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Handling Discriminations on Course

Deborah Davidson Harpur presents a course designed to test your dog's discrimination skills and suggests ways to handle it, including many front and rear cross options. 


This exercise focuses on obstacle discrimination. I placed a tunnel at the end of the dogwalk with both openings and the bottom of the dogwalk visible to the dog on the approach. I also have a tunnel along side the edge of the ring directly under an A-frame. 

Please note that this course ends on a table. That's an unusual choice, so if you don't like to end on a table, you can simply end your course at #19. 

This course is designed for training and may not meet full USDAA course requirements. For obstacles that are close together, you can lower jump heights or spread the course out to meet your safety needs. 

We broke the course down into smaller sections: 

Section 1-7 featured a tunnel entry that was on the far side of the tunnel exit and the dogwalk entry. There is also an off-course opportunity after the #3 weave poles (the #5 tunnel) so want to make sure your body language is clearly indicates that you want the far entry of the tunnel under the dogwalk. The most common error in my classes was an off-course up the dogwalk. If this happens to you, ask, "Where are my toes? Where is my body facing? Do I have flip-floppy airplane arms?" 

Just a few obstacles later, another common error was an off-course A-frame instead of the correct obstacle, tunnel #6. As the dog is exiting the tunnel #5, he should already know that you want tunnel #6. How can you make that happen? For my students, I had them find a fixed spot midway between the tunnel exit/opening and had them focus their pushing motion directly there. If they waited and pushed at the tunnel opening, generally they were too late with their information and the dog took the A-frame.

Section 7-10 offered some different handling challenges where you needed to know your own dog and your dog's speed to navigate through the course. Do you have a super-fast dog? Are you not a fast runner? Then a rear cross from tunnel #6 is a good option. To rear cross, send the dog into the tunnel #6 off your right arm, staying to your left (your body has turned and you are facing the bottom of the course grid) of the tunnel exit, let the dog pass you and send him over the jump as you move to the far side of the #7 jump. You then support the next jump and call him over the A-frame to the tunnel. 

An alternate choice if you are a fast and capable runner is to put in a blind cross between the #6 tunnel and the #7 jump. Send the dog into the #6 tunnel, run to the right side of the tunnel exit between the exit and the jump with your feet always moving on the diagonal line towards #8. The dog passes behind your back and takes the jump off your left arm. Make sure when you are doing the blind, the dog knows where you want him to go by looking at that jump so when he exits the tunnel, he sees the back of you and your left cheek. Then continue the course. 

A third choice is to put in a front cross between #6 and #7. You send the dog into #6, pass the exit of the tunnel and face the tunnel, completing your cross after you get to the far side of the tunnel exit. There are other choices too. Most of my students tried it a variety of ways and then had a plan A and plan B ready to go when we ran the full course. 

From #10-#11 you again have to know if you have a fast dog or a slow dog. Which side of the dogwalk are you going to take? Will you simply pull your dog up on your left side or will you cross and run with him on your right? What are the pros and cons of each? For the faster dogs, most of my students chose to pull up then rear cross #12, or, if they had trained a stop on the dogwalk, they did a front or blind cross at the bottom of the dogwalk before the #12 jump. Other handlers threw in a blind or a front cross between #10 and #11 and ran with the dog on their right side. 

From #11-#15, many of my students kept the dog on their right and rear crossed #15 in preparation for the next sequence, which sends the dog to the teeter, but a few were adventurous and did a blind cross between #13 and #14.

After the teeter at #16, the next decision is how to handle the weave entry. Most of my students front crossed at the end of the teeter board, sent the dog over the jump and ran the weaves on the right, front crossing again for #19 to pull to the table. Body positioning is key here because if you are angled the wrong way, your dog will go over #17 and head to the off-course tunnel that is sitting under the dogwalk. 

After we had done all the sections, we put it together and ran the full course. Then we ran it again with no verbal cues. After that, for the classes that still had time, we did the course a third time with verbal cues but without using our arms. The latter two exercises are used to help handlers understand the way their verbal and physical cues are perceived by their dogs on course and are not suggested as ways to run at a trial.

There is a lot to think about on this course! Check back next week to see another way to number the course for more training opportunities.

This article is part of USDAA's Training Tuesday series appears on USDAA's facebook page. We encourage you to discuss this exercise on our facebook and to upload videos of your class or training group trying it out. If you have a facebook account, please join in the fun here: https://www.facebook.com/USDAA.

Deborah Davidson Harpur has been competing in agility since 1999, training and handling a variety of breeds of all shapes and sizes. As the co-founder of the PM2 Dog Agility Team, she offers training classes for students of all ages next to the Port of Los Angeles in California and travels throughout the US giving demos, educational programs and seminars in a variety of dog-related activities, many featuring one of her Rat Terriers, Rickie Roo.

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