Designing for the Square Approach

When reviewing courses for the TDAA I will routinely make comments about the approaches to obstacles. In the Beginner class the approach is always square to everything. In the Intermediate and Superior classes we insist only that the approach to contact obstacles and to the tire are square.

Be very clear that this is the course designer’s responsibility. After designing the course it’s a simple matter to trace back through to visualize the path of a dog working at a reasonable, brisk, and agile pace.

In this drawing I provide the lines showing a reasonably optimistic representation of the dog’s turning radius. Note that there is no way the dog has a square approach to the dogwalk… the approach is nearly perpendicular.

The good news is that the approach is fairly easy to fix simply by rotating and repositioning the jump labeled #2 in the drawing. I gave plenty of room after the jump to adjust the dog’s turning radius to get the square approach.

In this drawing the top of the course-map truly represented the top of the ring. That is an example of what I call “running the dog into the wall.” My recommendation would be not only to adjust and move the jump, but to move the A-frame to the left to change the line of approach (which is the only way to change the line of dismount unless the handler takes responsibility for shaping the approach).

The problem with moving the A-frame… is that now I don’t have a pretty square to the A-frame. Frankly this isn’t as unsafe as some things I’ve seen in agility. But since the square approach is the judge/course designer’s job… let’s do it here as well.

All we really had to do after moving the A-frame is give it some rotation back to the table to anticipate the dog’s approach. I’ve drawn a red path-line off the center of the table and through the A-frame. That line should pass through the A-frame without either entering or exiting on the sides before I’ll actually consider it square.

In this sequence the handler is challenged with a wrap from the pipe tunnel up onto the A-frame. Did you know there are two popular agility venues in which this course design is not allowed? It’s true. The real problem with it is that some handlers just don’t know how to make this square and safe for their dogs.

We actually allow the wrap in the TDAA because the slope of our A-frame is less arduous than in any agility venue. But in my own course design I would use such a challenge only once in a blue moon.

The problem in this sequence is that the judge has crowded the table into that bit of real estate the handler needs to create the square and safe approach to the A-frame. This nearly ensures that the handler will shorten up the approach and probably force the approach at an unsafe angle.

What I’ll typically recommend is that the judge/course designer should use a jump to shape the approach to the A-frame. In the case of this sequence the table really needed to go elsewhere… because that’s the exact place to put the turn-around jump. And now we can pretty much ensure that the dog has plenty of approach to build up some inertia and energy… and, the approach will be perfectly square (unless the silly handler turns the dog to the right at jump #9.)

Here’s another sequence that comes from a Beginner course.  Remember what I said above? In the Beginner class the course designer should endeavor to square up all obstacles. Angled approaches are quite advanced to the truly beginner dog. Our objective in Beginner is to test whether the dog has been trained to do the equipment without any fancy tests of advanced handling and training.

Note too that the approach to the collapsed tunnel is at something of an angle. In general I don’t fret too much about angled or even shaped approaches to the collapsed tunnel so long as there is plenty of room for the handler to shape the approach.

An angled approach to the collapsed tunnel invites a “hip pointer” injury. Have you ever seen a hip pointer? The dog will scream in pain. And so, we should endeavor to avoid the angled approach… and just make it straight, especially for the Beginner class.

The fix in this case was quite simple.  Jump #11 was rotated to square up to the dog’s approach; and the collapsed tunnel and jump #13 moved south about 5’ so that the dog’s turning radius brings the dog to square.

In this drawing the left side of the course was the true ring boundary. I always treat the ring boundary as though it were a brick wall. Often when you’re designing courses for some club out there you truly do not know what that boundary is. It might be a slender plastic tape running from standard to standard. It might be one of those accordion doggie gate things. And it might be a brick wall.

In this case we got the square to the collapsed tunnel… but the dismount right into the brick wall is undesirable.

The easy thing to do is swap the collapsed tunnel with jump #6; though when I did the swap in this drawing I was careful not to jump the dog into the brick wall either. Now we can make the approach to the collapsed tunnel nice and square for the dog.

Index to (some) TDAA Course Design Posts

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Who are the two characters in this drawing? Who was the artist?

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: 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.


3 Responses to “Designing for the Square Approach”

  1. Adrienne Says:

    Dang, I’ll bet I have actually seen this in the original comic book. But, as ever, my inability to remember names rears its ugly head!


    Good one Bud!

  2. Angie Says:

    That’s Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts and the villain is Dormammu. Dr. Strange is using the Eye of Agamotto. The illustrator is Steve Ditko.

    Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m here all week.

    • budhouston Says:

      Good job Angie. It was indeed drawn by the incomparable Steve Ditko (the original Spiderman artist and best in my book — sorry John Romita!).

      You got the characters right too. I can’t say I would have remembered the Eye of Agamotto myself. lol


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: