Archive for the ‘Games and Courses’ Category

Planning the League Course

October 12, 2015

Before ever walking a course the handler can do a certain amount of visualization of the performance. Your brain needs to draw from the two-dimensional course map and from your imagination a plan that is a rational fit to the challenge. When you finally get to walk the course you have just a few minutes to add choreography to the music that you have composed.

Below is my own (untested and unproven) solution to the October NDAL competition. My plan may change after I’ve walked it.


The jump #1 to #3 opening to this course is a skill I routinely practice with my dogs, approaching jump #1 dog-on-right, using a Tandem cue to turn away to jump #2. This leaves me far enough ahead that I can make a good presentation of jump #3 and slide into a Blind Cross for the approach to jump #4. The only real question about this opening will be the A-frame option after jump #1, which could be compelling to the dog and disturb the pressure and clarity of the Tandem.


The approach to the weave poles is nearly perpendicular, raising the question of whether to shape the approach or to trust in the dog’s training. Know thy dog.

The approach to the pipe tunnel at #7 is a pull-through in a cluster. All that really means is that there’s so much that can go wrong in moment after the weave poles that the handler had better have both good plan and good execution. For my part, I’m going to call my dog into a Back Pass.


I have put a good training foundation on my boy for “named obstacle” discrimination. But don’t you know, in this crowded back corner (the cluster) the #7 pipe tunnel is a cannon pointed broadside at the A-frame. I believe I’m going to step in a take a blocking position. Of course this leaves me behind after the dismount of the pipe tunnel. A notable feature of this set of equipment is the unused expanse of real estate at the center of the field. Mostly I will just be driving from the back seat.

The handler should be aware of the wrong course option posed by the jump to the right of the A-frame after jump #10.


This is the relaxed part of the overall course. The A-frame puts the dog back into the “cluster”; the correct entry to the #12 pipe tunnel probably shouldn’t be taken for granted. And out of the weave poles the handler might want to open up the approach to the #14 jump, just a bit, so that it’s not completely depressed.

Otherwise, the handler should be working to be in position for whatever is the plan after jump #17.


#17 to #19 is a bit technical. The handler has to call the dog into a modest “pull-through” after jump #17 and somehow sell the turn out of the pipe tunnel to jump #19. Don’t be fooled by the line that turns neatly out of the tunnel in the drawing. Life doesn’t always go like the drawing.

Anyhow, I’ll endeavor to precue the change of directions by giving a little “backy-uppy” presentation of the tunnel.

Jumping in to the League

If you have interested in jumping into League Play, the October workbook for the final game of the summer series can be downloaded HERE.


Training Sequences (Courtesy of Steven Schwarz):

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

The Van Deusen Riddle

September 9, 2015

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

Jumping in to the League

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

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

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

Earned LPP

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

The details of LPP earned can be found here: LPPDetail

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Truckin’ Like the Do-Dah Man!

June 21, 2015


The June league course for the National Dog Agility League was designed by Seanna O’Neill of Team Canada. It’s a small slip of a numbered sequence that fits in a 40′ by 60′ space. For our own training, I’ve incorporated her league courses in a larger set of the floor partly to demonstrate how it’s done; and more importantly because we have class tomorrow and we need a bit more than is provided by the league set.

I should share with you also the advanced sequence as well:


This is a pretty wicked riddle, eh? Calculated, I think, to give Sharon Nelson a heart attack (should she actually be paying attention).


The cards ain’t worth a dime if you don’t lay them down. Jerry Garcia


In the Hall of the Mountain King

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Intensity Agility

March 9, 2015


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

We filmed my run with Kory:;

and Marsha’s Run with Phoenix:

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

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

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

Incorporating the League Course into Agility Classes

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

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


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

Lesson Plan March 9, 2015

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







Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Agility League March Course

March 3, 2015

This is a discussion of the technical elements of the Top Dog Secretary’s Choice for March, 2015.

Any course or sequence is a unique riddle and will reveal over time the handling challenges that were in the mind of the designer. And occasionally a riddle will be revealed that wasn’t imagined at all by the designer.

In my instruction I will almost never specify handling of a sequence. We’ll begin with the Entertainment Round in which each student will demonstrate their own instinctive solution to the sequence. My job is to improve the handler’s instinct.


The first thing we see in this course is that it is very short, only having ten obstacles. This is the course designer having fun with the preconception of a rational standard. It is a non-stop handler’s course that challenges the handler in virtually every transition.


The opening of this course has all to do with the handler being in position to handle the transition from jump #3 into the weave poles at #4. The handler will probably want a modest lead-out. And so the key handling bit will be in Bending the dog into the turn from jump #1 to jump #2. Bending is the reciprocal of the Post turn. The handler is on the side away from the turn.


The transition from jump #3 into the weave poles is a threadle, pure and simple. Even though there is ample room for the handler to work, it is a complicated riddle for the handler. First of all the handler wants to cue to the dog into an efficient turn off the jump, and then draw the dog around for an entry to the weave poles.

The approach to the weave poles is really the make or break moment in this course. If the handler must shape the dog’s approach into the weave poles he’ll surely sacrifice a second or more to his competition. On the other hand, if the handler hasn’t trained the dog to gain the entry, then a bold approach would be foolhardy.

Sometimes the homework just writes itself.


The transition from jump #5 to the counter-side pipe tunnel is a bit ham-handed; but a very real challenge on this course. The first thing the dog sees after the turn from the jump is the wrong-course entry to the pipe tunnel. So it’s not enough to turn the dog. He needs to keep turning until his nose comes to line with the correct entry to the tunnel.

The handler must be aware that he needs to be in position on the next approach to the weave poles. But almost anything the handler does to solve this sequence gives the handler a two second advantage in time and space over the dog… because the dog needs to do the tunnel.

There are a lot of possibilities for a handling solution here. The handler might use a Front Cross, or an RFP. I like to teach a Flip (Ketchker) here just to have some fun with the handler communicating with his dog through movement.


The transition from jump #7 to the weave poles is also a threadle, though not nearly as obvious as our first approach. Every point I made about the first threadle and approach applies here as well.

Note that jump #7 can be taken for granted by the handler who will view the dog’s approach as a matter of obviousness. If a dog is going to run past a jump on this course… it will be jump #7.


The closing of the course is a bit bloody minded. But don’t you know it’s the kind of basic skill that the grown-ups are studying. The approach to jump #9 is a back-side, exacerbated by a pull-through/approach.

I initially drew the pull-through out of the weave poles to go between jumps #9 and #10. Even though a lot of people will try it that way… I want to give my dog better flow.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

The Event

February 6, 2015


Steeplechase Briefing

This is a simple numbered course. The scoring basis is Time, Plus Faults.  Follow the numbers, keep the bars up, hit the paint. And have fun.


Time Warp Briefing

This is a simple game, run like a standard course. The Scoring Basis is Time, Plus Faults, Less Bonus.

There is an opportunity on this course to earn a 50 point bonus which is subtracted from the Time, Plus Faults part of the dog’s score: if the handler can stay on the opposite side of the containment line through your dog’s performance of obstacles #12 through #15, then the dog will earn a 50 point bonus. Note that the bonus is lost for any performance faults in the distance challenge.

Otherwise, it’s follow the numbers, keep the bars up, and hit the paint.


Standard Briefing

This is a standard course. The scoring basis is Faults, Then Time. Follow the numbers, keep the bars up, and hit the paint. And have fun.


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.

Agility en España

December 20, 2014

I’m continuing this series of “around the world” agility. The present focus is obviously what’s going on in Europe. I hope to add other exotic regions to the mix.

Following is a jumpers course by Dimonis Bascara of Spain played on December 14, 2014.


For all my pontificating about how they don’t much reuse obstacles in Europe… I’ve got this course with five repeated obstacles. But I like the course and the full extension flow that it provides.

Probably the most technical bit is the pull/push through from jump #16 to the weave poles. The dog needs to pass up two perfectly good tunnel wrong-course options to get into the poles. I’m sure it was a stellar moment on this course!

Top Dog

After several years of trying to get Top Dog Agility up and running as a purely grass roots endeavor I’ve given up … on that approach. I’ve known for a long time that “inexpensive” and “recreational” aren’t completely compelling in a world that is run on profit and ego.

Where we are going now is Top Secret! It will be a fun ride.

Blog963 6-of-100

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 End of a Long Stretch

December 15, 2014

This past weekend I judged a USDAA trial in Ashville, KY. It was a great three-day trial. There are fun and amazing competitors in the area who renew my love of the dog agility game. Amazement, mind you, is provoked not so much by keen top-tier competitors. For me it’s more a matter of the joyful relationships between people and their pups that is fostered by play in this sport. Even when a team is “crashing and burning” by the arbitrary measurement of the rule book, they can show heart and humor and bring a smile to everyone watching. The judge always has the best seat in the house.

And I’m fairly exhausted. My calendar got busy about mid-October and hasn’t relented until just this minute. Even the longest road ends to reveal new roads and fresh destinations.

I’ve lost the sharp edge of discipline with my blog. So I’m challenging myself to repeat an exercise that I did three or four years ago… to publish a blog each day for 100 days. That’s really not as easy as it sounds. So, hang in there with me, and we’ll see if I can’t get it done.

There are some things I’ve been dying to share. I’ll try not to blurt them out all at once… I’ve got to fit 100 days, after all.

Masters Challenge Jumpers

There might be a couple dozen people who recognize the playful use of tunnels in the course from training exercises and games I’ve designed in the past. To be truthful about it, some of the design I hoisted from courses I saw out of South Africa years ago. I apologize for not being able to credit any source of inspiration.

The USDAA’s Masters Challenge classes afford course designers the opportunity to pose absurd and interesting riddles that might seem excessive in a routine titling class. I’m not going far out on a limb to suggest that the USDAA Masters Challenge is a solitary platform for the demonstrating the very best of skill, talent and luck in our sport.

Yes, I’m aware that I used the word “luck” in that sentence. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good.

Masters Challenge Jumpers

Masters Challenge Jumpers

The transition from jump #4 to jump #5 was clearly the most worrisome moment for most people when walking the course. As it turns out the single obstacle that NQ’d the most teams was jump #6,either as a refusal or as a dropped bar. The most fun bit was the dual back-and-forth puppy cannons from #14 to #15. You’ll probably want to set up this course in the back yard.

I sometimes set up an exercise in seminars that looks a lot like #1 through #6. The exercise is intended to expose the Phantom Blind Cross, an error in which the handler over-rotates his body in the Post, and drops his connection with the dog. This causes the dog to tuck up behind him (as in a Blind Cross) treating the dog to a wrong course into the pipe tunnel (the #14 pipe tunnel on this course).

It wouldn’t be fruitful to treat you to a blow-by-blow of everything that might go wrong on this course. Let’s just say there was plenty of variety and interesting moments, even to those who thought they were home free after the puppy cannon bit. At the end of the day the qualifying rate was solid, surprising and satisfying.

On Another Note

At a trial I was judging in Wisconsin three weekends ago I gently chided a man for getting angry at his dog. The fellow was actually quite a good handler and exciting to watch. But every time he made an error he whirled in anger blaming it all on his dog. I was reminded of this because of my discussion of the Phantom Blind Cross above… on one course the man did exactly as I described… over rotating in a Post Turn and dropping connection with his dog. So, the dog tucked up behind him into a wrong course.

Hunting him down later, I told him he shouldn’t blame everything on his dog, and he shouldn’t be getting mad at a dog that is working his butt off for him. He got a little purple in the face with me and told me he wasn’t angry. My tone was measured and calm… and I told him yes, he was very angry and his dog hit the deck to avoid his wrath.

The man turned his back on me and stalked off. That evening, in the hotel, I had a talk with myself about confronting somebody with anger management issues no matter how gently I did it. I’m always an advocate for the dog.

The last afternoon of the trial this gentleman made a show of praising his dog. It was clearly a somewhat foreign exercise to him. Whether this was for show or for real is unknown to me. Still, I was proud for him that he was trying.

Blog958 1 of 100

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 with Games

November 26, 2014

It’s a relatively simple matter to cleverly disguise training objectives within the context of a simple agility game. Playing a “game” has certain benefits for the agility instructor. The game can be used to measure skills and analytical abilities for each student. And, of course, by putting a stopwatch on the dog and scoring his performance puts the special pressure competition on the handler.

Below I’ve adapted a very old agility game called “Power and Speed” to work on very specific training objectives. In case it’s not obvious, we’re working on a nice stable finish on the dogwalk in the Power section and pose a nice handling riddle to test analytical skills in the Speed section.

Power and Speed



Each handler and dog runs a course that is split into two sections: Power and Speed.

Power – The Power section is occupied only by the dogwalk on this course. It is performed back-to-back-to-back.

The Power section is un-timed. Consequently the start-line is positioned between the last obstacle of the Power section and the first obstacle of the Speed section.

Any faults earned by the dog will be added to the dog’s score. For example, if the dog misses a contact or earns a refusal on a contact obstacle, his score would be 5 for the Power section. Obviously, the ideal score for the Power section is 0.

Speed – The Speed section contains a straightforward Jumpers sequence. The goal is for the dog to run the course as fast as possible, preferably with no faults.


Scoring for Power and Speed is Time, Plus Faults: faults from the Power section plus time from the Speed section plus faults from the Speed section. The dog with the lowest score wins.

Catching Up

Okay, it’s been a long time since I’ve written to my blog. You’ll have to forgive me for finding priorities that are higher. It’s kind of a perfect storm of circumstances. I have of chores and work to do; and I don’t have the stamina I used to have for working all day. There was a time I could work a full-day… then flip a switch, and work well into the evening. I just don’t have that switch working much anymore.

I have to ramp up for our month of Top Dog. And so I’m going to do a training series that features a new game or course each week.


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.

On the Road to the Petit Prix

October 14, 2014

I’m on a flight from Seattle to Chicago as I write this, returning from the TDAA Judges Clinic and trial in Lynnwood, Washington. I get to be home for one day before getting on the road for Latrobe, the warm-up workshop, and the Petit Prix.

We had a great clinic in Lynnwood. They were, for the most part, well prepared for the testing, and approached the work with palpable enthusiasm and electricity. The trial on the weekend was fun/interesting as well. They have a great community of players in that part of the world. They are very supportive of each other and dedicated to the prospect of having a bit of fun with their dogs. You gotta love it.

Training Your Dog

We’ve made a Facebook page for our young rescue Cedar. Over the next couple of years I’ll share some of her foundation training on that page. I’ve got several recordings that I need to get up on the page. This is a busy time of year for me. I just need to make time.

Here’s a video

I was thinking about this up in Lynnwood. Back when I started doing agility about all of us were dog trainers. We ran agility out in an open park in the middle of the city with nothing but a thin flutter of plastic ribbon defining the sides of the ring. It was inconceivable that a dog would be out there with us who didn’t have a prompt happy recall. These days… we surround the agility field with impenetrable fencing, even to the extent that entry and exit gates are tightly shut. What happened to dog training?

Cedar’s FB page.

Heinz 57

I want to share with you a discussion we had about Heinz 57, one of the games we played on the weekend. I had my own learning moment with the game. You may know that the tradition is to put the chute (doubler) at the front of the ring so that the handler can neatly finish with the doubler, score a point, and head to the table to stop the clock.

During course review I was well on my way to pointing out this “tradition” when in virtually the same breath noted that the math could be very different with the chute at the back of the ring as the handler should reserve the performance of some obstacles (adding up to 57, of course) for the transition from chute to table.



The purpose of Heinz 57 is to score 57 points as quickly as possible. For the purpose of point accumulation, point values are:

  • 1 pt for jumps
  • 2 pts for tunnels and tire
  • 3 pts for contact obstacles
  • 5pts for weave poles
  • The collapsed chute is doubling obstacle

Obstacles can be taken twice for points. Back-to-back performances are not allowed. Another obstacle must be performed before the dog can be redirected back to an obstacle (whether or not it was faulted). The collapsed chute has a special value, it is a doubling obstacle, and can be taken twice, like any obstacle, and can be taken at any time during the dog’s run. No specific faults are associated with the weave poles, however, any error must be fixed or the dog will not earn points for that obstacle.

With the exception of jumps, if a dog commits to any obstacle with all four paws he is required to complete the performance of that obstacle, whether or not it was faulted. A faulted obstacle may be repeated, but only after another obstacle has been attempted.

In this course the dog getting on the table marks the finish of the course. The table becomes live after the dog has earned one point. The handler should exercise caution when directing the dog to obstacles near the table because if the dog gets on, then the game is over.

Heinz 57 is scored points then time. 57 points is the benchmark. Any amount over or under 57 will be subtracted from 57 to determine the dog’s final score.

4″/8″  /  12″/16″

Games I –        55 sec  /  50 sec

Games II –      50 sec /  45 sec

Games III –     45 sec /  40 sec


57 points is required to qualify


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.