Spacing Between Flow Obstacles in the TDAA

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: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available on the Country Dream Web Store.


5 Responses to “Spacing Between Flow Obstacles in the TDAA”

  1. Margaret Hendershot Says:

    The natural arc of 6-7-8 takes the dog towards the chute rather than creating an approach to the aframe. As a handler, I would really want to stay on the outside of that curve in order to try and shape that approach. Being able to pitch my dogs to the tunnel and wait on the landing side of #6 might make that work, but that’s a lot to ask of most handlers. The chute is also awfully close as an off course possibility.

    Coming off the aframe, the #10 tunnel is awfully close. And the weave pole entry is nearly impossible. I’m not sure Luigi could make that entry and wouldn’t even ask Desilu to try. Moving the tunnel back towards the start line would help quite a bit.

    I would expect the judge to watch a lot of dogs slide off of the table if they had any momentum in the weaves. Off of the table, the path of the dog is right into the side of the chute barrel. Moving the table back towards the #7 jump might help both problems, but you have to watch for the off course after #7 then.

    From the chute into the pin wheel is just not happening. Way too close. And coming out of the pin wheel, the average handler is going to trip over the chute barrel (while their dog runs past the tire that was no where near square).

    Assuming the handler isn’t on the floor (or cursing at the judge) the approach to the teeter is really nasty. The dog’s arc actually takes it way to the left and I’d expect dogs with any speed to either get a refusal or a clumsy side mount.

    Without the transitional distances on the map, its tough to comment on those. (Although it is clear that there is not enough room in front of the start obstacle. One of MY biggest issues as a course designer.)

    Bud – can you post this (or email it) as an .agl file so it can be edited?

  2. Jon Says:


    I’d be concerned about the spacing between 10 & 11. I’d have the tunnel exit back a couple of feet.

    I’d rather use a plain jump at 17 vs the tire jump due to the possibility of a dog taking the tire at an angle after going over 13.

    I’d also change either the angle of 14 or place 15 further away.


  3. Wayne Says:

    Move the first jump for at least a 10 foot space for the dog and handler. Readjust the second jump. Slight movement of the jump after the dogwalk to create flow toward the tunnel.

    I suggest squaring up jump 6-13. After the A Frame move the tunnel back so there is at least 12 feet of space. Move the weave poles two feet toward the dogwalk and angle up about 1 foot. Move the table back 2 feet and angle slightly to be square with the dog’s anticipated path.

    By Squaring jump 6-13 and moving it west about two feet this leaves a nice 12 foot entry into the chute. Jump 15 needs to move about 4 feet and angle up about 1 foot. Jump 16 is going to move about 4 feet up and slight angle to provide a square approach to the tire. The tire will move two feet up and 3 feet forward and angle slightly toward jump 18.
    Jump 18 comes up about 2-3 feet between the A Frame and Chute.
    The teeter angles slightly so the entrance is down about 1 foot. The final jump moves about two feet back.

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  4. Deb Auer Says:

    I find the opening to the course to be a bit boring – but I would accept it if jump #1 was 10′ from the barrier, given the challenges on the balance of the course. 3-4-5 is actually quite nice, given the dog’s line leaving the dogwalk and committing to jump #4. Dog on left will mean a tandem into the tunnel. I’m second-guessing everything now, of course, so lifting the dismount end of the dogwalk toward the ring barrier would give a nicer line still.

    6 – 10 is okay, although I think the approach to the A-frame could be better. The approach angle looks a little flat.

    The wonderful thing about a tunnel is that it can be reshaped, so the entrance at 10 could be the same, but the weave pole entrance at 11 is just evil. Is there a way to copy this course into CRCD? I need to play with the tunnel to see if it will need to be moved entirely, or if it can be opened up to make a better approach to the weave poles. If I can get the exit down to about 30/10, I’d be happier – 30/06 would be better.

    I wanted to leave the weave poles where they were, but a dog leaving the table has no momentum at all, which makes the line from 13 to 14 a bit of a problem. If we flip the table and the weave poles, we keep the table in the middle third, and it will help the handler make a better line over 13. The approach to the chute was bad to start with – the more natural line took the dog almost to the tire. I’d like to end the weave poles at about 35/45, and the exit from the poles (which is to the north) will give the dog a better approach to 13. A straighter approach to 13 means that the chute at 14 has to be dropped down just a little and made more perpendicular to 13 – I’d also move it back a few feet – almost even with the tire to make it easier for the handler to get around the chute and on toward 18.

    The pinwheel is too tight by far, so jump 15 needs to be moved back and jump 16 needs to be moved north. We’re going to open space between 16 and the tire, which is okay (per Bud’s tutorial).
    I do want to watch, while I’m opening the pinwheel, that the dog never runs the risk of jumping into a wall.

    The chute has been moved out of the way of the handler’s path, and to fix the closing, I’d drop the teeter to the south, toward the outer wall. It’s going to have to drop quite a bit – it will probably end up being about 5’ off the wall. I’ll probably need to straighten jump #20 a bit.

  5. Adrienne Says:

    Based on our blog entry and what I know as an Intemediate agility runner(?) I would say the following stands out:

    Jump 1 and 2 should both be moved forward to create the 10ft min distance

    10 -11 does not have enough space, could be solved by moving the tunnel back and twisting the one end to create room

    14-18 is wickedly compressed with many issues. the chute placement being the bigest complaint. It alsmost looks like the desiger had a good idea with the first half of the course then went “oh shit, I have to fit 10 more obstacles in!”

    The chute jumps the dog straight into a wall, with not nearly enough space between it and the next obstacle. I frankly don’t see many handlers getting in between the chute and the tunnel without some issue.
    18-19 is just a bad angle all around.

    To fix the whole course without trashing the original design, how about this. Compress 6-7-8 to minimum distances. Since 8 is also 13, square it perpendicular to edges of the field and make it accesible fom the table. Bring the A-fram north of the 20′ line, square it to create a safe approach from 8 ad push tunnel 10 as far as it will go to the start line to create a logical flow from the weaves.

    The above should give enough room to straighten the chute and move it west so that a more apporpriate distance to the next jump can be used. Squaring off the chute also gives room to move for the handler. If the tire at 17 is brought quite a bit west and the jump at 18 is squared to the teeter it would actually create a nice smmoth line and a fast finish.

    How’d I do? 😉

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