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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Clermont Continued… Absolute Directionals

April 5, 2017

The Masters game we’re playing this month with the NDAL is a Time Warp. That means there are several distance challenges that award bonuses that are subtracted from the dog’s Time Plus Faults score. In the game we are playing is the dog earns 5 bonus points for each pipe tunnel performed, so long as the handler is on the opposite side of the containment line.

You would think that a send to the tunnel is an easy kind of objective. But in this game we have a couple tunnel performances which probably require skills more advanced than a simple send to the tunnel.

Here’s the set of the floor:


The two tunnel performances that are a bit problematic are… #16 and #18. If the handler remains behind the containment line for #16 it’s possible that the dog will earn a refusal at the dogwalk on the dismount. So it would be advantageous for the handler to have a strong “Right” command to bend the dog directly out of the pipe tunnel and onto the dogwalk. It’s worth noting that the handler can actually step over the “containment” line as the dog finishes #16; so long as the dog is completely out of the tunnel. Timing might be a chancy thing.

Absolute Directionals ~ Tunnel Dogwalk Transition

The #18 pipe tunnel has no allowance for stepping over the line. The handler needs a strong “Right” turning command, or a very convincing “Tandem” from a distance to turn the dog away and into the pipe tunnel.


This is the basic training sequence. It might be approached by the clever dog trainer in modest incremental steps, beginning near to the dogwalk at first, and gradually working farther and farther away from the dog.

There’s no real substitute for the dog actually knowing “Left” and “Right”. But failing that, the handler might also develop relative handler cues (and antics) which speak to the dog to turn.

Here’s a YouTube video of our own work on this training sequence:

I’ll have more for you, tomorrow.

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Distance Training at Clermont

April 4, 2017

For the up and coming distance training seminar at Clermont County (Milford, OH) I have already specified a bit of homework. I’m recognizing that the homework is to an extent overwhelming.

The curriculum for distance training is a simple matter, really. The dog’s trainer has specific objectives and is armed with exercises and protocols to achieve those objectives. Then it’s a simple matter of putting together a daily training regimen that develops those skills in a modest and progressive structured training program.

To facilitate ongoing training with my own dogs I use the “set of the floor” in my own training center to find training and proofing exercises to further the skills of my own dogs. With this in mind we’ve set up the April 2007 NDAL Masters course to find suitable distance training exercises for our dogs.


As luck would have it… the NDAL course for April is a game that rewards bonuses to the dog for several distance challenges.

For the next several days I will find exercises in this set of the floor that suitable for a distance training program. These might emphasize skills used in the NDAL game; or might be totally unrelated to the game but serve our objective to teach the dog great distance skills.

Lateral Distance on the A-frame


This is a simple exercise, really. We want the dog to finish the performance of the A‑frame with the handler working at a progressive lateral distance. This training is complicated by the dismount protocol used by the handler. The handler might want a “running contact”… or, as in our case, the handler might want a 2o2o unambiguous finish to the A-frame.

This is a slightly advanced study because the handler is seeking not only a clear 2o2o until released, but the handler is working to continue in motion while the dog assumes the unambiguous finish position.

The training steps have been recorded here:

This recording features our red-headed crazy boy, Phoenix… who really needs this work.

I’ll have more for you, tomorrow.

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Using the Front of the Ring in Course Design

March 28, 2017

The purpose of the Course Design College topics is to share design tips with all of our judges. Making the teaching point one judge at a time is useful. But sharing with all of our judges is practical.

After a long road trip I’m catching up on TDAA course reviews (and other work as well). I’d like to share with you an important observation about course design for the TDAA.

I got this course for review in an upcoming trial:


Aside from small technical notations, what really jumps out about this course is that the designer pretty much disdained the use of the front of the ring, thereby making a small space even smaller. It’s not really a bad course concept, but the back of the ring feels very cramped. The course designer is asking the handler to demonstrate some fairly technical skills with barely enough room to work.

Don’t you know, we design for some pretty small spaces in the TDAA. A design flaw when you have 10K square feet can be forgiven. Make the same mistake in 2K square feet and the compression can be awesome and unforgiving.

I’m going to redesign this course and barely tweak the placement of the equipment to demonstrate how using the front of the ring might alleviate the compression:


The intention was to demonstrate how using the front of the ring distributes the flow and frankly results in a smoother more balanced design. Note that borders have also been applied to the course map, and course numbering was changed from baseline to Cartesian.

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Distance Progressions

March 12, 2017

Distance training is nearly always a matter of modest and incremental progression. The mission is to teach the dog to work independently, without constant micro-management. I’ve taken the set of our training floor (for this week) to show several possible distance exercises.

Dead-Away Send

By way of example of incremental progression, I’ll show a simple exercise in which the dog is taught a dead-away send into a pipe tunnel.

We have video of the three jumps to tunnel distance progression here:


The dog’s trainer might begin near to the tunnel whilst sending the dog to the performance; gradually backing up with each successful repetition until the send incorporates the jump.


There’s no real reason to limit the objective to a single jump. The training might span more than one or two training sessions with the dog. The dog trainer continues to back up in successive repetitions until the send incorporates two jump.


Not to set too low a bar… the dog’s trainer should take advantage of the patterning implicit in these training sessions. Continue to incrementally add new distance to the send. A three jump send to the tunnel is immodest. But modesty is not our objective.

I went through this progression without discussion of the handler. While the handler isn’t much involved in the performance he (or she) is certainly a part. What the dog’s trainer should contemplate is the “picture” of the handler making the send. This is what I look like when I’m making the send (facing, pointing, focus, lift of the arm, and so forth). This is what I sound like when I’m making the send (timely clear enunciation). This picture is intended to speak to the dog and complete the command phrase.

Certainly if the handler didn’t want the dog to go ahead to the tunnel, the picture would look quite different.

Progressive Lateral

Another type of incremental progression is the lateral distance exercise. A dog’s path in agility tends to work parallel to the dog’s path. But paths can be parallel at a respectable distance. And so the dog trainer’s objective is to earn a lot of respect.

We have video of the pinwheel to the teeter lateral distance progression here:


In this simple sequence the early objective is to turn the dog through a three jump pinwheel, to finish on the teeter. The overall objective is for the dog trainer to send the dog through the pinwheel unattended and commit the dog to the performance of the teeter without hovering over the performance

Note that the handler begins the pinwheel from the “tandem” side, meaning that the handler starts on the side away from the turn and crosses behind the dog on the landing side. The Tandem turn is a handler movement that boosts the dog’s speed and creates separation (and consequently… distance)


Incrementally the dog trainer lengthens the lateral distance he is working, parallel to the dog. In this drawing the original path is drawn in a pale shaded color so you can see how the dog trainer allows the dog to work at a greater distance.

Note too that the handler makes his approach to the first jump at a distance lateral to the dog.


And again, the dog trainer increases his lateral distance to the dog. Again the previous path is shown in a pale shaded color.


Earlier I pointed out that the dog trainer makes the approach to the first jump at a lateral distance. The objective is to give enough room so that when the dog comes up over the jump the handler has room to step and sell the turn without getting caught behind the jump. Now, as the dog turns away to engage the pinwheel the handler layers to the opposite side of the entire pinwheel. The handler works parallel to the dog at a fairly impressive distance.


Just as a bit of proofing we’ve added to the exercise a pipe tunnel that will allow the dog trainer to proof the exercise with a new variable.

Independent Weaves

A variety of independent performance skills might be approached using progression methodology. The weave poles are of particular interest to the dog trainer.

We have video of the 180 weave pole distance progression here:


There’s always a question with the weave poles whether the handler should shape the approach or trust the dog to know his job (get in, and go through).

Begin the progressing training by modestly shaping the approach to the weave poles.


Like all progressions the handler will gradually make the send from farther and farther back down the line of approach. In this exercise the entry is virtually at 180°.


Ultimately the handler should be able to send the dog from an impressive to gain the entry to the weave poles. Note that the dog must learn to collect himself to make the entry in a controlled manner.

Set of the Floor


It should come as no surprise that the set of the floor for these training sessions is based on a National Dog Agility League course. This is the 60′ x 90′ Masters game. The game is “Time Warp”. A dog doing the pinwheel and weave poles without fault and with the handler on the opposite side of the containment line will earn a 10 point bonus. The game is scored Time, Plus Faults, Less Bonus.

Kory’s run on this course:

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Yet Another Discussion of Kentucky Windage

February 26, 2017

Kentucky Windage is a very old term in the American lexicon, although too few remember the meaning. The Kentucky rifleman, a keen shooter responsible for getting the food that appeared on his family’s dinner table, understood that the bullet moving through space would be pushed away from the target by any wind. And so the shooter would lean his shot into the wind to compensate for the push of the wind so that the wind would carry the bullet to the target rather than away from it.

By analogy we can compare the bullet moving through space to the dog working forward of the handler. It is one of the Laws of a Dog in Motion: A dog forward of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position.

In this sequence the handler is attempting a modest send over two jumps to the pipe tunnel:


Though the handler has lined up the jumps nice ‘n neat, once the dog gets forward of the handler’s position he is liable to curl back towards the handler and consequently the wind has pushed the dog away from the target.


The savvy distance handler will adjust the line of the dog’s path to accommodate and anticipate the dog curling in; so that now that curl will bring the dog to target rather than off of it.

I will continue this discussion tomorrow. This is an important training exercise which some dogs and handlers (maybe in Oklahoma) are likely to practice in the near future.

The Tandem Turn ~ a Secret Weapon for Distance Work

A Tandem Turn is a form of the rear cross. We typically use the expression “Rear Cross” when the handler crosses behind the dog on the approach to an obstacle. The Tandem Turn is a cross behind the dog on the dismount of an obstacle, or on the flat.


Here’s a video of Brenda Gilday running her girl Leela on this sequence:

[I’m going to go out on a limb here. 90% of the time the Tandem is a better option than a raw rear cross. The other 10%… only a rear cross will do.]


The attributes of the Tandem are worth discussing. The Tandem creates separation and acceleration. Note that the handler’s cue isn’t much more than turning the corner in plain sight of the dog.

Changing the Sequence

The “bootlace” isn’t much more than a foil for testing distance skills. Two jumps down to the tunnel, and two jumps back illustrates a simple principle of “distance” work… the farther away goes the dog, the farther ahead is the handler.

We’re going to change the sequence just a bit, to illustrate an important attribute of the Back Pass.


In this exercise the sequence calls for a pull-through to a back-side jump at #5. Initially the handler uses her distance skills to gain a position forward of the dog for the Back Pass. A very important attribute of the Back Pass is that the dog drops completely out of obstacle focus and into handler focus. And so the handler doesn’t have to “handle” the tricky transition between the two wrong-course jump options. The handler need only take the post position.

Here’s a video of Brenda Gilday running her girl Leela on this sequence:

Notes Aside

We should get out of our heads the notion that “distance” work has anything to do with the handler standing still whilst giving verbal cues to the dog. Distance is a matter of allowing the dog to work at full speed as the handler moves from control position to control position, all the while contriving to support the dog with complimentary movement… at a distance; while managing to arrive where he needs to be at precisely the moment he needs to be there.

Teaching is a game of repetition. I think I first documented Kentucky Windage as an agility concept something like 20 years ago. But don’t you know… a new generation is upon us. Very little in the science of dog agility has really changed. It must always be learned anew.

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February 16, 2017

In this blog I have been publishing a series of homework exercises for the up-and-coming distance seminar with Canine Manners in Broken Arrow, OK. I’m near to finishing the series, not so much because we’re really done. I’m frankly concerned with heaping too much in the way of work and expectation on those brave souls who’ve elected to attend the seminar.

Distance seminars have always been difficult for me. The real topic in these seminars is “train the dog”. In two or four days you really can’t realize the central ambition of the task. Training the dog is a matter of patience and persistence.

I’ve always said that I’m patient with training a dog because I know exactly how long it takes. The punch line, of course is … “It takes as long as it takes.”



1.a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.

synonyms: aspiration · intention · goal · aim · objective · object · purpose · intent ·

Send Around a Barrel

This is a very basic skill that I’ve taught to by agility dogs for about 30 years now. It’s simple and fundamental. Because it’s low impact, sending around a barrel can be taught to a very young pup. Consequently one of the first lessons learned by a dog is to go out and offer an independent performance.

In the Jokers Notebook (issue #0) refer to “Go Around” on page 30.

This was a demonstration video only. Working with Kory, I made a bit of a mistake in putting his reward (the Fisbee) on top of the barrel. But you can get the feeling of it.

Backside Jump

It strikes me that the “Go Around” the barrel might be leveraged into solving a fairly advanced challenge in International style agility coursework… the “backside” jump.

Using “Go Around” to teach a “Backside” is an interesting concept.

In competition the handler might only resort to such a thing when faced with one of those bloody-minded courses with control positions stretching to corners of the ring.



How would you handle such a challenge? Note that in a Minuet the handler will run the same sequence over and over again until the expiration of time.

In a minuet each successfully performed sequence scores 1 point. Should the dog take a wrong course, then the sequence must be started from the beginning. If the dog drops a bar, the handler is required to reset that bar, and resume from that point. When time expires the dog must be directed to the table to stop time. The Minuet is scored: Points, Then Time.

Let’s say you have 30 seconds to run this Minuet. How many times do you suppose you can do this sequence? What distance skills would you use?

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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. 

Proofing in Competition

February 13, 2017

Be clear from the onset that distance skills can be amazing and tantalizing. But on the technical courses you’re bound to encounter in any of the international-style agility organizations, using distance skills alone is a very tough way to make a living. It’s a lot like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. Have fun, and be humble.

As promised we have set up the February 2017 NDAL 50×70 Fast & Fun league course. Note that the perimeter of the course is nothing but a big pinwheel, with some interesting set of obstacles stuffed into the middle.


The course calls for a couple solid absolute directional turns, and a good “Go On” in the big seven hurdle pinwheel.


I got to chuckle… I gave Kory a “Right” command on the turn from the A-frame to the pipe tunnel when it’s clearly a LEFT turn. But don’t you know he found what I did with my body (a solid technical Tandem) to be more compelling. That’s an important lesson all by itself.

Notes Aside

This is a continuing series of homework exercises for the up-and-coming distance seminar with Canine Manners in Broken Arrow, OK. We’ve got most of the foundation exercises

I’ll surely have more training snippets to add to this series. I’ve already described enough of a curriculum on which to spend a year or more with an individual dog. That might seem overwhelming; though I’ve never felt overwhelmed by having a focused plan for training my dog. It’s a lot like building a big brick wall. You start at the bottom and lay one row at a time. The only thing that stops the wall from being finished is for you to stop laying bricks. It will be done when it’s done. What’s the hurry?

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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.

Combination Exercise

February 12, 2017

In this series of homework exercises for the up-and-coming distance seminar with Canine Manners in Broken Arrow, OK we have shown a mix of training exercises aimed at a variety of distance skills. What I should like to show today is a combination exercise that tests several of those skills in the same sequence.

I’m mindful that the assigned homework might easily take months and months of patient work and practice. And in that patience and in that practice we fashion a dog that plays the game of agility without being affixed to the bum of the handler.

Let me show the challenge, followed by brief discussion, and supplemented by a short YouTube video.


The Strategy

  1. The handler will begin this sequence with a Back Pass. The Back Pass is a means of making a “sling-shot” start to the course. In this sequence it also serves to start the dog on a bendable line that serves as an introduction to the four-jump pinwheel.
  2. On the landing side of jump #1 the handler will turn the dog into the pinwheel with a layered Tandem Turn. Truly the handler won’t have much room to make a compelling step to sell the turn. Note that a dog with absolution directionals the initial turn is accomplished with a “Right” command.
  3. Of course the handler will stay outside of the pinwheel. The red line on the course map indicates that the handler must, stay outside. Note that the handler’s movement and the direction he is facing while the dog is in the pinwheel is very important. That movement and facing must give pressure to each jump in turn.
  4. In the turn from jump #4 back to jump #5 the handler will also show a Tandem Turn. This Tandem is far more advanced than the first as the handler is at a fair distance from the dog and at an obtuse turning angle from the dog. This turn in the dog’s path might also be accomplished with a “Left” command so long as that has been taught to the dog.
  5. The exercise ends with the performance of the dogwalk with the dog at an impressive lateral distance.

The Aftermath in Video

Truly the discussion of strategy took a lot longer than it will actually take to run the sequence.

Katniss Phoenix ComboExerciseFeb17 ~

Notes Aside

This topic may expanded and continued tomorrow! I am going to set up the February 2017 NDAL 50×70 Fast & Fun league course. This course promises a couple opportunities to send the dog out in huge pinwheel outruns while the handler seeks control positions on the opposite end of the floor. It should be a complete hoot.

By the way, after the seminar in Broken Arrow I’m heading across town to lead a judges’ clinic for the Teacup Dogs Agility Association. The TDAA judges clinic will have judge candidates actually practicing their judging in a real TDAA trial after two days of grueling classroom work and testing. I will share the calendar posting for the trial:


Mar  18 – 19 , 2017  TDAA trial number T17001
Canine Sports Academy – Agility
Norman, OK
Judge:  Bud Houston is judge of record, Judge applicants will do judging duties
Contact:  Dennis Gorman at
Indoors on Greatmats.
Classes include four standard rounds and four games.

It would be fun for some of the NDAL players down in Broken Arrow to come out for TDAA in Norman. Note that the TDAA is limited to dogs measuring 20″ or less.

Back in the day when I ran my old boys Bogie and Birdie I found that the TDAA made me a much better technical handler. The challenges come quick with short intervals between obstacles. The original objective of the organization, after all, was to give small dog handlers a taste for what big dog handlers face every weekend.

These days I like TDAA for a very different reason. I’m an old man with bad knees and the smaller rings spaces allow me to find control positions on course.

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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.

Lateral Distance on Technical Obstacles

February 11, 2017

To be sure so called “distance work” in agility is nothing more than a matter of independent performance.

The element of performance most overlooked by the typical agility handler is the extent to which the handler by position and movement are embedded in the context of the performance. For example, a handler may believe that a dog understands the dogwalk and will make both the approach and the dismount as taught.

But in fact some dogs understand that performance only so long as the handler is in proximity and, in the case of the dismount, either putting on the brakes or stopped altogether, and for all practical purposes sitting on the dog’s head. Even a running contact may require the handler to run in perfect parallel to the dog at a proscribed lateral distance.

The training objective for any technical obstacle is disengage the handler from the context of performance. Following is a recording of a training session calculated to incrementally extract the handler from the dog’s performance. In this case the subject obstacle is the dogwalk:

Progressively increasing lateral distance training should be applied to all of the technical obstacles including the A-frame, the teeter, and the weave poles.

In the Jokers Notebook (issue #0) refer to “Lateral Distance” beginning on page 92 and “Lateral Distance Work on Technical Obstacles” on page 94. It’s a simple and nearly obvious method.

See Also: In the Jokers Notebook (issue #0); “The Two Minute Dog Trainer – Killer Weaves” beginning on page 90. This introduces training on technical obstacles for an increasing oblique; (though the text focuses on the weave poles).

Caveat ~ While the training method is “simple and obvious”, the independent performance of technical obstacles is one of those skills that is earned or deserved from training and practice. If the dog trainer fails to train and practice it follows that the skill is neither earned, nor deserved.

Notes Aside

This is an ongoing series intended as homework for Canine Manners distance seminar students; March 20 and 21 2017 in Broken Arrow, OK, (and others interested in training great distance skills who might visit these pages).

This topic is expanded and continued tomorrow! I will present a combination exercise in which distance skills from several of the topics discussed in this Blog over the last few days are all a part of the same exercise. And I should like to show how some of these skills are used on one of the NDAL League courses scheduled for this month (February, 2017). [I’m mindful before using fanciful distance work in the league course of something my mother used to say to me. She said “If it doesn’t work, it’s not showing off!”]

League Play Connection

Canine Members, the club in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma is an active franchise in the National Dog Agility League. The NDAL is a consortium of clubs around the world that each month will compete on the same courses under the same rules. And then all results are aggregated as a single event.

One very fun thing about NDAL league play is that for most dogs running the results include a link to a YouTube recording for each performance. It is very fun seeing how different handlers in different parts of the country solved the same course that you ran with your dog.

The NDAL fondly desires new clubs in: New Zealand, Belgium, United Kingdom, Finland, Mexico, Singapore, Switzerland, Russia, and Japan. Our league players are very curious about these different agility communities and would love to play and compete with them each month!

Here is an example of the results to a recent NDAL league competition:

January 50×70 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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.