Archive for the ‘Sue Sternberg’ Category

The First Agility Skill I Teach a Dog

April 7, 2017

I have an ambition with my agility dog to teach independent performance. That ethic is taught early to the dog in a simple exercise… a send around a barrel.

The Accelerating Step

It’s a mistake to think that “distance” work with a dog has anything to do with standing still. Indeed the movement of the handler continues to speak to the dog. The Laws of a Dog in Motion are constant.

A basic discipline of the distance handler is the timing and placement of an “accelerating step”. It is a last moment step that establishes direction and motive to the dog. I say last moment to mean that in the moment after the step the rear of the dog is addressing the handler. And, as we all know, that is not the end of the dog with the eyes. So the dog mightn’t immediately know that the handler isn’t coming with.

It’s important to understand something important about the physical anatomy of the dog (aside from understanding which end has the eyes)… A dog’s field of vision is roughly 270°. This means that the dog feels the movement and antics of the handler even when the handler is slightly behind and to the side.

A human person has a field of vision of approximately 180°. You can test this: hold your arms at shoulder level straight out to your sides, and then fan your hands. In your peripheral vision you can just feel the movement on either side. If you were a dog the handler would feel the movement if you folded the arms back another 45° on either side.

A basic skill of the distance handler is the accelerating step. The following recording on YouTube provides a bit of illustration of testing the accelerating step:

The testing might have been better served by giving the dog a greater runway of movement. In the recorded example the handler had only a short approach to the send.

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Slightly Crazy

April 18, 2014

I am in Cincinnati this weekend, showing both Kory and Marsha’s young boy Phoenix. It’s been a tough week for us. We lost our old boy Dash. So this evning I’m unlikely to be either pithy or elegant in my writing.

This weekend past I was in Grand Junction, Colorado for a handling seminar. My seminars in that area are typically arranged by a long time student and friend, Sue Sternberg. I will end a seminar with a chat in which I ask each person who participated what they learned.

What I learned, I take home with me.

An interesting development… I have had a protocol for the introduction of a jump (bar hurdle) to a dog for something over 20 years. And now I’m going to change it. It’s not that I didn’t think it through. I just didn’t understand that the world was going to go slightly crazy; an event which needs to be accommodated in our agility foundation.


The intro protocol I’ve used forever goes something like this:

  • The handler presents the jump on his right
  • The handler presents the jump on his left
  • The handler leads out and calls the dog over on his right
  • The handler leads out and calls the dog over on his left
  • The handler sends the dog to jump on his right
  • The handler sends the dog to jump on his left

On first glance it looks like I have everything covered. You’ll note that even this short list is full of prerequisite skills. The obvious stuff is a dog who will stay while the handler leads out… and a dog who will go away to jump. Less obvious is the tantalizing shaping of a handler who doesn’t know which arm/hand to use.


The addition to the jump introduction protocol is:

  • The handler draws the dog around on his right side and presents the jump from the backside
  • The handler draws the dog around on his left side and presents the jump from the backside

This too has an interesting prerequisite skill which is by no means automatic and will have fruitful consequences to the handler who practices: the ability for the handler to draw a dog tightly around his body.

I say the world went slightly crazy. Well, the blind approach jump or the backside approach surely is a skill worth putting into a dog’s foundation as well as the handler’s. We compete in a slightly crazy world.

What have you learned today?

I said that I left Grand Junction with a shortlist of what I learned. I learned (reaffirmation actually) that a conditioned performance of a jump is one of the most overlooked skills in the sport of dog agility. Ironically, the jump is the last obstacle in agility for which the dog truly learns focus.


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

Speaking of Mecklenburg…

October 31, 2011

Since Linda commented on my yesterday blog… I really should respond to her in an open forum rather than burying my response in a “reply” to a “comment”. It’s like being at one of my seminars… if you raise your hand, you’re up next; (I see Sue Sternberg over in the corner telling those around her after I’ve asked a question to the group “Don’t raise your hand! Don’t raise your hand!”)

Linda, I was saddened to hear that Awesome is gone. He was a sweet, talented and wonderful dog. And he was my friend.

Just so everyone knows Linda Mecklenburg is probably one of the true dog agility training geniuses in our sport. I’ve known her for many years; and I’m well aware of both her accomplishments and her methodologies. She has forged the way for many of us in terms of methods and practices. There are many “top players” in the field who stand on the shoulders of the true innovators in our sport and have never actually contributed to the body of knowledge themselves. And Linda has broad shoulders.

As a player “at the top” Linda’s accomplishments are probably without peer. She’s won multiple national championships and in international competition has represented for the US of A with distinction and honors (and only the occasional faux pas).


What drives me really nuts these days is people who subscribe to “The Mecklenburg Handling System” and don’t even come close to understanding it. I can watch handlers in the ring only one time and pretty much tell if they get it at all. And a whole bunch of them just don’t get it. Between you & me and the wall, Leanne Baird gets it perfectly. She’s great out there!

I was kidding with Linda once at a trial I was judging that she was about the only one in the class that included a bunch of her students who understood how to create the corner in a technical handling moment. She said “They’re just being lazy.” No Linda, they just don’t get it.

The important thing, as an instructor, is to understand that it really takes awhile for people to learn a thing. Heck, it takes me about two years to teach a handler to do a perfect Front Cross. I’m pretty sure I could teach it in about 20 minutes with a shock collar. But I’m compelled to take the long view in these matters. In any case, imagine how long it really takes to learn a complex handling system that’s based on about 25 years of experience; not to mention the development of amazing extemporaneous instinct!

NEWS FLASH… it will take more than a single generation of dogs.

The part that drives me nuts, then, is the handler/student who is resistant to learning a simple bone-headed obvious skill because they subscribe to a system they don’t come close to understanding. It’s almost impossible to teach these people.

We also have out in the world seminarists who teach The Mecklenburg Handling System. And I say “Why don’t you get Mecklenburg?” And they say “She’s too expensive.” Here’s the fun irony. I’ve seen them in competition. For the most part they don’t get Mecklenburg at all.

It’s hard to get it from Linda’s Clean Run articles. You need to do sentence diagramming to figure out what she’s saying; (you’ve always needed a good editor Linda). I joke out in the world that when I write an article for Clean Run they edit me for political correctness (imagine that). They don’t even edit Linda for readability. I guess they’re afraid of her.

There’s only one thing that Linda’s ardent disciples and imitators really manage to get right and practice with true perfection: Never lifting a hand to help at an agility trial. And it’s a goddamn shame that this is the only thing that large numbers of handlers really manage to get right in their imitation of Linda.

Important Observations

When I speak of a BC handler who runs back to slam the dog in a crate after a run… I’m not talking about Linda. I know Linda and have seen her with her dogs. She has real affection and devotion to all of them; and any dog in Mecklenburg’s house will live a wonderful active life with lots of loving care.

You can’t really get Mecklenburg or her “handling system” without understanding her principles of dog training; which, as far as I can tell she doesn’t really teach with the same ardent attention that she teaches handling skills. I heard Mike Ditka, speaking of the quality of Jim Harbaugh as a tough coach, say “There’s an old saying in life… you get what you tolerate.” This describes Linda in a nutshell. As a dog trainer Linda is very clear on what she will tolerate and holds to her criteria for behavior and performance with unflinching diligence. Further, she does so without being abusive and harsh with her dogs.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.