Game of the Week ~ 3-Leaf Clover

This is a delightful training game concocted by Canada’s M.J. Thuot. This is a directional game mostly intended for Novice dogs and handlers. It can be played individually or in teams of two or three. This is just the ticket for tunnel enthusiastic dogs. Perfect for a Corgi, eh?


Consider the set of equipment here as a 3-Leaf clover. The dog begins on the table… travels the stem into the center of the clover; must perform each of the leaves of the clover, one at a time, and then travel back down the stem to end on the table. The dog will earn bonuses if the handler remains in the containment area. Time and scoring end as dog makes his way back down the stem to the table.

Note that the tunnels all can be performed with the dog going in either entry. (If you really wanted to toughen up this game, you could require the dog to make one entry or the other. This has serious consequences in terms of handling at a distance.)

The Standard Course Time is 35 seconds for small dogs and 30 seconds for big dogs. When the whistle blows to indicate the end of time, handler and dog must leave the course; and will earn 10 faults for each obstacle not performed.


All bonuses are worth 5 points except for the light purple numbered sequence, which is worth 10, so long as the handler remains inside the red lines. If the handler steps out to use the blue containment line, then the light purple sequence too, is worth only a 5 point bonus.

In order to earn the bonus the numbered sequence must be performed without performance faults, and with the handler remaining behind the containment line.


  • Bars down, and wrong courses carry a 5-points deduction.
  • Failure to perform an obstacle earns a 10-point deduction.


Three-Leaf Clover is scored time, plus faults, less bonuses earned.

Qualification Criteria

To earn a qualifying score the dog and handler team will have to earn more bonuses than penalties and perform the entire sequence in less than the allotted time.

  • Games I – 30 or better
  • Games II – 25 or better
  • Games III – 20 or better

Notes on Play

I didn’t actually number the course here at Country Dream as shown above. I set it up as a numbered sequence working pretty-much clock-wise through the petals of the clover. However I made it abundantly clear in my briefing that the petals could be taken in the order and direction of the handler’s choice should the handler find any strategic value in taking them in a particular order. The first and last bonuses however must be the stem, at the start and at the finish.

Notes from Thursday Night League Play

As I am writing a distance curriculum for the Go the Distance Notebook our weekly game will have a strong distance bias for about, oh, the next full year. In the month of January I’ll be basing all of the lesson plans off of the league play set on the floor wrapped around a specific distance training exercise.

I called this design method (a couple days ago in the weblog): “Pedantic Prose”; Begin with an exercise that is designed to teach specific skills to the handler or dog. This is possibly the most difficult starting point for a lesson plan. The set of the floor is likely to feel contrived and mechanical. And so, beginning with the “skill set” takes considerable skill. Otherwise it is more pain than fun; and those elements need to be in balance.

And yet in the set of the floor I discovered a wonderful opportunity for a layering exercise or two. So there was the serendipitous “Found Poem” as well.

Because the game had no weave poles, or teeter (I’ve started Kory on neither)… I brought him out to play the league game. I was tickled that he actually won the game, earning all the bonuses without any faults (I jumped him at 12” – he’s just 11 months old, after all); demonstrating that 3-Leaf Clover is just a variation of Time Warp because he had a -5.50 negative score. Immediately after our run I walked over to the scribe and declared the score void because, as it happens, I’d cheated pretty good by practicing the elements of the course during the day with Kory as I set the floor.

On our floor the winner for the week was Hazard, run by Marsha, who also put in a negative score of -1.23 give or take a 100th.

My training objectives with Kory over the past couple of weeks have been “Go On” and this set of the floor is the ideal framework for that training. I use a curious combination of back-chaining and forward chaining and generalization that help to set the object lesson.

My dad used to tell me that it’s not the test of the truck that it can pull the trailer. The true test of the truck is that it can stop the trailer. So my training with Kory now has to take on a multitude of new dimensions that will include “Left” and “Right”; “Get Out” and “Close” (wrap). I’ll keep you all apprised of how that training goes.

Note that I got considerable inspiration (a fire lit under my arse) by watching the amazing distance work of Sharon, Amanda, and Becky et al out in Oklahoma when I went for the NADAC judging clinic. There’s no sense in having a fast long-legged dog if he has to work at my hip to be directed.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Go the Distance ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Notebook – Jan 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store:


4 Responses to “Game of the Week ~ 3-Leaf Clover”

  1. Steve Says:

    Some small clarifications of the rules would help me. In no particular order:

    Is each time through the stem considered a 5 point Bonus?

    “Time and scoring end as dog makes his way back down the stem to the table.” Does time/points stop when the dog takes the tire on the way to the table at the end or when the dog touches the table?

    Is a refusal (hesitating prior to taking an obstacle) the same deduction as “Failure to Perform”?

    To qualify those values 30, 25, 20 are time in seconds? I’m guessing Games I, II, and III are NADAC designations?


    • budhouston Says:

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the note. Good questions

      Yes, the stem is 5 points in each direction.

      Time ends when the dog touches the table (1 paw).

      A refusal is not faulted under our rules. The penalty is largely in the time required to make the correction.

      Qualification is TDAA and C-WAGS. Though arguably a TDAA course should be more tightly spaced. And, if you think about it… obstacles are a little close together for play under NADAC course design guidelines.

      Bud Houston

  2. Sharon Normandin Says:

    Two questions: are the dogwalk and A-frame, and two extra jumps, just out there to act as off-course options?

    How do you get a negative score? If the course time is 30 seconds, and you’re scored time + faults minus the bonuses, if you have no faults, and get the 2 five point bonuses and the ten point bonus, and the additional bonus (5 points?) going through the stem (and I assume the bonus is earned by staying behind the red line and doing the tire and sending to the table), your score, oh never mind, I just realized it’s YOUR time, not the SCT! duh! First question remains, though.

    • budhouston Says:

      The dogwalk and A-frame (and the two dummy-jumps) are wrong-course enticements. In an ideal world these would not have been on the course I suppose, except that I needed to teach class around the set of equipment for league play. However, all things being equal… We had wrong courses to the dogwalk, and several over one or another of the dummy jumps. So if you want to really run the same game that we ran, this is the set of the floor.

      There are actually 30 bonus points possible.

      * the stem is taken twice (10)
      * the two short stem sends (10)
      * the long/bonus send (10)

      So, if the dog runs the sequence in under 30 seconds, gets all the bonuses, and no faults… it will result in a negative score.

      Bud Houston

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