It Came to Me in a Dream

Literally, I will wake up from time to time with a certainty about some matter or another. I may have been mulling over the thing in the back of my daytime conscious mind; but it was certainly solved during sleep. That can only mean that I do problem solving in my dreams.

With the new C-WAGS agility program coming online soon, I need to make a pitch to change the scoring basis in the standard classes from Faults, Then Time to Time, Plus Faults. I know that this is nearly heresy by the standards for dog agility in the United States. Bear with me on this…

What is it that makes the average American handler a super-conservative micro-managing one-dimensional kind of creature? I do believe it’s that we give disproportionate consideration to the “perfection” of our game, that is, the avoidance of faults. As a consequence we have a culture that abhors playing for the win and going for the gusto.

Someone will surely argue that if we go to a Time, Plus Faults scoring basis it will benefit only the fast dogs. Well, that might be true. Yet I think it will also condition the average player to understand that the game that they should be practicing, the game they should be playing, is a running game. This is Commandment #8 of the Jim Basic/Nancy Gyes Power Paws 12 Commandments: Run with Intent!

I understand that Shirley Ottmer has someone else looking at the proposed rules for C-WAGS. I’d very much like to run this by them.

Return from Racine

I could call this “no rest for the weary”. I return home and immediately have to sit down and complete some 40 odd courses for two USDAA judging assignments I have coming up at the end of next month. I also spent a good part of the day making travel arrangements, flights, rental cars, hotels and so forth. Part of the mix will be a NADAC judging clinic in early December. So after a relatively quite month… I’ll be tested in my travels.

It’s been a year of hard work, in retrospect. And with us putting the wraps on the 2009 TDAA Petit Prix in Racine I’m taking a long breath as I feel the world relaxing around me. I assumed course review duties for the TDAA about a year ago; which has been quite demanding on my time. Reviewing courses for this organization is something more than checking to see if all the required obstacles are in place. I also have to get a clear understanding that the judge understands every game being played which means a comprehensive analysis of briefings. That’s not something you can do in just a couple of hours. So I tend to spend as much as a day on a single suite of courses and games.

I also was involved with redefining the Petit Prix Tournament rules; including the background scoring system and the “weighted” leveling between jump heights. At some point I need to sit down and explain my thinking—and what those rules actually are—to TDAA members. I’m sure they want to know. At the end of the Petit Prix however, I was gratified to see so many deserving dogs (particularly in the 8” and 12” jump heights) with an opportunity to shine in the final round. At first glance it looks like the system worked admirably, and as I initially envisioned it.

Frankly the background scoring system would have been impossible without the diligent work of Don Wolff (our web master and author of the TDAA trial scoring software) who developed an automat system to implement our background scoring. Don gives his expertise freely to the TDAA. As I am fond of saying… if we had to pay for what Don Wolff has done for the TDAA… we wouldn’t be able to afford it. Thanks Don!

Chutes & Ladders


This course was offered during the Petit Prix warm-up trial on the Friday before the Petit Prix. It’s truly one of those nonsensical games that is played purely for the fun of it. What a concept… just for fun.

Although I find the course somewhat inconsequential from a handling and performance point of view; I am also fully aware that all dogs and handlers are presented with the same level of consequence. And so, equal is fair. While I mentioned the other day that some competitors disdained two or three of our courses as not being “championship caliber” the concept of “race-track” as opposed to “herk & jerk” somewhat appeals to me. Let them have it at full speed… and we find out something very interesting about the team. I think judge Beth Moline did a terrific job with this course. And, it was fun for everyone.

I found fascinating how many dogs missed the approach to the #13 pipe tunnel; more than a few of them incurring a wrong course after the miss. I studied the phenomena a long while. And clearly what was happening was that handlers weren’t really living in the moment and were more concerned with the course downfield than they were with the immediate course at hand. And frankly more often than not if this spot on the course wobbled it was because the point of handler’s feet managed to disagree with the point of the arm. I’m reminded again that a handler points more surely with his feet than he will ever point with his arms.


The objective of Chutes ‘n Ladders is to negotiate the course of tunnels and contact obstacles as quickly as possible. Time starts as soon as any part of the dog crosses the start line and stops as soon as any part of the dog crosses the finish line. The finish line is not live until the dog finishes the last obstacle.

Faults will be assessed for missed contacts and off courses. The 4 paw rule will not be in effect. If the dog goes off course and it is not corrected the team will not qualify.


Chutes and Ladders is scored time plus faults, the team with the fastest time wins. To qualify the dog’s score must be equal to or less than the SCT for each level.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available at


8 Responses to “It Came to Me in a Dream”

  1. Amanda Says:

    I agree with the time-plus-faults approach. It removes the obsession with the Q and loosens people up. We used it in League, and it simplified scoring while encouraging people not to wig out over a little mistake here or there.

  2. Kelly Says:

    I’m new to this sport as my daughter started agility classes Jan. 2009, but in my observation the faster dogs are the ones who typically have a more difficult time achieving a clean run, thus earning the Q. The dogs who tend to run a bit slower generally seem a bit easier to get ahead of and directed correctly especially on the tight TDAA courses. Therefore, the time-plus-faults approach would seem to level the playing field for the faster dogs rather than give them an unfair advantage. I also like the idea of the lower stress level and ability to Q without absolute perfection.

    ps. We had a wonderful time at our first Petit Prix in Racine!

    • budhouston Says:

      Thanks for the note Kelly!

      It is true that the faster the dog is the more perfect the handler (and dog trainer) must be.

      Yes ma’am… Racine was a lot of fun.

  3. Mark Says:

    Dear Mr. Houston;
    Last October a nearby club organized a non-venue 3 day trial billed as the Midwest Dog Agility Championships using a similiar scoring system to what you proposed. Dogs started each standard run with 100 points. From the 100 points you subtract the dogs actual course time and faults. For gamblers and snooker you received the actual points earned. Awards (cash) were given to the dogs with the highest cumulative total after 3 days. Handlers with the slow steady dogs were unhappy that they were losing to fast inaccurate dogs. Un-guided missles like Toby were posting better scores than other dogs that had good medium speed clean runs. The scoring system was changed for 2009 but it was cancelled anyway due to low entries.
    Mark & Ebby

    • budhouston Says:

      Hey Mark — I appreciate that you call me Mr.

      Yah, I followed along with the sweepstakes venue for awhile, fascinated by it’s potential (do the math! It’s a winner!) But at the end of the day, realistic expectation will hold sway. 90% must know before they’ve started that they won’t win the cash. And so… why should they go?

      I understand the frustration people will have with the Time, Plus Faults system. Maybe their coaches should have a talk with them about playing to win? BTW, you seem to have learned to guide your missle. lol

      Mr. Bud

  4. Deb Auer Says:

    Will those of us not on AgileDogs be able to participate in the new league concept? JFFunRunners was one of the largest leagues JFF leagues in the country, (not linked by a common training facility), and I do miss league play. Unfortunately, AOL doesn’t like AgileDogs, so I won’t see the announcement.

    Deb Auer

    • budhouston Says:

      Hey Deb, good to hear from you.

      Mostly just watch my blog. I’ll try to keep you abreast of what I do with league play. I’m going the C-WAGS CCAP route, complete with paying recording fees. I’d like to see this new recreational venue catch hold in the American agility world.


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