Archive for the ‘USDAA’ Category

The End of a Long Stretch

December 15, 2014

This past weekend I judged a USDAA trial in Ashville, KY. It was a great three-day trial. There are fun and amazing competitors in the area who renew my love of the dog agility game. Amazement, mind you, is provoked not so much by keen top-tier competitors. For me it’s more a matter of the joyful relationships between people and their pups that is fostered by play in this sport. Even when a team is “crashing and burning” by the arbitrary measurement of the rule book, they can show heart and humor and bring a smile to everyone watching. The judge always has the best seat in the house.

And I’m fairly exhausted. My calendar got busy about mid-October and hasn’t relented until just this minute. Even the longest road ends to reveal new roads and fresh destinations.

I’ve lost the sharp edge of discipline with my blog. So I’m challenging myself to repeat an exercise that I did three or four years ago… to publish a blog each day for 100 days. That’s really not as easy as it sounds. So, hang in there with me, and we’ll see if I can’t get it done.

There are some things I’ve been dying to share. I’ll try not to blurt them out all at once… I’ve got to fit 100 days, after all.

Masters Challenge Jumpers

There might be a couple dozen people who recognize the playful use of tunnels in the course from training exercises and games I’ve designed in the past. To be truthful about it, some of the design I hoisted from courses I saw out of South Africa years ago. I apologize for not being able to credit any source of inspiration.

The USDAA’s Masters Challenge classes afford course designers the opportunity to pose absurd and interesting riddles that might seem excessive in a routine titling class. I’m not going far out on a limb to suggest that the USDAA Masters Challenge is a solitary platform for the demonstrating the very best of skill, talent and luck in our sport.

Yes, I’m aware that I used the word “luck” in that sentence. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good.

Masters Challenge Jumpers

Masters Challenge Jumpers

The transition from jump #4 to jump #5 was clearly the most worrisome moment for most people when walking the course. As it turns out the single obstacle that NQ’d the most teams was jump #6,either as a refusal or as a dropped bar. The most fun bit was the dual back-and-forth puppy cannons from #14 to #15. You’ll probably want to set up this course in the back yard.

I sometimes set up an exercise in seminars that looks a lot like #1 through #6. The exercise is intended to expose the Phantom Blind Cross, an error in which the handler over-rotates his body in the Post, and drops his connection with the dog. This causes the dog to tuck up behind him (as in a Blind Cross) treating the dog to a wrong course into the pipe tunnel (the #14 pipe tunnel on this course).

It wouldn’t be fruitful to treat you to a blow-by-blow of everything that might go wrong on this course. Let’s just say there was plenty of variety and interesting moments, even to those who thought they were home free after the puppy cannon bit. At the end of the day the qualifying rate was solid, surprising and satisfying.

On Another Note

At a trial I was judging in Wisconsin three weekends ago I gently chided a man for getting angry at his dog. The fellow was actually quite a good handler and exciting to watch. But every time he made an error he whirled in anger blaming it all on his dog. I was reminded of this because of my discussion of the Phantom Blind Cross above… on one course the man did exactly as I described… over rotating in a Post Turn and dropping connection with his dog. So, the dog tucked up behind him into a wrong course.

Hunting him down later, I told him he shouldn’t blame everything on his dog, and he shouldn’t be getting mad at a dog that is working his butt off for him. He got a little purple in the face with me and told me he wasn’t angry. My tone was measured and calm… and I told him yes, he was very angry and his dog hit the deck to avoid his wrath.

The man turned his back on me and stalked off. That evening, in the hotel, I had a talk with myself about confronting somebody with anger management issues no matter how gently I did it. I’m always an advocate for the dog.

The last afternoon of the trial this gentleman made a show of praising his dog. It was clearly a somewhat foreign exercise to him. Whether this was for show or for real is unknown to me. Still, I was proud for him that he was trying.

Blog958 1 of 100

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.

Dr. Dolittle

December 20, 2013

A pull/push-through is a course design feature that has the handler drawing the dog between two perfectly good obstacles both of which are wrong-course choices. This really reminds me of an old exercise I used to put up in seminar work (I believe I stole the concept from Nancy Gyes who ran a variation of the exercise):


The end goal of this handling exercise was to introduce the RFP as a control movement. What’s really cool about this old exercise is that it’s now fair game in the USDAA’s Masters Challenge class. Better get practicing.


The push/pull-through is as likely to be a matter of wrapping the dog pretty much as in a threadle. However the target obstacle will be beyond the gap, and not necessarily presented squarely to the dog. In this example the #3 jump is virtually a back‑side approach.


In this example the wrap doesn’t turn immediately to the push/pull-through. They are separate events so that the moment of the challenge resembles more the handling exercise I showed above.

What is most interesting about this example is the long transitional distance from jump #3 to jump #4. This will be a common feature of the push/pull-through.


This is a slightly more subtle application of the push/pull-through. The 270° transition from jump #2 to #3 sets up both the #1 jump and the pipe tunnel as wrong course options. The push/pull-through has the handler drawing the dog between the pipe tunnel and the #2 jump. It’s worth noting that the pipe tunnel itself constitutes a backside approach.

Background Color

The final example above features an obstacle “cluster”. I wrote to some extent on this design feature of the Masters Challenge classes in my blog posting called Sensitivity. These challenging classes will borrow from European course design conventions. One of the chief differences from traditional American design is that the Europeans seldom reuse an obstacle. I suppose this goes to a granularity in scoring. If a dog drops a jump bar the designer wants to be sure that the dog has another opportunity to drop a bar. And this opportunity is lost if the jump has been reused. The obstacle cluster is a cagey design feature that allows a gang of obstacles to occupy a small place in space.


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.


December 19, 2013

I’m doing an end-of-year inventory of course design challenges. I have a couple judging assignments coming up early next year (USDAA). I’m delighted with the Masters Challenge class which essentially allows any evil thing I’ve ever imagined. Today’s topic is the threadle.

In its most simple form the threadle is represented by two jumps set on a common plane, side-by-side with a small space left between them. Oh, and both jumps are intended to be taken in the same relative direction.

Simple threadle


It’s worth noting that the Threadle in itself requires a “backside” approach to the second jump in the combination. Backside approach is the emerging common term to describe a jump (or other obstacle) that is presented with no clear natural approach, preventing the handler from simply releasing the dog to work. It is also known as a “managed approach” and a “blind approach”.


 A survival strategy for handlers with big dogs that don’t have tight & neat turning abilities is to turn away from the gap, rather than into it. Surely this strategy sacrifices a bit of time by increasing the distance on the flat. This approach also removes much of the risk associated with solving the threadle through the gap; but it introduces some risk that didn’t exist in the raw threadle. For example, it might be too easy for the dog to back-jump the #1 jump in this illustration.


A course designer might be pouty about any handler not following his prescription for dictated handling (as though the “big dog that doesn’t have tight & neat turning abilities” is some kind of a threat to the field.) And so they’ll engage in design conventions to defeat the around-Robin-Hood’s-barn strategy.

Here, for example, the course designer has rotated the jump introducing the threadle, making a left turn problematic and increasing both the distance of the transition and the opportunity for a back-jump of jump #1.


The course designer might use other tricks to defeat the alternate approach to solving the threadle. In this illustration the designer did two things worth noting. First of all, a wrong course obstacle has been placed to thwart a left turn and the angle of approach to the jump introducing the threadle has been set at an angle that invites the traditional handling of the puzzle.

Any Obstacle Threadle


A threadle doesn’t have to be a pair of jumps. Just about any obstacle might be a part of the course designer’s conspiracy. This illustration just scratches the surface. Note that in the transition from the pipe tunnel into the weave poles the “entry side” of the weave poles is offered to the dog; so unless the dog is an amazing creature who absolutely understands his job in the weave poles then the handler might consider a bit of shaping to make the approach (and so, execute the dictated dance of the threadle).

The transition from the weave poles to the jump begs the question… was the handler able to get to the weave poles with dog-on-right?

Soft Threadle


At first glance you’d have to believe that the challenge has softened in this combination threadle because the intro jumps have been eased back to take out a dimension of depth in the approach to each subsequent jump.

The set of these jumps has introduced the real possibility of a run-out refusal. This challenge did not exist in the simple threadle because the dog had no capacity for approach to the subsequent jump and therefore the subsequent jump is not eligible for a refusal call before the dog actually turns back to the gap. However in the case of a (so-called) “soft” threadle the refusal plane of each subsequent jump is live before the dog actually turns back.  

The threadle may be soft, but the heart is hard.

Obviously, from a handling POV the dog needs to be geared down through this series of jumps to draw in the turning radius.

Hard Threadle


This combination threadle increases the depth of the transition from the introducing jump to the subsequent jump. You might argue that this is no longer a threadle at all, but now a series of “back-side approach” riddles. But inasmuch as the solution calls for the Zee-shaped transition I’ll call it a threadle.


The next step after “hard” is “a whole bunch harder”. In this series threadle the dog will get a square look at the wrong side of both of the subsequent jumps. After drawing the lines (always a marvelous illusion!) it doesn’t really seem like such a hard thing to do.

Course Design Considerations


The course designer has a broad measure of control of the approach to the threadle challenge. And considerable attention should be given to the consequence of the approach. In the illustration the dog has a depressed-angle approach from the table. In general this disposes the dog to the right-turning through-the-gap solution. Though a more depressed angle will introduce to a greater extent the wrong course challenge of the second jump of the threadle.

Certainly the threadle challenge will be messy if the depressed-angle approach is from right to left. That means that the handler will be fighting against the natural turning direction while faced with doing a rather precise and technical handling thing.


Note that a threadle absolutely requires the handler to be in a control position. It is a challenge that requires micromanagement. The dog cannot be released to work. In the design of the challenge the course designer should understand that when two control positions are positioned with a fast transition between them, then only the young long-legged handlers who can outrun their dogs will survive the challenge. So if the course designer’s ambition is to thwart old men with arthritic knees, like me, then this is a dandy way to do it.

Comments Invited

If you have anything to add to the discussion of the threadle, I’d love to hear about it and share with the readers of this blog. I know that I pretty much left out any discussion of handling; because mostly I’m interested in the design aspects right now.

I didn’t talk about the dismount of the threadle except in the limited discussions of combination threadles above. If you think about it, the dismount of a threadle is pretty much the same kind of riddle as the dismount of any obstacle or sequence. And so I didn’t give it the discussion that it might deserve.


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.

Call of the Wild

August 14, 2013

Clearly the USDAA Masters Challenge class is a beckoning call to a class of exhibitor owning canny skill at the sport and a playful competitive nature. I’m going to spend a bit of time working through the Course Design Requirements published by the USDAA. These requirements will drive the design of the courses and will suggest how enthusiasts of the class approach training and practice.

You can find a comprehensive discussion of course design requirements for the Masters Challenge classes on the USDAA website in the Forms & Documents Library; specifically refer the “Judges’ Briefing”  Volume 1; so far with three parts published including an amazing exploration of course design by Janet Gauntt.

There’s a bit of new terminology that we all need to wrap our minds around: closed approach, backside approach, push-pull through, n-patterns, extended spacing, double performance, combination obstacles, the five-sided crossing pattern, and compound challenges. There’s more. But this is a good place to begin.

And wrap your mind around this one, it’s now any anything goes approach to course design.

For the next several days I expect to explore some of the challenges which are defined in the course design requirements by the USDAA for the Masters Challenge classes. I claim no particular expertise. I’m approaching this as a student of the game, endeavoring to understand the craft of course design as applied to this special and interesting class of competition.

Presented in no particular order


If you’ve followed my blog you know that I’m especially interested in a thing I’ve called the en passant, which is basically a push/pull-through on a curve. The transition from the collapsed tunnel at #9 to the weave poles satisfies this definition. In the performance of this movement the handler is faced with keeping the dog off of no fewer than three wrong course options.

This movement also features an extended spacing transition from #8 to the weave poles at #9. So I guess I should get over thinking that I invented it, since it’s in the list of challenges published by the USDAA.


By moving the #7 to the backside of the jump this sequence now presents compound challenges. The blind/managed approach to jump #7 is defined by the USDAA as a backside approach. I expect I’ll just call it that, from now on. Because of the backside approach, the transition to jump #8 is now a threadle; which by definition is a pull/push-through. (Note: the threadle is by itself a compound challenge, as the pull/push-through is followed by a closed approach to an obstacle in close vicinity.)


Had I really wanted to be wicked in this already evil design, I might have made the collapsed tunnel and weave poles a combination obstacle.

As a handler/competitor there is something you must really understand about the combination obstacle. If the dog earns a refusal on the second element of the combination, the handler is required to return the dog to the first element before continuing on. Oh I admit this is very evil and probably something I would not do in this particular sequence. I just wanted to give you a thrill.

I will resume the discussion tomorrow.

Top Dog Secretary’s Choice


This is the game we’re playing in league this week. We’d be proud and pleased if you’d play with us. You can download a scoresheet here: Numbered Course.


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.

Proofing the Skill

August 12, 2013

We’ve been having an interesting discussion about the (evil?) challenges that have been emerging in our sport. The emerging dichotomy in the discussion contrasts the handler’s athletic ability with dog trainer’s skill in preparing the dog for independent performance.

Those who enjoy and occasionally solve the “Masters Challenge” caliber of agility course riddles resent the implication that the athletic handler doesn’t require a well-trained dog.

I’m especially interested in the blind approach jump (managed/back-side approach). I submit that this skill is largely a matter of micro-management/handling and obviously easier for the athletic handler to get into position to do that micro-managing.

Just to cut to the chase, I’d offer that it’s very easy to test a dog’s training for performance by putting together a simple proofing exercise.

I can be proven wrong!


Here’s the proofing exercise. The handler remains behind jump #1 while sending the dog down-the-line. The handler must give the dog a command to take jump #3 from the blind side. I have kindly nudged the #3 jump to the side so that the dog can get to the back-side with nearly a straight line.

Please share your YouTube videos in your comments to this blog entry. Of course I’ll expect to see dozens of videos (based on all the times I’ve heard “I’ve trained my dog to do that”). Until I see this proof I will refuse to believe this is a training issue.

En Passant

I wrote the other day that I’m not quite ready to say the European game has the intellectual lead on interesting course challenges. The course below has a very interesting bit that I’d like to put into a USAAA Masters Challenge jumpers course… the En Passant.


The concept is simple. The handler is required to turn the dog through a box with multiple options with the target obstacle blind to the initial approach. In this course the in passant occurs twice, from jump #1 to #2, and then again from jump #10 to #11.  

The course has other interesting challenges as well and should be approached with a sense of humor.



An important attribute of this challenge is that the transitional distance between obstacles is considerably longer than the usual distances found between obstacles in an agility course. With this in mind, it might be hard to get course reviewers to understand and approve the challenge.

USDAA News and Events

The USDAA web site has for some time featured interesting training bits. The hard working editor of these training bits, Brenna Fender, as selected several of my legacy exercises to put up on the page. You can visit here: USDAA training bits.

I’ve got a million of them! ~ Jimmy Durante


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.

Masters Challenge

August 8, 2013

For something like 20 years now I have been an arduous student of course design. One of the most important themes of that study has been how to keep out of my courses the really evil stuff. I beg forgiveness of the muses for the raw fact and simple truth ~ which I cannot duck ~ that the discovery of evil has been abundantly realized in courses of my own design.

Here’s how it works. As a course designer you draw something up on paper; and you might think, okay that looks very interesting. And then, if it escapes the canny vision of the course reviewer, it gets put up in the real world. The inescapable thing about the being the judge standing out there in the middle of the ring is that you must endure every agonizing moment of performance for 100 or more dogs; with everyone in shouting distance knowing that you were the author and designer of the challenge.

I show my own dogs in agility. I’m thankful when another judge and course designer puts up something truly evil and so further my education in course design.

Over the years, the really evil **** that I have managed to author gets stuffed into a drawer.

The Age of the Evil Challenge

A new age is upon us. A lot of new handling and dog training riddles are appearing in course challenges. Mostly this is stuff that comes to us from Europe. And it’s all really really evil. The easy thing to do would be to crawl under the bed and fervently wish for simpler days and hope all this craziness goes away.

But here’s the deal, there is a class of competitor that has risen to the challenge both as dog trainer and handler. These guys are solving the most wicked course riddles with both cunning and grace.

I just don’t have the words to really express and emphasize what I’m saying here. But… I have pictures. Here is a YouTube of Robert Michalski running a course recently in Europe. I think this says it all: I apologize for posting this on my blog without permission.

From everything I can gather, if I had designed this course, I would have had to go home and shoot myself. My squeamishness, however, is only subtext. The true lesson in this YouTube is that “impossible” is an adjective used by the guy hiding under the bed.

By the way… nice job Robert. I’m impressed beyond amazement.

USDAA Masters Challenge

A fairly new class in USDAA agility competition is the “Masters Challenge” which comes in the form of both jumpers (with weaves, btw) and the standard course. The course design guidelines basically calls for a variety of challenges which I have formerly deemed “evil”. With a new eye for the class, I’d rather think of it right now as a competition that differentiates the field, allowing those who are truly masters of our sport to demonstrate their skill.

What it means to me is that all those evil challenges that I’ve been stuffing into a drawer, get to come back out and will have a place in the world. This is going to be fun, I think.


I’ll begin here, and share the ongoing design with you as I put it together. The starting bit, jumps #1 through #4 is kind of a deadening start. Frankly I considered putting #2 on the back side rather than the straight approach. Both the wrap and the blind approach are unique riddles.

The back-to-back performance of jump #6/#7 is something I’ve been trying to get into courses for years; which more often than not gets nixed by some baffled course reviewer. It’s not really all that tough though. Most exhibitors do this very thing on the warm-up jump. It’s my intention before I’m done to present a wrong-course option in the transition from jump #6 to jump #7.

En passant

Phooey to the notion that we’ve ceded the intellectual leadership in course design challenges to the European game. I see a lot of bloody-minded stuff showing up in American courses that I know is of European influence. In practice these designs are too often ham-handed clumsy things that disturb flow and deny the dog the opportunity to move at speed or to be released to work without constant micro-management.

We can do better.

Catching Up

I’ve been running around like a blind dog in a meat-house for several weeks now. I’ve made plenty of notes though. And I’ll try to get these written in the next few days.


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.

Hobday on Steroids

May 23, 2013

I promised to share the Saturday Rollacoaster ride. This was the JWW course put up on Saturday:


There are four Hobday boxes on this course. It is a course that pretty much NQ’d every dog that is actually faster than the handler.

The use of real estate was especially devastating. The course runs the handler from corner to corner up the side; then down the side; then diagonal across the field. From a handling POV the handler must have a presence in or near the box to solve. Try solving this kind of thing from 30 ft away (or more) as I have to do with my dog who is faster than I am.

The audience was enthusiastic on the rare qualifying run. It’s a fun bunch of people in Western PA.

If I were to design such a course for a USDAA Masters Challenge class, I’m sure the course reviewer would ask me to tone it down a bit. Masters Challenge is supposed to be extreme… not crazy.

Without doing a blow-by-blow of the course let me illustrate one little moment in the course. In the dog’s path from jump #7 to jump #8 he is set on a wrong course trajectory to a wrong course at jump #1. In the TDAA, mind you, we require a minimum of 12′ for the handler to solve the wrong course option. So the spacing to solve the wrong course option on this AKC course is pretty much what we ask for in the TDAA. For big fast dogs, it really should be a minimum of 20′. And this “corner-of-the-box” option is presented like 7 times on this course. Good luck with that.

Here’s my run on this course: YouTube.


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.

I Broke the Pull Rope!

May 2, 2013

The long and lingering winter finally released its grip on the world. And so I found myself outside one day in my garden with our ever-faithful tiller. It’s an old machine, actually. Probably been around since the late 60’s; and is in such good shape because it has formerly been owned by persons who valued owning and storing to a greater extent than tilling. Tilling, of course, can be a bit of work.


It took me a couple minutes, yanking away at the pull rope to actually break it. I’ve never actually broke a pull-rope before and it gave me a moment of virile satisfaction that the machine actually broke before I did.

Anyhow, what’s more work than running a roto-tiller? I grabbed myself up a pick and did it the way I used to do when I was younger. I heaved open the dirt and dug a couple trenches. I was satisfied to see that the soil was healthy and full of fat wrigglers. I’ve been amending this soil for years now. So that pleases me.

I’m struck by my ponderous start-up of Top Dog. And you must see the analogy! Here I have a marvelous concept, a machine of great beauty and design. And, it has defied implementation as though I’d broken the pull-rope after just a few good yanks. But, just like my garden I will plant a few frail and optimistic seedlings and see how they grow with just a bit of care and weeding while I go on with the busyness of my life.


Oh I had to share this with you… it is a violet growing in the crook of a tree, at about shoulder-height. I took this picture in my mother-in-laws back yard (Darlene). It is a reminder that beauty and nature are sometimes unexpected.

And Life Goes On

A couple weeks ago now I returned from a weekend running USDAA agility in a marvelous mood. I had a very fun time and began writing in my blog something sappy sounding like “A beautiful morning!” But timing coincided with that awful bombing of the Boston Marathon. I went into a bit of a funk. And a couple days later there was that terrible industrial tragedy down in West, TX. It seemed terribly inappropriate and egocentric for me to gloat and grin about playing a game with a dog while such disasters plague our neighbors.

Life goes on though, don’t you know. While the horror of recent events is bruising to the soul, we have no real choice, you and I, but to go on with our lives unchecked and without fear or particular trepidation. That’s neither bravery nor pluck.

I was impressed by the speed and competence of the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing. Maybe that will be a deterrent to other worthless little anarchist zits. I expect not. We live in a changed world.

A Quest for Perfection

Before going into the last couple trial weekends I appreciate that Marsha has been setting up for me for several weeks some awesomely technical courses. She has an uncanny ability to design things that have little real logic, or flow, or compassion… just like a real agility judge. I’ve written in the past about my propensity for designing within the realm of my own logic. As a consequence I tend to train to my strengths, rather than my weaknesses.

The Velcro game, with the dog tied at your hip, isn’t the game that I play because I really can’t. Don’t get me wrong, back in the day I was a master of this game. Today I have to solve the most gnarly technical challenges with no real warranty that I am going to be anywhere near my dog as I solve them.

The USDAA weekend was an absolute blast. While I was nowhere near perfection, the problem solving part of the game was exhilarating to me. I managed to own two masters gamblers courses and even won the Steeplechase by outlasting all my competition.

We also ran Masters Challenge Jumpers. You know, I’ve heard people complaining about the technical density of these Masters Challenge classes. But I can’t remember having so much fun with a course. I actually got a wrong course, and an “E”, late in the course, in the transition to jump #17. If anything were to change about the game (the USDAA should take note)… it would be in rates of travel. The 4.5 go 5.0 YPS is based on a flow that allows you to release the dog to work. Almost everything in the course that I ran had to do with taking stride off the dog. I think there was only one dog, a very fast and efficiently handled Border Collie who came in under time; and that was by .1 of a second.

The AKC weekend was a different kind of weekend altogether. While I walked away with a couple qualifying scores it was a weekend of one-little-flaw kind of runs. One of the judges, in her course designs ran you from a technical challenge in one corner of the ring to another technical challenge in the long opposite corner of the ring. She was especially fond of the five-and-six sided box with wrong-course option discriminations going in and coming out.

Of course, I was faced with solving these challenges at a magnificent distance. Kory was actually quite amazing. And each “one-little-flaw” was entirely handler. His contacts were solid (thank you Pati Mah!); and he was constantly ready to go and followed my every cue perfectly.

No weekend of competition in agility is complete without coming home with homework. I find that Kory and I have a unique weakness… giving him a direction cue while at a distance as he dismounts a pipe tunnel. This is no big deal for the Velcro handler, who can scoop at the exit and draw the line with movement nearby. I’m already designing a series of exercises to this end.

I also need to add as a developmental/training skill: drawing a static line from a contact obstacle. On two standard courses on the AKC weekend I NQ’d my boy from the dismount of a contact obstacle by earning a refusal (run-by) on the following jump. It’s ironic you know, to survive the snarky technical stuff and then NQ on something that should be simple.

Oh… I had several courses to share with you. But I am on the road at this very minute and didn’t bring any of them with. I’m judging USDAA in Indianapolis for the weekend.

A Beautiful Morning


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.

Columbus Weekend

April 12, 2013

I’ve gone up amongst the Yankees for a weekend of play in the USDAA. Pulled into Columbus in the afternoon rush hour and found my way to the La Quinta while commuters swarmed about like angry hornets.

I suppose there are several good stories I’ve failed to tell as I’ve neglected my BLOG. I killed the rooster, and put the raft into my pond; and Marsha and I joined a community theatre group. No we’re not going to act. We’re going to be active. So far about our only dealings with the group was to spend a day helping a handful of others clean up a back-stage area that apparently hasn’t been cleaned up since the 1930’s.

We’ve got yet another rescue BC pup. Her name is Prem. And as you might guess she’s smart enough, being a Border Collie and all. Within the first week I had her I taught her to send away from me over a jump at a distance of about 30 feet. And I’ve taught her to turn “Right”. On the downside, she showed early a remarkable fear of the training teeter. So for several days now I’ve taken a page out of the two-minute dog trainer and have given her meals in the proximity of said training teeter. In the first lesson all she had to do was put a foot on the ramp to get a handful of food. Now, after three days, the criterion has escalated to putting both feet on the up end and driving it to the ground. She’s still not a huge fan of the teeter; but her association is gradually changing to something positive, given that it earns her meals.

For the past couple of weeks Marsha has been building me “snarky” courses go help me get back in a handler’s groove, mostly in preparation for the weekend now at hand. She’s put up some real ugly stuff, almost bad enough to make a USDAA Masters handler cry and shout. I wasn’t allowed to preview or practice any little part of these courses. I’d walk them as I would at a trial… and then run them. And in running we observed a no melt-down rule. If something went wobbly I had to pick myself up and go on, just like real life. And Kory had to jump 26.

I’ve been for several months rebuilding Kory’s contact performance. I think I like where we are at. But this weekend will be the acid test. My goal is to keep it all meat and potatoes… do my job, work hard, and always be aware that Kory needs basic training reinforcement, when in the ring.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

League Game


The league game this week was designed by Brenda Gilday. I’m really impressed with the quality of her design work. The challenge and flow she set on this course is spot on.

They ran this course at Kuliga in league this past week; and we ran it here at Country Dream. The best performance in our league was put in by Beth Murray with her girl Koda. They looked really good.

I’ll be posting it (this evening I hope) as a Top Dog challenge course. Maybe we can entice Katie and Dave to come out to play!


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.


January 11, 2013

Nesting courses in dog agility is an art form. The idea is to move from class to class with a minimum of equipment movement. Moving equipment and the arduous follow-up exercise called tweaking can literally add hours to the day, if the course is not well nested.

Rather than trying to convince you of the merit of the notion, I’d like to spend a moment in a nesting exercise just to see if it’s really possible to find challenges for different levels of players without actually moving around equipment.

BLOG890_01This is the Top Dog course for last week ( I had in mind to make it a nice flowing romp, possibly with an interesting central challenge.

This is a very simple course. The tricky bit is in the turn from jump #8 to the teeter. The wrong course A-frame looms large as an option for the dog. Aside from this the course is a novice level exercise.

I’m not abashed offering this kind of event challenge for Top Dog. Everybody runs the same course.  It’s just about as fun to run a on a racetrack as in a blender. In some ways more fun, I’d expect.

BLOG890_02To make the course a bit more advanced, I introduce the notion of a technical handling challenge. If you don’t immediately spot the challenge, it is a 270° threadle from jump #3 to #4. The course designer was kindly in the approach to the threadle, as the handler can gain position by taking a lead-out.

The course still isn’t a Masters course. Not really. But it is getting more advanced, to be sure.

BLOG890_03In this final draft I’ve made two significant changes. I’ve changed the opening into a bit of a serpentine approach back to the pipe tunnel at #4. This creates another wrong course option featuring the dogwalk. This opening ostensibly pins the handler back close to the dog on the approach to the pipe tunnel… and likely behind the dog on the dismount, when faced with the 270° threadle.

Oh, and I’ve added a second 270° threadle. This is a basic test of ambidextrous skill

Mark Your Calendar

I’ve accepted a USDAA judging assignment with Sky Blue Events on May 3rd – 5th, 2013. The trial is indoors at Pawsitive Partners in Indianapolis. I have a bit of time between then and now to play with some interesting course design challenges. Of course, I won’t be sharing these on my blog before hand. So there’s no good reason to practice the 270° threadles and the course I designed above.

Top Dog Web Page

After initially giving my own web site ( to my start up of Top Dog Agility Players… I’ve decided my own primitive efforts at designing the site are just a complete mess. So I’m moving the whole thing to Word Press: You know, it will do just about everything one would want.

I’m faced with a lot of technical development issues. I’m about of a mind now that seeking or obtaining outside help is a waste of my time. At least my wheels are spinning too much. I’m going to go back to basics and design everything within my own capabilities. The future will take care of itself. Seems to always work out that way.

You are So Beautiful

You know those ASPCA commercials with the background singing “You are so beautiful, to me…” Well, those commercials just break my heart seeing the poor abused animals out there. Again I have six dogs in my house. Two are pure-bred; four are rescues. It’s terrible to know that you can’t save them all.


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.