Front Cross both for the efficiency of the turn and to save him from trauma on his front end. If he truly understands the cue to turn he will understand collected jumping.

Training Steps

1. I begin with a free-shaping game in which all I want him to do is bump my hand with his nose. The command I’m using is Close. And, I’m using it like a relative directional offering the nearest hand to him.

The hand is tight against my leg by facing back to him in a flat palm.

2. I move the game to the hoops.

First I remind him of his obstacle focus and send him through three hoops from a mostly stationary position.

And then I turn back for the pre-cue. The command sequence is “Hoop, Close!” I give both directives before he gets to the hoop. The expectation is that he will turn neat and tidy between me and the hoop as shown in the drawing.

3. I move the game to the jumps.

Again, I set the pattern for obstacle focus and send him on ahead of me into the tunnel. Naturally I’m getting work on the 2o2o bottom performance while I’m on the layered side of jump #2.

Finally I face back from the landing side of jump #2 for the pre-cue. The command sequence is “Jump, Close!” I give both directives before he gets to the jump. The expectation is that he will turn neat and tidy between me and the jump as shown in the drawing.


I actually worked Kory today through all three steps as described above. He was about 50% in understanding the pre-cue. And just so you appreciate that statistic he was at 0% yesterday… before I did any of the foundation work.

I have enough information now to be fairly sure than in about two weeks he’ll understand the cue up in the 95 to 97 percentile range which is plenty acceptable to me.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Who was the actor who played the part depicted in this drawing?

The first correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the April Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special04” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


November 3, 2009

A “Breakdown” is a unique agility training format. It begins with a course which is broken down (hence breakdown) into challenge elements. Typically when we’re doing league play we’ll run the league course; do the breakdown training; and then run the course again to see what we learned from practicing the elements of the course.

It has been my observation over the years that given the opportunity to practice the challenging elements of a course… most handlers will do a considerably better job than they will with an unpracticed course. Should we ask the judges if we could practice their courses? I’m sure most of them would be fine with the idea.

The Course




This isn’t a completely inconsequential opening. From the table the handler has the tunnel-under-the-dogwalk discrimination problem; with the handler required to take a blocking position on the discrimination. The handler will be drawn (possibly) to a Front Cross position forward of the dog on the exit of the tunnel, and so may not give a convincing block.

In the #2 tunnel transition to the weave poles at #4 there might be two pretty good handling options. The handler could pick up the dog out of the tunnel with a Front Cross, attacking the #3 jump at a depressed angle, and trusting the dog to make the angled entry to the weave poles from the off side.

Or, the handler might simply keep the dog on post out of the tunnel through jump #3, using a Tandem Turn on the landing side of jump #3 to open up the approach to the weave poles.

Note that the subtle left-turn on the dismount of the weave poles might lead some handlers to take a step away from the dog before the job is finished, and may compel the dog to come out of the poles early. Frankly, as a dog training issue, we’d like the dog to stay in the weave poles without regard to the movement or antics of the handler. However, that being said, the handler should be disciplined enough not to test the training foundation by taking an abrupt step away from the dog.


Clearly the tricky bit in this entire sequence is the abrupt change of directions after  jump #11 out to jump #12; followed by an equally abrupt change of directions back to the right to get to jump #13.

This might be an opportunity to solve a technical sequence with a nice bit of distance work. Consider, for example, sending the dog out to jump #9 while the handler remains behind on a line congruent with the #8 and #10 jumps as the handler tracks sideways into a cross on the landing side of jump #10. Note that the reason for the distance send in the first place was to give the handler an advantage in real estate… in order to do a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #11. If the handler isn’t in front he can’t do a Front Cross.

Another possible solution to the #11 to #13 zig-zag back & forth would be to use Rear Crosses at jumps #11 and #12. Whatever works is right.


After jump #14 the dog has a couple of pretty good options before getting his nose turned all the way around to the dogwalk at #15. First the table looms rather large; but more likely the pipe tunnel tucked under the ascent ramp should be compelling to a number of dogs.

This might be a good place to simply use a static Post. That means the handler simply puts on the brakes at the #14 jump and awaits the dog’s response, until he turns all the way off the first two options and to the dogwalk.

For that matter it could be solved with an RFP.

The next interesting moment in the sequence is the threadle from jump #16 to jump #17. With my own students I teach a Flip for this scenario (a combination turn – Front Cross to Blind Cross). This is a great place for a Flip as it is a racing movement. And the handler has a compelling interest in racing the dog out of the counter-rotation of the opening Cross.

I elected to make the #18 pipe tunnel dog’s choice… it would be a gratuitous challenge to say one side or the other was required. Frankly in the race from jump #16 to #17 most dogs will kick into a new gear and should be allowed to flow as naturally as possible into whichever end of the tunnel suits.

Kory in Class!

I’ve got Hickory in Marsha’s Sports Foundation Class… which began tonight. Marsha gave us a very balanced presentation of three skills, neatly spending 20 minutes on each of the skills (I’m a sucker for good timing in teaching).

Amen to that!

Above is a link to Marsha’s blog where she describes the class. My “amen” was related to the problem of instructor’s syndrome that she mentions in her text. Some of us who teach spend more time attending to the needs of our students dogs than we do our own. I’m fairly committed to giving Hickory a terrific foundation. He actually did quite well. While he wants to go visit with the other dogs he easily gives me good attention and manages to be a rapt student even when somewhat stimulated. He’s a good boy.

Cartoon byTed Rall



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June 24, 2009

My 2-minute dog trainer (mealtime) lessons with Kory the past couple of days have been an AL1RTO contact performance. Oh, that’s a new acronym: At Least 1 Rear Toe On. I’ve pretty much decided that 1RTO is too granular and 2O2O is too rigid. As a consequence I’ll accept either both back feet on the ramp or just one. Kory has big ol’ feet by they way. I expect that he’ll be growing in to them. He’s now 5 months old.

Kory has never had the full length of a contact obstacle. He’ll get to see contacts only when he has a rock solid AL1RTO working in our training sessions. I’ve taken one of my TDAA 8′ crossover ramps and lifted one end up on a milk crate. It’s set up on a small carpet down in the cool of the basement.

In this training I’m marking with a clicker. After Kory assumes a position that meets my criteria I’ll give him a click. I’ve also given myself permission to click multiple times while he holds position. After one c/t I’ll take a step rotating my position around him. If he holds position he gets another c/t. If he doesn’t hold position he gets my correction… which is to break off, turn my back on him, stop giving him warm praise. It’s completely neutral. And I can’t bring myself to develop a wrong performance marker.

I spent a day physically shaping, helping him find the position by picking up and putting down his feet. Then I spent another day lure shaping, drawing him into position with the offer of a treat. But now we are in free shaping mode alone. I give my command “Bottom” and wait ‘til he sorts through offering a variety of performances to find the one that gets the c/t.

He’s just about got it. He’ll get on the board and pounce his front two feet off and give me a lop eared “is this it?” look. C/T. You betcha it is!

My movement during the training is actually an important element of the training. I don’t want to practice the position by hovering over his head. That would put me too much in the context of the performance. Once he really understands the performance to the extent that he immediately mounts the board and pounces into position I’ll be varying my position and staying in constant motion. You get what you pay for… and this is what I want to own.

The Sternberg Method

As I’ve noted before – I subscribe to the “Sternberg method” for teaching a bottom performance. The handler shapes the dog into position and then rewards and rewards and rewards the dog for being in position. If the dog breaks the position then the handler breaks off giving praise and reward. It’s a very neutral correction.

With the dog in position, the handler will reward the dog and reward the dog and reward the dog. As Sue Sternberg puts it, “you reward the dog til you think your gonna die!”… and then…

You reward the dog and reward the dog and reward the dog.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at