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Handling Discriminations on Course Part 2

Deborah Davidson Harpur presents another course (based on last week's layout so you don't have to move anything!) designed to test your dog's discrimination skills. Check out this analysis, complete with handling options.


Last week, we introduced a course layout that challenged a handler's skills with discriminations, rear crosses and front crosses. This week, in my classes I used the same equipment set-up to work on some obstacle discriminations. Discriminations are course segments in which the dog must choose between two or more options in close proximity. Many handlers train independent obstacle performance with the idea that their dogs will understand to take the correct obstacle on verbal cues alone. But sometimes body language interferes with verbal cues, since dogs will often ignore verbal cues in favor of physical ones. And what happens when your dog must decide between two of the same type of obstacles?

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. It also 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. 

Let's break down today's course:

Section #1-#10 features a tricky weave entry and a tunnel entry that is on the far side of a dogwalk ramp and a tunnel exit (it's the opposite side than it was on in last week's course). The first major decision was, "How are you going to handle the exit from the #3 dogwalk to the #5 weave entry? Does your dog have a stopped contact? Does he have a running contact? How will you get to where you need to be to successfully show the dog the weave pole entry?" 

Most students chose to handle the dogwalk with the dog on their left side and they front crossed at the bottom of the dogwalk (to front cross, turn your body towards the #4 jump while looking at the bottom of the dogwalk entry, switching the dog from your left side to your right side). The students then sent their dogs to the weave poles and pulled them through on their right arm and continued on to the # 6 tunnel that was directly in front of the weave exit. They then either did another front cross or a blind cross so the dog was on their left side to push to the #7 tunnel. To go from #7 to #8, the choice of cross - front, rear (crossing behind the dog) or blind (changing sides in front of the dog while turning away from him) - was dependent on where you were when the dog went into #7. Did you end up at the tunnel opening? If so, you could copy most of my students who then chose to do a rear into #8, sending the dog into the tunnel off their right sides. Were you able to send your dog into #7 so you were positioned where you could just step back one step and were clear of the dog's exit? If so, you could then just step toward #8 and send the dog in off your right side. 

After the exit of the tunnel, the dog is to take the A-frame, not the tunnel. How are you going to communicate that to your dog? Very few of my students had trouble with this discrimination unless they drove in too close to the tunnel exit. Most just ran ahead, kept connection with the dog and were midpoint of the A-frame when their dog got on the A-frame. For those that did go off-course into the tunnel, a simple name call when the dog exited turned the dog's nose, their feet followed and the handler was able to get the correct obstacle. From there it was an exit to an easy jump.

Section #10-#20 starts off smooth and easy. A few of my students' dogs did go off course after the #13 tire to the #20 table, but most were fine. When first walking the course, most people kept the dog on their right all the way through to the #17 weave entry. However, this choice was quite flawed as very few dogs saw the weave entry. Instead they would take the tunnel or dive into the weaves at pole 3. Instead, a cross somewhere between #14 and #15 so that the #15 jump was on the handler's left side made for an easier entry. Which cross would you choose there? A front or blind cross between #14 and #15? A rear? Those that chose a rear often got an off-course teeter. A few people chose to blind between #13 and #14. Again, you have to know your dog and your skills to determine which course of action is best for you. 

After the weave poles, the teeter entry was tricky. Most handlers did the weaves with the dog on their left so some chose to keep the dog on the left for the teeter entry. I personally did not like that for my dogs, so I front crossed and made the entry a little clearer having them take the teeter on my right side. Jump #19 was bi-directional so for my own dogs, I simply kept them on my right, sent the over the jump and to the table. There are many different ways to handle that particular jump so you can keep it "bread and butter" and do a straight send, or you can choose to get fancier and practice all those other moves you've learned here on USDAA.com's training courses or from your local instructor or online class. The most important things are to be clear with your body language, know what your goal is and know what your options are to be able to be successful.

After practicing the segments we then ran the whole course. If students were successful the first time, I asked them to change up handling choices in at least three places. 

Here are both courses together. The white numbers are last week's course and the black numbers are this week's. 

I hope you enjoy this course as much as we did! 

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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