Posts Tagged ‘Jokers Notebook’

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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Bright Spot

July 9, 2013

I’d like to share with you a YouTube of my Jumpers run with Kory this past Sunday at Queen City. It was a fun course, quite suited to us (Kory and me); and everything went as scripted. I even got to do a Back Pass to manage Kory’s transition to the weave poles.

With thanks to Brenda Gilday: use this link:
http://youtu.be/ZVEhSkitJ7Y  

This was the bright spot of the weekend. I had two runs with “one little thing” to glitch the run. And I had two runs that were complete train wrecks. I humbly accept this difficulty. I think I’ve reported to you that I don’t move well (not like I used to move). And so I try to do most everything at quite a distance. As I’ve said for many years, distance handling is like throwing cards into a hat on a windy day. So when you get a card into the hat as I did in the Jumpers run… you can be happy. And when you don’t…  oh well.

A Current Obsession

One of our judges this past weekend put up an interesting challenge that I’m taking back to my training barn. Two jumps are set for a 180 turn… with the jumps set side-by-side, the wings touching.

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I’m a bit fascinated by this side-by-side jump challenge. As a course designer I know that the jumps are too close together to support the turning radius of any dog that works with the teeniest bit of inertia. But then, as handler and dog trainer I know that the tightened turning radius can be pre-cued to the dog.

Certainly an argument can be made for the handling on the landing side of jump #3. However I’d like to solve on the approach because I am fond of any opportunity to throw cards into a hat on a windy day.

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There are obviously some other fun sequences that might spawn

A Word Aside

On Saturday night… and I mean about 2:00 am in the morning something crept into my brain that I got me out of bed to work a bit at my computer to document. I had an epiphany about contact performance that I immediately knew in my heart is exactly the kind of thing I need to do with Kory.

It works like this… the contact obstacle is the starting point and, mind you, a resting point. Before I embark on the sequence I’ll put him over the contact and he will come to rest at the bottom in a nice 2o2o position, until released.

I know this doesn’t seem extraordinary at first disclosure. What I’m really trying to do is treat the dismount of the contact obstacle like a stay at the start line or on the table. As a basic rule of performance I’ll expect my dog to hold position until I give a verbal release. And frankly I don’t care if I’m standing still having a conversation or running in some random direction… my expectation is that he will stay.

Dogs are creatures of rules. The performance you get out of them in agility (and in life) are based on the rules that you set for them. In a broad general sense this is precisely true. And so now, in my training, I will embark on establishing this new rule which is simply a fortification of the softer (though identical sounding rule) under which we previously operated.

I’ll keep you informed.  

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This is the bit that I leapt out of bed to sketch, when I had the epiphany. I could have numbered a lot of interesting things after either or both of the contacts; and I did, in fact. But then I deleted all the numbering but those that identified the contacts as the starting point… just to remind myself of the core concept.

You’ll note that in the first sequence I drew (above) I managed to insinuate the teeter as the starting obstacle.

Ted Cruz & the Abolish the IRS Campaign

Ted Cruz is a liar and a scumbag. Clearly he is a magnet for stupid people. I’m closely watching his campaign to abolish the IRS, mostly because I’m curious about how frigging many really really stupid people there are in this country (people who don’t read or keep up with current events and base there thinking on the raw propaganda and hate mongering of Fox Noose). I know there’s a whole bunch of them.

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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 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.