The Art of Course Presentation

I will almost always address the idea of presentation of the course-map at a TDAA Judges’ clinic. Teaching everybody what I know from 20 years of experience is an impossible task in the span of four days. Most learning is accomplished from the pain of personal experience.

The course designer must have the eye of an artist. The presentation of the obstacles on the field should be balanced and pleasing to the sensibilities.


Let’s take this course, for example. You will note straight-away that everything seems shoved into one corner of the canvas. If you draw a line from the upper-left corner to the lower-right corner, you’ll see that everything is in the upper-right wedge, leaving the other side as a vacuous blank space.

I’m going to transform this Intermediate course. The course will need weave poles and a bit more challenge in general. I’ve already spoken to the notion that the judge isn’t doing the field any favors by using the minimum number of obstacles.

Take note that there are five tunnel performances in the course; meaning that over 1/3 of the obstacles performed… are tunnels. This needs to be changed. I might allow three tunnel performances (two of a pipe tunnel, and one of the collapsed tunnel).

I shall also endeavor to bring the presentation of the course into balance so that it is not crowded and is pleasing to the sensibilities.


You’ll note that I was fairly faithful to the original concept of flow to the course. By opening the angle of approach through the first four obstacles relative to the dogwalk it was easy to draw the obstacles into the unused vacuum of the course (think of it like bending open a hair pin).

I simply removed a couple of the pipe tunnels and put jumps in their stead.

Then I sought to increase the challenge of the course while bringing up the obstacle count. I use a three-sided pinwheel that actually joined the two sides of the course allowing for an additional crossing pattern or two.


Viewing the shape of the dog’s path, the first shape feels “squishy” and truly doesn’t demonstrate much in the way of challenge. The second line draws the presentation of obstacles down onto the course, demonstrates considerably more flow, and shows a figure-of-eight as a central challenge theme.

Finishing Touches


There are a number of aesthetic things a judge can do in the presentation of his course. From the original course I made a number of presentation changes. Here’s the simple list:

  • Borders make the course more attractive. Think of it like matting in the presentation of a framed picture. I will usually put a 2′ border on the unused side, and a larger border on the side where course information will go.
  • Course Information was taken off the course itself. Now that I’m using the complete canvas a bit better it would simply be crowding the obstacles and cluttering the presentation. I also got rid of the box around the course information and spread out the information on right-hand border.
  • Dog’s Path shouldn’t be displayed on a course map. It creates a silly illusion for the handler who needs to understand how to negotiate the course with his dog and it just clutters up the presentation.Note that the original course included the distance between obstacles with the dog’s path. This might be of interesting or important to course builders and maybe the judge. But it’s not information that is required or even welcome on the exhibitor’s copy.

  • Grid Numbering should start in one corner. I typically use the lower-right corner to number the grid. The original course was submitted using a baseline notation and should only ever be used if the club demands a baseline notation and then, only for the course builders. For the exhibitor it is confusing and wrong.

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

2 Responses to “The Art of Course Presentation”

  1. Amanda Says:

    Really nice entry, Bud. “Pulling open the hairpin” is a great visual!

  2. Michelle Says:

    Thanks Bud. Most of this I have heard you say and demonstrate at judging clinics. Having it written out and with examples is wonderful. I think this is the sort of thing that we should have in the judges guidelines.
    I’ll be printing it out and adding it to mine.
    I really like looking at the dog’s path sans obstacles. Gives a great picture of where the dog can run and where it has to collect.
    Keep the instruction coming!


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