Archive for the ‘League Play’ Category

Stretch Mistakes

December 5, 2015

The December game is locked in a 50′ by 50′ space and yet manages to pose several interesting technical challenges. I’m faced with solving for my own while at the same time offering coaching to my team mates. I’d like to teach my students to stretch their abilities and expand their repertoire of skills. This is no easy task.

The Stretch Mistake is an interesting concept that came up in conversation with Marsha a few days ago (from something she heard on NPR). Stretching is a tangible application of a new skill; it is experimenting and being playful. A “stretch mistake” is the foundation for learning and refining the details of that new skill. We have to be willing to make mistakes. A handler’s propensity to rely always on a small (but comfortable) repertoire of skills retards learning.

Approaching this game in a completely playful manner, I might crash ‘n burn and make a mess of it. But those mistakes I make are the foundation for learning. And frankly I’m looking for an application of skills that I’ve been keen on teaching my dogs. And just may be, those skills will give a competitive advantage.


In the pre-game analysis I want to break this course down into little bits. Ultimately those bits will have to fit together and flow from each into the next. And so the riddle of handler position and the speed and direction of the dog’s movement cannot be discordant and will have to work in symphony, each with the other.


In the opening I’ve drawn two lines. The black line is the shorter and more efficient path. And I expect the dog who wins league will have this nice flat approach. But it’s a bold path fraught with peril because of the speed elicited in the dog’s movement and the short distance from jump #2 into the weave poles from a nearly perpendicular angle. The red path assumes a handler actually taking a little extra distance to give the dog more approach to the weave poles and avoid a costly weave pole fault.

Be mindful that the handler is the architect of the dog’s path.

I expect I should make this an exercise for class, after our league run. I’m tantalized by the notion of testing whether a student understand the “handler is the architect” and has the skill to create whichever path he desires. Visualizing the path and exploring the variety of handling options to effect that path are the training objectives.



Out of the weave poles is a basic serpentine of three jumps. In case you’re wondering, I’ll be sure to have a Front Cross on the landing side of jump #4… because I want dog on right for the next three obstacles. The really interesting bit follows the three-jump serpentine.

What I’ve tried to illustrate here is a solution to #7 and #8. I don’t really want to get caught in a blocking position at the A-frame on the approach to the backside jump #8. And so after jump #6 I will send my dog to the tunnel giving a clear verbal, relying on the “named obstacle” discrimination training I do with my dogs.

As soon as I feel the dog committed I need to slide back up to jump #8. As the dog comes out of the pipe tunnel I will give a Back Pass command (“Come By” for me) to create the approach to jump #8.

My momma used to tell me “If it doesn’t work, it’s not showing off.” So I’m really hoping I’ll get to show off in this part of the course.



#9 through #14 is the most straight-forward sequencing part of the course. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that this section will have as many faults as any other bit in the game. When everything looks obvious and easy handlers tend to be less disciplined and less focused on the meat and potatoes handling.

For my part, I’ll again rely on the “named obstacle” training on the approach to the A-frame at #12… though I might indicate a modest counter rotation after jump #11 to lend insurance to the moment. Frankly we’ll probably have a sequence in class in which I discuss the difference between blocking position and body-magnet position on the approach to an obstacle discrimination.

I’m a bit concerned about the approach to the weave poles. I’m running Marsha’s bat-shit crazy red dog Phoenix who is a magnificent weaving dog, when he actually remembers to get in the poles. So I’ll likely push extra hard out into the corner and remind him that I’m about to sell him to a Chinese restaurant if he doesn’t engage his brain and get in the poles.



This next bit was kind of complicated to draw… I’m hoping it won’t be so complicated to do.

Note that as the dog weaves I need to layer to the opposite side of the jump between the weave poles and jump #15. On the dog’s dismount of the weave poles I’ll strike a posture to Back-Pass my dog into an open approach to jump #15 that favors an approach to jump #16. I’ll call my dog into a left turn, getting as close to the #16 jump as I can… and call my dog into a counter Back-Pass for the closing pipe tunnel.

We are studying, in the back-pass exactly how to establish a release that gives the dog a good line in the direction you want them to move. It’s clear that this is accomplished with the “counter” foot and is made clear by a step at the instant the dog is released.

Coaching / Class Exercises

It seems that I am ever studying some arcane handling skill that is a decade away from more widespread use and acceptance. I was studying the Blind Cross and the Flip (called the Ketchker today) something like a dozen years ago. These skills are gaining wider acceptance today, though on a somewhat one-dimensional basis.

I clearly cannot require my students to handle the same way I do. Frankly, a lot of what I do is because I don’t move the way I used to with my arthritic knees. None of my students have such a fine excuse, and so we will have discussions on movement and how the handler’s movement conveys direction to the dog. And once that is understood, the handler becomes the master.

But I do want them to stretch and learn.

Training by Minuet

The minuet is a classic agility game in which a handler will run a sequence until his time expires. The objective then, is to do the sequence as many times as possible in the time allotted. A minuet becomes a study of the adequacy of movement both in terms of giving good direction to the dog; and in terms of motivating the dog to his best speed.

Note that a Minuet should be designed to fold back into itself, meaning that a transition is provided from the last obstacle to the first.

The advantage of the Minuet approach to mixed group classes is that everyone will have a specific time-limit on the floor, and what each handler chooses to do with it is entirely up to them. Often in a group class there is a notable disparity on the floor as someone struggling (or wrestling with a petulant inner child) will occupy more than his share of time on the floor, while another handler will nail the sequence and be done! So, the Minuet is intended to provide balance and parity.

Minuet in the Middle

Here’s the sequence:



A Study of Discrimination

A discrimination is a riddle in agility in which two obstacles are placed in close proximity. The overt or obvious discrimination in the following exercises is the tunnel under the A-frame. But we should not overlook the fact that the jumps are often presented in “pairs” to the dog’s approach and so those too are discrimination challenges.

The two classic handling positions in a “discrimination” are 1) the blocking position and 2) the body magnet position. The drawing below shows sequences (each can be run as a minuet) for practicing both of these handling positions.



The white numbers ~ This is practice for the blocking position on a discrimination. It’s important to understand that when taking the blocking position on a discrimination the handler is obligated to do only one thing … block.

The approach to jump #5 is a discrimination of two jumps. A Front Cross on the landing side of jump #4 will neatly put the handler in position to block the dog’s approach to the wrong-course jump.

The dark red numbers ~ This is practice for the body magnet position. The presumption is that when the handler is the side of the obstacle that is the correct choice the dog will naturally gravitate towards that closer obstacle. In practice the handler is too often not nearly as attractive as he or she would like to be. And so we will practice an “insurance” movement when taking the body-magnet approach to the discrimination… using an RFP (counter-rotation) to draw the dog to the nearer.

Squaring the A-frame & Technical Tandem



Now that we’ve had a discussion about the “blocking position” I’d like to carry the logic of the handler’s hedging movement to a sequence in which the handler will be obligated to create a square safe approach to the A-frame. This is a matter usually accommodated by careful course design.

Note that I’ve drawn lines from corner-to-corner on the A-frame. These lines represent a zone of safe approach to the A-frame. So in this exercise, the handler will be obligated to push the dog out, over the line, before making the turn to the A-frame.

On the dismount of the A-frame, the handler will turn his dog away into the pipe tunnel. The Technical Tandem is a bit more difficult than a Tandem when the dog is jumping or moving on the flat, because as often as not there is no inertia to carry the dog into the turn.

Jumping Into the League

This is the final game of the 2015 winter series.

It is a simple (?) numbered course that is scored Time, Plus Faults.

We welcome all new clubs who would like to establish league franchises. The National Dog Agility League stands apart from most agility organizations in the world. This is not a titling organization; and it’s really inexpensive to play.

Think of it this way… The National Dog Agility League is the only world championship forum to which all dogs are invited.

You can download the score-keeping worksheet for final game of the Winter 2015 series here: Scoresheet.

Results from the November league game can be found here: Nov Results

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

Agility Dreams

November 17, 2015

I spent the weekend judging a USDAA trial in Camarillo, CA. You know, I showed my long gone Sheltie dogs Winston and Kelsi there circa 1991. I used to know all the folks that played in agility in southern California. I half expected to see a bunch of my old cronies. But it wasn’t that way at all. I did see Marq Cheek; and of course Karen Moureaux was host of the trial.

It is inescapable that agility is the same thing today that it was 25 or 30 years ago. I’d say that the average competitor is basically the same kind of creature that we all were back then. The better handlers and dogs are possibly a bit better than they used to be. But on average, it’s the same sport.

I put up a Masters Challenge Jumpers course that came to me in my dreams. I was quite nervous about it because it demanded skills that aren’t routine at all. I’ll share it with you:


The design premise is basically a “cluster”; an arrangement of obstacles that create multiple entry and exit possibilities. In my dream I envisioned contiguous hexagonal shapes. What I discovered about the basic design principle is that it created a variety of transitional distances. From the dismount of the weave poles through jump #11, for example, the dog is working in full extension. Jump #11 through jump #13, however, is a very tight pinwheel in which the dog must be held in collection.

While the qualifying percentage on this course was quite low, it was not by any means a skunk of the class. Dogs qualified at about every jump height… demonstrating then that it could be done.

The biggest design challenge ever in the Masters Challenge Biathlon courses is giving the dog plenty of room to work at full extension and at full speed. If a class is skunked on account of time, then it means that the course demands too much in the way of collection.

The Demands of Judging

You know, people don’t really appreciate the work of an agility judge. I spend a minimum of three or four days designing courses. A weekend assignment usually requires a couple of grueling travel days. And, you get to stand out in the sun and rain all day long collecting a $buck a dog as the sole compensation for the work. Yep, it’s pretty close to minimum wage. And frankly, it was a $buck a dog 20 some years ago.

The part of this that I really like is course design. I’m not one to recycle courses. And, while I might obsess on a type of challenge over time, I’m constantly exploring new kinds of challenges that test the handler’s analytical abilities.

I have a variety of rules for design that are my own, and not the dictate of the respective agility organization. I’m a big fan of nesting. I believe in designing appropriate to level. And I’m very sensitive to the separation of control positions on a course (I’ll be damned if I’ll design a course that only long legged kids can survive).

The physical demands of judging are getting to wear on me a bit. Sun burnt and sun struck and chasing damned border collies back and forth on contacts are the relentless demands of a weekend of judging. All the while you’re expected to have a mind like a steel trap. I’ve learned to forgive myself when the trap is a bit rusty.

People don’t jump in and help like they did when I was coming up. They complain a lot and want to be served. Jesus… what’s that about?

Speaking of Dreams

The weekend took a lot out of me. And I’m trying to wrestle down a variety of thoughts. I probably sound like I’m contemplating retirement. That’s an illusion. I don’t know how to quit or stop or retire.

I’ve been working on agility league play for years now. In 2016 I’ll promote it in earnest. I’m not a salesman or anything like that. I just want an outlet for competition that isn’t based on the same old tired “rational” model for the sport… you know what I mean, the grind for titles.

The National Dog Agility League finally has some traction. I do believe that Australia is coming on board shortly.

Today success in agility demands micromanaging the agility dog. I believe that agility can be something amazing and spectacular. The game should be open and inviting to anyone who wants to play. It should be inexpensive. It should be fun. That is the model that we should strive to create.

I’m aware that the agility small business operator wants to make a living. And so the model should nearly exclusively reward that person/business who takes all the risks and does all the work… with an appropriate income. And so the model should do exactly that.

This is tricky business. And it’s the perfect opportunity for the early adopter.

Jumping in to the League

If you have interested in jumping into League Play, the November workbook for the first game of the winter series can be downloaded HERE. We’ll be accepting results for this event through the end of the day, November 30th.


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

Nov 2015 Pick-up Game

November 7, 2015

The following is a simple numbered course that we’ll set up for our Monday night class. To tell you the complete truth, I wanted something with a lot of generous flow and not so much reliance on “international” skills. The international stuff frankly gets tedious after a while and borders on technical micro-management. And it doesn’t particularly favor the “pure for motion” dog who wants a handler running with… not a micro-manager.


I have a couple students who need an old-timey lesson from me about raw movement. I believe that movement is the most compelling directional cue that a handler can provide to his dog. And most importantly, that movement is fundamental to the dog’s motivation.


While I won’t be sharing all of our planned sequences, I’ll share a couple to give you the spirit of the training and practice.


In this sequence I will argue for a Blind Crossing strategy. The Blind Cross is a racing movement. And if the handler can inspire in his dog the joy of the race this simple sequence can be a real romp. But don’t you know, you don’t run the plan, you run the dog. So if indeed the dog is inspired by the “racing movement” there’s a very real chance that the dog will outrace the handler. And since you can’t really cross in front of the dog when you’re not actually in front of the dog, the handler needs to develop a simple extemporaneous skill… the speed change. This means that the handler transitions from slow dog handling (forward and pulling) to fast dog handling (behind and pushing).

I will save specific handling advice for my Monday night students. The lesson isn’t dictated; it is found.


We’re also going to do a share of work on contact obstacles. I personally have an ambition that my dogs will understand the unambiguous finish position on a contact obstacle. But whether a dog is expected to do a 2o2o or a running contact, a bit of practice is good practice for the diligent dog trainer.

A Word about Pick-Up Games

This is not a NDAL League game. However, the game is going to be registered with the NDAL and dogs will earn Lifetime Performance Points. All registered games become permanent artifacts and are eligible for play by any NDAL member club, at any time. A club in some faraway place could pick up this game in five years or so… and run it. And their scores would be recorded alongside the scores my students earn on this Monday next.

As a teaching tool, I could play this game again in a year… or in three. And those recorded scores can be compared and possibly reveal something interesting about the dog’s development over time.

And the really fun part of this is that NDAL records include a data field to a YouTube recording of the run. While the YouTube data is optional, the use the game as a teaching tool is considerably enhanced. At the very least the use of the game as a nostalgic reference is also enhanced.

Post Script

Since I’m registering the game as an NDAL competition, I will provide the link to download the scorekeeping worksheet: HERE

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

Dog Agility Television

September 30, 2015

NatGeoTV plans to produce a program featuring Top Dog and the National Dog Agility League. This is not a series. But we are inclined to want to blow their socks off and make it very clear that it should be a series. The plan is for February of 2017 in conjunction with the events surrounding Westminster.

In 2016 we will be marketing the league in earnest. NatGeoTV might be electrified by the support by the agility community. But we’ll have to demonstrate that we are capable of supplying that electricity.

The format that I have envisioned all along is a competition between the two top franchises in the National Dog Agility League. That means that accrued scores for each club in 2016 will qualify the teams for the on-air competition. Play will be open to anyone in the world who wants to put up the course, utilizing basic social networking tools for the recording and aggregation of scores.

In routine league play the team score for a franchise club is derived from the scores of their top five players. That gives a notable advantage to franchises with lots of dogs. The plan for the NatGeoTV segment will be that the teams must be selected in advance.

In a “king of the hill” format the top franchise in 2016, based on earned LPP, will be the host. The runner-up gets to travel and challenge the Top Dog team on their turf. That sounds intimidating eh?

At the same time any club anywhere in the world will be able to put up the challenge course and submit scores in the competition. For this one event we will require a YouTube link (to a recording which might wind up on the program). The YouTube data is optional in routine league play.

League franchise clubs established in 2015 will be grandfathered.

Jumping in to the League

The October workbook for the final game of the summer series can be downloaded HERE.

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

While it is too late to compete in the first course of the summer series, you are invited to run that course and record your scores with all previous competitors. The August workbook can be downloaded here: August League

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

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

League Play at Country Dream

September 23, 2015

Our classes are always based on the “league” game. Since the competitive league is a monthly affair, some of our classes will be based on a pickup game.

The course below is a National Dog Agility League game that was played about two years ago. I’m excited by the prospect of running this course again because a couple of our dogs and a couple of our student’s dogs ran it two years ago. This rerun allows us to compare a dog’s development over time.

These days we video-tape all of our runs; and I’m pretty sure we don’t have the original runs recorded. And so even though we have time and scores, whatever errors of play or judgment we might have made then, are lost in the dust of time. But, since we are keen to record (and post on YouTube) these days; it might make an interesting comparison in maybe another two years.


Any course or game that you play will have good material for teaching and practice. I’m pretty sure in the design of this course that I was preoccupied with how to give a turning cue to a dog heading into a straight pipe tunnel. Mind you I believe that the handler’s posture on making the presentation of a pipe tunnel cues the dog on how to make the dismount… whether to fire out of the tunnel as though out of the barrel of a cannon, or to bend neatly into a turn.

If the handler is nowhere near the pipe tunnel as the dog goes in… then posture can’t be all that significant and the handler will have to rely on verbal cues. We’ll develop this line of thought more at class on Monday night.

You are welcome to join us in playing this game. You can even record your own scores with the National Dog Agility League. Download the scorekeeping workbook HERE.

On the Road Again

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Medford, OR where I’ll lead a single seminar day on Friday, and judge a TDAA trial on Saturday and Sunday. I’m coming home on the red eye on Sunday night. So it should make for an interesting week as I try to recover.

I’ve set our league course already so that it’s ready to rock ‘n roll on Monday night.

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

Pick-Up League Game

August 20, 2015


As we are only doing one league game a month, I will occasionally introduce a pick-up game for our local league play. Of course this game is available to play by any club or franchise associated with the National Dog Agility League. Though results will not apply to the League underway, dogs still earn Lifetime Performance Points (LPP).

This is a numbered course that will be scored Time, Plus Faults.

The League has focused on and even specialized in International level skills and challenges. These days aside from the USDAA’s Masters Challenge class (and I suppose the new AKC class) we don’t really have the opportunity to hone skills that are common in Europe and are very likely to be featured when we send our World Team to Europe.

What might have been considered ugly or unsafe only a few years ago is fodder for the central challenge in the International-style course.

Can You Say “Granularity”

The problem with a score of “E” is that it cuts off any hope of measuring performance or, for that matter, comparing scores. As the National Dog Agility League (NDAL) is not primarily a titling agility registry we require a system that allows a comparison of scores. Purists in the sport will spit and sputter in objection to a dog earning only 5 faults for a wrong course. But if you think about it, those 5 faults will move the dog down in the standings without actually removing the performance score as though it never existed.

Jumping in to the League

The score-keeping workbook for this pickup course can be downloaded here: Pick-up Game

And… if you have interested in jumping into League Play, you still have time to play on the first course of the summer league. The workbook can be downloaded here: August League

Short Notice B&D Creekside Clinic

I know this is short notice. On Tuesday, August 25 I will be in Latrobe to do a distance clinic and introduce the National Dog Agility League to agility fans at B&D Creekside. You should contact Darlene ( if you’d like to come out to play with us. It will run from 6:30 to about 9:00 and should be priced very inexpensively.

We have only a few league teams so far, around the U.S. and also with clubs in Canada and Mexico. League scores are derived from the top 5 performing dogs at each club or franchise. So clearly it gives an advantage to a club to run league with a large number of dogs.

I have an ulterior motive in helping to establish league play in Latrobe. I want to create a coalition of clubs in the Ohio valley that will get together for an annual championship tournament that owes no affiliation to any big agility organization. They have such a tournament in Florida. Every club sends teams of nine dogs & handlers broken up into 3‑Beginner; 3-Intermediate; and 3-Masters. The winning “team” is the aggregate score.

Here’s hoping you’ll join us on the 25th!

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