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Training Exercises: Rock Around this Christmas Tree

A Christmas-tree-themed exercise which works as an every day exercise as well. By Rob Bardenett

The following set-up that, with a little imagination, has the shape of a Douglas fir, is an easy exercise for practicing the subtle-yet-distinct differences in cueing threadles, push-throughs/back sides, serpentines and discriminations.

Most discriminations (situations in which a dog must choose between two obstacles that both seem to be the next in a sequence) involve two different types of equipment where a verbal command can come in handy. However, the #2/#10 discrimination will depend entirely on the handler setting and supporting the correct path. Taking a short lead-out and waiting for the dog to be 8'-10' on the landing side of jump #1 should give you enough room to set the path to #2 and not get hung up too close and behind the tunnels. Remember to support the path as you move laterally.

The threadle on this course is #3-#5. (Learn about threadles) The most important part of any threadle is the turn to bring the dog back between the jumps. Essentially it is a wrap and therefore your cue to bring them through the gap should strongly resemble whatever cue/cues you have trained your dog to recognize to mean "collect and turn back to you."Because you have two threadles to do and not the usual one, being able to cue this wrap closer to the next jump will be very helpful.

The push-through sequence is from #7-#9 and handling this type of compound challenge bears a strong resemblance to the handlers positioning on a serpentine. (Learn about serpentines.) The major difference is that the handler path should be directly at the right wings of #8 and #9, leaving no room for the dog to take the front of the jump. Make sure you are ahead of your dog just enough to push them through the opening as you continue to cross the face of the next jump and then repeat that push. Stay close to the jumps with your path, leaving the back side as the only option.

The dog's path over #9 makes the off-course tunnel the logical choice. If you can cue your dog to come into you before they jump #9, you'll be ahead of the game. However, that may prove to be difficult, so again 8'-10' on the landing either a strong lateral pull or a sustained threadle cue will pull your dog into the #10 tunnel.

The serpentine is from #11-#13. The first rule of an efficient serpentine is that the handler should maintain a straight path parallel to the line of jumps. Stay ahead of your dog, giving him room to drop in behind you after #12 with just enough space to travel to the front of #13.

The rest is pretty straight-forward, although taking #16 to #17 for granted will likely result in an off-course over #12.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Rob Bardenett is a USDAA judge and competitor that teaches agility classes in multiple locations along the Front Range of Colorado. He credits appearing in nine Finals with four different dogs to having great mentors and dogs that listened well to them. Rob can be reached at


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