Archive for the ‘Jokers Notebook’ Category

Resolutions for a New Year

December 29, 2015

I promise in 2016 to take better care of my health. I’ve got to lose weight; and I’ve got to eat better. Beyond that I will enjoy life day by day and make the most of my hobbies and passions.

The funny thing is, after a lifetime of striving to build and develop for “the future”… I realize that the future is now. It’s a change for me, to live for today, and not for tomorrow. Do I know how to do it?

I’ll share a couple of my projects for the New Year below.

The Joker’s Notebook

Since we got our young girl Cedar we’ve been video-taping our ongoing training, subscribing to Marsha’s Two Minute Dog Trainer methodology. It is my intention to take a fairly extensive body of work from the pages of The Joker’s Notebook and create a compendium publication with links to YouTube videos which give a visual reference to the training.

I got a chuckle the other day when going through the videos and found more than one of me in my robe doing early morning training with Cedar. That’s the reality of dog training. You don’t always get dressed up like you’re going to be on camera. Sometimes you just throw on the morning robe and go get ‘er done.

Not to brag, or anything, but the Joker’s Notebook is a comprehensive reference for teaching a dog independent performance in agility and the perfect foundation for an amazing distance dog.

Cedar has her own Facebook page with lots of her videos published: Cedar’s Facebook page

Agility League Play

A chief passion for me for the last several years has been to build a league of franchise clubs that run the same course or play the same game in a league format. The league finally has some traction and is slowly (oh, so slowly) growing.

The National Dog Agility League has a presence on Facebook: NDAL on Facebook

The first game we’re going to play here at my place in 2016 is the course set for a 60′ x 90′ space. In the 60×90 we’re getting away from the “international” grind into something more lovely and flowing… but certainly with some challenge.

I’ll share with you:

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This should be a lot of fun!

Come Play With Us!

The National Dog Agility League is gearing up for a new year. We have been tantalized with the prospect of a NatGeo program in early 2017 based on our championship series. The program will be based on the players who support the league.

You can find a description of the 1st quarter 2016 series here: http://wp.me/p2Pu8l-67

The first quarter series is actually three separate leagues based on a) size of the floor and b) difficulty of the challenges.

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

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Left and Right

December 28, 2014

When teaching a dog absolute directional I begin by luring her into the turn while giving a name or command to the performance. Gradually I stop luring… and indeed I stop giving any physical cue at all. Ultimately I want the dog to understand the performance based on the verbal command only.

Then, for the longest time, each session will focus on a single direction.

I’ve progressed with Cedar to the point that I’m using both Left and Right in the same training session. Now I’m keen to see how she differentiates between the two distinctly different commands. Here’s a video of today’s session: http://youtu.be/tB5BKsCfdVI

You can hear Marsha in the tape explaining how I deal with Cedar’s choice of turning direction. If she gets it right, I praise her and give her a bit of food. If she gets it wrong, I briefly turn my back on her, just to make an emphatic point.

There’s nothing complicated in the pattern of my commands at this point. I do “Right-Right-Right” then “Left-Left-Left”, and repeat. When she’s getting it right in the 80 percentile range, I’ll start using more complicated patterns.

Ass Pass

Chris Miele asks to see a video of the Back Pass (aka the “Ass Pass”). What I really want to do is show the training steps, using our young girl Cedar as a for reals learn-it-from-scratch dog. But, I did dredge up at least one video that shows me doing a Back Pass with my boy Kory. On this jumpers course the dog’s approach to the weave poles was nearly perpendicular; and there was a high NQ rate for dogs missing the entry. So I used the Back Pass to bring Kory around square to the entry:

http://youtu.be/ZVEhSkitJ7Y ~ Thanks to Brenda Gilday for the recording.

Blogging

It strikes me that in about a month I will write my 1000th web log.

When I started this I ran a big training center, doing six or eight camps each year. I was out in the world doing a lot of seminars, and on many weekends showing my dogs. I lived agility pretty much every waking hour of the day.

The pace has certainly slowed down, mostly because I’ve slowed down. Arthritis has brought a premature end to my campaigning days. My boy Kory is almost constantly lame these days, though it’s a bit of a phantom condition that comes and goes almost at whip. And I don’t much feel an urgent need either to cure him or rush out and get another dog.

The Teacup Dogs Agility Association keeps my brain in the sport. It’s not a big titling organization compared to just about any other. But it is honest and challenging and provides a modest income (add to our “landlord” income, and at least we have a roof over our heads).

Early next year there’s a group of agility fans who will descend on us for a “Training with Bud ~ old-timer’s camp”. The camp is being organized by the notorious Sue Sternberg, one of my favorite students. That should be fun. I’ll see if I can still make them cry.

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

Cedar’s “Go-On” Training

December 24, 2014

When teaching a “Go On” directional I will continue to advance the exercise, always keen to take it to the next step. Young Cedar is showing plenty of willingness and aptitude for the training. We shot this video this evening: http://youtu.be/o_hKS3qd8vo

It’s about time for me to take the exercise into the back yard to give me a bit more room for the send.

Notes on the Tandem Turn

A Tandem Turn is a cross behind the dog on the dismount of an obstacle, or on the flat. Contrast this with the Back Cross, which is a cross behind the dog on the approach to an obstacle.

An experienced handler will try to be positioned on the side of the turn because the dog turns most naturally towards the handler. The clever and evil judge may design a course that intentionally traps the handler on the wrong side away from the turn. The handler needs an answer to that riddle.

We rely on the premise that our dogs already understand how we move. So in the Tandem we turn towards the dog, distinctly and boldly. The dog, understanding our movement should make the turn in this new direction although the turn is toward his side.

This illustration shows the “off-arm” Tandem. As the dog comes up over the jump the handler brings up his opposite arm, pointing out in the direction of the turn.

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Of course, the turn is more than just an arm signal. At the same time the handler is rotating his body, turning, and moving in the direction of the turn. It’s also a good idea to develop a verbal command to coincide with all of these other cues.

The handler’s position should be only slightly forward of the dog for the dog to see the cues for the turn. At the same time the handler should not be so far ahead that he can’t step behind the dog (it is a form of the Rear Cross, after all).

Which arm should be used to signal the turn is a bit controversial. It’s reported that Susan Garret calls the counter-arm Tandem the “evil-Ohio-arm,” and advocates using only the inside arm (the arm nearer to the dog).

The inside-arm Tandem was originally shown to me by a lady from Los Angeles (Barbara Mah.) I thought it looked so silly that for a long time I called in the “La La” turn.

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However, I discovered that one of my dogs, who I’d been struggling for over a year to teach the off-arm Tandem, understood the “inside” arm immediately. He got it the first time he saw it, and made the turn perfectly. So, I no longer call it the La La turn. This is now the Inside-Arm Tandem.

All the other elements of the turn are the same. The handler should rotate his body, turn the corner, and move in the direction of the turn.

Oh, as to the controversy about which arm to use: we’ll use the arm that our dog implicitly understands. There are no “one size fits all” solutions in agility. The Tandem Turn should always be learned with practice.

Some dogs respond to both signals, but give a different response to each. This illustration shows a scenario in which the turn is still away from the handler’s position, but the true course is the gentler path up to jump #2.

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I would always use the inside-arm Tandem in this situation. I had a dog (Bogie) who always took the off-arm as a “hard and deep” instruction. He’d flip back to jump #3, giving jump #2 a pass. He’d interpret the inside-arm Tandem as a gentler turn, and would be, properly, directed to jump #2.

These aren’t hard and fast rules of the performance. The handler should experiment with both arms and understand the dog’s response to each. Know thy dog.

The Tandem Turn can be used on the dismount from technical obstacles, on the exit of a tunnel. The biggest danger is that the handler’s turn mightn’t have enough “push” to get the dog away before turning back. A Tandem is only successful when the dog believes in the turn. It must be convincing, and compelling.

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Oh, one final detail worth mentioning. The Tandem Turn “creates” distance. It’s a great movement to use to open up the real estate between dog and handler. In this illustration the handler is working parallel to the dog over the first two jumps with a bit of lateral distance. At the “corner” the handler surges into the turn showing the arm signal for the turn.

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To the dog’s point of view the handler is making the turn; and the dog frankly won’t know until after jump #3 that the handler did not attend. It doesn’t matter. The dog should work faithfully in a path parallel to the handler to get to jump #4, even at a substantial distance.

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

Fantasy Dog Agility

December 21, 2014

I have this really cool fantasy about a reality show for television. On this program several dog agility trainers will each work with a big Hollywood celebrity to teach them how to run an agility dog. And then we have an agility competition with the celebs and their borrowed dogs.

I’ve got first dibs on Mark Wahlberg! He can run my boy Kory (or even Marsha’s Phoenix). I’m comfortable taking on any smart aleck agility trainer in the business to train up a celeb to beat us! I believe Mark could be a hell of an agility handler. It’s just a hunch.

Go On Then

I’m sorry that we’re not capturing the full granularity of Cedar’s ongoing training. By rights we’d be filming twice a day. We are only filming about every other day. So you miss some of the incremental steps we take in the training.

Here: http://youtu.be/J4EoJXrAANs. We’ve progressed to three hoops. As she becomes comfortable with our performance expectations and begins to own the exercise, we’ll move them farther and farther apart. I fully expect that in about a month I’ll be sending Cedar straight away from me a good 40′. . The dead-away send is truly one of the most difficult distance challenges in agility.

The training methodology we’re using here is completely documented in The Joker’s Notebook, which is available on my web-store. The cool thing about distance training is that all skills that we own with our dogs are earned and deserved through training and practice. If you take the time to establish the foundation, you will have those special skills.

Top Secret

I’m fairly excited by developments with Top Dog. I’m sorry to say that it’s all secret and amazing. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

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

Gamblers ~ Petit Prix Warm Up

October 2, 2014

This is third in a series, taking a serious look at the games of the 2014 Petit Prix. Please note that B&D has extended the closing date for the Petit Prix. You can get a copy of the premium here: Petit Prix Premium.

Gamblers is an old game in the dog agility world. I’ll present an example of Gamblers (a Teacup Dogs course) and then follow up with a discussion of strategy.

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Briefing

The objective of Gamblers is for the dog to accumulate as many points as possible in a specified time and then to perform a designated gamble (sometimes called a joker), also within a specified time, which consists of a sequence of obstacles with the dog and handler working some distance apart. Gamblers is a two-part game: the point-accumulation period and the gamble period.

Point accumulation period – You can take obstacles in the order and direction of your choosing. The dog may perform obstacles only twice for points. Back-to-back performance is permitted. There is no restriction as to order and direction except that the dog may not take two gamble obstacles, one after the other, during point accumulation. Obstacle values are:

  • Jumps are worth 1 point;
  • Tunnels and tire are worth 3 points;
  • The A-frame, teeter and weave poles are worth 5 points;
  • The dogwalk is worth 7 points.

The time allotted for the point-accumulation period shall be 25 seconds for big dogs; and 28 seconds for small dogs.

Gamble period – Successful performance of the gamble is worth 25 points. Time for the gamble shall be 16 seconds for big dogs; and 18 seconds for small dogs.

  • Gamble points will be lost if any of the following occurs:
  • The dog exceeds the time allotted for the gamble period or faults a gamble obstacle.
  • The handler steps on or over the containment line to aid the dog in performance of the joker.
  • The dog is directed to loiter near the start of the gamble while time remains in the point-accumulation period;
  • The dog performs any two gamble obstacles one after the other during the point-accumulation period;
  • The dog knocks down a jump included in the gamble sequence during point accumulation, making correct performance of that jump in the gamble period impossible.
  • The dog commits any performance fault during performance of the gamble.

Scoring and Qualifying

Gamblers is scored points then time. The team with the most points wins. Time is a tiebreaker only.  To qualify:

GI – 16 points; and successful completion of the gamble

GII & GIII – 18 points; and successful completion of the gamble

Strategies for Play in Gamblers

Timing

Be armed with a strategy that delivers enough points to qualify, and positions the dog near the start of the gamble with options for productive loitering.

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I’ve drawn on this course map a dog’s path that works the obstacles in the upper-right corner of this course. The line actually shows two performance of each of the obstacles in that corner.

Be mindful of the rules of the game. First of all, the dog is allowed to do obstacles only twice. And, you should understand the rule about “loitering” near the start of the gamble. If you are running your dog in a circle over obstacles your dog has already taken twice the judge—with a mind like a steel trap—will likely call you for loitering and negate the dog’s gamble. So, you should take care to reserve the performance of the obstacles in your “productive loitering” strategy until it’s time for that strategy to reveal itself.

If the dog already has the points to qualify (that’s what I said to do first, if you’ll remember), than chances are that the whistle will blow while working this performance of obstacles. But that’s the whole point. From anywhere in this corner the dog will have a good run at the opening jump of the gamble.

Where you almost certainly don’t want to be is coming down the A-frame in the direction going away from the gamble. The gamble time isn’t really that generous.

The 7 Point Obstacle

An important tradition in the Gamblers class is for the judge to give a higher value to an obstacle on the field. This is usually a technical obstacle, and typically gives a bonus of 2 points; so the 5 point dogwalk becomes a bonus obstacle worth 7 points.

Note that the 7 Point Obstacle is typically one that has some risk associated with it. For example, it might be so far away from the start of the gamble that it becomes a timing risk.

However, on this course, the risk associated with the 7 Point Obstacle is clearly the possibility that the dog could do two gamble obstacles, one after the other, during the point accumulation period. If you’ve paid attention to the briefing… doing two gamble obstacles (one after the other) will negate the gamble.  NQ

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On this course map I’ve numbered an opening strategy that neatly picks off the 7 Point Obstacle. The plan avoids going anywhere near the two jumps that start and the gamble. We’ve already established that the dog isn’t allowed to do two gamble obstacles (one after the other).

Dropping a bar in the gamble during point accumulation will also negate the gamble.  So, stay away from those jumps if at all possible.

This strategy delivers a qualifying score for the class. It would be fairly easy now to slide into the Timing strategy for the end of point accumulation that I described above.

Play to Your Dog’s Strengths

If your dog has a weakness, say on the teeter or in the weave poles you should not waste time with an optimistic reliance on the performance of those obstacles in the point accumulation period. Save that optimism for a standard class when performance of the risky obstacle is required, rather than optional.

On the other hand, if there are obstacles on which your dog will demonstrate amazing speed and skill, these obstacles should be the centerpiece of your point accumulation strategy. For example, the dog might have an amazing running contact and so the A‑frame might be highly desirable during point accumulation.

Flow and Transitions

Turning a dog degrades the dog’s rate of travel. A good point accumulation strategy for the Gamblers class should not feature a lot of gratuitous technical movement. Instead, the canny handler will devise a flowing plan of attack that allows the dog to work at full extension and at his best speed.

A notable exception to pure flow is the back-to-back performance. Obstacles like a pipe tunnel, the tire, the A-frame… maybe even the dogwalk are candidates for back-to-back performance. If you think about it, by turning the dog straight back you’ve made the transitional distance between obstacles negligible. Steal a second, earn a point.

The Gamble

A dog is well directed by movement, even when the handler is at some distance. The handler should calculate his movement to give a steady signal to the dog, and give pressure to the dog to move in the direction of the numbered sequence.

The gamble in the sample course above features a discrimination (two obstacles in close proximity) and the performance of a technical obstacle at a distance. Don’t be tongue tied as the dog makes his turn after jump #1 in the gamble. Give your command/verb for the dogwalk; Face the dogwalk; Point to the dogwalk; Move toward the dogwalk. And don’t step over the line.

It’s nearly fruitless to try to describe what the handler should do to raise the chance for success in a Gamble. They are always different.

A terrific strategy for success in Gamblers is to train your dog to work independently and at a distance.

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

The Essence of Gamblers

September 30, 2014

I have an up and coming TDAA Judges’ Clinic. One of the participants writes to me: “I don’t have a confidence that I can design an appropriate game for all three levels. I admit that don’t do very many gambles in any of my aspects of agility. I haven’t taught my dogs (or been taught myself) how to do them.

She correctly assumes that experience is the best teacher. Inasmuch as I’ll be leading the judges’ clinic, I will endeavor to be the second best teacher. (The clinic and subsequent trial are in Lynnwood, Washington… October 9-12. Are you going to be there?)

A Few Quick Notes

Working a dog at a distance basically means that the dog has been taught his job and doesn’t require the handler to always be forward and always “dragging” the dog through every performance. The dog should be taught his job for every obstacle with no requirement that the handler be embedded in the context of the performance.

I’d be delighted to write a primer on the subject. That’s too big a job for this one blog. So the following is hardly comprehensive. I will write more on it and put it all together in the fullness of time.

The Handler’s Job

The handler’s job is to direct the dog. An important part of the distance riddle is how the handler provides direction. The easy answer to this is that the handler provides focus, verbalization and movement to frame the objective obstacle.

Focus is what the handler is looking at and pointing at. Note that pointing is not really a wagging finger. It is more defined by the set of the handler’s shoulders, hips and toes.

Verbalization is the verbal command or imperative annunciated by the handler to cue the dog to the objective obstacle.

Movement rightly belongs at the top of the list. The pressure of movement surely gives the dog his directional cues. The handlers movement tells the dog both where “we” are moving, but how quickly we intend to get there.

The Dead Away Send

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If it’s true that movement is the most fundamental cue to direct the dog, then we’d have to assume that sending the dog straight away (the “dead away” send) is the most difficult kind of distance challenge. In a gamblers’ class the judge will draw what’s called the “handler containment” line. The gamble/distance challenge is negated if the handler steps over that line.

In this drawing a 10′ line and a 19′ line are shown. Obviously the 19′ line is the greater challenge. How does the line not remove movement… the most important directive or cue for the dog to continue on working?

I should love to leave that question just hanging out there. An answer would actually be better. Let me give two answers, actually:

  1. The handler’s movement should be calculated to arrive just short of the line at about the moment the dog is arriving at the objective obstacle.
  2. All skills are earned through training and practice.  At the bottom of my blog in that little section “Questions comments & impassioned speeches” I routinely point to series of books I’ve written on distance training. If you need a series of exercises that lead to amazing distance skills… read and do the exercises in the 5 volumes of The Joker’s Notebook.

Parallel Path

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A typical kind of gamble that appears in distance classes of every sort is the parallel path. In this drawing, after the initial send, the dog and handler work for some distance in parallel. The course designer has to determine where the handler’s containment line should be, relative to the obstacles being performed at a lateral distance. Dogs at different levels might do the same series of obstacles, but at distances appropriate to the level of players.

Technical Obstacles

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The parallel path gamble is made more challenging by the use of a technical obstacle (contacts and weaves) at the parallel distance. This is probably not an appropriate challenge for Novice/Games I players. But surely, Advanced/GII players can show off their training with this simple distance challenge.

One of the real complications in terms of the handler’s movement (required to direct the dog) is woven into the context of the handler’s application of that movement to assist the dog in the performance of the technical obstacle. Without careful training, the dog mightn’t understand the movement at any appreciable distance.

When a technical obstacle is used dogs should be judged by performance rules and faults appropriate to their level. In a numbered sequence the A-frame, in this example, is eligible to earn the dog a refusal fault, which would negate the gamble.

Discrimination

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The course designer can raise the caliber of the challenge a bit by giving the dog a discrimination challenge in the performance of the technical obstacle at a lateral distance.

Change of Direction

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This distance challenge begins with a “change of direction”  challenge at an appreciable distance. This is a fairly tough kind of challenge, to be reserved for the Masters of our sport. Not only does the gamble feature a change of direction, but also a technical obstacle at a distance, and a discrimination challenge. It’s hard to get much more evil that this.

The Masters/GIII challenge doesn’t have to be anything more than a change of directions (at a distance), or a discrimination challenge (at a distance), or the performance of a technical obstacle (at a distance). The course designer really doesn’t have to do all three in one gamble!

Establishing Gamble Time

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I’ve softened the previously drawn gamble challenge (considerably), mostly to talk about how times are assigned for performance of the gamble. In general the judge would take the wheeled distance of the dog’s path and then add 5 to 7 seconds to allow the handler to move the dog into position to begin the gamble.

Using this logic this gamble would be in the range of 13 to 15 seconds for dogs with 3 YPS (three yards per second) rate of travel. The course designer should acknowledge that turning the dog degrades the dog’s rate of travel. So we might add a second for the two turns that initiate the gamble.

Technical obstacles also degrade the dog’s rate of travel. So for each contact obstacle you might add 2 seconds. For the weave poles, add 3 seconds.

Designing for the TDAA

Please note that the sequences I’ve designed here are “big dog” distances. The distances between obstacles would be considerably tighter in the TDAA.

If there is an error that TDAA course designers make (too often)… it is in not giving adequate room to work. Interval distances might be opened up just a bit at a distance. But in general we subscribe to the same kind of spacing that we would use in any standard course. By definition:

  • 8′ in the straightaway
  • A minimum of 12′ to solve wrong course options, or on the approach to a technical challenge, or when requiring the dog to turn.

The TDAA course designer should also give the working dog credit for some distance working skill. I’ve reviewed courses in which the “distance challenge” was no more than 18”. That’s not really a distance challenge.

Yard Sale!

I’ve been loading thing up for a couple weeks now for a yard-sale at my in-laws place down in Williamstown, WV. Click HERE for details!

TDAA Judges’ Clinic and Trial in Lynwood, WA

Oct  9 – 10, 2014  TDAA Judge’s Clinic

Four Paw Sports Center, LLC
Lynnwood, WA
Clinic Presenter:  Bud Houston
Contact:  Robin Carlstrom robin@fourpawsports.com
Indoors on rubber matting over padding
Clinic Application

Oct  11 – 12, 2014  Trial  T14005-9
Four Paw Sports Center, LLC
Lynnwood, WA
Judge of Record:  Bud Houston (judging will be done by judge applicants, who may also enter the trial)
Contact:  Robin Carlstrom robin@fourpawsports.com
Indoors on rubber matting over padding
Premium

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

Starting a New Pup

March 5, 2014

No, I’m not starting a new pup… I’m just writing about it. This is my contribution to the agility bloggers action day. Follow this link to read a rich variety of writing and viewpoint: Starting a New Pup.

In my own life I’ve gone through an amazing transformation as a handler and as an enthusiast of agility. For a couple decades I was a Sheltie guy with a keen pure-for-motion sense of the game. And so training a young pup was a simple matter of conditioning: performance; a love for playing; and responsiveness to handler motion cues.

Since I really can’t run the way I used to, the game has redefined itself for me. Necessity is the mother of invention. The foundation I want for a young pup is independent performance. Here’s a sample of me running my boy Kory: Facebook

I’ve written the step by step… it’s in the pages of the Joker’s Notebook. All of that on my web-store: www.dogagility.org/newstore. Seriously, I’d put it right here, but it’s like 5 or 600 pages. Down below… I’ll treat you to a taste, one of the dozens of foundation exercises you might be doing with a young pup.

There’s a philosophical question that needs to be answered in terms of independent performance. Most handlers wait until their dogs have been thoroughly conditioned to work virtually in heel position. Though I’ll give you that we alternate sides in glorious ambidextrous fashion. These then, are dogs who only understand performance with the handler bound to the context of that performance. And then it’s a difficult trick to train beyond this flawed foundation.

What I’m faced with when bringing up a young dog is both to teach him his job; and to teach him to get that job done at a great distance from me. Consequently the game becomes pure-for-verbal rather than pure-for-motion.

Distance Training Foundation

One of the first rules of distance work is that the dog must learn an independent performance of all agility obstacles. While this might seem an obvious notion it tends to be an overlooked element of basic training. For example, a handler might be working to teach a dog a good two-on/two-off performance of a contact obstacle; but will practice the performance almost constantly while hovering over the dog’s head. The real problem with this is that the handler becomes embedded in the context of performance. Indeed, relatively early in the training the handler should introduce movement and varying relative distance from the dog so that the dog can demonstrate that he truly understands the performance without the handler hovering over his head.

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Sadly the most overlooked obstacle for distance training is the jump. Many handlers (and dog trainers) content themselves with a brush-by performance; meaning that the dog performs the obstacle because the handler is running forward and pointing at it.

Early in jump training I do a simple progressive sending exercise with the jump. From a couple feet away I’ll give the command to jump whilst pointing at the jump and giving it focus. Naturally I praise and reward the dog for a successful performance. Then, gradually, say 4″ or 6″ at a time, I’ll move back, continuing to send, praise and reward.

The key to a progressive sending exercise is that is should progress. I don’t spend much time staying in one relative position. I continue to move backwards. But the steps I take are small rational incremental steps, because I’m not in a hurry to get it done and I don’t want to back up so quickly that the dog ever fails.

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I do the progressive sending exercise with all obstacles, actually. The dog must learn independent performance all of the agility obstacles. I don’t really separate individual obstacles as though one needs to be mastered before moving to another.

The basic sending drill can begin to incorporate more than one obstacle. I might, for example, position myself equidistant between a bar-hurdle and the tire. Or, if the dog’s send to the tire is weaker my station might be slightly closer to the tire.

When doing send-away training I’m asking the dog to demonstrate to me that he understands the performance of the obstacle. So I want to avoid tricking him into space. That means I don’t use a lot of verbalization intended to get him out closer to the obstacle and only then give the verbal command for performance. I also avoid “pick-up truck” logic.

You know how the pick-up truck theory of distance training goes? The question is… how do you get distance work on a dog? So think of it like this… you’re going down the highway at 60 miles an hour in your pick-up truck. The dog is sitting outside up on the top of the cab of the truck. How do you get distance? You slam on the brakes… and there goes the dog whirling into space.

Well that trick might work with a pick-up truck. But it’s less likely to work with agility. What we find out in practice is that slamming on the brakes is as significant to the dog as mashing down on the accelerator. It will cause the dog to come up short, turning back to ask the question… Why have we stopped?

While it’s true that impulsion is required for the dog to go any distance through space, I want the sense of impulsion to come from that narrow space between the dog’s ears. Nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of the well-trained dog.

The Discipline of Distance Training

Websters Dictionary defines the word discipline to mean[1] “to train or to develop by instruction and exercise esp. in self control.”  We seek in dog agility distance training both instruction and exercise. But at the end of the day it’s about “self control”. We hope to teach powerful habit in the trainer’s approach to teaching the dog his job; and equally powerful habit in the handler’s approach to handling.

Train the dog to perform all agility obstacles

This seems obvious, that the dog has to know how to do all agility obstacles. This should be stated that the dog needs to understand the independent performance of all agility obstacles. Does the dog really know how to weave? Or does he only know how to weave when his person is moving coolly alongside, flapping her arms, and giving verbal cadence.

Give the dog permission to work at a difference

Velcro is a two-part fabric, and it takes both parts for a good stick. The dog’s trainer should begin quite early allowing the dog to work at a distance. Give your dog early permission to work at a distance.

I’m fairly convinced that a dog offering the performance of an obstacle without your permission… is never wrong. With my own students I often have to remind them not to tell the dog “No!” every time the dog offers the performance of an obstacle. To be sure the dog was most likely responding to what he believed to be your cue or presentation  for performance. And so, if the  dog is wrong every time he leaves your side, then he is likely to learn that he should stay right next to you were he can be safe and usually right.

Make distance work routine

Every training session with your dog should include some routine distance objective or exercise. This is easier than it sounds. Remember… you want to teach independent performance of all obstacles. You can have a fine training session sending your dog 15′ to do a jump; or 15′ to do the weave poles!

Mostly the serious student of the game should routinely include distance challenge in his work. If a sequence is terribly simple from a handling point-of-view it would be a benefit to the dog’s training to give him permission to work the sequence at a distance. This gives you the opportunity to practice your distance handling and to test the dog’s training for independent performance.

Do your homework

You shouldn’t expect to teach the dog too much given an hour a week at class. It would be a good idea to have daily exercises that can be practiced in the backyard, or in the basement. Ideally you should have a checklist of objectives for training a dog.

The weekly lesson plan will always include homework. The homework may be thought provoking discussion for the discipline of handling at a distance, or step-by-step instructions for training a dog for a distance skill. And it’s worth remembering that your instructor will always know who is doing their homework.

Test your training

The best test of your training foundation is probably weekend competition. In most communities in America there are agility competitions within driving distance nearly every weekend. And all most all of them play some brand of distance game.

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


[1] Actually the first definition for “discipline” has to do with punishment. So we’re going to skip along to the second definition for the word!

A Break …

January 30, 2014

I’m going to take a break from course design.

The weather has been a bit of a tribulation to this old Arizona boy. The temperature was about 32° today, which is a considerable warm-up. Yep, it’s downright balmy out there.

Yesterday, when it was like 10° below zero I got the Tahoe stuck in the ice & snow down by the pond. I just left it down there and trudged back up to the house. Oh, and it’s all uphill, don’t you know. Even on a pretty spring day the uphill climb from the pond will give you a pretty good workout.

Anyhow, this morning I took the tractor down and tried to pull the Tahoe out of the snow. And it wasn’t really very successful with just me. Marsha talked herself into walking down (she won’t drive the tractor). She’s probably feeling all superior because while I was standing there holding the chain she backed it up, turned around, and drove up out of there.

A Workout for Prim

I haven’t applied myself to a training regimen for Prim as I had with Kory when he was this age. So I’ve been trying to get her out every day for some really basic foundation exercises. Don’t you know I have no interest in the typical skills for handling a “pure-for-motion” dog. All of our work is about independent performance, at a distance.

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I’ve been doing some progressive sending work with her. She has a pretty solid “Go On” of 35 or so. What I wanted to do next is incorporate “Left” and “Right” directional. Today we were working on “Right” only. The illustration shows the basic set of equipment. You’ll note that the turning jump is rotated to the left. With that rotation and the tunnel to the left and because I’m working on her left side, she’s naturally disposed to turn to the left.

This is one of those exercises that you really need to back-chain. Beginning at position “A” (maybe even closer than that to the third jump), you take a lead-out, giving the command to jump and to turn Right.

The “Right” command is a precue. That means I’m going to tell her both “Jump” and “Right” before she actually jumps the jump. I’m working at position “C” with her already. But a lot of our success is due to simple shaping and not so much that she’s really learned to turn right when I give the “Right” command.

Blog932 – (Five days in a row!)

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

Top Cat Course Review

August 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhow, here’s the course:

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

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

Walk Through

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can this course be saved?

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

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

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

Note that I got the obstacle count up to 20.

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

Class Plan

July 16, 2013

Okay, it’s about a bazillion degrees outside; and I spent the morning yesterday setting up this course on the grassy out-of-doors agility field. I don’t actually have minions to help me, so you can imagine the buckets of sweat that soaked my clothes.

Marsha isn’t a big fan of out-of-doors play. For me playing on grass is fundamental. It’s how agility was meant to be played. I’m sympathetic to Marsha, and everybody who prefers to play in the shade and away from the bugs. Weather is cruel more often than not in Ohio. Either it’s freezing and icy; or it’s muddy and wet; or it’s brutally hot. There might be a dozen days out of the year on which conditions are perfect for both human and canine.

I’m very aware of the safety issues when working a dog out in the sun. With our dogs, I’ll only work outside for ten or twenty minutes when temperatures are so high.

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This course, by the way, is both the oldest and the latest course challenge for Top Dog Agility. We’ve had a subtle rules change that allows re-running of any course. What it really means is that a course or game never “closes” but is left open like the high scores on a video game at the arcade where everybody has a shot at getting to Top Dog.

I’m having a conversation with a club down in Valencia, Argentina about joining us in the play of this course. That should be fun! Hey… isn’t it Winter in Argentina?

Meanwhile back at the ranch

I have a class coming this evening. The out-of-doors course will be our league play course. But class needs to be in the building (in the shade). I don’t have air conditioning in the building. The best we can do is run the big fans on people and dogs.

Since I dragged all of our big equipment down onto the field, that means I had to come up with a set of the floor for lesson planning purposes. Small Universe comes to the rescue! This is a product that I created (several years ago now)… which is a .pdf with a wide variety of sequences that are arranged by different dimensions. All I have to do is scan through them, find one I like, and then click on the picture to spawn it into Clean Run Course Designer. Then, of course, I can modify it for my immediate needs.

Small Universe has been a life saver for me many times over.

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I shared in my last blog a new contact training protocol for the 2o2o position. Marsha immediately put it to use for her crazy redhead BC Phoenix, and it has been transformative and amazing, IMHO. And so I wanted in this lesson plan to provide a foil for testing and practicing the method. What’s substantially different in Marsha’s work with Phoenix and this lesson plan… is that Phoenix gets to do his thing in the presence of other dogs and people. That heightens the crazy redhead gene, to be sure.

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I’ve reversed the flow so that we get to work in both directions. Naturally I have about six or eight sequences that are based on either set of the bi-directional equipment. You should know that our full-size teeter is on the lower field. I’ll actually be using one of teacup teeters (8 ramps) in class.

Crazy Calendar

For like the next three weekends I’ll be out on the road doing judges clinics for the TDAA. I’ll be traveling with Hazard and Haymitch and will have an opportunity to run both of them in the TDAA trials that are part of the TDAA clinic experience. It’s actually problematic whether I’ll be able to run them at all, because I’ll be very busy in the conduct of these clinics.

At any rate we’d love it if you can come out and run your small dog in one of our clinic trials. If you are anywhere nearby I’d appreciate the opportunity to meet you and see you work with your small canine athlete. Here’s the immediate schedule:

Jul  20 – 21, 2013  Trial   T13067 Agility Cues For You LLC
Louisville, KY
Judge-of-record/Presenter:  Bud Houston (w/judge applicants)
Contact:  Christina Wakefield   (e-mail:  agileticket@gmail.com) Indoors on astroturf with rubber infill.  Day of show entries allowed. Classes to be determined
Premium

Jul  27 – 28, 2013  Trial   T13027
Bella Vista Training Center Lewisberry, PA
Judge of Record:  Bud Houston  (applicants will be judging, records will show Bud Houston as judge)
Contact:  Stephanie Capkovic  (e-mail:  bvwestie@ptd.net) We have had an in-fill sport turf installed, 3 standards and 5 games
Premium

Aug  3 – 4, 2013  Trial  T13016
Rocky Mountain Agility

Arvada, CO
Judge of Record: Bud Houston (judge applicants and recerts will judge performance) Contact:  Zona Butler (e-mail: Zona@rmagility.com) dirt surface
Premium

Of course, I copied all of this right off the TDAA Events Calendar.

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