Archive for the ‘National Dog Agility League’ Category

NDAL 60×90 Masters Training Sets

September 11, 2016

I’ve been an instructor and a coach in agility for more than 25 years. Writing a lesson plan is an art form, I suppose, intended in the main to elevate the keenness of handling and raise the training objectives with an individual dog.


The NDAL 60×90 Masters course was of my own design. I’m happy to report that October will be designed by Stuart Mah, author of Course Design for Dog Agility, a foundation reference in our sport.

I would like to share with you some of the intended exercises for my own handler classes that are scheduled for the upcoming week. I’ve published a lot of training sequences and advice over the years. But now I have wonderful resources afforded by more modern technologies… and the internet. So, the training sequences are embellished with online YouTube recordings!

We will observe a training method called a “break-down”. In the break-down format we practice the elements of a course. And once we believe we have those elements mastered, we will run the course!

The 60×90 Course Overview

The Masters level course for the 60×90 floor space are intended to feature advanced challenges, with considerable flow, allowing interesting technical moments to come to the dog and handler at full speed.

Exercise #1 ~ Tight Wrap at jump #2

The simple objective of this exercise is to practice a tight wrapping turn at jump #2. This is a marvelous opportunity to experiment with a pre-cued turn, focusing on what any individual dog needs to give advice of an impending turn at a jump.

The transition from the “wrap” at jump #1 around the front of the floor to the teeter isn’t featured as a practice sequence. Ideally the handler can direct the dog at a distance. Distance requires the dog to work independently, and might encourage the dog to work at full speed which, with any luck, is faster than a handler might be able to move.

Exercise #2 ~ Independent Performance of the Teeter

On this course it is somewhat desirable for the dog to perform the teeter at some distance from the handler. This allows the handler to take a control position for the approach to the weave poles.

Exercise #3 ~ Weave Pole Entry

The approach to the weave poles isn’t a simple matter. The pipe tunnel looms as a wrong-course option. And, ultimately, the handler probably want dog on right for the weave pole performance. The handler who must shape the approach to the weave poles is especially challenged to set up that approach. In the ideal world, the handler would be able to give a cue to the weave poles, and trust the dog to go out and find that entry.

After the performance of the weave poles there is again an opportunity to send the dog to and over the two jumps on the approach to the A-frame. There is a real possibility that the dog will draw in to the pipe tunnel after the performance of the weave poles and jump. The handler must keep pressure out after jump #9 to have prospects for success. This is not featured on our training videos. But it might be an independent exercise to be incorporated either with the weave poles or the approach to the A-frame.

Exercise #4 ~ A-frame / Pipe Tunnel Discrimination

A discrimination might be solved by handling. The discrimination might also be solved by training. Imagine if we trained our dogs to understand which obstacle to be performed based on the command given on the approach. We want to understand both handling and training as we approach this exercise.

After the A-frame, jump and tunnel the sequencing is fairly straight-forward. The dog take another two jumps out and around the pipe tunnel, and then is finally turned abruptly into that pipe tunnel. The finish of the course is jump and tire to finish!

Semi-Pro to Pro Agility

At some point we might be satisfied with the grind after titles and little cloth ribbons approach to our play of this game; and maybe we’ll be ready for the next step. Imagine dog agility that gives substantial cash rewards to the top performers. The National Dog Agility League is contemplating just such an approach to dog agility.

The starting point is league play. We invite anyone who would like to play to join us. We have about 20 clubs in four different countries playing with us now. We believe in YouTube recording of our performances! It’s fun to see how other players in different parts of the world approach the solution to simple coursework.

More information about semi-professional and professional dog agility will be revealed!

Oh, it’s easy to join the NDAL. We have a $10 dog registration (which is kept by the host club)… and we charge a meager $1/dog recording fee. You are welcome to begin play with the 60×90 Masters course we have trained with here. Download the scorekeeping worksheet… and you become a member of the league when you post results!

We have four leagues running each month. Each is based on the size of the working space and the level of challenge. You can download the scorekeeping worksheet for each below:

50×50 ~ International

50×70 ~ Fun and Flowing

60×90 ~ Masters

36×85 ~ Fun and Flowing

Editor’s Note

I originally wrote this post with outlinks to YouTube. Being a bit slow on the uptake, after getting a bit of feedback about how cumbersome it is to follow the conversation with multiple processes and windows open; I sat down with some Bing (Google) research on how to embed a link to a YouTube video. Consequently, I learned something important that will become my new method. And, I have taken the liberty to go back to this post and edit it for inline display of the link to YouTube. I may very well go back and edit about a hundred WordPress Posts to make this fix.

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.

Dogs Don’t Whisper

June 9, 2016

I intend no criticism of Cesar Milan. While he is a bit hard-handed for my liking, he brings basic dog training discipline to befuddled dog lovers. To his credit, Cesar has the good grace to sound slightly embarrassed when he calls himself “the Dog Whisperer.” After all, dogs don’t whisper.

I don’t much buy into the concept of the dog training “guru”. The mysticism of the magic touch is largely fabricated mythology. In the sport of dog agility most so-called gurus work with Border Collies, a breed whose capacity for compensatory learning is plain awesome.

Beyond the perennial flash-in-the-pan agility expert there is deeply entrenched permanent agility guru caste. They’ll sell you books, handling systems, online training adventures, and seminars and private lessons.

Oh, everybody needs to make a living. I’m not going to begrudge.

Don’t get me wrong. The agility savant with 10,000-hour-eyes is a great resource. But he/she’s a coach, not a guru.

League Play

The National Dog Agility League continues to grow. It’s a fun concept. Each club or franchise puts up the same courses each month… and we roll up all the results as a single competition. Team scores are comprised from the scores of the top five dogs in a club. Obviously the more dogs the franchise runs, the better are the top five scores. Contact me if you’d like to play.

BLOG1138 This is a fun romp. I confess to being the designer. And don’t you know I believe in my heart that any course designer visualized himself (or herself, as it were) in the context of performance. And so it’s natural that we each will design to our own strengths and shy from our weaknesses. That being said, this is a course that is subtly challenging and is an interesting test the handler’s skill as architect of the dog’s path.

The calculus of the opening has all to do with getting the dog into the proper entry to the pipe tunnel at #10. And so the handler may study the opportunity to have dog-on-left at the weave poles. With this in mind, there’s plenty that can go wrong with the opening. The handler may not put sufficient pressure on the #4 jump; and may fail to pre-cue the left turn after. And after jump #5 the dog is presented with a wrong-course option at the #16 jump. And back-crossing the weave poles (if that’s the plan) might bobble the entry.

Having survived the opening sequence into the weave poles the handler should attempt to turn the dog neatly at the #7 jump. A wrong course beckons at jump #12. But more problematic is that the dog’s path through jumps #14 and #15 clearly presents the dog with the wrong end of the pipe tunnel at #16.

The handler might consider a vee-set approach to the #9 jump that changes the dog’s trajectory through the jump so that the correct tunnel entry is presented. This is a moment that begs for considerable precision.

On the dismount of the dogwalk the handler will conduct the dog on a long and flat serpentine of jumps. Note that the weave poles are powerfully presented to the dog as a wrong course option after jump #13.

Through jumps #14 and #15 the dog will be in considerable extension. Thus jumps #15 to #18 should not be taken for granted as the dog’s turning radius may affect a loopy wobble, or might resolve to a neat and clean line if the handler manages to pre-cue the turn.

Seriously, if you’ve survived all that has gone before, the least you can do now is tag the yellow paint on the downside of the A-frame and, as the handler, give convincing pressure through the final jump.

The Agility Model

The original invention of agility was based on a somewhat flawed model which has cascaded into a grossly expensive hobby.

The game as it is played today is an interesting commingling of equestrian sports and American-style obedience titling. The failure of the model is that a Champion never actually has to win anything. It’s all based on performance against a standard.

The typical scoring basis for agility is Faults, Then Time. This too is probably flawed because it doesn’t deliver an accurate comparison of performance. Think about it, an amazing dog with wicked skills misses a contact by 2″ and receives a score of “E”… as though he never existed. And the award goes to a compliant dog of moderate pace that is dragged around the course Velcro’d to his handler’s hip. Were the scoring basis Time, Plus Faults (and the fault for missing the contact is a reasonable deduction in time)… then the truly agile dog would earn the higher score. The performance that makes the heart soar should take precedence over the irrational standard.

You’ll be happy to know that league play in the National Dog Agility League subscribes to the Time, Plus Faults scoring basis.

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.

Top Dog Review ~ Cheating YouTube!

February 16, 2016

We’ve published another Top Dog Review! This is a video program of the monthly competitions of the National Dog Agility League. This is probably ten days later than it should have been published. But I’m always willing to forgive myself for being late.

The problem with YouTube is that you have to download a video every time you look at it. Unfortunately the quality of the presentation is tied to the bandwidth of the download. So it can be a pain to watch a video of any size because the picture stops or stalls as the download buffer catches up. It’s downright painful, especially if you have a less than optimum internet connection.

Furthermore, we mostly get charged for our use of that bandwidth. So if you want to watch a YouTube more than once, you pay for it in bandwidth every time you watch it. YouTube does not make the video resident on your computer.

The Cheat

I use a utility called aTube Catcher (Studio Suite DsNET Corp). It is absolutely free and it’s easy to use.

The link to the official site to download your own copy of aTube Catcher:

What aTube Catcher does is download the YouTube video to your computer. And then, when you want to watch it … you watch it on your computer with no buffering or stalling or any of that nonsense. You can watch it as many times as you want, and you don’t have to pay in bandwidth every time you do.

[I have a great collection of music videos from YouTube resident on my computer and play them like a juke box while I’m working.]

When you do the download, by the way, you can choose a lower resolution of the video to lower the bandwidth cost. It might affect the quality of the video to an extent. But sometimes you really don’t care about that loss of fidelity.

Top Dog Review

Okay, now that I’ve set you up with a utility to make it a lot easier and more palatable to watch painfully long YouTube videos… please take a moment to give a look at the newly published Top Dog Video Review. [Don’t actually open this link if you intend to use ATube Catcher. Instead pass this url into ATube Catcher:   ].

This is a review of the National Dog Agility League’s January 2016 competitions: The 50’x70′ “B” course (Masters level) and the 50’x50′ “A” course (tough International level).

Bear in mind that our entire production staff (both of us)… are complete amateurs. But for this too, I will forgive myself.

I’ll draw an analogy for you… when I started the Clean Run magazine it was six Xeroxed pages stapled together and produced with a word processor and cut & paste graphics. Ultimately, under the more professional care of Monica Percival it turned into the benchmark publication for the sport of dog agility. So I’m thinking that in time (as the league grows) we will attract some motivated and professional video program developers who will help shape and make the review into something very fun.

But for now, it’s fun enough. And I’m having a blast with the notion that we can share some amazing agility performances by dogs and their people around the continent competing on the same course under the same rules as a single competition. It boggles!


If you have a club that would like to play with us… give me a shout. It’s simple. It’s incredibly inexpensive… and it’s fun.

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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 With Flow

January 8, 2016

I’m delighted that the first league game we will play in 2016 is the 60×90 National Dog Agility League course. To tell you the truth, although this is a technically challenging course, after the “International” style courses that have been the main for the past few months this one feels like a breath of fresh air.


The key features of this course include the modest “cluster” defined by the two pipe tunnels under the dogwalk and the two jumps: #5 and #15. The dog passes through the cluster only twice. The other notable feature is the two tunnel-under-the-contact discrimination moments, first on the approach to the #8 dogwalk; and finally on the approach to the #14 pipe tunnel.

Truthfully, the challenges in this course are more suited to intermediate or advanced skills.

The opening probably begs for a lead-out. A dog forward of the handler tends to curl to the handler’s position. So if the handler is behind the dog could bend towards the handler after jump #2 and not make a clean pass through the box and into the weave poles.

The passage from the teeter to the #6 pipe tunnel might have several different handling possibilities. The pipe tunnel is framed to the dog given a straight approach through jump #5. It might be useful as a training exercise to go through some of those possibilities. Clearly dog-on-right and dog-on-left are the obvious options. But we shouldn’t discount that some handlers will allow the dog the performance of the teeter from a considerable distance, possibly layering to the opposite side of jump #5.

The wrap from jump #7 back to the dogwalk will be a telling moment in the course. Clearly, in league play, the game is won by the efficiency of transitions between obstacles. So the handler in this moment must make the most efficient turning cue in his repertoire. This too might be a matter for discussion in class/training. Note that the handler will be on a full bore run just to tag the jump. This is an important variable in cuing the turn.

The performance of the table will be a 5-second count without regard or requirement for obedience performance… as they do in AKC. With my own students I want to have a discussion about taking up a useful downfield position to press the attack to the #14 pipe tunnel.

The closing is fairly delightful, making this course finish with a flourish. A Rear Cross is pretty much dictated at jump #16.

Three Course League Play

The National Dog Agility League is going to a three League format for two compelling reasons:

  1. To accommodate a variety of different working spaces, and
  2. To focus on different levels and styles of challenges

I’ve already given some thought to how we will deal with the other two NDAL league courses (we, of course are going to play in all three leagues). That discussion is on the NDAL Blog.

Top Dog Review

22 minutes of your life you’ll never get back, YouTube magazine: TopDogReview

I had a lot of fun making it. This video demonstrates the drama of league play competition.

Jumping Into the League

New clubs are welcome to establish franchises with the National Dog Agility League. It’s very inexpensive and is a great foundation for play and training.

Most of the details can be found here:

Email our trial secretary if you need help getting started: Bud Houston ~

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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.

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:


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:

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 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.

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.

Truckin’ Like the Do-Dah Man!

June 21, 2015


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

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


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


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


In the Hall of the Mountain King

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

Setting the Floor

April 27, 2015

I spent the morning setting the floor for league play and class this evening.

As I did this work I gave a great deal of thought to the difficulty of “league play” in a training center or agility club. Most agility students have little concept of the amount of work that goes into providing for a couple hours of class. Quite a bit of work goes into designing curriculum and managing schedule and registration for classes. But that’s onlyt he beginning of the work. Think about it… mowing and cleaning up outside; vacuuming the floor; putting away the old course; and setting up the new.

I describe this work to point out that if we’re going to have a competition on top of the routine of class, we’ve added several important tasks. Seriously, the competition requires a judge, a time-keeper, a scribe; and a score-keeper, though the scorekeeping task can be done later.

This is a real test of the culture and work ethic of the group. A lot of people come to class so that they can chat and be relaxed, expecting to do nothing more than manage their own dog and go out from time to time to take a turn on the floor.

So the agility trainer/provider is likely to take a big pass on doing league play if it’s a boatload of new and unappreciated work.

Intro to League Play

It’s a lovely idea to involve league players in the work of running a ring. Everybody should have a job. Everyone should know what work needs to be done around the ring, and how to do it. Introducing your group to league play should be as much about the work as about playing games.

Our game this week is Dare to Double. I realized this week as I was setting the floor that the briefing, as written, is inadequate. For example, the published briefing says, when defining point values for obstacles “7 points for one of the obstacles in the 5-point list, usually given to an obstacle in a difficult placement”. Eeek! This was clearly written for the course designer as the audience. In fact, when the briefing goes to the exhibitor, these things should be thoroughly defined.

The weave poles will be the 7 point obstacle. There is no dogwalk and there is no teeter on the field. Consequently, there are no 5 point obstacles.

Dare to Double

Dare to Double is the invention of Darlene Woz and was the winner of the 1995 Clean Run magazine games contest. Dare to Double is a game of strategy and daring. This game is sometimes referred to as Double Dog Dare Ya.



Dare to Double is a simple dog’s-choice game, which means that he will earn points for taking obstacles in the order and direction of his own choosing. The team has 50 seconds to accumulate as many points as possible. The game begins at the start line and ends at the table.

The team must get to the table before course time elapses. If the team gets to the table before time expires, they keep all points accumulated on course. If the team fails to do so, half of the team’s points are lost.

The value of scoring obstacles is based on a simple 1-3-5-7 system:

    • 1 point for jumps
    • 3 points for tunnels and tire
    • 5 points for teeter, dogwalk and weave poles
  • 7 points for one of the obstacles in the 5-point list, usually given to an obstacle in a difficult placement
  • For our game… the weave poles will be the 7 point obstacle. The A-frame has a special value (Note that the A-frame was not included in this list above). It is the doubling obstacle. During the run, a handler may double his current points by performing the doubling obstacle. A successful performance doubles all points earned up to that time. If, however, the dog faults the A-frame, then the dog loses half of his existing points.A warning whistle is blown 15 seconds prior to the expiration of time.
  • A handler may double points any time he wishes, as many times as he wishes. The only restriction on doubling is that the A-frame cannot be performed back-to-back. Thus, the handler must do another obstacle, for points, before attempting to double point values again.
  • Scoring obstacles can be taken only twice for points. Back-to-back performances are allowed. Jumps that are knocked down will not be reset.


Dare to Double is scored Points, Then Time. The winner is the dog finishing with the most points. In case of a tie, time is the tiebreaker. The table is live during the entire run. If the dog gets on the table at any time, scoring ends.


Tunnel / Contact Discrimination ~ Certainly the tunnel under the contact trick can be solved with handling. But it should be a very certain training objective to teach a dog the name of these obstacles so that we can approach such a challenge in competition with a degree of confidence, and without actually having to “handle” it.

The simple training method is to spend at least 20 minutes a day on repetition in which we give the dog a) the name of the obstacle, and b) praise and reward for doing the obstacle that we’ve named. Okay, that sounds simple enough. I should remind you that consistency is the means by which the dog learns.

When teaching the dog to discriminate in this fashion, the dog trainer should be carefully remove any handling cues from the presentation of the obstacle except for maybe generally facing in that direction.

Praise should be warm and genuine. And the reward should be something that the dog greatly desires, whether that be food, or a game with a toy.

* * * Practice these skills daily. We’ll test your commitment to homework at our next session together.


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.

Ya don’t get lard less’n you boil a hog

April 26, 2015

Much of our adventure with the National Dog Agility League was spurred along by the filming of a dog agility reality show “sizzle reel” by Bishop Lyons Entertainment. It’s really kind of a cool concept. We envision a program that features a Top Dog team with some spiffy agility dogs and handlers who compete on a course that anyone in the world can put up and try their own dogs (and compete against that team on TV).

The sizzle reel is done. This week I have a Skype conference scheduled with Bishop Lyons in which we will discuss the marketing of the Top Dog program. The “sizzle reel” is nothing more than a marketing advertisement, intended to entice a network to buy and publish the program. Cross your fingers, eh?

The agility world would love a program that features our favorite sport. Whether this will be an interesting and compelling (and profitable?) program for a network is an unanswered question.

In the meantime we are building the league. We are at an awkward moment in which the founding Franchises are coming into being; and we are defining the scope and purpose of the agility league. We’re at the sock hop, the band is playing, but everyone is sitting in their plastic chairs around the ball-room waiting for somebody to start the dance.

The Plan

Within the week I will publish a three month schedule for league competition. I intend to establish the pro forma methodology for writing league rules and guidelines. And we will establish methods for recognizing agility championships in a recreational competition.

Stay tuned …

Jim Basic once told me, agility is just dogs jumping, and playing in the grass. What an interesting illusion!

Film Geekology

The Alamo was released in 1960. John Wayne played Col Crocket and had that famous line “Ya don’t get lard less’n you boil a hog”.

1960 was a great year for movies. Hitchcock’s Psycho is probably the best known release. But there was also The Magnificent Seven (which had like Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen); Inherit the Wind (Spencer Tracy, of course); the original Ocean’s Eleven (the Rat Pack, with Sinatra as Danny Ocean). There was also Sparticus (Kirk Douglas) and The Time Machine (Rod Taylor) which were my favorites of the year… but I was 7 years old, after all.

Purists will criticize me for leaving off the list Butterfield 8 and The House of Usher. So there ya go [Liz Taylor and Vincent Price.]

I’m watching the Alamo on the TV as I write this. It almost hurts to know how it ends.


“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short” –Henry David Thoreau


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.