I’d like to share with you a brief tutorial on spacing between flow obstacles for course design in the TDAA. I am, for now, the chief course reviewer for the TDAA. Throughout 2009 I was on a mission to open up the transitional spacing between flow obstacles to the degree that play in the venue was both safe and appropriate for dogs.
I find myself now in the curious position that I must work with judges in 2010 to tighten things back up again. Chiefly this is a problem of education so that our judges and course designers can understand when a short transition between obstacles is appropriate (and highly desirable); and when the space between obstacles needs to be opened up both for safety and fairness.
In this first illustration I show a straight-away sequence with the obstacles spaced uniformly at 8′ interval. I would not be averse to seeing some variability in the spacing… at times as little as 7′ and as much as 9′ or 10′.
Note in this drawing that the dog has a good 12′ between the #1 pipe tunnel and jump #2. A dog comes out of a tunnel blind and undirected and needs a bit of extra room to focus on the next correct obstacle.
Now we’ve changed the sequence to include turns. A 90° turn deserves a minimum of 12′ for the handler to convince the dog to change directions. It is purely a matter of physics that a dog traveling a modest 3 YPS will need room to affect his turning radius. Any shorter transitional distance will have the quick little dogs forging around the jump as he comes out of the turn.
I’ve included a serpentine-like 180° transition (between jumps #3 and #4). This too will deserve a minimum of 12′.
The 10′ distance between jump #5 and the pipe tunnel at #6 was not an oversight on my part. Even the approach to a pipe tunnel deserves an accommodation for the dog’s turning radius. While I can order up a dog’s path out of the Clean Run Course Designer… the software is frankly ignorant of how dog’s move. The line of the dog’s dismount from jump #5 is dictated by the dog’s approach to that jump. The dog’s path in CRCD incorrectly draws a straight line from jump #5 on the approach to the pipe tunnel.
So if a 90° turn deserves a 12′ turning radius… then a pinwheel will reflect a series of 12′ interval spacing.
Please note that the pipe tunnel at #8 represents a wrong course option in the dog’s path through the turn after jump #5. The handler deserves an absolute minimum of 12′ to solve any wrong course option presented by the course. And frankly, 14′ would be more kindly.
The #8 pipe tunnel on the approach from jump #7 is a two-headed beast kind of discrimination with which we are all completely familiar these days. The flowing approach would be to the right side of the tunnel. And yet the course designer has opted to require the dog enter the left side. And so with this challenge I have provided 14′ to solve the discrimination. By the standards of any other agility organization this is an incredibly small piece of real estate to solve the technical riddle. And by our standards 12′ is the minimum… and 14′ would be more kindly. You see! Even I will be more kindly, from time to time.
This illustration presents the opportunity for several obstacle spacing discussions.
- The first and last jump on course must be set a minimum of 10′ from the front of the ring. The ring barrier should always be treated as though it were a brick wall. The dog needs room to start; and the dog needs room to finish.
- I give a little extra room for the approach to the tire. It is a special kind of hurdle that inspires anxiety and dread in the minds of otherwise level-headed people. And so we always seek to square the tire and give a little extra room on the approach so that the dog may be thoughtful in his performance.
- The weave poles too deserve a bit of extra room on the approach. At 10′ this sequence represents the absolute minimum room and mostly because it’s in a straight line of approach. Out of any turn, the weave poles (being a technical obstacle, after all) deserve about 12′.
- The teeter also deserves a square approach. Note that I use an anticipation of the dog’s turning radius to create the square. More on this later.
- It should not be lost to you that the weave poles constitute a wrong course option to the dog coming out of the #6 pipe tunnel, and in the turn from jump #7 to #8. Once again, a wrong course option always deserves a minimum of 12′ (and, 14′ would be more kindly).
- A more overt option is the table discrimination alongside of jump #10. Note that I’ve provided ample room for the handler to solve the mystery of direction.
The course designer is obligated to create a square presentation of the tire. As I’ve already mentioned, CRCD will kindly draw lines to represent the dog’s path. These lines will often beguile and obfuscate.
In truth the dog’s dismount from the #3 jump is dictated by the approach from the #2 jump. Frankly, only the dog moving in an inefficient manner really gets a square approach to the tire. While a quick moving little thing with an efficient turn at jump #2 will approach the tire at a bad angle. While it was correct to give the dog 10′ on the approach; it was probably wrong to use the tire as the terminal obstacle.
The simple fix for this in most course design is to seek placement for the tire that is already in a nice straight line. So my simple fix for this sequence was to swap the tire for the #2 bar jump.
Most of our judges and course designers know that we require a square approach to certain obstacles (contacts, the tire, and to a some extent the collapsed tunnel). What often happens is that the course designer sees only the no brainer… create the square with a straight-away series of obstacles as shown in this illustration.
However, it is also possible to create a square approach by pitching the dog into space so that the dog’s turning radius naturally brings him square to the teeter. The two jumps with the green line show a 180° curl back to the teeter. This is a perfectly acceptable way to use the pitch to create the square.
The blue line labeled “Maybe” could also be used. But I would be tempted to move the teeter a couple feet to the left to ensure the square.
The red line labeled “No” creates a nearly perpendicular approach to the teeter which would result in a “MUST FIX” notation in my course review. However, even this can be fixed. Consider moving the teeter about 5′ to the left.
Note that the dogwalk requires essentially the same approach as the teeter. And so there’s no good reason for me to repeat the discussion for the dogwalk.
We can also take a no-brainer approach to the A-frame. However this obstacle too can be approached with the idea that the dog’s pitch into space creates a square approach. What I’ve done in this illustration is to create two corner-to-corner axis lines that demonstrate an area of safe and square approach. Around the A-frame I’ve drawn four different approaches that create about a 12′ square approach to the A-frame. I was careful in each pair of jumps to put the dog into the area of square approach indicated by the axis lines.
This illustration presents several talking points about interval spacing.
- I’ve given about a 12′ approach to the weave poles. There’s a little argument to be made for the notion that the pitch creates the square for the dog on the approach to the weave poles as well. I might have given as much as 14′ for the approach, were a kindlier man.
- And, on the dismount from the weave poles, I’ve given a couple extra feet for the dog to come out of his weaving trance and resume movement.
- The approach to the collapsed tunnel too, should be square. I’ve drawn axis lines which frankly correspond to corner-to-corner within the entry barrel. When the collapsed tunnel is presented at too perpendicular of an angle on the approach it’s entirely possible that the dog can get a hip-pointer on a hard unprotected side of the barrel. And as the dog screams in agony you get to stand there as the judge and live with the understanding that your bad course design put that dog in agony.
- I’ve also provided the minimum 12′ approach to jump #6 on the dog’s dismount from the collapsed tunnel. If a dog comes out of a pipe tunnel blind and undirected… that must be double-true of the collapsed tunnel. And so I always provide an absolute minimum of 12′ for the handler to focus the dog on the course ahead.
- Please note that jump #1 represents a wrong course option to the dog in the transition from jump #6 to jump #7. A wrong course option always deserves a minimum of 12′ for the handler to show the dog the actual direction of the course.
- The 12′ spacing from jump #6 to #7 represents the course designers accommodation both for the turning radius after jump #6 and for the influence of the wrong course option.
- And, darned if I didn’t put the tire after the hard-aback turn on jump #7. Once again, the pitch creates the square. However, I did give the dog about 12′ of real estate in the turn to ensure the square.
- I should point out again that the first and last hurdles in this sequence are a minimum of 10′ from the front ring barrier..
You Make the Call
Here’s a sample course for you. It’s really not a bad concept at all. But the course does have some spacing and flow problems that probably need to be fixed.
Given the foregoing discussion… what course review comments would I be likely to make on this course?
To tell you the truth there are often little things that I let slide in a course review. I look at the course review process as education. A person can’t really be educated if you beat the crap out of them every time they submit a course. So it’s necessary to pick the big stuff (like, what is unsafe); and leave some for the continuing education process.
But, with that being said, I’m looking for a little granularity here. Go ahead and pick nits. And if you are really OCD… you might simply revise and redraw the course to a degree of perfection.
Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available on the Country Dream Web Store.