Archive for the ‘Obstacle Discrimination’ 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.

An Interesting Gamble

October 6, 2015

I return from Portland judging for the Columbia Agility Team in southern Washington, and have survived the red-eye. Though there was certainly a day of tired brain and discombobulation.

Below I’ll share with you one of two Masters Gamblers riddles I put up on the weekend. I was just a little bit disappointed in the qualifying rate; because, don’t you know tunnel-jump/tunnel-jump sounds a lot like a Starters gamble. To be sure the gamble featured an implicit change of directions and an obstacle discrimination. So for sure it is a test of Masters skills.

Coincidentally, just a few days ago in this blog space I published a discussion of teaching the Tandem Turn ( which is a simple skill used to turn the dog away from the side the handler is working. This is to my thinking a very basic, necessary and fundamental movement in a handler’s repertoire. I’ve been teaching this skill for maybe 20 years. I reckon just about everyone who has ever trained with me has it mastered.

Course below.


The biggest mistake handler’s made in this gamble was making the approach to the start of the gamble from the jump immediately to the right of the #1 pipe tunnel. As the handler really needs to be at “X” to sell the change of directions, the approach should have been made from the jump I’ve colored red in this drawing. This judicious use of real estate allows the handler to send the dog up to the tunnel and move to the control position.

In a Tandem (getting the dog to turn away) the handler should reserve enough room to take a strong step or two in the direction of the turn. And so it was a huge error for any handler to arrive at the jump all velcro’d against the dog’s path with no room to take a step. The lateral distance is especially important to handlers who use mostly relative directionals to direct their dogs.

Key to convincing the dog into the turn is to actually make it look like you’re turning a corner with a sense of purpose and even urgency. The most impressive attribute of the Tandem turn is that it creates acceleration and separation. Sell it to the dog.

And I thought this gamble was going to be about the “named obstacle recognition” in the discrimination.

The Other Gamble

I’d like to have a discussion about the other gamble as well. But we have the Petit Prix (the very most amazing small dog agility event) next week and a lot of chores and obligations I need to catch up with because I’ve been gallivanting around the country. I’ll get back to it when I can come up for air.

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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.