TDAA Course Design College

This is Wednesday, and I will begin today a “Course Design College”, mostly for TDAA judges, though this won’t be merely for the benefit of the TDAA judge. It’s also going to be a pretty handy resource for the exhibitor. I expect to publish some kind of essential course design lesson every Wednesday. And you know, you don’t have to read it on Wednesday. It’ll be out there about forever.

I review a lot of TDAA courses. If you think about at one trial I’ll have to review generally about 20 courses. And I find myself making the same comments over and over again. It makes good sense for me to publish in an open forum so that judges can study my eccentric propensities.

Understanding the Dog’s Path

The dog’s movement is a science and in most regards predictable.

What you’ll notice in this tutorial is that I tend to think of the dog’s path in square terms (straight lines and sharp corners) rather than as loops and curves and circles. This is a true both as a handler and as a course designer.

That is not to say that a dog might not run on a curve. There is certainly an element of physics in which the dog’s mass at an applied velocity will slip into a curving path in a turn. But in the true physics of the turn the point is subtracted rather than the curve added.

In this drawing, for example, the corner of the dog’s path represented by the black line extends outside of the curve of the red line. While it’s true that the dog doesn’t go strictly to the corner, note that his path comes back into line.


Today most judges use the Clean Run Course Designer (CRCD) to design their courses. Did you know that with a click of the button you can see the dog’s path between obstacles without drawing it yourself?

Here’s an example of a dog’s path that was drawn by CRCD.

You see that nice straight line between jumps #2 and #3? Only a silly computer that has never seen a working dog could draw such a line. Or, maybe the computer assumes that there’s a savvy handler to shape the approach and create the nice straight line.

In real life the efficient working dog will work in a path more like this. You’ll note that it’s not a nice straight line between jumps #2 and #3 at all, but more of a “vee” that gives the dummy jump a good scare.

Now, let’s put the same arrangement of obstacles in TDAA scale. This is what the judge might draw. I applied the dog’s path with a “click of a button” in CRCD. Note the nice neat little 8′ transitions between obstacles. This is a complete illusion.

What I try to tell most judges is that the dog’s path is dictated by the approach a jump and not by the dismount. The straight line between jumps #2 and #3 is one of the most persistent illusions in agility. Not understanding the dog’s path leads to bad handling and just as often… bad course design.

What I’ve done here is open it up to give minimum safe transitional distances between obstacles. I’ll explain it point by point:

  • I’ll provide a minimum of 10′ for the angled approach to a jump.
  • I’ll provide a minimum of 12′ to avoid any wrong-course option (the dummy jump; the dog’s path in red)
  • I’ll provide a minimum of 12′ for the dog’s turning radius in a 45° to 90° turn (the turn between jumps #2 and #3).

I was talking about minimums. You’ll note that some of my transitional distances are greater. I’ve rotated the teeter and lifted it up a bit. I’m still preserving the wrong-course potential to the dummy jump, but giving the handler a bit more room to do his thing.

George of the Jungle

I’ve drawn the entire field here… but have included only the obstacles on which I want to focus the discussion. I want to include the imagery of a field with boundaries. And I will always treat these boundaries in my course design as though they are brick walls.

While the transitional distances between the first four obstacles are probably correct, there are a couple of problems with placement of equipment in the drawing. Once again the “not very thoughtful” CRCD path in no way approximates the movement of real dogs.

What jumps out at me…

… the sequence has the dog jumping into the wall (George, George, George of the Jungle “Watch out for that tree!”) Turning the jump square to the obstacle after the turn doesn’t really help; the dog’s path is dictated by the approach and not by the dismount. I don’t have any problem with the angles of jump #3 and #4 if it weren’t for the expiration of useful real estate on the landing side of jump #4. As a rule of thumb, the dog should have a minimum of 10′ (in the TDAA mind you) to avoid running into the wall.

Note too that it will be difficult to get a safe and square approach to the tire given the dog’s turning radius after jump #4.

There are a variety of ways to fix the sequence. The best policy with the tire is to put it into a performance line that guarantees the square approach… and probably never coming out of a turn. And in this drawing I’ve adjusted all of the obstacles so that the dog is never faced with “jumping into the wall. ”

Approach to a Contact Obstacle

One of the most common errors in course design is a failure to understand the dog’s path on the approach to a contact obstacle. In this drawing I’ve used the lines automatically generated by CRCD to draw the dog’s path. It looks quite reasonable. Indeed, some dogs may run like this; but not dogs who work in an efficient manner and attack the course (both highly desirable traits in dog agility).

Here I’ve drawn the dog’s path as I understand it in the black lines. I’ve also included a red line in the drawing, beginning at the red “X”, to demonstrate what would have to be the dog’s corner and path of approach in order to gain a square and safe approach to the A-frame.

The very savvy handler would recognize the implicit challenge and would shape the dog’s path between jumps #2 and #3 in order to create a straight line approach through jump #3 to the A-frame. But we’ll try to avoid this design flaw in the TDAA. The challenge should never be: does the handler know how to do this so that it is safe and fair for his dog?”

This is very easy to fix by squaring the course to the dog’s approach. Mostly it’s facilitated by rotating the A-frame and giving enough room in the transitional distance for even the novice handler to ensure that the dog gets a square approach and a good run at the ram.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Provide a ten-character word that is composed only of letters from the top line of the keyboard (the same line where you’ll find the letters “QWERTY”.)

First correct answer posted as a reply to this blog post wins a free copy of the February Jokers Notebook (or March, if you prefer).


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – Feb 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special02” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


21 Responses to “TDAA Course Design College”

  1. Adrienne Says:

    requiter 8
    repitier 8
    puppier 7
    quieter 7
    quipper 7
    prettier 8
    rewrote 7
    prewriter 9
    twitter 7
    quitter 7

    • budhouston Says:

      Um… one who equips again? It was a good college try Adrienne!


      • Adrienne Says:

        e⋅quip  /ɪˈkwɪp/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [i-kwip] Show IPA
        –verb (used with object), e⋅quipped, e⋅quip⋅ping. 1. to furnish or provide with whatever is needed for use or for any undertaking; fit out, as a ship or army: They spent several thousand dollars to equip their boat. …

        1515–25; < MF equiper, OF esquiper to fit out, equip, prob. < ON skipa to put in order, arrange, man (a ship)

        Related forms:

        e⋅quip⋅per, noun


        re-equip a factory or plant

        This is from I hereby state my formal protest that "re-equipper" is valid.

        Of course "typewriter" is better, but that's not the point! 😀

  2. katie Says:


  3. Adrienne Says:

    Well now I just feel silly. 🙂

  4. Wayne Says:


    I don’t think there is a 10 character word using all those letters.

    Nice discussion on dog’s path. Greatly appreciate it.

  5. Chris Mosley Says:

    Bud, this was a very helpful tutorial–I can’t wait to read more. I am making it a goal to learn course design this year, and this will be a fabulous resource. You are a gracious giver, sir.

  6. Wayne Says:

    I’m just getting warmed up.

  7. Wayne Says:


  8. Wayne Says:


  9. Brenda Clymire Says:

    Great article, this will really help me out.

  10. Jon Says:

    How about a twelve letter word.


    Teeter-totter (hyphen might be cheating)

  11. Adrienne Says:

    Wayne, of course of course and of course! Can you tell I was not feeling well that night? 🙂

  12. Adrienne Says:

    Aside from the trivia. I really liked this analysis. It actually helps me to think in terms of where the dog actually goes. I had stopped trying to figure out a course from the paper diagrams since it didn’t seem to translate to the run. Now I know why!


  13. Julie Says:

    Very helpful..thanks Bud!

Comments are closed.

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