Nesting Courses for USDAA

Everybody who judges for the USDAA has been stuck out there with a dozen courses to be run in a single day, once you account for each level being requiring a unique course. The time required to conduct the trial is a matter of simple arithmetic. Any kind of dramatic course change will require a minimum of 15 minutes to build and 5 minutes to tweak; 5 minutes to brief and 15 minutes to start the class. These numbers are optimistically conservative. Consequently if you have 11 course changes after you’ve begun the day… six hours and 45 minutes have been occupied without a single dog running.

The number of dogs per day judged given the inefficient design of courses creates these undeniable mathematical outcomes. Dogs should run at an average rate of about one a minute during the conduct of all classes:

Dogs Judged

Time Spent Running Dogs

Time Spent Course Changes

Total Time


1 hour 40 min

6 hours 45 min

8 hours 25 min


3 hours 20 min

6 hours 45 min

10 hours 5 min


4 hours 10 min

6 hours 45 min

10 hours 55 min


5 hours

6 hours 45 min

11 hours 45 min

A nearly perfect nested course can create a transition of only 5 minutes from the end of one class to the start of briefing for the next. “Rotate these two jumps; take out these two jumps… and renumber.”

If this short interval between classes is realized the overall schedule for the day might be reduced by as much as three hours; though, realistically, more about two hours – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Masters Standard

I  often have to argue with USDAA course reviewers who think my courses are too soft (not technical enough). I’m typically content with creating a single overt handling challenge while sprinkling a number more subtle challenges throughout the course.
• The handler is faced with a decision as to which direction to turn his dog on jump #3. This is a bit of a conundrum as the handler who turns to the left had better be pretty skillful at managing the dog’s path to give an adequately square approach; though the handler turning the dog to the right creates a longer consequential path.

• In the turn over two jumps after the A-frame back to the pipe tunnel the dog is presented with a look at jump #20. While it is at some distance an inattentive handler could actually lose his dog to the wrong course or, at the very least, create a wider turn than was necessary.

• The transition from the teeter to the dogwalk might have been more interesting if the table were a jump so that we could get the performance of a three-jump pinwheel and a lot more electricity in the dog’s movement. With that in mind… I could use this as a Grand Prix course and put a jump in place of the table.

None-the-less, the simple 180º turn of jumps after the table will often cause the handler to fail to give enough to the team in terms of movement and direction. I expect the fault rate here to actually be higher than the turn from jump #3 to the A frame.

• The abrupt turn from the dogwalk back over jump #14 will surely cause some handlers to pull their dogs off the ramp prematurely as some are apt to cue the turn before the dog has done his job. Most errors on course are actually timing errors on the part of the handler.

• The transition from the dogwalk to the weave poles is a big and somewhat generous serpentine. It is the nature of a serpentine that the handler has to change sides to his dogs. So the real question here is where the handler will effect the change of sides. The collapsed tunnel presents a bit of a conundrum for the handler’s decision.

• The straight-forward approach to the weave poles is more difficult than it might seem. The dog will be accelerating out of the turn and making the approach after a spread hurdle. So, we get to make the approach at full speed.

• A tire after the weave poles has considerable visual acuity to the dog and is a test of the dog’s steadiness in the poles.

Advanced Standard

Maintaining Appropriate Challenge – Masters to Advanced

This is very close to the same course that I gave the Masters competitors. I removed the choice of turning direction riddle between jump #2 and the A-frame. The challenge (a “Managed Approach”) is a bit more than should be expected of competitors in the Advanced class.

The only change required on this nested course is renumbering. Indeed, when I wheel the Masters course I will make note of the difference in length in the jump #2 to the A-frame riddle for each level so that I won’t even have to wheel the course again for the Advance class. Note that the order of classes might actually be:

Advanced Standard first, and then Masters. It truly is six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other.

Starters Standard
Maintaining Appropriate Challenge –Advanced to Starters

I’ve made a fairly dramatic change to get from Advanced Standard to Starters. I’ve removed the two jumps between the table and the dogwalk; and I’ve made the obstacle following the dogwalk the collapsed tunnel, in order to take a jump out of the course.

The performance of the collapsed tunnel is a softer challenge for Starters in any case. It should be quite simple for them to cross in front of or behind their dogs at the entry so that they are on the side of the turn as the dog makes his exit (but you know those silly starters… a lot of them will have dog on left after the collapsed tunnel, trying to figure out how to affect the turn as they go).

I will instruct my course builders that they have precisely two minutes to effect the course change after the last dog runs in the previous class (mindful now… that this might actually be the first class of the day). Send a crew of two to rearrange chute and jump while taking out a jump; send a crew of two to take out the two jumps around the table; and send one guy out to hastily renumber the course.

Don’t be a Tweak Grinch
I’ve never been one for adjusting obstacles an inch or even a foot this way or that way. On a well-nested course you can get things very well set for the first course of the day by taking your site-lines and drawing it all up tight. For the rest of the day be attentive to the proper rotation or attitude of the obstacle when obstacles are moved. Insure that adequate distances have been provided for the handler and his dog to solve your riddles.

When reviewing the work of course builders I mostly want to be sure that the challenges that I’d envisioned have been preserved. Always look at the course from the POV of the working dog.

Gamblers for all levels

Nesting from Standard to Games
Economy of obstacle movement from a standard class to a game is just as important as the economy of movement within standard classes. I based Gamblers layout on the Superior Standard course. Mostly what I wanted to do is study of the layout of equipment that I already had, and come up with distance challenges appropriate for each level of play:

• On this course the Masters gamble is indicated in RED. The oblique containment line after the #1 jump was added as an afterthought. Frankly some handlers will get in trouble stepping all the way up to this line because it will require contrary movement to get back around the jump to support the dog in the weave poles.

• Advanced gamble is indicated in BLUE. This is a simple lateral distance performance of the A-frame. Note that I’ve given the Advanced players a choice of sides from which to start. The side to the south is decidedly more difficult; but if they get caught back there when the warning whistle blows they’ll have an opportunity to get going with their gamble.

• Starters gamble is indicated in GREEN. This is a very simple distance challenge that will provide basic proof that the dog will go away from the handler to work. The oblique line after jump #3 ensures that the handler doesn’t get to lean over the jump.

To build this course, some movement of equipment was required:

• Rotated jump, green #3

• Changed the shape of the pipe tunnel, green #2.

• Rotated and changed position slightly of jump, red #1

• Reversed the direction of the teeter to provide for flow into the Advanced gamble.

• Slightly changed the position of jump, blue #1 (north).

• Added a jump to the right of the weave poles to provide for additional flow onto the field.

• Moved the position of the table to accommodate all three gambles.

Sometimes I’ll start with a notion for a gamble I’d like to try out on Masters players. When I do this I typically design the gamble challenge first and will base and build the standard class on that set of equipment (taking care to give flow through the gamble obstacles that doesn’t allow them to practice the gamble during the Standard class). Almost always when I’ve tried to superimpose a gamble I want to try out on an already existing standard class, it will necessitate more equipment movement than is desirable.

Take note of the number of players at each level at the trial. In a very small trial it’s entirely possible to walk all three levels at once. More likely you’ll wind up with a disproportionate kind of entry where… you might brief and walk Starters and Advanced at the same time, but wind up giving Masters a split walk-through.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston:  And Check out my new publication the Idea Book – Agility Training for a Small Universe available at

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