I used to write an occasional feature in my JFF Notebook that I whimsically called the Stinker… which was a course offered up in competition that was your basic ugly and ungainly clunker. Then one came across my desk (offered as a Stinker candidate) that was designed by someone I consider a friend. And so I discontinued the practice of publication.

To tell you the truth, I have in my time designed a stinker or two (note how mine did not merit capitalization). And with God’s grace the judge who must endure every agonizing moment of the stinky course… might even learn a thing or two about course design and the way dog’s move. There’s the rub.

So Nora writes this comment:

Bud-It would be interesting to me if you would back up certain assertions (AKA the “angry lines” of the Jumpers course you’re referring to) by posting the course or some portion of it and pointing out exactly what you don’t like about it. We all know that some courses run better than they walk, and walk better than they look on paper-and what’s on the paper is not always what ends up being built.

I could ignore Nora. Discretion is sometimes the greater part of valor, or so I’ve heard. But maybe she’s right. Maybe this stinker deserves a bit of conversation.

Angry Lines


Here’s what the lines of the course look like sans obstacles and numbers. Every turn of 90° or more represents a gearing down or braking.  By my count there are 14 or 15 such turns in this course. There are only 18 obstacles on the course.

The Big Picture


The course starts out with a 3/4 pinwheel that drags the dog onto the course in kind of a bummer technical moment. #4-#6 the dog gets to build up some speed… only to put brakes into a change of direction on the landing side of #6. We build speed again through #8 only to yank the dog back to pull to the weave poles; with jump #1 looming as a wrong course.

After the weave poles we have a yank-the-dog-back-and-forth-serpentine out to the pipe tunnel at #12. The pipe tunnel is not aimed in the direction of the course so the handler must step in to bend the dog sharply away to the panel jump; after  which, we yank the dog hard aback to the double; with a gratuitous dummy jump in the dog’s turning radius. After #14 it’s a hard turn left; after #15 a hard turn right. This has pretty much been the theme of this course.

Now again we have an accelerating sequencing from #15 to #17 leading to a jump presented at a severe angle. The dog’s consequential path fails to provide a square or safe approach to the triple at #18. The handler will have to shape the approach while trying to avoid the refusal.

Note the jumps presented to the dog at a severe angle; #6, #8, #13, #17, and #18.

There ya go Nora. I’m sure this one will get me in trouble.


Part of the problem with AKC course design is that there is a family of challenges and types of challenges that are required to be presented to the dog in a masters level course. The psychology of the design criteria often has the course designer wedging into the course crude attempts at satisfying the required challenges.

What I like to do, instead, is design a lovely flowing course, something that satisfies me at a basic level, and then go back in and find the requisite challenges. I’ve always been ready to argue with the course reviewer for the… um, subtlety of the challenge.


Here is essentially the same arrangement of obstacles. I confess that I moved everything out to center on the field so that it has nice symmetry and balance. I also don’t like having the weave poles right up against the ring rope… who knows what distractions will be presented to the dog there.

I removed the gratuitous dummy jumps; jumps that aren’t taken in the course and are just placed there to be mean. I figure this course presents a couple three options without being completely ham-handed about it.


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


3 Responses to “Stinker”

  1. Nora Says:

    Hi, Bud–

    I see your point about the “ugly lines”, although I think it really depends how your dog actually takes the jumps. I’m drawing a smoother line than you did.

    If, like me, you do not have a start-line stay (never mind why I don’t, it’s complicated) the first course would actually work better for me because I can start with my dog on the right, send out to 2 and do a front cross close to 3 (while the dog is going over 2), which would make my dog wrap the outside of jump 3 to jump 4 and provide a smoother line. Then I would probably keep the dog on my left through 5, 6, 7 and rear-cross 8 to pull into the weaves (which would, for my dogs anyway, take jump #1 out of possibility).

    Front cross at the end of the weaves to #10 (that IS an ugly line), wrap outside of #10 straight to 11 and send to the tunnel. RC the tunnel, keep that signal up to send out to #13 and #14, FC between 15 and 16, putting the dog on my left to go out.

    NOW, your course…

    With no start line stay on my older dog, I would have him on my right through obstacles 1-3, send over 4 and rear cross to pull to 5 and then front cross again between 5 and 6 to go through 6, 7, 8. I know people who would and could do a blind cross there, but I am even worse at blind crosses than I am at front crosses, so FC it is. Anyway, dog on right through 6-12, with a front cross between 12 and 13 IF I get there. The long stretch of jumps make it much, much less likely that I will. If no FC, the dog would be on my right all the way through 14, with a RC at 15 to put the dog on my left through 16-18, and probably another RC at 19 to pull to the triple.

    With my young dog, the problem with those long stretches of running is a) his likelihood of doing a head check since he’s so far in front of me and missing a jump entirely or getting called for a refusal, (and yeah, I’ve gotten called for head checks in both AKC and USDAA, so nobody has a monopoly on dumb calls, but he IS a young dog and still learning to take what’s in front of him) and b) his tendency to flatten out in long jump stretches such that he hits a bar; a change of direction after a big stretch of jumps will also cause bars to go down. I know, this is a training issue, but tighter courses that actually make him THINK about jumping are better for us right now.

  2. budhouston Says:

    Well Nora, I certainly understand that there’s a handling remedy to the angry course. I approach any course as a simple riddle; and I tend not to be daunted by even the most savage course. On the other hand, I look at a course from the perspective of a course designer who, as a judge, will have to endure hundreds of competitors, their foibles and complaints, and their failure to sympathize with the notion that there might actually be an answer.

    So, do you intend to teach your young dog a start line stay? Or do you accept the same downfall with each generation that comes along? ;-P


  3. Nora Says:

    I think what I was saying, in a nutshell, was “I’ve seen much, much worse!”

    Older dog USED to have a very nice start-line stay (I could lead out several obstacles) but he shut down–only on Jumpers courses, not on courses that had any contact obstacles on them, be it AKC or USDAA–for a variety of reasons that ARE complicated, and I stopped asking for a stay to help get his happy confidence back. Now he stays in class with no problem, but I am hesitant to ask for a stay in trials because he’s been running very well and I really don’t want to enforce the stay by pulling him off the course. You’ve met this dog–he was at the USDAA judging clinic at BRAG–I brought him to be measured–bi-black Sheltie who is your best friend as soon as you make eye contact with him.

    Young dog is hard-headed (and therefore difficult to correct) and ringwise, and will stay without a problem in class and at the warm-up jump. But we definitely have a problem once we enter the ring at trials. He is quite fast and can reward himself for breaking by doing several obstacles before I have time to react, so my only option is to catch him AS he breaks (managed this last weekend, as a matter of fact). This is a problem (obviously) which I am puzzling over.

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