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Exercises: Serpentines, Threadles, and Wraps

Internationally acclaimed agility competitor Stuart Mah shares training exercises that help you control speed and power on course to get a specific type of turn.


What's the difference between a serpentine, a threadle, and a wrap? Just the amount of time the dog spends powered down on the turn before getting back up to speed and going on to the next obstacle or sequence. The ability to control the speed (or, in some cases, the power) of the dog to get a specific turn nowadays is important to do well in any competition.

This exercise practices all three:

The sequence starts out with a tunnel to get the dog going. It then goes over three jumps that are done in a serpentine manner (the dog takes obstacles in an S-shaped pattern while the handler stays on one side of all the obstacles performed). The dog needs to be powered down just slightly to be able to get a clean turn but not so long so as to make the dog go slowly from #2-#4. From the serpentine, the dog goes into the wrap portion of the sequence where there are several wrap turns in succession (#6-#10). (A dog "wraps" a jump when he takes the jump and then turns tightly around the jump standard to run back in the same direction he came from.) The dog then goes into a tunnel to pick up the speed again. The final sequence is to do a three jump threadle (where the dog takes several jumps in succession, each from the same side so that the dog must pull between the obstacles) at #12-#14 and then back to the tunnel.

While the sequence is designed to perform all three maneuvers, each one can be broken down into separate parts. Also, since the setup is symmetrical, the pattern can be set up in any way so that you can change the pattern of the maneuvers. Instead of doing serpentine/wrap/threadle, you can easily go wrap/threadle/serpentine and do so in either direction. Finally, if a particular type of turn needs work, the setup allows you to mix and match to practice something specific without having to change obstacles around. For example, if you wanted to practice serpentines you can do so by simply changing the path (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 shows how you can renumber the course to practice serpentines.

One important note to remember is that the goal of the sequence is not to get through the sequence correct numerically. The skill underlying the sequence is the important goal. In this case, the goal is for the handler to be able to finely control the dog's movement by controlling the speed or power. If the handler merely tries to "get through" the sequence correct numerically, then neither the dog or the handler end up learning the skill.

Stuart Mah has been one of the nation's leading and most innovative agility personalities for almost two decades. He is also considered one of the foremost authorities on course design and course analysis. Stuart has been a 9-time member of US international agility teams. He is also a 16-time USDAA Grand Prix of Dog Agility and Performance Grand Prix finalist and 6-time AKC finalist. His dogs, which have included Shannon (a mixed breed), Alley Cat (a Pembroke Welsh Corg), and Qwik, Leia, Recce, and Ares (all Border Collies), have earned the highest titles in several agility organizations including 6ADChs, 3 MACHs, and two Lifetime Platinum Achievement awards. Collectively they have earned 5 individual national champion titles (USDAA and AKC), 2 national team titles, and several world championship titles. Stuart has judged for all of the major US agility organizations. In 1991 he was inducted into the USDAA agility Hall of Fame and in 1995 was the USDAA's Agility Person of the Year. He was also designated as an Agility Pioneer by USDAA in 2005. He has served on agility advisory boards for both USDAA and AKC. Stuart has written articles for numerous national and international magazines and is a regular contributor to Clean Run Agility Magazine and Agility asopis, a European agility magazine. He is also the author of several books on agility, including "Fundamentals of Course Design for Dog Agility" and "Course Analysis for Agility Handlers." He has also worked on agility-related projects with television and media groups such as PBS, Animal Planet, and National Geographic.

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