Posts Tagged ‘Dog Agility’

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

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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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What Did You Learn Today?

December 23, 2014

Years ago, at the end of a seminar I taught, somebody asked me “What did you learn today?” The interesting thing for me then, and ever since, is that I had an immediate answer for her. It never fails that when I teach, I get to learn.

8 Kinds of Front Cross?

The mechanics of each type of Front Cross is different.

The basic attribute of a Front Cross could be stated: Counter rotation draws the dog to the handler.  So the 8 different kinds of Front Crosses all (mostly) rely on the basic “drawing the dog”. Subtle differences in the mechanics deliver different strategic objectives without losing sight of the basic attribute.

Each is like a choreographed dance. Posture, position and timing define each movement.

Simple Front Cross – the handler changes sides to the dog in a Front Cross on the flat; this is an simple change of sides, unworried and unhurried. All other types of Front Cross are variations of the Simple Front Cross.

Layered Front Cross – The handler layers to the landing side of a jump then: 1) using counter rotation to create a corner of approach to the jump; or  2) using position to a turn the dog after the jump.

Pre-cue Front Cross – The handler cues the dog to an impending turn by prematurely showing the counter-rotation of the Front Cross or by adopting a posture facing back to the dog.

Rolling Front Cross – The handler rolls through space while counter rotating

Squaring Front Cross – The handler uses the Front Cross to set a  square corner of approach

Serpentine Front Cross – The handler turns the Front Cross into a combination movement: either Post & Cross or Cross & Post.

Technical Front Cross – The handler Front Crosses the dog on the dismount of a technical obstacle (contacts or weave poles).

Blind Cross – This is a racing movement. The handler effects the change of sides by turning away from the dog rather than to.

Drop Dead Boring

I sure managed to make all of those Front Cross notes above sound drop-dead boring. Well, I’m an old technical writer where drop-dead boring is a way of life. But to be kinder to the muse I’m not ashamed of a “Just the facts, ma’am!” attitude towards writing.

Behind the stone-faced presentation there’s some real emotion in those words too. And I can prove it:

The handler approaches a moment in the course where he’s got to change sides to his dog, and the change of sides must set the dog up square for the path ahead. But the handler doesn’t know where to set the corner, or even where the corner is, and begins the counter-rotation of the cross before he’s in the correct position and before it was time to turn the dog in any case. His run goes to hell! He cries, he spits, he blames the course! It’s a very emotional moment.

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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.

Business Model for Top Dog League Play

September 7, 2014

This discussion is intended for the dog agility professional engaged in training services as a business; providing training expertise, site, and equipment. The addition of agility league play to the business mix provides a supplementary income stream, attracts new customers, and enhances student retention.

This business model is intended to provide an overview of dog agility league play, its income potential, and the business owner’s relationship with Top Dog Agility Players.

Income

Dog agility league play is intended to be a weekly competition. It can be (and should be) conducted in conjunction with agility classes. If the business has 24 students who will participate in league play, and they are charged $5 each week for their participation, in a year the business earns $6,240.

Note that this is supplementary income and is not based on the recruitment of new students.

If the business is a large training center the math can be extraordinary. If there are 100 students and they are charged $10 each week, then the annual income from league play amounts to $52K.

A League of Your Own

Putting together an agility league in the training center can be an interesting logistical problem. You might have a staff of instructors who all have a different vision for training objectives for their own students. And you have students who come and go throughout the week on different days, at different hours.

The simple approach would be to select a course or game and set the floor for the entire week with that layout of equipment. Give the layout to your instructors and challenge them to find their training objectives without moving equipment.

The league play competition could be sandwiched between classes. For example, you have a one-hour class that begins at 6:00 pm; and another that begins at 7:30. To introduce league play you ask the later class to come a bit early. Briefing begins promptly at 7:00 pm, then walkthrough, then run the game. The later class begins immediately after the last dog has run and will have its own full hour.

Top Dog Agility Players

Top Dog Agility Players features a titling program that measures the skill and development of both recreational and serious dog agility competitors. This program can be conducted at the host clubs site without many of the associated costs and requirements imposed by other agility organizations.

Top Dog provides incentive for your customers to participate in league play. Their achievements are recognized and celebrated by agility titles conferred for each dog’s performance in competition.

Contact

If you would like to participate in Top Dog Agility Players league competition contact Bud Houston at Houston.Bud@gmail.com. We will endeavor to help you get your league competition up and running smoothly.

How to Participate!

Anyone (club, group or individual) may set up any or all of the Challenge Courses. For results to be recorded for this event the courses must be run in the month of September, 2014, and results must be reported by midnight on September 30, 2014.

If you would like to play, these are important resources for you:

Top Dog Pup Registration Form (it’s free);
Scorekeeping Package for September 2014 Challenge Courses (Excel file);
Top Dog Rules and Regulations (Our simple system for scoring performance)

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. Visit the web store at: www.dogagility.org/newstore. Please note that the web store carries The Book of Agility Games. This is an important reference for any club who plays the variety of games that we’ll play in Top Dog Agility Players.

The Lesson Plan

August 31, 2014

I’ll often approach development of a lesson plan with some absurd notion of a challenge that forces me and my students to hone a practical handling or dog training skill. Lately I’ve been preoccupied with the pull/push through course challenge and the use of a Back Pass to solve.

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This is the initial sketch. The moment of the Back Pass is clearly in the transition from the weave poles to the blind approach pipe tunnel at #4. I’ve got to chuckle just a bit at the presumption of the handler being forward in the gap as the dog dismounts the weave poles. This demonstrates that I design for my own pre-requisite skill set. A more novice students may struggle both with the send to the tire and the call-through the weave poles required for the handler to have the required forward position.

This sequence calls for a second pull/push through in the transition from the pipe tunnel to the backside of jump #5. Ye gods.

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While I might be tempted to do an entire class with a diminutive smattering of obstacles on the floor, it really isn’t very practical. As this lesson plan was put up the week before a three-day agility trial I knew I had to have other equipment on the floor.

This sequence/course begins with a contact obstacle the philosophical underpinnings of which require a whole separate article/blog. Let’s just say for now that it’s a protocol for smoothing impulse control.  I’m tempted to end with a contact obstacle as well.

You’ll note that I’ve changed the nature of the pull/push through challenge. Can’t say I like it too much as it’s more like a threadle and might be solved with a simple Front Cross.

In the design of the lesson plan I can pop this drawing on my printer and head out to the training building to set it up. This is lovely exercise in the hottest part of the summer, requiring a light cotton shirt and a tall iced tea. I’ll take Kory with so that he can follow me around the training building optimistically dropping a tennis ball under my feet while I work.

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What ultimately gets set up on the floor is this bit. The transition from jump #6 to the opposite side pipe tunnel suited my desire to test the Back Pass for drawing the dog neatly out of obstacle focus for the push/pull through challenge.

I added the tunnel on the other side of the A-frame for a bit of a discrimination challenge (faced twice, mind you). Last week we had a discussion of and tutorial for teaching the dog to discriminate between tunnel and contact on verbal command only. I don’t expect my students to master a thing on its introduction. But I do remind them of why they’d better get going with the training protocol after I’ve made that introduction.

Jump #14 is a bit of a puzzler as there is a choice of turning directions both of which are challenging in their own way.

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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.

The Alchemist

August 31, 2014

I’ve been struggling with the implications of the running Back Pass and a variety of applications that have the handler folding through the rotation to give the dog an early dismount. The more you think about this, the more the whole thing resembles a Blind Cross. Rather than engaging in a mind-numbing attempt to differentiate and dignify the two movements as separate, I’m inclined now to accept that they were related all along and have been held apart only by context.

The Back Pass is a skill taught to the dog; The Blind Cross is a handler movement. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to the Back Pass as a movement. Just be mindful of the difference.

I accept the alchemy of the two concepts bonded not only as relations; but as intrinsically related. The discussion could get exciting on this small point. While I’m a considerable advocate of the blind cross as a handling tool, I have long believed that in the presence of a wrong course option, the blind cross is too weak a signal.

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This illustration might be both drastic and obvious. Often enough it’s the not-so-obvious wrong course options that catch up the Blind Cross handler. But the illustration serves (and clearly, there’s a lot of Stevie Wonder in the Blind Cross).

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Let’s suppose then that the handler uses his clockwise Back Pass command in the moment before committing to the Cross. The ostensible Blind Cross is set upon a verbal cue and not the dog’s pure response to movement.

Mind that this is a complete swag with an incomplete statistical sampling. Though, don’t you know, in my own house are more dogs that know a Back Pass than I could otherwise name out in the rest of the world. So I’ll test and refine with my own dogs; and call the sampling good enough.

A Note to the Future Agility Guru

The most interesting attribute of the Back Pass as a handling movement is that the dog drops completely out of obstacle focus and into handler focus for a tightly controlled movement around the handler’s body.

On the face of it, one would think that the “tightly controlled movement” is the most important/interesting attribute of the movement. But the clever fellow (Guru in training) will recognize that “drops completely out of obstacle focus” is the amazing and important attribute of the movement.

In the age of “Something Wicked This Way Comes” the Back Pass becomes the canny handler’s solution to pull/push through, backside approach, threadle and other impending demons.

There’s about a dozen of us in the whole world studying the Back Pass. I reckon that in ten years it will be required study by serious students of the 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.

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.

The Border Collie Effect pt 4

January 29, 2014

This is a continuation a discussion of how to create a course from a blank slate from my long ignored course design manuscript.  The scribbled line method in yesterday’s web-log is a tried and true method. And, by the way, it was discussed in Stuart Mah’s Fundamentals of Course Design, published by Clean Run Productions nearly 20 years ago.

Design from Core Constructs

Another approach I take to course design is to begin with a construct that I find particularly fascinating. You know in training with me that I spend a lot of energy in teaching the “Riddle of the Pinwheel”.

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Here’s a double pinwheel. I’m not going to make it a training exercise. The obvious thing to do would be to run through it like a figure-eight. Actually, I should be able to visit the elements of the double-pinwheel without requiring everyone to do it in any overt fashion.

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Next I’ll add a couple more jumps, to make “Hobday” boxes to join the two pinwheels. The box and the pinwheel are related constructions and I can play with the transitions between the two freely. I’ve also added a doodle drawing to frame the core challenge. Obviously I’ve got too much transitional distance in my “outside the box” loop. I can probably frame that with a tunnel or something.

I also need to figure out where the front of my ring is going to be. And I have to pay a bit of attention to the number of obstacles. Again, I’m shooting for something from 18 to 20.

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Okay, I can introduce my core challenge with a simple serpentine down the side. The opening four jumps to the pipe tunnel present just enough challenge that the handler is likely going to be preoccupied with just getting started. So the course will be a great test of mental toughness. The handler must be able to respond to the course following the pipe tunnel.

I borrowed one of the side jumps from the box framing the double pinwheels on the left. I could probably scoot those opening five obstacles more to the right… which would make the off-course opportunity following the third jump more pronounced. But I’m not a mean man, so I won’t. You can bet the dog will see the jump. The handler will have to convince the dog in the turn to jump #4.

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This came together rather easily. I added a dummy jump in the transition from jump #14 to jump #15. I also added a new jump and a pipe tunnel following jump #8. I could have done this with just a pipe tunnel. But frankly, I couldn’t get my obstacle count up to 18 without the extra jump.

I rotated the #18 jump just a little bit. It’s an illusion that may cost a few dogs an off-course over jump #11 after jump #17. Just because the #18 jump is rotated 30º sure doesn’t mean that it’s a curling line.

The closing, jump #15 to the end is pretty cruel, mindful that a dog tends curl back to the handler’s position when the handler is behind. The handler will have to either outrun his dog, or find another way to put pressure on the dog’s line on the final outrun.

“If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves.” – Thomas A. Edison

Time Capsule Review

Back to present time…

Okay, I really belabored the pinwheel without adequately exploring the variety of “core construct” possibilities. For example, this weekend I have a workshop here at my training center. I want to do some work with tunnel/contact discriminations and I have a requirement to put up a progressive sending exercise (exploding line of jumps); and some interesting jumping serpentines. Those are “core constructs” which will dictate the design of the floor.

Also in the course I created above I apparently intentionally included a “dummy” jump. Today I am completely opposed to sticking an otherwise unused obstacle out on the course just to give the dog and handler another opportunity to screw up. It’s a ham-handed design habit that shows little imagination.

And unfortunately, the course doesn’t include all of the required obstacles. Eek!

More tomorrow …

Blog931 – (Four 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.

 

The Border Collie Effect pt 3

January 28, 2014

I continue publication of my course design notes from more than a dozen years ago. Perhaps this will tantalize another reader to critique the writing without actually bothering to read it.

The design notes continue by focusing on different approaches to designing a course from tabula rasa to finished product.

Design from Drawing Lines

What I want to start with is a simple linear kind of progression. I have a line that goes straight up the center of the field. The course will square out to one side; then resume up the field, square out to the other side of the field, and return back downfield in the same fashion.

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I’ll start just by drawing a line. I’m intentionally making the lines and loops very square. This isn’t a requirement of the scribble a line method. It’s just my approach this very moment.

The next task is to put in my technical obstacles for which I’ll need a judging position. This gives me an area to operate so that I don’t have to run up and down the field chasing a bunch of damned Border Collies to see if they get in the contact zones.

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From the looks of this placement, I’ll probably want to get the performance of the A‑frame first, and then back to the dogwalk. That would leave the teeter as the final technical obstacle to be judged.

Okay, now I’m going to put some obstacles out to shape the dog’s path through the lines I’ve drawn, and to make transitions to the technical obstacles.

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Okay, not really too bad. But I really don’t like the transitional distance from the tire to the weave poles, or from the dogwalk to the jump following.  I also only have 14 obstacles on the course. I need to pick it up to 18-20 and make sure I have the required obstacles. I need a table, and I need a collapsed chute.

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Okay, this is a bit more like it. The placement of the table actually gives me a bit of time to drift back down to judge the performance of the teeter. I’ve also rotated the obstacles in the first leg diverging from the center line so that a couple of traps or options are opened up to the dog. In the transition from jump #3 to the triple there will be some dogs who take a hard look at the weave poles. The handler would be wise to Vee the approach to jump #2 to take the weave poles out of the picture and make a nice smooth transition.

In the turn from the tire to the weave poles jump #3 is presented as an off-course opportunity.

The transition from the weave poles to jump #8 I figure is a major handling challenge. Many handlers may be caught with dog on right for the performance of the weave poles. So they may have to cross behind the dog on the exit from the weave poles to turn the dog to jump #8.

Note that I’ve also rotated the jump between the A-frame and the dogwalk so that it is more fairly presented to the dog. Given that the dog is dismounting the A-frame and trying to get a safe approach to the dogwalk, I don’t think it’s a useful challenge to test of a handler knows how to make the transition “safe”.

The series of jumps from the table to the teeter is really a finesse jumping series. It’s a flat serpentine-like sequence. But off-courses beckon at the A-frame after jump #13, and at jump #2 after jump #17. It’s not terrible hard, but is certainly a suitable challenge to Masters level dogs.

Okay, all the course needs now is a start/finish line, field crew, and a bunch of exhibitors antsy to get a qualifying score. Will they see what was in my head when I designed it? Oh, that’s the least important thing in the world. Knowing your own capabilities and the strengths and weaknesses of your own dog are the keys to solving a course like this.

What I like to believe about the course is that the challenges discovered themselves, with a modest bit of tweaking and rotation of jumps. I did my bit in making the approaches to the contact obstacles, the triple and the tire fair and safe. But I kept to my lines and the challenges sprouted like summer beans. And I really enjoy the subtlety of the challenges.

Time Capsule Review

Back to present time… I don’t know that I ever actually put up this course anywhere. Now I’m kind of interested and would like to give it a try. I have maybe one dog in my household who was alive when I wrote that piece. And don’t you know, when you look at a course you’ll always view it through a “me and my dog” filter. In those days I was running my old boys Bogie and Birdie. They’re long gone <sob>. But naturally, I visualize solving the course with my boy Kory.

Frankly this course is a bunch easier than most of the stuff we’re seeing at the Masters/Excellent levels these days. Is that true?

Anyway… more tomorrow.

Blog93- (Three 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.

The Border Collie Effect pt 2

January 27, 2014

I continue my publication of notes on course design that I made something like a dozen years ago.

Safe & Square

Spread hurdles, contact obstacles, and arguably the tire should always be presented squarely to the dog, especially in the Novice and Starters classes to be fair, and safe.

The course designer should always visualize the flow of the dog to present the contact obstacles and the spread hurdles safely and squarely. Don’t assume that handlers will have the skill or forethought necessary to correct the dog’s path to make an approach safe for the dog.

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This is a segment of a course found recently at a NADAC trial. It was in the Open ring, and caused many dogs to NQ because the handlers did not have the requisite skill to jog the dog immediately to the right after the spread hurdle in order to create a straight approach to the A-frame.

Most dogs were pushed directly by their handlers towards the A-frame. Something like 30% could not make the ascent, and came off the front end, some of them near the apex of the A-frame. Frankly, it’s the judge’s job to make a course safe for all dogs, no matter how experienced or inexperienced the handlers. This judge complained that the field was smaller she’d been told was available. So she just scrunched down her course until everything fit. She did not have the benefit of an experienced supervising judge to point out to her that she’d made an awful mistake. And so this was the result.

For future reference, the judge is the ultimate authority on the field. An experienced judge would have demanded that the local crew actually move the ring rope so that the course would fit. If the dimensions of the ring are fixed (by hard walls) the judge would have to do an on the spot redesign to make everything safe, and fair. Designing a course on the field takes a lot of skill. All the judge really has to do is walk the course, once set, to see the approaches to all obstacles from the viewpoint of the dogs.

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The presentation of spread hurdles to the dog should is also an issue of fairness and safety. This illustration shows a presentation of the spread hurdle that requires a skillful manipulation of the dog’s path to create a safe approach. The course designer should not put dogs at risk when the handler does not have this skill manufacture a good approach to the spread hurdle.

Don’t mistake this design for challenging. It is merely ugly.

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In this illustration the approach to the spread hurdle has been improved simply by giving the hurdle a rotation to the approach. The dog and handler team are still challenged by the sequence, without a hint of ugly or unsafe. The pipe tunnel is a terrific off-course possibility. The entry to the weave poles begs the question “does the dog know how to make the entry?”

This is clearly advanced design, providing challenge at dogs’ speed, but inappropriate for novice dogs (because of the wrong course option).

Dog’s Path Geometry

Squaring the dog’s approach for a spread hurdle really requires the course designer to understand the way dogs move. It is always a mistake, either as a handler or a course designer to be beguiled by the geometry of the course.

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This illustration shows the spread hurdle presented to the dog in a straight approach from jump #3.  Square and fair, right?

Wrong.

The problem with this line is that nothing on an agility course moves in lines like these excepting maybe the occasional judge’s measuring wheel. If you see a judge measuring a course like this, you can be certain of two things: 1) the standard course time (SCT) will be improperly set, and too low; 2) the judge has no vision of the way dogs move.

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This drawing more realistically depicts the path of the dog. And in this case the illustration more properly reflects the path of a sharp turning Border Collie (and not so much the more reaching path of the bold working Doberman Pincer.)

While this was a bit of a dramatization, we see more subtle variations of the geometry problem all the time.

Time Capsule Review

Back to present time… I guess I got to poke fun of a NADAC judge who didn’t really know how to fit her course into an area smaller that it was intended to fit. But you know, NADAC judges don’t design their own courses. And so their course design skills are going to be a little retarded.

I still hold by the principles I was attempting to illustrate here. Understanding the dog’s path is a science to which both the course designer and the handler should subscribe. When I do handling clinics there’s a bit I often do to entice the handler to understand the dog’s path. The concept is simplified in this illustration:

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It’s a straight line through jumps #2 to #4… right?

This is an example of on-field geometry that might beguile the handler (and course designer) into failing to understand the dog’s path. In truth:

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It’s not a straight line at all. It’s a wild zig-zaggedy line.

More tomorrow, I suppose.

Blog929 (Oh my! Two 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.