Posts Tagged ‘Go the Distance’

The Essence of Gamblers

September 30, 2014

I have an up and coming TDAA Judges’ Clinic. One of the participants writes to me: “I don’t have a confidence that I can design an appropriate game for all three levels. I admit that don’t do very many gambles in any of my aspects of agility. I haven’t taught my dogs (or been taught myself) how to do them.

She correctly assumes that experience is the best teacher. Inasmuch as I’ll be leading the judges’ clinic, I will endeavor to be the second best teacher. (The clinic and subsequent trial are in Lynnwood, Washington… October 9-12. Are you going to be there?)

A Few Quick Notes

Working a dog at a distance basically means that the dog has been taught his job and doesn’t require the handler to always be forward and always “dragging” the dog through every performance. The dog should be taught his job for every obstacle with no requirement that the handler be embedded in the context of the performance.

I’d be delighted to write a primer on the subject. That’s too big a job for this one blog. So the following is hardly comprehensive. I will write more on it and put it all together in the fullness of time.

The Handler’s Job

The handler’s job is to direct the dog. An important part of the distance riddle is how the handler provides direction. The easy answer to this is that the handler provides focus, verbalization and movement to frame the objective obstacle.

Focus is what the handler is looking at and pointing at. Note that pointing is not really a wagging finger. It is more defined by the set of the handler’s shoulders, hips and toes.

Verbalization is the verbal command or imperative annunciated by the handler to cue the dog to the objective obstacle.

Movement rightly belongs at the top of the list. The pressure of movement surely gives the dog his directional cues. The handlers movement tells the dog both where “we” are moving, but how quickly we intend to get there.

The Dead Away Send

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If it’s true that movement is the most fundamental cue to direct the dog, then we’d have to assume that sending the dog straight away (the “dead away” send) is the most difficult kind of distance challenge. In a gamblers’ class the judge will draw what’s called the “handler containment” line. The gamble/distance challenge is negated if the handler steps over that line.

In this drawing a 10′ line and a 19′ line are shown. Obviously the 19′ line is the greater challenge. How does the line not remove movement… the most important directive or cue for the dog to continue on working?

I should love to leave that question just hanging out there. An answer would actually be better. Let me give two answers, actually:

  1. The handler’s movement should be calculated to arrive just short of the line at about the moment the dog is arriving at the objective obstacle.
  2. All skills are earned through training and practice.  At the bottom of my blog in that little section “Questions comments & impassioned speeches” I routinely point to series of books I’ve written on distance training. If you need a series of exercises that lead to amazing distance skills… read and do the exercises in the 5 volumes of The Joker’s Notebook.

Parallel Path

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A typical kind of gamble that appears in distance classes of every sort is the parallel path. In this drawing, after the initial send, the dog and handler work for some distance in parallel. The course designer has to determine where the handler’s containment line should be, relative to the obstacles being performed at a lateral distance. Dogs at different levels might do the same series of obstacles, but at distances appropriate to the level of players.

Technical Obstacles

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The parallel path gamble is made more challenging by the use of a technical obstacle (contacts and weaves) at the parallel distance. This is probably not an appropriate challenge for Novice/Games I players. But surely, Advanced/GII players can show off their training with this simple distance challenge.

One of the real complications in terms of the handler’s movement (required to direct the dog) is woven into the context of the handler’s application of that movement to assist the dog in the performance of the technical obstacle. Without careful training, the dog mightn’t understand the movement at any appreciable distance.

When a technical obstacle is used dogs should be judged by performance rules and faults appropriate to their level. In a numbered sequence the A-frame, in this example, is eligible to earn the dog a refusal fault, which would negate the gamble.

Discrimination

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The course designer can raise the caliber of the challenge a bit by giving the dog a discrimination challenge in the performance of the technical obstacle at a lateral distance.

Change of Direction

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This distance challenge begins with a “change of direction”  challenge at an appreciable distance. This is a fairly tough kind of challenge, to be reserved for the Masters of our sport. Not only does the gamble feature a change of direction, but also a technical obstacle at a distance, and a discrimination challenge. It’s hard to get much more evil that this.

The Masters/GIII challenge doesn’t have to be anything more than a change of directions (at a distance), or a discrimination challenge (at a distance), or the performance of a technical obstacle (at a distance). The course designer really doesn’t have to do all three in one gamble!

Establishing Gamble Time

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I’ve softened the previously drawn gamble challenge (considerably), mostly to talk about how times are assigned for performance of the gamble. In general the judge would take the wheeled distance of the dog’s path and then add 5 to 7 seconds to allow the handler to move the dog into position to begin the gamble.

Using this logic this gamble would be in the range of 13 to 15 seconds for dogs with 3 YPS (three yards per second) rate of travel. The course designer should acknowledge that turning the dog degrades the dog’s rate of travel. So we might add a second for the two turns that initiate the gamble.

Technical obstacles also degrade the dog’s rate of travel. So for each contact obstacle you might add 2 seconds. For the weave poles, add 3 seconds.

Designing for the TDAA

Please note that the sequences I’ve designed here are “big dog” distances. The distances between obstacles would be considerably tighter in the TDAA.

If there is an error that TDAA course designers make (too often)… it is in not giving adequate room to work. Interval distances might be opened up just a bit at a distance. But in general we subscribe to the same kind of spacing that we would use in any standard course. By definition:

  • 8′ in the straightaway
  • A minimum of 12′ to solve wrong course options, or on the approach to a technical challenge, or when requiring the dog to turn.

The TDAA course designer should also give the working dog credit for some distance working skill. I’ve reviewed courses in which the “distance challenge” was no more than 18”. That’s not really a distance challenge.

Yard Sale!

I’ve been loading thing up for a couple weeks now for a yard-sale at my in-laws place down in Williamstown, WV. Click HERE for details!

TDAA Judges’ Clinic and Trial in Lynwood, WA

Oct  9 – 10, 2014  TDAA Judge’s Clinic

Four Paw Sports Center, LLC
Lynnwood, WA
Clinic Presenter:  Bud Houston
Contact:  Robin Carlstrom robin@fourpawsports.com
Indoors on rubber matting over padding
Clinic Application

Oct  11 – 12, 2014  Trial  T14005-9
Four Paw Sports Center, LLC
Lynnwood, WA
Judge of Record:  Bud Houston (judging will be done by judge applicants, who may also enter the trial)
Contact:  Robin Carlstrom robin@fourpawsports.com
Indoors on rubber matting over padding
Premium

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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.

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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!

The Pill-bug/Pinwheel Exercise

June 14, 2012

I had a private camp here this week, working with a group of ladies from Ft. Wayne, IN. Fairly early on the instruction revolved around distance training.

We fall into this interesting pattern in agility. By focusing on the technical and handling we dispose the dog to come to an understanding that the game is supposed to be played at the hip of the handler. If the dog is tied to the handler’s hip, then his speed will always be limited to the speed of the handler and of the hip.

The dog’s trainer should endeavor instead, and early in the dog’s training, to give permission to work at a distance. If we dispose the dog to come to this understanding of the game, then the game can be played at the speed of the dog.

Following is a simple exercise intended solely to tear apart the Velcro fabric that sticks the dog against the handler. Remember that Velcro is a two-part fabric. And it takes both parts for a good stick.

This is a form of the exploding pinwheel exercise. We use a pipe tunnel rolled up like a garden pill-bug to shape the dog’s movement at a distance. Initially the dog has few options except to work through the jumps to make his way back to the handler.

Only gradually are the jumps moved away from the pipe tunnel at the center of the exercise. As the jumps are spread apart the pipe tunnel should be opened up, just a bit at a time.

The biggest difficulty I have with students who are introduced to this exercise early on is that they won’t know which direction to face when sending a dog into a pinwheel. The handler is conditioned to face his shoulders as though moving parallel to the dog. However, if not actually moving, the handler should face each jump, in turn, as the dog works his way around the pinwheel. Note that for the first three jumps the handler pretty much faces the same direction.

Now the pinwheel is fully exploded and the pipe tunnel at the center has been opened up to its full size. I’ve brought in a second pipe tunnel to create a handling flow to introduce the approach to the pinwheel.

I don’t really like the idea of standing still while the dog is working at a distance. Part of the riddle becomes how to use the available real estate to maintain motion while the dog is working. The movement should be disciplined, always providing pressure to whatever obstacle the dog is working.

I should have mentioned early that at each step in exploding the pinwheel the handler should work the dog in both directions so that the skill is owned ambidextrously.

Here I’ve reversed the direction of the previous exercise. Well, that’s not all I’ve done. Since we have a dog working at a modest distance, we might as well ask him to do something a bit more advanced. This might call for a bit of development in the prerequisite skill… weaving at a distance. Some dogs won’t understand a handler working 20′ at a distance if the dog hasn’t been prepared for this possibility in training.

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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.

Rekawl

June 5, 2012

You must know that I have to rely on considerable distance work in agility. I just don’t move the way I once did. Kory put on quite a show on the weekend, working generally at a spectacular distance. Of course, nobody really wanted to be me. I’ve said for a very long time that working at a distance is like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. And that’s how the weekend went for us. We were at about 50% qualifying vs 50% crashing & burning in spectacular fashion.

Following is the Round 2 Steeplechase, designed by USDAA judge Richard Deppe. The following account is the anatomy of my crash ‘n burn on the course.

The key to using distance work to survive technical bits is to make those technical bits control points. That means the handler will have a close proximity to the dog to demonstrate, by handling the direction of the course. When walking the course I was torn between the blind/managed approach to the long jump and getting Kory to see the oblique presentation of jump #11 on the dismount of the A-frame. Oh, I could give him a good “Right” command from some distance, to be sure.  He would be just as likely to turn hard into a wrong course pipe tunnel (#12) with that strategy.

So, I decided to trust in Kory’s turning radius at jump #8 to carry him out wide enough for a square approach to the long jump. I got the judges whistle as I turned him over jump #11 into the pipe tunnel. I hadn’t even bothered to watch the performance of the long jump. The judge confirmed that he had a cross-cut performance (a refusal) on the hurdle.

So, I just left the course without finishing. What would be the fun in that?

To tell you the truth, a Steeplechase course is typically a wide open zing compared to Masters standard, or the Grand Prix. When the technical control points are presented on either end of a span, as in this course… I simply will not be able to be in both places. I don’t believe that many judges consider old arthritic farts like me in their course design. It’s all about the long legged youngsters.

I’m not daunted, mind you. Because I had a lot of fun this past weekend. And I’m fully aware that Kory is a very young dog, getting better all the time. My only real regret is that I didn’t capture the big cash winnings so I could stop at McDonalds on the way home.

It also occurs to me that I’ve never done “around the clock” training with the long jump [though I’ve asserted in writing that I’ve done around the clock with all agility obstacles.] I’m thinking I’ll take this project into my training program. Imagine actually training your dog to completely understand which approach/dismount is correct on the long jump. Now there’s a thought.

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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.