Designing Distance Games for the TDAA

A handler will tell me from time to time… my dog won’t work at a distance. To which my reply is invariably… “Have you considered training him?” With this in mind it strikes me that some TDAA judges have never trained their dogs to work at a distance and so don’t really appreciate what a trained dog might do. And this lack of confidence and understanding is reflected in their design of distance challenges for play in the TDAA.

Be very clear about this: A distance challenge should be proofing of the skills of the trained dog!

Distance Games – 2’6” is NOT Working at a Distance


Consider this distance challenge. The judge has drawn a line all of about 2’6” from the key obstacle. You can’t actually see the lines that I’ve drawn to measure the length of the distance challenges because the numbers used to describe the length of the lines are pretty much as big as the lines themselves.

Most handlers have arms long enough to stretch all the way out to indicate the ramp, so I’d submit that the dog doing the jump and the A-frame are not working at a distance.

Setting Criteria for Distance Work


A 4” Games I dog should be able to work away from his handler at a minimum of 5′, especially on a simple lateral distance challenge.

I might have made this more complicated, drawing as many as 16 lines. But that’s really too many lines with which to burden the course design crew and frankly too intellectually complicated for most judges to follow when determining whether a handler and dog have succeeded in their challenge. Okay, let’s settle on four lines (which will be complicated enough!)

Note that I fully expect the big dogs in the Games III class (those big husky 12” and 16” dogs)… to be able to do this lateral distance challenge from a cool 11′ distance. Trust me on this… 11′ is a modest test of the dog’s willingness to work at a distance.

The Van Deusen Question

I got this query from Wayne Van Deusen yesterday. You’ll want to pay careful attention to this discussion because he’s talking about the challenge game in the 2009 Petit Prix in Racine, Wisconsin. I’m sure a lot of you might want to spend a little time training your dogs for this challenge.

Here’s what Wayne asked me:

>> A quick question.

I’m submitting an idea for a distance challenge for the Petit Prix in addition to the weave pole challenge that already exists. As I write up the rules for it. I was just going to say the dog who does the longest distance wins. But someone said it should be done by height class as 4″ dogs need to put in more strides than 16″ dogs. Your humble opinion, please?

Distance to the Tire Challenge

For $2.00 entry fee (You may enter as many times as you like) The handler will have three opportunities to send their dog to the tire. The tire will be set at the dog’s jump height. The final send will be the distance entered. The dog with the longest send will be declared the winner.


Coincidentally, I’ve been struggling with this very question recently; mostly in terms of trying to understand how we set distance lines in TDAA games.

The idea that has been haunting me is this… 1″ of dog = 1′ of ground. The part that has been nagging at me is the excess of the multiplier. So If I can send a 4″ dog 12 feet to a tire… that means I would have to send the 16″ dog 48′ for the same accomplishment. No… I think we’ve lost the comparability altogether.


So what I’m thinking is that each jump height probably deserves a basic fudge factor. So what you would do is measure the length of the send from the send line respective to that jump height. So if the 4″ dog sends from 20′ then the 16” dog will have to be sent from 32′ to have a comparable measurement.

I have no idea whether my suggestion will be adopted by the Petit Prix host club in Racine. I’ll continue to work with them on it.

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

5 Responses to “Designing Distance Games for the TDAA”

  1. Marti Wiseman Says:


    Interesting discussion and topic! I have always kind of enjoyed the fact that distance games were a bit tougher for hte little dogs because of their necessary extra strides, since I (having run both Westies and Tervs) believe that standard courses are a bit toughter for the big, long-strided dogs. They simply have fewer strides in which to change direction or make a correction before they are on top of the next obstacle.

    Yep….I like that there are advantages AND disadvantages to running dogs of a particular size.

    Just a cheap two-cents!



  2. Carol Ely Says:

    I love the idea of a distance challenge. I started in AKC 8″ 4 years ago and found that distance training was needed to get the times that are required. It is just a fact that the dog can run faster than the handler, so distance would help with speed. I started TDAA showing last year and have been disappointed that they never put any distance work in the courses. The advantage of a TDAA course is it does challenge the small dog more than any other venue that I have seen. You do not have as much time to make adjustments, expecially if you happen to be in a different place than the walkthrough.
    Also, training for verbal commands is helpful. I can say the word “chute” and my dog will look around the course for the chute. She will recognize it from any direction and from quite a distance. I once said it by mistake at a show and the poor thing was looking all over for it. I had to convince her to just go to the next obstacle instead, I felt bad about that, but that is an example of an excited handler forgetting how to speak.

  3. Barbara and The Symphony of Hounds Says:

    This distance challenge proposal is NOT based on time, correct?

    So why would there be an adjustment for size of dog?

    To animals, “distance” is spatial perception.

    24′ to a dog who stands 5″ at the shoulder is 24′ to the dog who stands 25″ at the shoulder.

    The dog is working for the reward of succeeding at going out a certain amount of distance. My nephew’s dachsund THINKS he is as big as a coonhound, and BELIEVES he is way more clever. He is JUST as proud that he can go out x number of feet as a 25″ tall hound. Sometimes he trots it and it takes him a lot more strides, sometimes he canters it and takes less strides.

    The hound may amble too, and even take MORE TIME than the dachshund, though cover the ground in less strides.

    Isn’t our goal, with distance, to show that the dog is willing to ‘go out’ there, however far “there” is, not having anything to do with how many strides it takes him to go?

    There is also the fact I can teach my hound to WALK the same 24′ and get in 3x as many ‘strides’ as a corgi running to the tire at 24′.

    Now, if this ‘test’ is timed, that changes everything, of course! But the challenge is described as ‘longest send to tire’ is declared the winner.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding the goal of such a ‘test!’ Won’t be the first time!””

  4. budhouston Says:

    Barbara writes:

    >>So why would there be an adjustment for size of dog?

    Um… To tell you the truth lines are often for the handler as well as the dog. So in one sense the judge / course designer must also be the master psychologist. Little dog people are more inclined from the onset to fuss about what their dog’s *can’t* do and will often not take the necessary training steps because they’re already defeated.

    I’ve frankly put a lot of distance training on my little girl Hazard. And *although* she has a brain no bigger’n a walnut, she will work at a magnificent distance from me. Indeed, I had her in clinic this afternoon and it was all I could do to control her movement as she worked 20′ and more from me.

    And another thing to think about… if the Racine host club for the 2009 Petit Prix uses my definition for fudge factor based on jump height; Hazard will have an 8′ advantage on the 16″ dogs… and she is going to go farther to the tire than any of them… without a fudge factor. But it’s nice to have the insurance. ;-P


  5. Barbara and The Symphony of Hounds Says:


    Good luck Hazard! Of course, she won’t need so much luck, because she has the education behind her!

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