Wrapping Your Head Around Games for the TDAA

Judging for the TDAA is a bit more complex than for any other venue. As you know, in the TDAA we can play nearly any game conceivable for titling purposes. That means that the judge not only must completely understand the game, but must also attempt to set qualifying criteria that is appropriate for each level.

How do you submit a game for review?

The game is more than a course-map. In the review process I will also need to see your complete briefing to exhibitors, to the time-keeper and scribe, and to the score-keeping table.

Is the exhibitor briefing ready for prime time?

A written exhibitor briefing should accompany the course-map.  Sometimes this can be included in the borders of the course map itself (for well-known games like snooker or gamblers); but might have to be written on separate sheets of paper if the briefing is long and exhaustive (for games like FAST and Who Dares Wins).

The completeness of exhibitors briefing is very important. There are a number of canny game players in the TDAA. When they pick up their course-maps and briefings in the morning they’ll want to devise their entire strategy before they ever walk into the ring. This will allow them to walk the course succinctly for affirmation of their plan. However if the briefing fails to tell the entire story, then you’ll be subject to a barrage of questions on the field which will lengthen the time required for the briefing, and will give exhibitors scant time to figure out their strategy in the time available for walkthrough.

The exhibitor will want to know:

  • The basic rules of the game; restrictions and objectives
  • What is required to qualify
  • How time starts and ends
  • The value of obstacles, bonuses, and faults

Do you understand the game?

You really can’t judge a game unless you understand it completely. During the course review process I’ll work with you to make sure that you understand the essential challenge of the game you’ll be judging and what might occur that not accommodated by the briefing that you submitted.

You should do some research to understand the game you are briefing. The TDAA web site (www.k9tdaa.com) has a good selection of sample courses and briefings. We have formerly pointed our judges and exhibitors to the Clean Run Book of Agility Games as a ready resource. But you should know that the book is now nearly hopelessly out-of-date. Many of the games described in the book have evolved in their application in the TDAA and other venues. Hopefully we will have a third edition to the book available some time this year.

A good way to become familiar with a game is to test it in your own training center. Not everyone has this luxury… but if you could play a game in class or simply get together with a few other agility fans to play out a game… you’ll learn heaps about the game and be better prepared to judge the game in competition.

At the very least you should look at your own course and devise a strategy or two for qualifying. In dogs’ choice games especially (when obstacles can be performed in the order and direction of the handler’s choosing)… you should carefully map out several strategies for success. Measure the dog’s path, and sum up points; then make an honest guess whether dogs can actually achieve your qualifying criteria.

And remember our first rule for the conduct of a game: Anything that can happen… will happen.

What is the scoring basis?

You must have an explicit statement of the scoring basis with any game that you submit. This is key to your understanding of the game. Please note that the TDAA trial software has a drop-down list of scoring systems; and your game must match one of those systems.

How do you decide what games you will play at a trial?

This is usually up to the trial committee at the host club. As often as not, they will ask for your input to the selection of games. It’s probably a good strategy to play games that you already know how to play and how to judge. But sometimes you’ll get something new thrown at you.

In general I seek a balance between types of games: Distance, strategy, point accumulation, dogs’ choice, follow the numbers.

You’ll find considerable resistance to games if you’re in an area new to TDAA play. If their only frame of reference is AKC for example… you’ll find that most exhibitors have never had to plot their own course and putting up dogs’ choice games will make their brains explode. You should frankly resist pressure to make everything a numbered course so that no one needs to think… all weekend. What fun is that?

Oh, and avoid silly nonsense games whenever possible: Egg ‘n Spoon Relay, Pillow Dash, Easter Egg Hunt, Octagon, Football… that’s my short list.

Can you invent a new game or change an existing game?

Under our rules, you can play nearly any game imaginable. If you’ve carefully thought through a new game that is unique and challenging you should have no trouble including it in a weekend trial. The TDAA has a process for approval of a new game; (submit your game synopsis to rules@k9tdaa.com.) But if you’ve thought through the game and maybe tested it a time or two in your own training center, it should be eligible immediately for play in the TDAA.

As for changing a game with existing and well-established rules… yes, you can do that too. But you should not be changing a game because you were a bit too lazy to investigate how the game is played. Any rules change should add interest or a unique twist to the game.

Is the course nested?

Games are typically played back-to-back with standard courses. Rather than moving all of your equipment around and to design something that meets your concept of the game… try to find the game in the existing set of obstacles. Some games are so radically different from a numbered course that you could absolutely move right into the conduct of the game without moving many pieces of equipment at all.

Sometimes a game can be perfect-nested so that all levels of play can walk the same course and essentially play the same game.

Remember too, in a perfect-nested game, to nest for time and qualifying criteria as well. If all levels play the same game, then their performance might be differentiated by the amount of time they have to play the game, or by how many points are required to qualify.

For example: In Dare to Double we might require for qualification purposes these numbers:

  • Games I ~ 40 points
  • Games II ~ 80 points
  • Games III ~ 160 points

And in another step, you give small dogs slightly longer to accumulate those points than the big dogs:

  • 4″ and 8″ dogs will have 55 seconds
  • 12″ and 16″ dogs will have 50 seconds

More help for distance games:


Winter in Ohio

In honor of Steve and Chris

It’s winter in Ohio

And the gentle breezes blow,

70 miles per hour at 25 below!

Oh, how I love Ohio . When the snow’s up to your butt;

You take a breath of winter air

And your nose is frozen shut.

Yes, the weather here is wonderful,

I guess I’ll hang around.

I could never leave Ohio

‘Cause I’m frozen to the ground.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

In the banner at the top of the USDAA home page (www.usdaa.com) is a picture of a Pomeranian. What is this dog’s name? Who was the handler? And what is the dog’s claim to fame?

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


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – March 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/web-store/ . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special03” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


2 Responses to “Wrapping Your Head Around Games for the TDAA”

  1. Paula Price Says:

    Is this Laura Yarborough’s Cody, the very first ADCH? Whether it is or not, I’m showing my age:-)

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