Archive for the ‘Gyes’ Alphabet Drills’ Category


February 1, 2014

I’ll share with you a snippet of the work we did in today’s workshop. I borrowed a central sequence from “The Letter W”, from Nancy Gyes Alphabet drills and wrapped around it the tunnel/contact discrimination work I’ve been wanting to do.

At any rate, my students got a good workout both with the weave poles and the tunnel discrimination.





Top Dog

I’ve spent the winter building initiative on a new direction for Top Dog. What I really want to do is produce a weekly dog agility digital video program. Being an old timer I keep wanting to call it a “television” program. But to be sure it’ll be web-based. We’re building a team of owners and directors for the initiative. I’ll explain more in the coming days. Of course, I haven’t finished with the course design topic. That just means I have plenty to write about.

Blog934 – (Seven days in a row! Now it looks like a pattern.)

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.

Internationalization pt 2 ~ the Blind Approach

February 21, 2013

As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d stay away. –Hughes Mearns (from “The Psychoed”)

Box Threadles & 270s

The first hint of a blind approach in our agility culture came from the onset of the 270 turn. I recall at one time these weren’t legal in the AKC. But I believe they came to the realization that a challenge that is common in FCI play needs to be set up for practice in the U.S. if our players are going to compete in Europe… so the ban on the 270 was lifted.

I’ve addressed the 270 a number of times in my blog. I posted the following a couple years ago, as I was practicing some of the challenges in the Alphabet Drills authored by Nancy Gyes:

Another common form of the blind approach is a thing we call the threadle (a blind approach requiring two changes of direction).


These exercises are courtesy of the letter “A” (box threadles left; 270s right).

The blind approach always requires for the handler to shape the approach because it is not a natural or intuitive flow. In other words, the dog cannot be released to work. And more to the point, the course designer is demanding micro-management of the dog.

The most common error in the 270, to be sure, is a handling error. The handler fails to step outside the box to shape the turn, and so the dog cuts inside, earning a refusal on the second jump.

Have this at the back of your mind… the blind approach always demands micro-management.

The Blind or Managed Approach in Competition


This AAC Jumpers course contains a transition between two jumps that is commonly known as a blind approach or a managed approach. The blind approach occurs in the transition between jumps #5 and #6.

What the handler has to do here is be in position in the gap between the #6 jump and the #15 jump to draw the dog around for an approach to jump #6. If the handler’s a long-legged kid, he can probably sprint down to be in position… forward of the dog. Getting behind the dog is a big problem because any dog with a lot of obstacle focus and a good work ethic will likely take the #6 jump in the wrong direction if the handler is out of position.

Later in the course, mind you, is a hard wrap at jump #15. Again, the course requires the handler’s presence to manage the wrap. Note that the judge has put a gratuitous dummy jump beyond jump #15. So, unless the handler can outrun the dog he had better have taught the dog some magnificent distance skills to give direction from #7 through #14.

Making a Case for Training

The real question that occurs to me … can the blind approach be taught to the dog as a performance option. Be very clear on what this means. I’d like to be able to point out a jump and tell my dog “go around that jump, and come back to me over the jump.” All good training begins with a solid statement of objective.

I’ve got a video to share. It’s not actually my video but something I stumbled upon in my odd quest for interesting studies. This is evidently from Portugal:

This young man is running a course that features no fewer than four blind approaches (and a threadle to the weave poles thrown in for good measure). Please note that on one of the blind approach challenges he sent his dog forward to get it done (jump #13, following the U-shaped pipe tunnel). The dog, Jack, dropped the bar on this jump which we might blame on the dog not giving himself enough room on the un-managed approach; but then again, the handler stepped in to bend Jack away sharply after the jump which could have been the culprit in the fault.



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 Rooster in the Oven

June 9, 2012

So now we have nine chickens. Three of them are roosters. That means they eat every day, but don’t contribute anything back to the household. Marsha has a favorite, a little undersized boy she calls “Chicken Little” because he’s constantly carrying on about how the sky is falling and whatever other peril fills the moment.

Our chickens are all technically “free range”. When I get up in the morning I let them out of their coop. And they wander around the property eating bugs and making poop. In the evenings I put them back in the coop and lock it up. It’s a young flock. They will begin laying in about August. I’m looking forward to that. Have you ever had fresh yard eggs? You can’t buy them in the grocery store.

When I see Chicken Little I think “Rock Cornish Hen”. Okay, the grocery store gets away with selling young undersized chicks and calling them “Cornish”. It’s no real sin if I do too. A little time in the oven, served with roasted potatoes and asparagus. Such a vision!

Of my two big Jersey Giant roosters… one will get to stay with the flock. The other will be a real meal, for adults, with left-overs. Have you ever had a roasted free range chicken? You can’t buy them in a grocery store.

The Letter D

Courtesy of Nancy Gyes and Alphabet Drills (available at I’ve come up with the following exercises based on the letter “d”. I have a student here for the weekend for a series of private lessons. She’s interested in the Front Cross as an ailing element of her repertoire. It’s easy to find Front Crosses in the letter “d”.

I’ve decided that following along with Nancy’s scripted exercises is making me crazy. So, once again, I’m playing a game of What do you make of this?… and find my own sequences and handling remedies.

This is a simple exercise intended to solve the “riddle of sides”. I have one stipulation in handling… the handler must predispose himself to the side of every turn. This means that all of the changes of sides will be forward of the dog (Front Crosses).

Without belaboring this sequence with analysis… what I see here as handling would be: a Blind Cross from #1 to #2; a Front Cross from #2 to #3; another Blind Cross from #4 to #5; and another Front Cross from #5 to #6. The most technical of these movements is probably the Front Cross in the transition from #5 to #6. This calls for a squaring Front Cross. If the handler commits to a Cross on the landing side of jump #6 prematurely… the dog’s approach to jump #7 will surely be spoiled. The handler must understand where to set the corner of approach that creates a straight line through jumps #6 and #7… and allow the dog to get to that corner before committing to the Cross.

In this exercise the handler will put his Front Cross on the landing side of jump #6. Although this is a simple Front Cross it’s a marvelous opportunity to practice the mechanics of this common movement. I use a “pulling hand” in my Front Crosses so that my movement is always going in the direction of the course (what a concept, that). If you want a more thoughtful discussion of the pulling hand by an intrepid international competitor, you should Google “Jenny Damm”.

On the dismount of the dogwalk the handler will have another opportunity to Cross. This calls for what I call a technical Front Cross because it happens on the dismount of a technical obstacle. Note that the mechanics of this movement will be somewhat different for a dog engaged in a 2o2o bottom performance as compared to a dog with running contacts.

Because the dog’s path is an acute angle there’s a real possibility here of causing the dog to take a wrong course back up and over the dogwalk if the handler’s movement puts too much pressure back into the dog on his dismount.

This sequence requires a single change of sides, but it could be quite technical. You’ll note that the turn from jump #4 to #5 sets a line that goes nowhere near to the entry to the weave poles. So this will call for the handler to be the “architect of the dog’s path.” This is a job for a serpentine Front Cross. This is actually a combination movement, beginning with a Front Cross and resolving into a Post Turn. On the landing side of jump #5 the handler will commit to the cross, and then draw the dog around his “post” position to sweeten the approach to the weave poles.

Movie Mind Tweaks

I had a couple interesting moments with my DVD movie collection last week. I was watching Cinderella Man … it occurred to me that the fighter Jimmy Braddock had to fight to earn the championship title must have had a son who starred in a popular sitcom in the 1960’s. Can you name the actor and the character he played?

In the movie Terminal, starring Tom Hanks, Viktor Navorski visited an immigration officer every day as a go between for a secret admirer. One of the common interests of the officer and her admirer is that they were both “Trekkies”. She even made the familiar Vulcan hand sign at one point in the movie. So … what was her later connection to Star Trek in the movies?


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 Fox and the Hedgehog

March 8, 2012

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. ~ Archilochus (7th-century bc)

Are you a fox or a hedgehog? There’s an argument for being a hedgehog you know. You know that thing very well and it shapes your complete existence. I’ve heard that Winston Churchill was a hedgehog. He was utterly convinced that the German Nazis were a dire threat to the world. His clarity of vision helped to defeat the German menace.

The fox, on the other hand, views the world from more than a single perspective; strives to develop all of his abilities; and survives the complexity of the world by adaptation. The fox knows that one hedgehog’s truth is another hedgehog’s lie.

If I knew then what I know now!

There was this theme for dog agility bloggers “If I knew then what I know now!” That work was due yesterday; because I’m a procrastinator and generally late for life, I did not participate. But the exercise generated some amazing reading:

I was especially entranced by the posting of an obscure agility blogger (Nancy Gyes)… because she reminded me of a thing “train every behavior long before you ever need to use it.”

I didn’t completely ignore the call for the bloggers theme. My brain pretty much took me to a different place that became more of a sci-fi saga like Time Cop than the remorseful retrospectives of dog trainers thumbing through their woulda-coulda-shouldas. I’ll share that story with you another day once it has coalesced in my brain.

The Hedgehog Learns from the Fox

Yesterday I put up a post on Threadles ( Armed with by Droid video smart-phone I went into the lower field to demonstrate the handling. And the exercise became fail fail fail.

You must understand that I am a hedgehog who puts great store on handling skills. Now I find myself in some cases overmatched being an old man with a young, exuberant, relatively fast dog with magnificent distance skills and obstacle focus. Sometimes it can be hard to “handle” your way out of an exercise that demands that you be in two places at once.

Taking Nancy’s statement-of-the-obvious to heart I decided to go out and train Kory for a simple skill… to do the jump and come back to me for the next instruction (ignoring the enticement of perfectly eligible and inviting obstacles). I’ll consider this a directional skill. The word I put to it is “Come-Back!”

Here’s the result: Of course I only introduced the command/performance training today (and it took Kory about 2 minutes to learn it). I’m fully aware that the skill isn’t  owned/earned without making it a solid part of my daily exercises for several months.

The Homer Simpson Moment (d’oh!)

Because it was raining outside (did you hear the rain on our metal roof)… I took the exercise inside to the Nancy Gyes “G” alphabet drill (which we finally put up last night as our Minute league play game ~ see

D’oh! It occurred to me that Nancy may have anticipated the use of the letter “G” as a threadle exercise… so I popped the CD into my computer and, sure enough, there are a couple. Here is “G” exercise number 12:


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.

Minuet in G

February 24, 2012

This week we will play the Minuet. On the surface, the Minuet is a simple game with a straight-forward sequence repeated over and over again. In fact, the game will expose every flaw in movement the handler might have as the handler must also repeat his movement over and over again. There will be dropped bars, refusals and even off courses. This game demonstrates a simple principal. Most performance faults are the fault of the handler and not of the dog.

Following the briefing and description of the game I intend to write an educational bit to TDAA judges who are assigned the mission to design a minuet for competition.


The dog and handler have 50 seconds. Repeat the sequence as a continuous loop until the expiration of time.

The judge may specify that the dog has to cross a finish line or go to a table to stop time after the whistle blows to end scoring.


One point is earned for each completion of the loop. One decimal point is earned for each jump in an uncompleted loop when time expires. For example: In 50 seconds, the dog does 7 complete loops and the first two jumps in the sequence. The dog’s score shall be 7.2.

If the dog drops a bar, the handler must stop and reset the bar.

If the dog goes off course, one point is lost. Counting of the loop will not continue until the dog returns to the next on-course jump.

Strategy Note

In a game, like this, with a finite number of possible scores the time to the table will often determine placement. When the 50 second whistle blows, you should head for the table without hesitation.


Games I
4″ / 8 “
12′′ / 16′′
Games II
4″ / 8 “
12′′ / 16′′
Games III
4″ / 8 “
12′′ / 16′′

Course Design College

What you should immediately understand about the Minuet is that it is a small sequence with a feature technical challenge. TDAA judges often struggle with setting appropriate qualifying criteria for the game.

The qualifying criteria should reflect an appropriate rate of travel for the level and jump height of the dog. The only way to do this is to measure the sequence.

We have here a measured path (courtesy of the Clean Run Course Designer) that has the dog’s path at about 55 yards. Note that I took the table out as the end of sequence obstacle, because all real scoring takes place in the repetition of the basic sequence, which flows from jump #7 right back into jump #1.

The number of complete circuits a dog should be required to qualify really must be related to the rates of travel from the standard classes. Here are my calculations:

Games I
4″ / 8 “
12′′ / 16′′
Games II
4″ / 8 “
12′′ / 16′′
Games III
4″ / 8 “
12′′ / 16′′

What I got immediately from this table is that the Games III dogs should be about to do two complete circuits in 50 seconds. Lord knows that if a dog makes an error in the Minuet he’ll really deserve the Q of he picks himself up and still finishes in time.

The fourth column is a weighted percentage based on the rates of travel by level and jump height. So in the fifth column I’ve extrapolated how many obstacles in the sequence the dog should be able to complete. This would have been considerably more complicated if the sequence featured technical obstacles.

Beethoven’s Minuet in G

Nancy Gyes’ Alphabet Drills

You guessed it: this week’s game is based on the Letter G, right out of Nancy Gyes’ Alphabet Drills. The workbook and disk with all the drills in CRCD format are available at

This is exercise #17… though jump #7 was added to close the loop to make it a Minuet. Note that the transition from #7 through jump #1 creates a complication that was not included in the handling discussion in Nancy’s workbook.

The Rest of the Floor


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.

Player Piano

October 18, 2011

The rhythm of agility has ever fascinated me; the handler and dog moving with ease and grace in harmonic symphony. The course itself is like the scroll of a pianola, dictating the beat, a composition enticing dancers on the floor into anything from an elegant waltz to an upbeat quick-step (50 bars/minute).

Sometimes the course itself introduces a jangling tone that disturbs the beat. It’s like hearing bad music; the listener winces at the discordant moment. Was it the course… or was it the dancer?

The composer might be completely bloody minded.

Bloody-minded Jumpers!

Being too lazy to move the contact equipment I wanted to put up a Jumpers With Weaves course. I could not help but wince at the discordant moments in this course. I’ve been occupying myself with a course design riddle that we see all too often in agility these days (particularly in USDAA courses) in which the fast dog handler is obligated to be in two places at once, if not three. Certainly the day goes to the young athletic handler who can race his dog from corner to corner to establish handler proximity in the technical moments.

For the rest of us, the mantra is train… don’t complain.

This is a bit of a cowardly notion I suppose. I’ll set this course up for league play. Then I won’t be here to run the course with my boy. I’m off to Springfield, IL in the morning to conduct a four-day TDAA judges’ clinic.

There are three very technical moments in this course. The first bit is in the transition from jump #7 to #8. The handler has a scarce 8 to 10′ to turn the dog with a looming tunnel option. Then the handler has to get to the opposite side of the floor to solve the same sort of option (with the dogwalk looming) in the turn from jump #10 to #11. This is really the tough bit because ideally the handler wants to come out of the turn with dog on right; calling for a perfectly executed serpentine Front Cross. Now the question is whether the handler can establish proximal position for the tricky threadle turn from jump #12 to #13. Ah, bloody-minded indeed.

Without a Paddle

Just so I don’t leave everyone “up the creek”, as it were, I should suggest my handling solution to the course. In order to compete with the young long-legged athletes in our sport some of us old-timers need to rely on superior training and handling skills. That is not to say that we would all succeed with the plan (or even I would succeed). But without a plan we are up the creek, and without a paddle.

A thing I’ve always said about pinwheels is the faster the dog is; the farther ahead the handler gets (and if you’ve been training your dogs for independent work in pinwheels in the exhaustive exercises I put up for this purpose in The Jokers Notebook distance training series… this should be no problem for you.) In this part of the course the handler has to pick the dog up out of the tunnel, sending him forward to “own the pinwheel”. This allows the handler the position he needs to precue the turn from jump #7 to #8.

I show the handler with dog on right coming out of the pipe tunnel. Getting this position might be its own sort of riddle, especially if the handler has to step in to the entry of the pipe tunnel at #3 so closely that he can touch it.

Note too that I show the handler layering at a distance while the dog is engaged in the performance of the weave poles in order to gain the next technical handling position.

Again the handler has a position forward of his dog to precue the turn. The cruel part about this moment is that the handler has to draw the dog around carefully to set the line through jumps #11 and #12. This is a type of Front Cross that I call a serpentine Front Cross. Truly it is a combination movement: Front Cross to Post Turn. The key to the successful Post is to release on the line. Release too soon and the dog is over jump #6. Release too soon and the dog goes from #11 to #4.

The tough part about surviving this moment is that it leaves the handler woefully behind the dog on the approach to jump #12 which is immediately followed by a difficult transition.

At jump #12 the handler is left behind the dog. I’m showing here a Post & Tandem approach to the #13 jump (optimistically showing the dog avoiding the run-out plane of jump #13). The Post needs to be a static Post, with the handler showing brakes to draw the dog back as though going to the dogwalk. At just the right moment the handler will flip the dog away in a Tandem Turn. I may have over-elaborated the turn (dog’s red line). In fact the handler really has to hold the Post opening up the approach to the jump.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Alphabet Drills ~ Letter E

At the heart of our set of obstacles on the floor is a jumping configuration for the letter E, taken from Nancy Gyes alphabet drills. The workbook and CD are available from Clean Run Productions if you’d like to play along. I’ll be going through all of the drills in the next year.

This is a great set of jumps, exploring the relationship between two adjoined pinwheels. I will leave our instructor with a page or two of drills, right out of Gyes’ Alphabet workbook.

The Book of Agility Games

The Book of Agility Games, 3d ed (beta) is now available in our web store.

I have yet to add all of the hypertext links and enable loading of a course directly into CRCD simply by clicking on the picture. However, I’m being besieged by queries after the book. This is a one-of-a-kind reference to all manner of games played in agility, around the world.

Please note that everyone who buys a legal copy will get a coupon towards the Final draft reimbursing you for the cost of the beta.

518 pp.

Follow this link:

Bud’s Google-Proof Trivia Contest

In what movie based on semi-autographical book by Earnest Hemingway did a notoriously gay actor play the part that was presumably Hemingway? Who was the actor?

Though I’m a huge fan of Hemingway the writer; he was a notorious homophobe, racist and sexist. I suppose he’s rolling over in his grave about the casting in the movie.


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.

D ~ Quidditch

September 2, 2011

Our lesson plan this week will feature the letter “D” from Nancy Gyes’ alphabet drills; (the CD with all the course maps and the workbook are available at

The lesson plan also features our game for the week… Quidditch. Hairy Pawter’s Quidditch is the invention of Becky Dean and Jean MacKenzie. The game was played for the first time at Dogwood Training Center in Ostrander, Ohio. The rules for this game didn’t make the publication deadline for the Clean Run Book of Agility Games (2d edition), as these rules were under review by the athletic faculty at Hogwarts at the time. There is no rushing those wizards with tenure. However, the game will be available in the Book of Agility Games, 3d Ed., available soon at

Quidditch ~ send to the Beater variation


Big dogs will have 60 seconds and small dogs 65 seconds to complete three numbered sequences. When time expires the dog[1] should be directed to the table to stop time. The point values for each of the sequences are 15 points (black circles), 20 points (white squares), and 25 points (white circles). Each sequence can be successfully completed only once. The sequences can be taken in any order. Each obstacle has individual point values that are earned by a team if a sequence is only partially completed prior to time expiring.

  • 1 point for jumps
  • 3 points for tunnels
  • 5 points for contact obstacles and weave poles

Upon the successful completion of a sequence the team will have the opportunity to earn bonus points for a successful performance of a tire; the ‘Beater’ bonus, for which the team will earn an additional 25 points. Dogs must be sent through the tire from outside the containment box shown on the course in order to earn the Beater bonus.

Refusals will be faulted on the tire, but nowhere else on course. The initial direction of the dog’s approach to the tire will define the run-out plane of the obstacle for the purpose of judging refusals. If a dog commits a refusal on the tire, the Beater bonus is lost.

After attempting the Beater bonus the team should attempt another sequence. If the team completes each of the different sequences, they will earn a ‘Keeper’ bonus of 50 points in addition to the points of the individual sequences. Note: the bonus points earned or missed by the completion of the tire do not affect ability for a team to earn the Keeper bonus.

A dropped bar, fly-off, some off-courses (see wrong course rule, below) or missed contact will be considered a sequence fault. The team can immediately reattempt the same sequence or move to another sequence.

If a team completes or attempts one sequence more than once the final score for the team will be zero.

When time expires no new points can be earned.

The Bludgers Rule

  1. A Bludger (wrong course obstacle) performed during the performance of an individual sequence shall result in a sequence fault. No points are earned for the performance of any individual obstacle unless the sequence is not completed due to expiration of time.
  2. Performance of a Bludger after the successful completion of a sequence on the way to the Beater (tire) shall be considered a fault of the Beater. The ability for the team to earn the Beater bonus is lost. The team should proceed to the next sequence, or to the table if appropriate.
  3. If the wrong course occurs: Bludgers (wrong courses) shall not be faulted: between the starting line and the first obstacle of a numbered sequence; between the Beater and the first obstacle of a numbered sequence; between the Beater and the table (to stop time).
  4. No points shall be earned for the performance of any Bludger.

Expiration of Time

If the whistle sounds prior to the completion of the three sequences, the dog should be directed to the table. The team will earn individual points for obstacles completed prior to the sounding of the whistle. When the dog touches the table, time will stop. No table performance is required.

The Golden Snitch

If a team successfully completes all three sequences, earns all three 25 point Beater bonuses, and touches the table prior to the 60-second whistle sounding, the team will earn the ‘Golden Snitch’ award of 75 bonus points.


Quidditch is scored Points, Then Time. The dog with the most points wins. In the case of a tie, the dog with the shortest time will be the winner.

A perfect score requires completion of all three sequences and successful performance of the Beater bonus. The scoring notation would look like this: 15-25-20-25-25-25-50-75.

Qualifying and Titles

Use the same course for dogs competing at all levels. The level at which the dog qualifies depends upon the number of points earned:

  • Games I: 55 points
  • Games II: 75 points
  • Games III: 95 points

Bud’s Google Proof Trivia Contest

Is it true that President Obama has vowed to take away guns from American gun owners? Hint:


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. Be sure to check out my distance training series: The Jokers Notebook; an (inexpensive) elaboration and improvement on the work I did in Go the Distance.

[1] In this variation of the game the dog is naturally the Quaffle. But for the sake of clarity, we’ll just call him a dog.

OMW Knife River

August 24, 2011

I’m on my way early in the A.M, bound for Duluth, MN and five days of agility. I’ll be at Knife River… which conjures some interesting images…

Tomorrow is just a travel day. These can be a bit of a grind. I take my laptop along and try to get work done. Unrelenting.

The Letter C

Just a quick note on the letter “C” from Gyes’ Alphabet Drills:

I had taken note in the earlier drills that the spacing between obstacles is in the range of 17′ to about 18′. This is the kind of spacing you’re likely to find in the USDAA these days. NADAC calls for an evenly spaced 22’ between obstacles; the AKC and CPE require a minimum of 20′ between obstacles. The only venue that actually allows (demands) spacing tighter than this, is the TDAA where the big dogs are 12″ and 16″.

I’m not one to engage in histrionics, waving my arms around about “unsafe conditions” and so forth. Fact of the matter is, when the spacing is tighter you need to be keener in your timing and own skills like pre-cuing your intention to turn. The USDAA is not a venue for lollygaggers. That’s for sure.

Most of the alphabet drills are on a blank canvas so you don’t see the gridlines in background to understand the correct spacing. You could use the CRCD path tool to calculate a funky dog’s path (never believe the CRCD dog’s path).


This first simple sequence (of a couple dozen) is a variation of an exercise I’ve done for years. Wouldn’t you know it… it’s a distance exercise!

This illustration shows a simple Tandem Turn… the handler crossing behind the dog on the landing side of jump #2. Note that the dog and handler turn “in tandem” in the new direction of the course.

A dog turns most naturally in the direction of the handler. So in this practice we’re teaching the dog to turn away from the handler’s position. This is a very important foundation skill.

This is an example of a layered Tandem. When a dog really understands the Tandem it becomes an important tool in distance work. The Tandem creates acceleration and separation. Note that the timing events are all the same… but the handler has begun at a lateral distance from the dog so that dog’s path and handler’s path do not overlap. Still… the dog and handler turn “in tandem” in the new direction of the course.

Don’t let your eyes beguile you. Nancy not only made the spacing tight… she wasn’t entirely symmetrical, at all.

The turn from jump #2 to #3 is quite a soft turn, probably in the range of 30ish˚. If the handler shows the turning instruction with too much force at jump #2 the dog may turn hard-aback, giving the #3 jump a refusal miss to the inside. This is especially a problem with smaller dogs; but even a fast and long-striding dog can be quick in his interpretation of the turning movement.

The fix for the subtle soft turn is either to show a soft Tandem instruction (inside arm and loopy rotation); or to draw the corner and timing of the movement out on the flat after jump #2 a bit; or both.

Bud’s Google Proof Trivia Contest

In the movie Master and Commander after the first attack of the French privateer Acheron on the HMS Surprise, the Surprise was badly damaged and taking on water. In the depths of the ship a fellow ran a crew repairing the hull and pumping out water. What was likely the title of the position he served upon the Surprise? And what was the likely title of the position of the fellows that worked for him?


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. Be sure to check out my distance training series: The Jokers Notebook; an (inexpensive) elaboration and improvement on the work I did in Go the Distance.

Vivid Contrast

August 22, 2011

The days pile on top of each other now. On Thursday we conducted the last 3‑hour mini clinic for our students for awhile; on Friday I was in Columbus leading an instructor’s round-table at ARF; on Saturday I led two leveled handling clinics at ARF. Sunday I was home working on my prodigious to do.


This was a bit like old home week at ARF. I was many years in the Columbus area, so I know most of these folks. The building, in an industrial park, was formally grand central for the defunct Wild Weavers.

ARF is a dog-training community that approaches the game from a philosophical point of view; the “F” stands for “Fun”… and that is the philosophy. You gotta like it.

Three hours is not much time to develop agility training and handling topics. I could do an intense boot-camp experience over four full days and barely scratch the surface.

I put the group on a “Playful Pinwheels”

The chief objective of this training is to teach the handler not to be a dead-head in his movement. It also gives me opportunity to discuss strategically understanding the lines and corners of the dog’s path and fundamental timing events. Turns out to be a lot to fit in a three hour program; but, it fits very nicely. And I get a few light-bulb moments.

The Letter B

In vivid contrast to the run and flow teaching at ARF, our Thursday night 3‑hour at home featured the letter “B” from Nancy Gyes’ alphabet drills most of which, so far are grinding technical drills. And lest you believe that was a criticism… technical is exactly what I want and need right now; as do many of my students.


I printed up sheets with about a dozen of the exercises from the workbook. The sheets turned out to be useful as it gave my students a visual they could hold in their hands (kinda like the course map at a trial). And, I got good help moving equipment, numbering sequences… and allowing everyone to pick their own poison.


It turns out I built the “B” in the wrong direction. My building is 62′ wide… so things didn’t fit so nicely. In this exercise we used a short set of six weave poles.


My personal favorite was this bit. A bit of analysis of the dog’s path show’s it to be a simple serpentine. That means I can attack at full speed and not worry over the moments of sharp contrast.

When Old Men Dream

WHEN old men dream

They write the rules

For how to conduct their lives

All men live by rules

So it’s advantageous to write them yourself


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. Be sure to check out my distance training series: The Jokers Notebook; an (inexpensive) elaboration and improvement on the work I did in Go the Distance.

Box Threadles & 270’s

August 15, 2011

Returning to the letter A…

The dog and handler step into the ring as a team. The judge’s riddle will offer both curious passage and unexpected twist for the team to solve all in a rush in an aura of palpable expectancy.

What I intend to develop with my boy Kory as we work through the alphabet drills is teamwork, pure and simple. Technical practice is the key. I must know how to give the instruction/word by movement or verbalization for whatever confronts us in the moment. And Kory must know his working response.

The Alphabet Drills are like practice at sword play, like Samurai’s sparring, developing instinct, understanding, and muscle memory.

The Box Threadle

With Kory this was far simpler than I’d imagined. I begin with a slight cross-the-body precue; and pull it off neatly with an RFP in which I never bother to give full rotation. The key to this handling challenge (to any?) is understanding the dog’s path.

Here, I’ve drawn the box threadle movement. It’s important to see the three lines of the dog’s path in the movement, and the two corners. The handler must support the dog in every line. And corners are always timing events. Without seeing the lines, and corners, it’s pretty hard to do your job.

The 270s

270s in box work might have a variety of handling solutions. What’s good for the fast dog handler is almost surely a disaster of lackluster handler participation for the slow dog handler.

For me and Kory this went to the fast dog end of the scale. The tricky bit for me was bringing my boy into the box in a way that establishes the line straight through the box; rather than offering the wrong-course corner-cut.

Ah! If the 270 is a corner-cut it’s a considerably easier exercise. The handler can constantly hedge the line to ensure the corner-of-the-box performance. But don’t you know, this is not a true 270° turn.

Following Along?

A compilation volume of Nancy Gyes’ Alphabet Drills has been published by Clean Run Productions. I’m sure you can find a copy on the web store; The price is $29.95.

I’ll be working through the alphabet drills (and inflicting them on my own students). I hope you get the book and follow along. There is a cd with the book that has the exercises in Course Designer .agl format.

Home Front

Life has been hectic recently what with our ramped up trialing adventures. I have other obligations as well: judging, seminars, and clinics. As I write this I’m outbound for Eugene, OR. I stepped in to cover a judging assignment for Dave Seeger who died of a heart attack nearly two weeks ago.

My chores have bunched up on me a bit. Have you ever felt guilty for doing what you’re doing even though it needed doing just because there’s something else that needed doing too? Yah, it’s kind of like that.

Last Tuesday I spent four hours in the morning with our yard help. This is a kid we’ve hired to do mowing and other miscellaneous chores. You know how it is with kids! This boy works for two minutes and then rests for five. So I set out to lead by example, and show him what work looks like.

Our mission was to clear downed limbs and branches on either side of about ¼ mile of road on our property. We dragged the stuff onto the road into piles, then I’d come through with the tractor and wagon, load it, and haul it down to the burn pile by the pond.

About a half hour into the job I stopped to point out that I’d made this great big huge pile; while he’d made a couple dinky little piles of twigs. So I gave him a short talk about how he shouldn’t be getting outworked by a 60 year old man.

On the last load of the day I took the kid down with me to the pond. When we were done unloading that last haul I pointed at the huge pile we’d made. He was pretty impressed. I told him that all work is measurable. And in this world he needs to learn to make bigger piles than anyone elses’s.

There endeth the lesson.

Oh, I paid for my hubris alright. For the next couple days I was feeling the effect of spending four hours in the sun outworking a 14 year old boy. On top of my arthritis meds I had to take a couple OTC pain pills for my aching body.


Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Which of Shakespeare’s characters called down the tempest?

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running.