Archive for the ‘Numbered Course’ 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.

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.

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.

October Results Reported ~ K9 Powersports

October 20, 2015

K9 Powersports in Grand Junction, CO has reported results for the final game of the summer 2015 series of the National Dog Agility League. You can view those results OCT RESULTS.

Jumping in to the League

If you have interested in jumping into League Play, the October workbook for the final game of the summer series can be downloaded HERE. Results must be reported by the last day of the month to be counted in league competition.


Training Sequences (Courtesy of Steven Schwarz):

Handler’s Analysis (Courtesy of 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.

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.