Posts Tagged ‘Country Dream’

League Play at Country Dream

September 23, 2015

Our classes are always based on the “league” game. Since the competitive league is a monthly affair, some of our classes will be based on a pickup game.

The course below is a National Dog Agility League game that was played about two years ago. I’m excited by the prospect of running this course again because a couple of our dogs and a couple of our student’s dogs ran it two years ago. This rerun allows us to compare a dog’s development over time.

These days we video-tape all of our runs; and I’m pretty sure we don’t have the original runs recorded. And so even though we have time and scores, whatever errors of play or judgment we might have made then, are lost in the dust of time. But, since we are keen to record (and post on YouTube) these days; it might make an interesting comparison in maybe another two years.


Any course or game that you play will have good material for teaching and practice. I’m pretty sure in the design of this course that I was preoccupied with how to give a turning cue to a dog heading into a straight pipe tunnel. Mind you I believe that the handler’s posture on making the presentation of a pipe tunnel cues the dog on how to make the dismount… whether to fire out of the tunnel as though out of the barrel of a cannon, or to bend neatly into a turn.

If the handler is nowhere near the pipe tunnel as the dog goes in… then posture can’t be all that significant and the handler will have to rely on verbal cues. We’ll develop this line of thought more at class on Monday night.

You are welcome to join us in playing this game. You can even record your own scores with the National Dog Agility League. Download the scorekeeping workbook HERE.

On the Road Again

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Medford, OR where I’ll lead a single seminar day on Friday, and judge a TDAA trial on Saturday and Sunday. I’m coming home on the red eye on Sunday night. So it should make for an interesting week as I try to recover.

I’ve set our league course already so that it’s ready to rock ‘n roll on Monday night.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Course Design Notes for the TDAA

January 29, 2009

Recently while I was leading a TDAA judges clinic we went through an exercise in which I was showing our new judges how to wheel a course. Shortwheeling is a thing that a judge does with a measuring wheel when he doesn’t really understand how dogs move. So as I’d approach a jump I’d call their attention to the fact that after I hit the center of the jump I continued wheeling the line from the angle of approach for another six clicks (a click is a foot on my measuring wheel) before turning. On a big dog course I’ll make the turn considerably wider than that!

I think it would be a great idea for the course designer to do the same kind of visualization of the dog’s path when contemplating the consequences of the dog’s turn. Take this, for example:


Note how I continue the line over jump #3 for roughly another six feet. Then I make the turn and progress through the center of jump #4. In this example what you really want to note is that the path that the course designer created with the placement of jumps does not address the tire at #5 in a square fashion.

The dog’s turning radius after jump #3 should provide as much depth as it has width. This sequence has no real depth after jump #3; only width.


The sequence can easily be fixed so that the natural turning radius actually creates the line of approach to the tire so we don’t have to worry about unsafe performances. More like this illustration. The real change we’ve made is to give more depth to the turn from jump #3 to jump #4.

Minimum Number of Obstacles is Not a Kindly Course Design

I see too many courses designed for all levels using the minimum number of obstacles. The course designer/judge might think he’s doing a kindly thing for the exhibitor, giving fewer obstacles that can be faulted. I’m sure that for some this might be true.

However using the minimum number of obstacles is no favor at all for the tiny dog that struggles to make course time. In the TDAA the dog’s rate of travel is eroded terribly by the technical obstacles (the contacts and the weave poles). It creates the illusion that a dog moves slower in TDAA competition than on big dog courses. The truth of the matter is that in the big dog venues the rate of travel is re-energized by the time on those vast expanses of real estate between the obstacles.

The TDAA is short on real estate. That means the dog gets little opportunity to make up time that was used up on the contacts and in the weave poles. To make up for this the course designer should whenever possible use the maximum number of obstacles on a course so that dogs can recover rate of travel.

You want a Threadle? Measure with your Volkswagon


You will note that in the threadle performance between jumps #3 and jump #4 I had no problem conceptualizing a dog’s path slipping back in the pull-through. It is a remarkable little illusion accomplished by fidgeting around my cursor on the coursemap.

On the other hand, it’s pretty bad course design. The threadle is a sure fire flow stopper. Although the dog and handler are set up for the moment with a robust canon shot out of the pipe tunnel, the handler has no recourse but to slam on the brakes and engage in the very technical pull-through.


If the course designer is going to use a threadle, it could be more subtle than overt. Indeed, if it is drawn correctly the dog should be able to accelerate out of the turn rather than being dampened down into an over-controlled stop. Here’s a good example.

My first rule of the threadle is that the intervening space between the jumps should be big enough to drive through with a Volkswagon… and that’s for a TDAA course. In a big dog course I’d want to get my Suburban through there without bumping my rear view side mirrors.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at


January 26, 2009

Someone will tell me from time to time after a romp out in the agility ring “That was a complete disaster!” My response will be invariably, “Well you know, the Hindenburg was a disaster. You just had a bumpy game with a dog.”

And yet the word “disaster” is on my mind. My web site has been down for several days now (managed by This is truly not a disaster given the paucity of my business. And I am patient knowing that it’ll be up and running sooner or later.

There is an important business point I need to make here. A half a life-time ago I was a part of the disaster recovery team for Phelps Dodge, a very old and conservative American company (and today owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.). When something breaks business can’t stop. It’s not enough to say we’ll fix the broken thing; we must resume, we must recover.

A meteor could have dropped on Phelps Dodge headquarters and within about 24 hours all systems would be restored; and this is in spite of the loss of complete computer systems and possibly even key personnel. And the plan was so thoughtful and detailed that not only would computer systems and data be restored, but the phone system, the copier, and supplies as meticulously defined as paper-clips would be in place. Certainly a large corporation shouldn’t flounder for wont of a paper-clip.

So, in selection of a web service provider, I would like to see a disaster recovery plan. Let’s say a piece of firmware melts down. Now we have to get in touch with the manufacturer (who doesn’t do business on weekends by the bye), and wait for him to Fedex that computer part.

I’m sorry. This has already taken too long. If the computer goes down it should, it must, immediately come back up on an alternate processor. Maybe there’s a business idea here for someone to provide disaster recovery services for all the mom and pop web service providers in the world. I’ll bet you anything that big corporations who do their own web service have exactly this kind of provision as a part of their own disaster recovery planner.

Sunday Clinic


I’m going to document many of the sequences we worked with on the weekend; but wanted to share this straight-away. I ended the clinic on Sunday with kind of a romping sequence. My intention was to make it easy and free and fast. Naturally, it defied my early expectations and became completely challenging in it’s own subtle ways.

The original exercise I designed was all about the #9 through #11 practice with the discrimination. By the afternoon of the clinic I knew this was overly technical and likely to make people frustrated and grumpy. So I added the big sweeping lines around the A-frame which made it quite a fun romp and frankly got the speed and energy up and took considerable tedium out of the drill.

Because the opening is such a straight-line ripper that it’ll be a bit of a trick drawing the dog properly to jump #4 rather than losing him off-course into the pipe tunnel. A dandy response here is a simple static Post Turn pre-cuing the dog to the turn simply by the handler putting on the brakes after jump #3. Some handlers might need something more dramatic like an RFP or a Flip. Other handlers don’t need much of anything as their dogs will faithfully hold a Velcro position no matter where they choose to go.

The next truly interesting moment will be the approach to the pipe tunnel at #9. We might lose a dog or two to the wrong-course option at jump #2/15. More likely will be the handler turning away from the pipe tunnel prematurely causing the dog to draw up onto the A-frame for a wrong course. I often tell my students that when the handler takes the blocking position in a discrimination they are obligated to do only one thing. Block!

The transition from the pipe tunnel at #9, getting back to the A-frame at #11 is one of the technical bits in this course; and the pull-through after jump #10 was a skill we had already practiced on the day. If the handler doesn’t understand his job the dog is inclined to go wrong course after jump #10 either to jump #7 if turning right or back to the tire at #1/16 if turning left (and, of course, we saw both).

The choice of turning right or left at jump #10 had all to do with the handler’s strategy for getting to the #12 pipe tunnel after the dismount of the A-frame. There were several solutions for this interesting transition. The handler might bend, which means he comes dog the A-frame with dog-on-right and simply steps into the dog’s path causing him to bend away into a path that favors the pipe tunnel. With dog-on-left the handler might step forward into a Front Cross or hold the dog on left for a moment for a Post & Tandem approach. Anything that actually work is right.

In a bit a surprise to me the transition from the pipe tunnel at #12 to jump #13 became one of the more challenging moments. Most handlers after getting the dog into the pipe tunnel simply died in terms of movement. They went all flat-footed and awaited the dog shooting out of the tunnel. Four observable results come from this moment of sloth: 1) the turning radius of the dog ranges far too widely after the pipe tunnel; 2) the energy of the dog deflates to reflect the lack of energy of the handler; 3) With nothing productive to do the handler will find a way to fault this simple sequence; 4) The dog will do it just fine and seems unaffected by the handler’s loss of presence. Anyhow, I coached them before the second run that it might be a good idea to step up towards the exit of the pipe tunnel in this sequence being nearby to the dog showing counter rotation to tighten the turn and a quick accelerating step to immediately energize the dog to the race.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

Area of Eclipse and the Ample Posterior

January 24, 2009

When judging a table performance the judge must take into account an interesting formula related to the width of the handler’s back-side. The closer the handler is to the dog and more inclined to hover over the dog in the performance the greater the area of eclipse. And, you will note, the more ample the posterior the greater the area of eclipse.


In this drawing the handler truly is not hovering over the dog in the performance of the table; but the judge absolutely has to improve his position to see the performance and conduct the table count.


You will note the extent to which the area of eclipse expands the closer the handler gets to the table. In a true hovering posture the eclipse is so magnificent that the judge really has to hoof it to get in position and might actually miss a second of performance for which he should have been counting, but can’t because he couldn’t actually see it.


A judge who has assumed a position at any distance from the table can be trapped in the area of eclipse and will have a great distance to travel in order to see the performance and make the table count.

This discussion is a cautionary tale. The judge and course designer should take note that a handler is most likely to hover on the side of the release. So if the course is coming toward the judge it is more likely that the handler might obscure the table performance. A better course design would be to release the dog perpendicular to the judge’s ostensible position.

The exhibitor should also understand this simple line-of-sight discussion. If you really want the judge to count for your dog on the table you should be aware of the judge’s position even when it wasn’t very thoughtfully managed. You should take great care not to obscure the judge’s view of your dog. The judge is just one more obstacle you have to contend with on the course and if you are thoughtful about this, it could save you a second or two on course from time to time. [Note: taking note of the judge’s position for a contact obstacle is quite a different matter and might require slightly different logic.]

A Hot Shower

I have some work to do this afternoon, mostly a bunch of details related to the TDAA judging clinic in Washingtonville this past weekend. I also have some manual labor stuff to do outside… hauling fire-wood around mostly.

First, I’m going to go take my first hot shower since I’ve lived in this log cabin. Yesterday Marsha and I studied the problem; dismantled the handle in the shower; and with a bit of problem solving figured out how to change the water temperature mix. There’s actually little grommet that slides over the gear inside that has a stop that dictates how much hot water gets in the flow. It’s a simple matter of sliding it off the gear, rotating it a bit, and sliding it back on.

Now, if I can figure out how to do this without scalding myself to death… I’m looking forward to my shower.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

A Found Poem #2

January 23, 2009

It was fun having Nancy Gyes dropping by my blog to leave a nice note. I’ve known Nancy and Jim for a number of years. They would come to Arizona in the early ‘90s to show at Good Dog USDAA trials. That’s back when players in the agility world would travel magnificent distances to find agility competition. Well, the world has changed very much.

Nancy and Jim have gone on to become famous characters in the agility world. I might see them every couple years or so. But I live nearly on the East Coast now, and they still live way to hell and gone in northern California.

Nancy’s explanation of her alphabet drills was simple and logical. I look back over the many exercises I’ve created or stolen over the years. And it is quite true I would have to go riffling through an impressive stack of papers to find any one that might tickle the fancy of my memory. I’d better take the Hebrew alphabet before she really takes the idea serious. At least I’d have the NYC market covered.


I use the expression “a found poem” every now and again. What it really means is in the shifting context of agility the opportunity for the practice of fundamentals will invariably present itself. As a coach I figure that I’m completely patient, taking the long view with my students. Even when they are feeling the wind in their hair and figure that they’ve solved the riddle of the game, I seek to take them to a new level.

On any sequence I must ask the questions. What would you practice skill-wise on a sequence like this? What is the killer path? What is the slow-dog handling plan? What is the fast-dog handling plan?


A Front Cross from jump #1 is probably completely conservative and has the handler using up his real estate early in the sequence so that any speed cues he might give down stream are diminutive. Consider a simple Post Turn from #1 to #2 (or better still, a Tandem!) with the handler racing the length of the dogwalk with the dog for a technical Tandem.

You must see that jumps #3 through #6 are a serpentine, although not arranged in the classical Victorian line. Fast dog is behind and pushing, the intrepid handler always weaving in and out of the jumps; slow dog is forward and pulling (Blind Crosses preferred) with the handler weaving in and out of the jumps.


I really like this little sequence. It will often expose the phantom Blind Cross in the long transition between jump #2 and the tire at #3. The options in the turn from jump #4 are also pretty cool. Forward of the dog the handler could slide into a quick Blind Cross (no phantoms here!) and roll the 180 as a Blind Cross as well.

In the fast dog turn at jump #4 the handler shows a layered Tandem and draws back to the landing side of jump #5 possibly for a speed transition and one killer Blind Cross on the fast dog after the tire.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

Thursday Night Fun Run

January 9, 2009

One of our favorite activities here at Country Dream is the Thursday Night Fun Run. It’s my opportunity to put up a challenging course or sequence for the most enthusiastic of my students. Oh yes, winter in Ohio will measure the enthusiasm mettle of the agility fan. Our training building is unheated. In the fall when temperatures are mild and accommodating we have a pretty good crowd on hand. But this time of year it’s down to the hard-core few with true grit.

It all starts at 6:30 pm with a warm up exercises. This is followed by running the feature course or sequence, or playing a challenge game. And then we wrap up the night with break-down analysis of the course and a rerun to test what we might have learned by practicing the challenging bits.

It’s supposed to be a fun-run. That means I don’t spend a lot of time teaching. Between you and me and the wall, I just can’t help myself. The interesting thing about this format is that it allows me to be nearly Socratic in my approach. Rather than overtly pushing a training point I simply introduce concept in discussion to draw the players into participation and practice.

The Warm-Up Sequence


The real difficult bit in this sequence will be the approach to the weave poles. The transition from jump #7 to the weave poles is short. And it becomes an awful nearly perpendicular approach from the entry side.

You’ll note that a number of handlers will gratuitously do a Back Cross at the #3 pipe tunnel. If the dog is fast chances are he’ll come firing out of the pipe tunnel with not much productive to do until the handler manages to run out around the A-frame. If the dog is slow the handler probably can get into the picture as the dog comes out of the pipe tunnel… but if the dog is slow, why is the handler using fast dog handling anyhow? The best opening might be a lead-out dog-on-right into a Front Cross to get the dog into the pipe tunnel.

We ran this warm-up several times. It did help us get warmed up in the cold training building. And it allowed me to show a serpentine Front Cross to shape the entry to the weave poles for dogs that truly need a shaping of the approach.

The Challenge Sequence


To tell you the darned truth this sequence is a study of the 270° turn. In a there and back again design the handler and dog are twice faced with the shaped approach puzzle presented by the 270°; first in the opening, #2 through #4; and then again in the closing #9 through #11. .

A little analysis shows the two 270° challenges to be quite different in nature. In the opening the dog is faced with wrong-course options after jump #3 and again after the tire at #4. What we tend to see in this kind of technical challenge is a lot of over-handling and micromanagement of the dog’s path. Meddling doesn’t actually improve our chances for success.

In the closing there are no true options. And, if we really look at the closing sequence of four obstacles it might be treated overall as a serpentine… since it is, actually, a serpentine.

A couple handling notes

Should I ever offer a handling plan it is not to suggest that it is the one true way. I believe nothing of the sort. Anything that actually works is true enough.

After commenting on the gratuitous use of the Back Cross in the warm-up sequence I show the handler starting with dog on left to the tire using the Back Cross to draw the dog in sharply thereby solving the discrimination to the A-frame.

In the closing I suggest racing the dog from the dismount of the weave poles to the end of sequence. This is where the handler steals seconds from his competition. Rather than handling and playing to survive the handler puts it into another gear, and races to the finish. The handling I like here is Front Cross after jump #9, and a series of Blind Crosses as the handler weaves in and out of the serpentine of jumps.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

Nesting Courses for USDAA

January 8, 2009

Everybody who judges for the USDAA has been stuck out there with a dozen courses to be run in a single day, once you account for each level being requiring a unique course. The time required to conduct the trial is a matter of simple arithmetic. Any kind of dramatic course change will require a minimum of 15 minutes to build and 5 minutes to tweak; 5 minutes to brief and 15 minutes to start the class. These numbers are optimistically conservative. Consequently if you have 11 course changes after you’ve begun the day… six hours and 45 minutes have been occupied without a single dog running.

The number of dogs per day judged given the inefficient design of courses creates these undeniable mathematical outcomes. Dogs should run at an average rate of about one a minute during the conduct of all classes:

Dogs Judged

Time Spent Running Dogs

Time Spent Course Changes

Total Time


1 hour 40 min

6 hours 45 min

8 hours 25 min


3 hours 20 min

6 hours 45 min

10 hours 5 min


4 hours 10 min

6 hours 45 min

10 hours 55 min


5 hours

6 hours 45 min

11 hours 45 min

A nearly perfect nested course can create a transition of only 5 minutes from the end of one class to the start of briefing for the next. “Rotate these two jumps; take out these two jumps… and renumber.”

If this short interval between classes is realized the overall schedule for the day might be reduced by as much as three hours; though, realistically, more about two hours – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Masters Standard

I  often have to argue with USDAA course reviewers who think my courses are too soft (not technical enough). I’m typically content with creating a single overt handling challenge while sprinkling a number more subtle challenges throughout the course.
• The handler is faced with a decision as to which direction to turn his dog on jump #3. This is a bit of a conundrum as the handler who turns to the left had better be pretty skillful at managing the dog’s path to give an adequately square approach; though the handler turning the dog to the right creates a longer consequential path.

• In the turn over two jumps after the A-frame back to the pipe tunnel the dog is presented with a look at jump #20. While it is at some distance an inattentive handler could actually lose his dog to the wrong course or, at the very least, create a wider turn than was necessary.

• The transition from the teeter to the dogwalk might have been more interesting if the table were a jump so that we could get the performance of a three-jump pinwheel and a lot more electricity in the dog’s movement. With that in mind… I could use this as a Grand Prix course and put a jump in place of the table.

None-the-less, the simple 180º turn of jumps after the table will often cause the handler to fail to give enough to the team in terms of movement and direction. I expect the fault rate here to actually be higher than the turn from jump #3 to the A frame.

• The abrupt turn from the dogwalk back over jump #14 will surely cause some handlers to pull their dogs off the ramp prematurely as some are apt to cue the turn before the dog has done his job. Most errors on course are actually timing errors on the part of the handler.

• The transition from the dogwalk to the weave poles is a big and somewhat generous serpentine. It is the nature of a serpentine that the handler has to change sides to his dogs. So the real question here is where the handler will effect the change of sides. The collapsed tunnel presents a bit of a conundrum for the handler’s decision.

• The straight-forward approach to the weave poles is more difficult than it might seem. The dog will be accelerating out of the turn and making the approach after a spread hurdle. So, we get to make the approach at full speed.

• A tire after the weave poles has considerable visual acuity to the dog and is a test of the dog’s steadiness in the poles.

Advanced Standard

Maintaining Appropriate Challenge – Masters to Advanced

This is very close to the same course that I gave the Masters competitors. I removed the choice of turning direction riddle between jump #2 and the A-frame. The challenge (a “Managed Approach”) is a bit more than should be expected of competitors in the Advanced class.

The only change required on this nested course is renumbering. Indeed, when I wheel the Masters course I will make note of the difference in length in the jump #2 to the A-frame riddle for each level so that I won’t even have to wheel the course again for the Advance class. Note that the order of classes might actually be:

Advanced Standard first, and then Masters. It truly is six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other.

Starters Standard
Maintaining Appropriate Challenge –Advanced to Starters

I’ve made a fairly dramatic change to get from Advanced Standard to Starters. I’ve removed the two jumps between the table and the dogwalk; and I’ve made the obstacle following the dogwalk the collapsed tunnel, in order to take a jump out of the course.

The performance of the collapsed tunnel is a softer challenge for Starters in any case. It should be quite simple for them to cross in front of or behind their dogs at the entry so that they are on the side of the turn as the dog makes his exit (but you know those silly starters… a lot of them will have dog on left after the collapsed tunnel, trying to figure out how to affect the turn as they go).

I will instruct my course builders that they have precisely two minutes to effect the course change after the last dog runs in the previous class (mindful now… that this might actually be the first class of the day). Send a crew of two to rearrange chute and jump while taking out a jump; send a crew of two to take out the two jumps around the table; and send one guy out to hastily renumber the course.

Don’t be a Tweak Grinch
I’ve never been one for adjusting obstacles an inch or even a foot this way or that way. On a well-nested course you can get things very well set for the first course of the day by taking your site-lines and drawing it all up tight. For the rest of the day be attentive to the proper rotation or attitude of the obstacle when obstacles are moved. Insure that adequate distances have been provided for the handler and his dog to solve your riddles.

When reviewing the work of course builders I mostly want to be sure that the challenges that I’d envisioned have been preserved. Always look at the course from the POV of the working dog.

Gamblers for all levels

Nesting from Standard to Games
Economy of obstacle movement from a standard class to a game is just as important as the economy of movement within standard classes. I based Gamblers layout on the Superior Standard course. Mostly what I wanted to do is study of the layout of equipment that I already had, and come up with distance challenges appropriate for each level of play:

• On this course the Masters gamble is indicated in RED. The oblique containment line after the #1 jump was added as an afterthought. Frankly some handlers will get in trouble stepping all the way up to this line because it will require contrary movement to get back around the jump to support the dog in the weave poles.

• Advanced gamble is indicated in BLUE. This is a simple lateral distance performance of the A-frame. Note that I’ve given the Advanced players a choice of sides from which to start. The side to the south is decidedly more difficult; but if they get caught back there when the warning whistle blows they’ll have an opportunity to get going with their gamble.

• Starters gamble is indicated in GREEN. This is a very simple distance challenge that will provide basic proof that the dog will go away from the handler to work. The oblique line after jump #3 ensures that the handler doesn’t get to lean over the jump.

To build this course, some movement of equipment was required:

• Rotated jump, green #3

• Changed the shape of the pipe tunnel, green #2.

• Rotated and changed position slightly of jump, red #1

• Reversed the direction of the teeter to provide for flow into the Advanced gamble.

• Slightly changed the position of jump, blue #1 (north).

• Added a jump to the right of the weave poles to provide for additional flow onto the field.

• Moved the position of the table to accommodate all three gambles.

Sometimes I’ll start with a notion for a gamble I’d like to try out on Masters players. When I do this I typically design the gamble challenge first and will base and build the standard class on that set of equipment (taking care to give flow through the gamble obstacles that doesn’t allow them to practice the gamble during the Standard class). Almost always when I’ve tried to superimpose a gamble I want to try out on an already existing standard class, it will necessitate more equipment movement than is desirable.

Take note of the number of players at each level at the trial. In a very small trial it’s entirely possible to walk all three levels at once. More likely you’ll wind up with a disproportionate kind of entry where… you might brief and walk Starters and Advanced at the same time, but wind up giving Masters a split walk-through.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston:  And Check out my new publication the Idea Book – Agility Training for a Small Universe available at

Cheating the Turn

December 31, 2008



Here’s a drawing that I did that appeared on the cover of the Clean Run about 13 years ago. It reminds me how little we knew about training dogs for agility in those days. My entire training philosophy for new dogs these days is that the dog chooses every step. We never push, pull, force, or otherwise manipulate the dog in his choices. This is where learning comes from and is key to the dog’s boldness.

While the drawing appeared in black & white you’ll note that I did the whole bit with a blue ink ball-point pen.

Honoring the Dog’s Path

What does the expression Cheating the Turn mean? In my own vocabulary it means that the handler abruptly shows the turn without precue in the moment before the dog gets to the corner of the turn.

A thing we understand when we’re driving our cars is that we should turn the wheel when the car gets to the corner… not when we first see the corner. I know you guys know this simple rule, because you are alive today to read this. So why is it that we would turn our dogs before the dog actually gets to the corner? Someone said once that you can prove anything by analogy so I’m not going to be an absolutist in terms of what it proves.

You’ll note that most errors on course are errors of timing. The dog drops a bar because just at the moment he is gathering to jump the handler jerks away or rotates into the turn (the corner for which is actually after the jump, and not before). And I’ll tell you a funny thing. For people with really hot fast dogs… most of their errors are for being too soon in the cues for their dogs. Isn’t that ironic? Too soon?

I understand the psychological conundrum. The handler is moving to position and “Eeeek!” here comes that fast dog. So the handler has to get going in an absolute state of panic. If you understand the rules of timing you’ll note that the rules are precisely the same for the fast dog as for the slow dog. Indeed, with the fast dog the more perfect the handler must be. The fast dog handler doesn’t get to miss the timing events.

There is little profit in panic.

Dog Camps on Yahoo

A new discussion group has been created on Yahoo to announce dog training camps and seminars in the United States. The group is open to the providers of those camps and seminars, to the seminarists who lead them, and to the agility enthusiasts who might be interested in a camp or seminar in their area.

To Subscribe:

You know, I’ve been wondering what the effect of the economy has been on our sport in general. I’ve heard some anecdotal woes but I don’t know the real effects. Are trial entries down? Is it harder to fill a seminar? A doggie-vacation camp? I don’t know.

Sequences from Sunday Lesson Plan


This is a combination lesson plan. You’ll note that the red numbers represent a distance training and proofing sequence. We encourage our advanced / masters handlers to layer at a more than comfortable distance while the dog works away over the contact obstacles. In this kind of training it’s usually not a matter of whether the dog will work at that distance, but whether the dog really understands his job on the contact obstacles while the handler isn’t looming over him (being embedded in the context of performance).

The white-numbered sequence is a bit of a handling riddle. You’ll note that the handler is expected to turn the dog after jump #4 while avoiding the dogwalk. Frankly, even if the handler finds a solution the dog will probably be set upon a path that favors a wrong course entry to the pipe tunnel at #7. So the solution to the jump #4 to #5 transition should take into consideration the downstream challenge.


Once again, the red numbers represent a distance challenge. So, right after conditioning the dog to go up onto the dogwalk… we’re asking the handler to turn the dog into the pipe tunnel instead and taking away his ability to do so by looming over the dog’s head micro-managing the change of direction. I’ll give you this one hint… about the weakest thing we can do to solve this sort of thing is talk. Talk is the weakest cue a handler can possibly give. 

The white sequence provides rather the same challenge, keeping the dog off the dogwalk and into the pipe tunnel. And, having solved the tunnel mystery the handler doesn’t really get to stand around and admire his work since after the tunnel the dog must be drawn on a very flat turn from jump #6 to #7, whilst avoiding the dummy jump set in a logical pinwheel position.


The real question with the red-numbered sequence is which side of the containment line should the handler work? It might be interesting from either side; though you’ll note that the send to the tunnel is a more novice objective than lateral layering from the #5 pipe tunnel to the weave poles at #8.

The white sequence is a lazy easy thing that probably features a single Front Cross on the landing side of jump #5. I will often run sequences to really pick on the execution of a single movement. It’s my intention to give all of my students a dynamite Front Cross (well actually, I want all of their movements to be dynamite!)

It’s amazing to me how many handlers will fall into the sleep-dreamy world of the behind and pushing handling plan. In this sequence I will have students (at home and at seminars) who’ll fairly insist on a Tandem on the landing side of jump #2, and another Tandem in the turn from jump #6 to jump #7.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

What If… Nancy Gyes Was Jewish?

December 26, 2008

Someone asked me once what was the significance of Nancy Gyes alphabet drills. My quick answer was to say it was her way to create imaginative and fanciful context for the practice of fundamentals. The next question, of course, is what the hell does all that mean? I’ve always found that fundamentals are fundamentals and will be discovered like a found poem in the constant shifting context of agility course design. So the alphabet drills are not in themselves law and mantra. They simply give the opportunity to play with sequencing in a variety of path shapes to challenge the handler.

Don’t you wonder how different might be her alphabet drills if Nancy Gyes was of the Jewish faith… making her sequences to describe the Hebrew alphabet? Frankly I’ve been thinking that much could be made of dog and handler starting position using nikkud (it might be interesting for specifying handler station during distance work, for example).

Anyhow, working her way through the Alef-bais might begin something like this:

The Letter Alef


[Please note that all inserted text is my voice. I would not presume to imagine what Nancy Gyes would actually recommend from a handling point of view.]


Presented with the ostensible “serpentine” at #6 and #7 I’ve found that many agility handler swill pucker up on their handling responsibility inasmuch as the mission for the dog finding his way in the sequence has been given over as the dog’s responsibility in the overall training objective in our culture; rather than the explicit responsibility of the handler.

The handling I should love to see in this closing is for the handler to storm past the exit of the pipe tunnel in a running Blind Cross to help draw the dog out marginally to set the approach to the jump and bank on a Post turn to jump #7… or heck if you’re already ahead of the dog how about punching through jump #6 into a quick Front Cross to keep the line tight and efficient?


After jump #5 I’ve abandoned my little CRCD handler man. You’ll note in illustrations below I’ve pretty much abandoned the little guy. This sequence is equally challenging before and after the weave poles. I would personally like to have the dog on my right side on the dismount of the weave poles so that I could show the opposite side entry of the pipe tunnel using counter rotation as a means of making the dog favor the correct entry to the tunnel. Though, it might be solved with a Post & Tandem fast dog approach as well.


If you use Clean Run Course Designer you’ve probably noticed that when you use connect to numbers for the dog’s path properties the line that is drawn is not true. I often have to go back in and imagine that the dog will carry through on the landing side of a jump given the trajectory of his approach and the physics of mass being hurtled through space. I’ve notice too that some handler’s don’t appreciate the linear nature of the dog’s path, nor the physics of the dog’s turning radius.

I would love to practice this sequence with a Front Cross approach to the weave poles. And there will be some dogs that need that kind of “shaping the entry” baby-sitting. By the very same token I should love to practice this sequence simply pushing the dog ahead (from the handler’s right side) to gain the entry himself… whilst the handler conducts a very bold and nearly perpendicular Rear Cross at the entry to the poles.

Aside from what is noted in the text box I also found that the transition from #6 through #11 might be challenging. The turn from jump #9 to jump #10 is actually a threadle and should be treated as such in the handling plan. The handler must set up for a left turning presentation after jump #9. If the dog turns right (due to the handler’s miscalculation) the sequence will go to hell in a hand-basket.


By this point I’ve pretty much abandoned trying to make the text presentation the same way Nancy might. She says “do this” and “do that”. I see a lot of variability depending on the training foundation on the dog and maybe making accommodations for different types of dogs.

Interesting Surfing

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

No Offense to Old Women… but

December 19, 2008

I have studied for a number of years the fascination and fixation dog agility enthusiasts in America have for the “serpentine”. It has become a popular practice to require the handler to maintain a path on one side of the serpentine; and to teach the dog to treat the serpentine as though it were one obstacle with multiple elements, rather like the weave poles. The practice has fallen into some widespread acceptance to the extent that I’ve actually heard handlers and instructors in our sport use the term “do a serpentine” to refer to this handling strategy rather than to the actual arrangement of obstacles. You must know that hearing this distorted phraseology nearly always makes me wince.


And so, I will at seminars nearly always put up a serpentine exercise calculated to show my students the error of their ways. It’s quite predictable that the handler working from one side of the serpentine is a strategy that will fail 40% (or more) of the time among people who practice it constantly. And you’ll note in this illustration of the serpentine that on the return trip the handler is expected to negotiate a skip-a-jump handling riddle. It’s funny how many handlers will attempt to layer to the opposite side of the serpentine… having clearly taught the dog the compensatory mission of treating the serpentine as a whole and single obstacle.

Weekend in Buffalo

Okay, so I put up this very exercise at Jeannine Jay’s Canine Sports Center if Buffalo NY last weekend. I even began the exercise saying “I know what I’m going to see”. These were famous last words. The group in Buffalo had overall very nice skills. I pretty much spent the weekend fine tuning and concentrating on what’s the next step kind of logic. It was an interesting mix of dogs; most of them highly motivated and an interesting mix of breeds, mostly dominated by Labs… yellow and black. When I set up this exercise I pretty much expected to see what I’ve seen for the past five years or so as I’ve studied the serpentine: Most handlers would work from one side of the serpentine; and a 40% (or higher) fail rate.

As I predicted… most handlers worked from one side of the serpentine. What I did not expect, however, was a stunning 90% success rate through the first eight obstacles. My bad!

The closing became a bit trappy in the skip-a-jump riddle. But I really can’t blame the dogs who’ve been so nicely trained to treat the serpentine as a single obstacle with multiple elements or, frankly, the handlers who simply needed coaching on how to demonstrate path to their dogs.

I was completely ecstatic about what I’d seen. I’ve been waiting for this for a number of years now. And this is what I told them …

You guys have done a magnificent job teaching your dogs the serpentine as though it were a single obstacle with multiple elements. It is a marvelous accomplishment in dog training. It’s smart dog training. However, the handler working one side of the serpentine is not particularly good handling, and I’ll tell you why. Your dogs could not have performed more slowly. It’s absolutely impossible for the handler to give any kind of speed cue to the dog or supply any energy to the team while taking such a short and diminutive path, scuffling along while the dog goes out and comes in, doing all of the real work.

If a handler has a “ballistic” dog… a dog who works at top speed without regard to the contribution of energy of the handler, then the handling system is a bit of a wash. But the great majority of dogs in agility will get their sense of mission and urgency from the handler’s sense of mission and urgency. A dog gets his speed cue from the handler’s speed. No offense to old women, but… why should we constantly handle like we were a bunch of old women, incapable of movement, incapable of motive, incapable of speed?  

I know the logic. We teach the dog that the serpentine is a single obstacle to flatten the dog’s path into nearly a straight line. Contests are won on the brevity of the dog’s path. But you must also know that contests are won by the handler attacking the course with energy and purpose elevating the chi of the performance as though our desire is to win rather than merely to survive.

Having done such a remarkable job teaching your dog’s the serpentine… let’s take the next step. Let’s go on the attack. Let’s lift the energy. Let us play to win.

Playing to Win

The chief difference between the handling initiative in the serpentine and the compensatory training mission (for the dog) is that the handler will endeavor to race the dog through the serpentine, weaving in and out between the jumps, staying on one side only when a speed transition is called for; that means we switch from slow dog handling to fast dog handling as the dog actually surpasses the handler’s position.

We played with it awhile in Buffalo. And I worked at fine tuning each handler’s assault on the serpentine. This was strange stuff to them, because as a group they were unaccustomed to practicing handling (especially dynamic handling) in a serpentine. They were more accustomed to practicing the dog training and proofing aspects of the serpentine. This was really quite fun for me. Performances were improving by as little as 2 seconds … and by as much as 5 seconds through the sequence.

The Labs especially responded with new enthusiasm and energy. It was a predictable response for them to engage a new gear when suddenly they found themselves playing with their people rather than for their people.

The best success of the weekend was showed by and older lady with her keen young Border Collie. Mostly her dog has ever needed merely the constant pressure of movement just to know where he was going next. So the concept of adopting a killer handler strategy for her became success, and they settled suddenly into becoming a team. Movement is motive, to be sure. Movement is direction too.

To tell you the truth I showed very few Blind Crosses in this serpentine exercise. By my own calculation of well-placed movement the exercise might call for a single Blind Cross, and that one not particularly critical to overall success.

Aren’t you just dying to know what handling we practiced? LOL


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at