Course Design Notes for the TDAA

Recently while I was leading a TDAA judges clinic we went through an exercise in which I was showing our new judges how to wheel a course. Shortwheeling is a thing that a judge does with a measuring wheel when he doesn’t really understand how dogs move. So as I’d approach a jump I’d call their attention to the fact that after I hit the center of the jump I continued wheeling the line from the angle of approach for another six clicks (a click is a foot on my measuring wheel) before turning. On a big dog course I’ll make the turn considerably wider than that!

I think it would be a great idea for the course designer to do the same kind of visualization of the dog’s path when contemplating the consequences of the dog’s turn. Take this, for example:


Note how I continue the line over jump #3 for roughly another six feet. Then I make the turn and progress through the center of jump #4. In this example what you really want to note is that the path that the course designer created with the placement of jumps does not address the tire at #5 in a square fashion.

The dog’s turning radius after jump #3 should provide as much depth as it has width. This sequence has no real depth after jump #3; only width.


The sequence can easily be fixed so that the natural turning radius actually creates the line of approach to the tire so we don’t have to worry about unsafe performances. More like this illustration. The real change we’ve made is to give more depth to the turn from jump #3 to jump #4.

Minimum Number of Obstacles is Not a Kindly Course Design

I see too many courses designed for all levels using the minimum number of obstacles. The course designer/judge might think he’s doing a kindly thing for the exhibitor, giving fewer obstacles that can be faulted. I’m sure that for some this might be true.

However using the minimum number of obstacles is no favor at all for the tiny dog that struggles to make course time. In the TDAA the dog’s rate of travel is eroded terribly by the technical obstacles (the contacts and the weave poles). It creates the illusion that a dog moves slower in TDAA competition than on big dog courses. The truth of the matter is that in the big dog venues the rate of travel is re-energized by the time on those vast expanses of real estate between the obstacles.

The TDAA is short on real estate. That means the dog gets little opportunity to make up time that was used up on the contacts and in the weave poles. To make up for this the course designer should whenever possible use the maximum number of obstacles on a course so that dogs can recover rate of travel.

You want a Threadle? Measure with your Volkswagon


You will note that in the threadle performance between jumps #3 and jump #4 I had no problem conceptualizing a dog’s path slipping back in the pull-through. It is a remarkable little illusion accomplished by fidgeting around my cursor on the coursemap.

On the other hand, it’s pretty bad course design. The threadle is a sure fire flow stopper. Although the dog and handler are set up for the moment with a robust canon shot out of the pipe tunnel, the handler has no recourse but to slam on the brakes and engage in the very technical pull-through.


If the course designer is going to use a threadle, it could be more subtle than overt. Indeed, if it is drawn correctly the dog should be able to accelerate out of the turn rather than being dampened down into an over-controlled stop. Here’s a good example.

My first rule of the threadle is that the intervening space between the jumps should be big enough to drive through with a Volkswagon… and that’s for a TDAA course. In a big dog course I’d want to get my Suburban through there without bumping my rear view side mirrors.

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

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5 Responses to “Course Design Notes for the TDAA”

  1. waybe Says:

    Thanks for the insights. They are very helpful

  2. Michelle Says:

    Thank you Bud!! As usual you paint a picture with your words. Much better than I do when trying to explain such things. I’m not fond of threadles on competiton courses. I think they are a fine training exercise though.

  3. Joan Says:

    Thanks for the help Bud!

    Looking forward to more examples!!!

  4. Brenda Says:

    Yes, more examples please, I can use all the help I can get.

  5. Kelly Says:

    Hey Bud!
    I like your blog a lot!
    I am not the most creative at coming up with Games, but I have been mulling over a TDAA game that would offer a “bonus” based on a dog’s age at the date of the game. I get frustrated sometimes that TDAA places Vets with the other dogs of their height instead of separately. Maybe someday they will have a separate division.
    Since anything over 7 is considered a Vet, it would be cool to have a point-based game in which the dog would receive 2 extra points for each year older than 7 and “lose” points for each year under 7 🙂 So, a scoring system could be…
    0-2 yrs old: – 10 pts
    over 2-3: -8 pts
    over 3-4:- 6 pts
    over 4-5: -4 pts
    over 5-6: -2 pts
    over 6-7: no change
    over 7-8: +2 pts
    over 8-9: +4
    over 9-10: +6
    over 10-11: +8
    over 11-12: +10
    over 12-13: + 12…

    I think even some of the existing games could just add this “twist”?

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