Posts Tagged ‘distance training’

Resolutions for a New Year

December 29, 2015

I promise in 2016 to take better care of my health. I’ve got to lose weight; and I’ve got to eat better. Beyond that I will enjoy life day by day and make the most of my hobbies and passions.

The funny thing is, after a lifetime of striving to build and develop for “the future”… I realize that the future is now. It’s a change for me, to live for today, and not for tomorrow. Do I know how to do it?

I’ll share a couple of my projects for the New Year below.

The Joker’s Notebook

Since we got our young girl Cedar we’ve been video-taping our ongoing training, subscribing to Marsha’s Two Minute Dog Trainer methodology. It is my intention to take a fairly extensive body of work from the pages of The Joker’s Notebook and create a compendium publication with links to YouTube videos which give a visual reference to the training.

I got a chuckle the other day when going through the videos and found more than one of me in my robe doing early morning training with Cedar. That’s the reality of dog training. You don’t always get dressed up like you’re going to be on camera. Sometimes you just throw on the morning robe and go get ‘er done.

Not to brag, or anything, but the Joker’s Notebook is a comprehensive reference for teaching a dog independent performance in agility and the perfect foundation for an amazing distance dog.

Cedar has her own Facebook page with lots of her videos published: Cedar’s Facebook page

Agility League Play

A chief passion for me for the last several years has been to build a league of franchise clubs that run the same course or play the same game in a league format. The league finally has some traction and is slowly (oh, so slowly) growing.

The National Dog Agility League has a presence on Facebook: NDAL on Facebook

The first game we’re going to play here at my place in 2016 is the course set for a 60′ x 90′ space. In the 60×90 we’re getting away from the “international” grind into something more lovely and flowing… but certainly with some challenge.

I’ll share with you:

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This should be a lot of fun!

Come Play With Us!

The National Dog Agility League is gearing up for a new year. We have been tantalized with the prospect of a NatGeo program in early 2017 based on our championship series. The program will be based on the players who support the league.

You can find a description of the 1st quarter 2016 series here: http://wp.me/p2Pu8l-67

The first quarter series is actually three separate leagues based on a) size of the floor and b) difficulty of the challenges.

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

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Memorial Weekend at Stockade Agility

May 28, 2015

If you design a course with a very low Q rate it possibly says something significant about the design. Maybe it’s too technical and should be reserved for a Masters Challenge class. But looking back at the course I cannot really spy the painfully technical bits. You tell me!

I’ll share the course with you:

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It’s clear that when designing a course I see myself in the context of that design; I mean, me as handler and competitor (as opposed to me the unrelenting design Grinch.) This means that I design for an old guy with arthritic knees who runs a dog with really excellent independent performance skills. As a practical matter most sequences will fold back in on themselves, allowing me to move from control position to control position while allowing the dog to work at speed.

On the course map I’ve marked two places I know I have to be to give good direction in a technical moment. The first “X” solves the #6 pipe tunnel while the dog is faced with three options on the dismount of the dogwalk. The second “X” solves the modest backside approach to jump #11.

Legendary

I had the pleasure to judge Wendy Cerilli at this trial. Understand that I was witnessing a legend in the making here. Wendy runs TEN Aussie dogs… in every class. If you grasp what this means… this is no wimpy AKC trial with two runs a day. This is the USDAA where the big dogs play. That means Wendy was in the ring 50 times a day.

The fun thing is that she used the same handling plan with all dogs; with considerable success, mind you. This made it easy for me to understand and predict my judging position, even in the dog’s choice games.

I’ve had the luck to judge many legendary figures over the years. I’m tickled to add Wendy to that list.

Speaking of Legends

Fran Seibert came out to the trial site just to say hi to me. Many of the real heroes in this sport are folks who’ve run agility schools since the early days of agility in this country, and have introduced hundreds and hundreds of people to our sport (like Zona at Rocky Mountain Agility out in Denver; Terry Bessler out in South Dakota; and dozens of others around the country).

Years ago I did a seminar at Fran’s place. I was talking to the group about the “Laws of a Dog in Motion”. Fran tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the back of the building… where the “Laws” are stenciled in a big bold display:

The Laws of a Dog in Motion

  1. The dog turns when the handler turns
  2. The dog tends to work in a path parallel to the handler’s path
  3. A dog ahead of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position
  4. The dog gets his speed cue from the handler’s speed
  5. The dog gets his direction cue from the handler’s shoulders, toes, hips, and movement

You can put an asterisk next to #3 with the notation: Nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of a well-trained dog.

Masters Standard Continued …

Okay, my analysis of why the Q rate was so low on this course. The “Laws of a Dog In Motion” fundamentally describe a context for handler discipline and timing. It was early in the trial. People were still tight and more than a bit nervous. A minor error, the tic of a bar, half an inch outside the yellow, a bobble in the weaves … it doesn’t take much to elude the Q.

In fact, the players at the Stockade trial were amazing to watch, and brought considerable skill and grace to the field. Reminds me of why I love dog agility.

Giddy Up

Lisa Barrett ran a little Toy Poodle named Giddy Up all weekend. This little dog was amazing, yipping and digging her nails into every moment, attacking the course with every ounce of her little body. Lisa is an accomplished handler who understands every nuance of handler movement and pressure. Together the two were a show for the big tent.

Returning Home

I was about sun struck over the weekend. Standing out in the sun for three days is physically demanding. Like an idiot, I had left my Akubra (hat) sitting by the door at home. <sigh>

I continued working with our young girl Cedar when I got home. We’re getting her ready to raise hell at the TDAA Petit Prix this year. And you need skills to survive in the little dog venue.

http://youtu.be/Y6PuGWTsBc8

Blog1013 Home

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

The Tandem Turn ~ Continuing Discussion

December 26, 2014

I started a discussion a couple days ago on the Tandem Turn. I propose that dogs understand natural movement and a clever handler will use that movement to communicate direction and speed to the dog.

The Tandem is a tricky bit in some ways. A dog is disposed to turn most naturally towards the handler. The Tandem, being a form of the Rear Cross does just the opposite. The handler is asking the dog to turn away.

Some dogs don’t immediately “get it” and will towards the handler rather than away. Sometimes this is due to an error in the handler’s movement.  More often it’s simply counter-intuitive to the dog.

For a dog like this you should take exceptional training measures. You’re in luck if the dog is toy or ball motivated. The handler can shape the turn away by throwing the toy or ball at the corner of the turn. Practice this with the dog with a lot of repetition until the dog is taking the movement and arm as a cue to turn.

To test the method, handler will approach the turn and pretend to throw the toy. When the dog makes the turn the handler will throw the toy as a reward. The handler has made a transition from “lure” to “reward,” a very important step in training the dog.

Just because a dog understands the turn in one direction, that doesn’t mean he understands it in the opposite direction. Both directions should be taught to the dog.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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.

Cedar’s “Go-On” Training

December 24, 2014

When teaching a “Go On” directional I will continue to advance the exercise, always keen to take it to the next step. Young Cedar is showing plenty of willingness and aptitude for the training. We shot this video this evening: http://youtu.be/o_hKS3qd8vo

It’s about time for me to take the exercise into the back yard to give me a bit more room for the send.

Notes on the Tandem Turn

A Tandem Turn is a cross behind the dog on the dismount of an obstacle, or on the flat. Contrast this with the Back Cross, which is a cross behind the dog on the approach to an obstacle.

An experienced handler will try to be positioned on the side of the turn because the dog turns most naturally towards the handler. The clever and evil judge may design a course that intentionally traps the handler on the wrong side away from the turn. The handler needs an answer to that riddle.

We rely on the premise that our dogs already understand how we move. So in the Tandem we turn towards the dog, distinctly and boldly. The dog, understanding our movement should make the turn in this new direction although the turn is toward his side.

This illustration shows the “off-arm” Tandem. As the dog comes up over the jump the handler brings up his opposite arm, pointing out in the direction of the turn.

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Of course, the turn is more than just an arm signal. At the same time the handler is rotating his body, turning, and moving in the direction of the turn. It’s also a good idea to develop a verbal command to coincide with all of these other cues.

The handler’s position should be only slightly forward of the dog for the dog to see the cues for the turn. At the same time the handler should not be so far ahead that he can’t step behind the dog (it is a form of the Rear Cross, after all).

Which arm should be used to signal the turn is a bit controversial. It’s reported that Susan Garret calls the counter-arm Tandem the “evil-Ohio-arm,” and advocates using only the inside arm (the arm nearer to the dog).

The inside-arm Tandem was originally shown to me by a lady from Los Angeles (Barbara Mah.) I thought it looked so silly that for a long time I called in the “La La” turn.

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However, I discovered that one of my dogs, who I’d been struggling for over a year to teach the off-arm Tandem, understood the “inside” arm immediately. He got it the first time he saw it, and made the turn perfectly. So, I no longer call it the La La turn. This is now the Inside-Arm Tandem.

All the other elements of the turn are the same. The handler should rotate his body, turn the corner, and move in the direction of the turn.

Oh, as to the controversy about which arm to use: we’ll use the arm that our dog implicitly understands. There are no “one size fits all” solutions in agility. The Tandem Turn should always be learned with practice.

Some dogs respond to both signals, but give a different response to each. This illustration shows a scenario in which the turn is still away from the handler’s position, but the true course is the gentler path up to jump #2.

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I would always use the inside-arm Tandem in this situation. I had a dog (Bogie) who always took the off-arm as a “hard and deep” instruction. He’d flip back to jump #3, giving jump #2 a pass. He’d interpret the inside-arm Tandem as a gentler turn, and would be, properly, directed to jump #2.

These aren’t hard and fast rules of the performance. The handler should experiment with both arms and understand the dog’s response to each. Know thy dog.

The Tandem Turn can be used on the dismount from technical obstacles, on the exit of a tunnel. The biggest danger is that the handler’s turn mightn’t have enough “push” to get the dog away before turning back. A Tandem is only successful when the dog believes in the turn. It must be convincing, and compelling.

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Oh, one final detail worth mentioning. The Tandem Turn “creates” distance. It’s a great movement to use to open up the real estate between dog and handler. In this illustration the handler is working parallel to the dog over the first two jumps with a bit of lateral distance. At the “corner” the handler surges into the turn showing the arm signal for the turn.

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To the dog’s point of view the handler is making the turn; and the dog frankly won’t know until after jump #3 that the handler did not attend. It doesn’t matter. The dog should work faithfully in a path parallel to the handler to get to jump #4, even at a substantial distance.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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.

Cedar at 19+ Weeks

December 17, 2014

She’s still a young thing, growing like a weed, and getting lots of early training. It’s an interesting commentary that this young dog, in her foundation training, has both “Right” and “Left”, a 2o/2o contact, does a pipe tunnel, and will send to a Hoop… but isn’t much house trained yet (doing her business outside).

I’ll share this rambling video with you: http://youtu.be/AAzXmyhy2RM

Only in the last couple of days I’ve introduced Cedar to the performance of a NADAC-style hoop. This was initially trained by free-shaping. She’s a clever enough girl, is well conditioned  to offering performance, and can figure out pretty quick what earns her praise and reward.

We begin with the simple performance of a hoop. I will add new hoops over the next few days and teach her to run through the lot of them for her reward. Then gradually, over a period of weeks, I’ll spread them out more and more until she is giving me the performance at a fantastic distance. When they are spread out I’ll include the “Go On!” directional which shall ever mean to continue working in the line of obstacles in front of her.

I’m mostly fascinated with teaching these skills to a small dog. She’s going to be whipstitch fast. So there’s no way I intend to make the error of gluing her to me for the simple work of agility.

Cedar’s Nobel Growth Chart at 19-1/2 Weeks

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You can see that during my “busy” period… I’ve left a gap in the chart. Nonetheless, Cedar is riding the classical Sheltie pattern of growth on a constant curve.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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.

Starting a New Pup

March 5, 2014

No, I’m not starting a new pup… I’m just writing about it. This is my contribution to the agility bloggers action day. Follow this link to read a rich variety of writing and viewpoint: Starting a New Pup.

In my own life I’ve gone through an amazing transformation as a handler and as an enthusiast of agility. For a couple decades I was a Sheltie guy with a keen pure-for-motion sense of the game. And so training a young pup was a simple matter of conditioning: performance; a love for playing; and responsiveness to handler motion cues.

Since I really can’t run the way I used to, the game has redefined itself for me. Necessity is the mother of invention. The foundation I want for a young pup is independent performance. Here’s a sample of me running my boy Kory: Facebook

I’ve written the step by step… it’s in the pages of the Joker’s Notebook. All of that on my web-store: www.dogagility.org/newstore. Seriously, I’d put it right here, but it’s like 5 or 600 pages. Down below… I’ll treat you to a taste, one of the dozens of foundation exercises you might be doing with a young pup.

There’s a philosophical question that needs to be answered in terms of independent performance. Most handlers wait until their dogs have been thoroughly conditioned to work virtually in heel position. Though I’ll give you that we alternate sides in glorious ambidextrous fashion. These then, are dogs who only understand performance with the handler bound to the context of that performance. And then it’s a difficult trick to train beyond this flawed foundation.

What I’m faced with when bringing up a young dog is both to teach him his job; and to teach him to get that job done at a great distance from me. Consequently the game becomes pure-for-verbal rather than pure-for-motion.

Distance Training Foundation

One of the first rules of distance work is that the dog must learn an independent performance of all agility obstacles. While this might seem an obvious notion it tends to be an overlooked element of basic training. For example, a handler might be working to teach a dog a good two-on/two-off performance of a contact obstacle; but will practice the performance almost constantly while hovering over the dog’s head. The real problem with this is that the handler becomes embedded in the context of performance. Indeed, relatively early in the training the handler should introduce movement and varying relative distance from the dog so that the dog can demonstrate that he truly understands the performance without the handler hovering over his head.

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Sadly the most overlooked obstacle for distance training is the jump. Many handlers (and dog trainers) content themselves with a brush-by performance; meaning that the dog performs the obstacle because the handler is running forward and pointing at it.

Early in jump training I do a simple progressive sending exercise with the jump. From a couple feet away I’ll give the command to jump whilst pointing at the jump and giving it focus. Naturally I praise and reward the dog for a successful performance. Then, gradually, say 4″ or 6″ at a time, I’ll move back, continuing to send, praise and reward.

The key to a progressive sending exercise is that is should progress. I don’t spend much time staying in one relative position. I continue to move backwards. But the steps I take are small rational incremental steps, because I’m not in a hurry to get it done and I don’t want to back up so quickly that the dog ever fails.

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I do the progressive sending exercise with all obstacles, actually. The dog must learn independent performance all of the agility obstacles. I don’t really separate individual obstacles as though one needs to be mastered before moving to another.

The basic sending drill can begin to incorporate more than one obstacle. I might, for example, position myself equidistant between a bar-hurdle and the tire. Or, if the dog’s send to the tire is weaker my station might be slightly closer to the tire.

When doing send-away training I’m asking the dog to demonstrate to me that he understands the performance of the obstacle. So I want to avoid tricking him into space. That means I don’t use a lot of verbalization intended to get him out closer to the obstacle and only then give the verbal command for performance. I also avoid “pick-up truck” logic.

You know how the pick-up truck theory of distance training goes? The question is… how do you get distance work on a dog? So think of it like this… you’re going down the highway at 60 miles an hour in your pick-up truck. The dog is sitting outside up on the top of the cab of the truck. How do you get distance? You slam on the brakes… and there goes the dog whirling into space.

Well that trick might work with a pick-up truck. But it’s less likely to work with agility. What we find out in practice is that slamming on the brakes is as significant to the dog as mashing down on the accelerator. It will cause the dog to come up short, turning back to ask the question… Why have we stopped?

While it’s true that impulsion is required for the dog to go any distance through space, I want the sense of impulsion to come from that narrow space between the dog’s ears. Nothing straightens the line like the certainty in the mind of the well-trained dog.

The Discipline of Distance Training

Websters Dictionary defines the word discipline to mean[1] “to train or to develop by instruction and exercise esp. in self control.”  We seek in dog agility distance training both instruction and exercise. But at the end of the day it’s about “self control”. We hope to teach powerful habit in the trainer’s approach to teaching the dog his job; and equally powerful habit in the handler’s approach to handling.

Train the dog to perform all agility obstacles

This seems obvious, that the dog has to know how to do all agility obstacles. This should be stated that the dog needs to understand the independent performance of all agility obstacles. Does the dog really know how to weave? Or does he only know how to weave when his person is moving coolly alongside, flapping her arms, and giving verbal cadence.

Give the dog permission to work at a difference

Velcro is a two-part fabric, and it takes both parts for a good stick. The dog’s trainer should begin quite early allowing the dog to work at a distance. Give your dog early permission to work at a distance.

I’m fairly convinced that a dog offering the performance of an obstacle without your permission… is never wrong. With my own students I often have to remind them not to tell the dog “No!” every time the dog offers the performance of an obstacle. To be sure the dog was most likely responding to what he believed to be your cue or presentation  for performance. And so, if the  dog is wrong every time he leaves your side, then he is likely to learn that he should stay right next to you were he can be safe and usually right.

Make distance work routine

Every training session with your dog should include some routine distance objective or exercise. This is easier than it sounds. Remember… you want to teach independent performance of all obstacles. You can have a fine training session sending your dog 15′ to do a jump; or 15′ to do the weave poles!

Mostly the serious student of the game should routinely include distance challenge in his work. If a sequence is terribly simple from a handling point-of-view it would be a benefit to the dog’s training to give him permission to work the sequence at a distance. This gives you the opportunity to practice your distance handling and to test the dog’s training for independent performance.

Do your homework

You shouldn’t expect to teach the dog too much given an hour a week at class. It would be a good idea to have daily exercises that can be practiced in the backyard, or in the basement. Ideally you should have a checklist of objectives for training a dog.

The weekly lesson plan will always include homework. The homework may be thought provoking discussion for the discipline of handling at a distance, or step-by-step instructions for training a dog for a distance skill. And it’s worth remembering that your instructor will always know who is doing their homework.

Test your training

The best test of your training foundation is probably weekend competition. In most communities in America there are agility competitions within driving distance nearly every weekend. And all most all of them play some brand of distance game.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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.


[1] Actually the first definition for “discipline” has to do with punishment. So we’re going to skip along to the second definition for the word!

A Break …

January 30, 2014

I’m going to take a break from course design.

The weather has been a bit of a tribulation to this old Arizona boy. The temperature was about 32° today, which is a considerable warm-up. Yep, it’s downright balmy out there.

Yesterday, when it was like 10° below zero I got the Tahoe stuck in the ice & snow down by the pond. I just left it down there and trudged back up to the house. Oh, and it’s all uphill, don’t you know. Even on a pretty spring day the uphill climb from the pond will give you a pretty good workout.

Anyhow, this morning I took the tractor down and tried to pull the Tahoe out of the snow. And it wasn’t really very successful with just me. Marsha talked herself into walking down (she won’t drive the tractor). She’s probably feeling all superior because while I was standing there holding the chain she backed it up, turned around, and drove up out of there.

A Workout for Prim

I haven’t applied myself to a training regimen for Prim as I had with Kory when he was this age. So I’ve been trying to get her out every day for some really basic foundation exercises. Don’t you know I have no interest in the typical skills for handling a “pure-for-motion” dog. All of our work is about independent performance, at a distance.

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I’ve been doing some progressive sending work with her. She has a pretty solid “Go On” of 35 or so. What I wanted to do next is incorporate “Left” and “Right” directional. Today we were working on “Right” only. The illustration shows the basic set of equipment. You’ll note that the turning jump is rotated to the left. With that rotation and the tunnel to the left and because I’m working on her left side, she’s naturally disposed to turn to the left.

This is one of those exercises that you really need to back-chain. Beginning at position “A” (maybe even closer than that to the third jump), you take a lead-out, giving the command to jump and to turn Right.

The “Right” command is a precue. That means I’m going to tell her both “Jump” and “Right” before she actually jumps the jump. I’m working at position “C” with her already. But a lot of our success is due to simple shaping and not so much that she’s really learned to turn right when I give the “Right” command.

Blog932 – (Five days in a row!)

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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.