Game for the Week ~ Twelve-Tone Row

Twelve-Tone Row is the invention of Becky Dean, a game of strategy and daring. `


The purpose of Twelve-Tone Row is to accumulate as many points as possible. Each obstacle has the value of its number on course. Some obstacles have separate values, depending on the direction in which they are performed. The handler may direct his dog to perform the obstacles in any order he chooses (of course, if the dog chooses the obstacle to perform, the handler will have to live with it.) The dog and handler team will earn the assigned point values of the obstacles taken. No obstacle may be repeated, whether performed correctly, or faulted.

Only 12 obstacles may be performed and the 12th must be the weave poles, in either direction. If the dog faults an obstacle, he will not earn the points for that obstacle. Further, the obstacle may not be repeated, and it will not be counted as one of the dog’s 12 required obstacles.

If only one number is associated with an obstacle, the obstacle will earn that value no matter what direction it is performed. If the obstacle is numbered differently on both sides, then the number from the direction of approach will determine the value of that obstacle. An obstacle numbered on both approaches should be considered two obstacles for the purpose of performance.

The game starts and stops on the table. Time starts when the dog leaves the table. Time ends only when the dog gets into a down position on the table. During point accumulation the table has no value, and will not be counted as an obstacle with a point value.

For each obstacle more or less than the required total, the dog will be penalized 10 points. Repeating an obstacle shall be penalized 10 points and the dog will not earn the value of that obstacle a second time.


Twelve-Tone row is a game eligible for titling in the TDAA. Dogs will be required to accumulate a different number of points at each level:

  • Games I –  78 points or better
  • Games II –102 points or better
  • Games III –138 points or better

Surviving the “Dog’s Choice” Game

Some of the best dog agility games players today come from the TDAA. Of all the agility organizations only the TDAA allows nearly any game conceivable to be played for titling purposes. This environment promotes a powerful problem solving mentality in the player to quickly turn the constraints of the rules into a winning flow and strategy.

I’ve had students tell me that the so-called “Dog’s Choice” game absolutely makes their heads hurt. It is too much to have to make things up as you go along. Well, I really have to agree with that notion… if that’s really what the handler is doing.

Let’s begin with this simple premise. The constraints of the rules will influence the player’s thinking in determining the order and direction of the course. For example, a gamblers class might allow the dog to do any obstacle on the course only twice for points; the obstacles are worth different values, based on the technical virtue of performance; the dog isn’t allowed to put two gamble obstacles one after another during point accumulation; the dog only has so much time to perform. Okay, these constraints have to shape the handler’s thinking in selecting a winning order and direction for the dog.

The competitor must go through the checklist of the rules to set a course for the dog. Once the analysis is done the course will be must be locked as surely as a numbered course.

I’ve said it now. The answer is… the thing that will stop making your head hurt in the “dog’s choice” game is… The handler’s strategy will create order and direction as sure as a numbered course.

That being said… the competitor who’s really never done anything but numbered courses has never really had to exercise the most important muscle. What we sometimes fail to notice in the numbered course is the careful thought that has gone into creating working flow and safe approaches to every obstacle. This is a learned skill. But let me simplify the puzzle by really basic and obvious definitions: a) To have working flow, it is better to run than to turn; b) To have safe and fair, always make it square.

The three qualities of success in the dog agility game

1) Having the right plan;

2) Execution of the plan; and

3) Luck.

Give me two of the above, and I’m good to go.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What is the winning strategy for the game of the week (above)?

Best answer posted as a reply to this blog post in the next ten days wins a free copy of the March Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – March 2010 available on the Country Dream 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.


21 Responses to “Game for the Week ~ Twelve-Tone Row”

  1. Jeff Says:

    This sequence provides “flow,” minimal technical challenges, and is relatively easy to remember:


    It also adds up to 146 points, enough to Q at all levels.

    The direction in which the weaves are taken puts the dog facing the table to end time with little chance of the dog taking another obstacle on the way.

    Since #13 and #14 are the same obstacle, and this can only be taken once, the maximum score is 169 points and includes #8 through #20 except for #13. That path is 15-20-18-16-8-10-14-11-17-9-19-12. Requires a bit more management of the dog, but looks quite reasonable. Still sets up the weaves toward the table. I’d try this path.


    • budhouston Says:

      Sorry if the briefing did not make this clear. If an obstacle has numbers at either end then it will be considered from the POV of the judge and the score-keeping table to be two separate obstacles.


  2. Adrienne Says:

    I might try 11-14-18-16-8-20-2-0-15-6-19-12

    That would be enough to Q at GII whcich is where we are.

    There are a number of places in the above where a misread cue would cause an off course but with this path it would be relatively easy to fix. For instance, if she took the tunnel instead of the dogwalk (not likely, she likes contacts) I could just reverse the order and still have enough points. Of course if we got the wrong end of 18 we would be screwed. lol

    • Adrienne Says:

      *If* obstacles are allowed to be taken “in-flow” if they only have one number then I would do the following:

      20-18-16-8-15-11-14-19-9-17-6/7 (depending on walk-through angles)-12

      That would be 165-166.

      Or, this would be more yardage but might allow for a faster run due to big loops and no turns,


      That would be 162.

  3. ruckus scottie Says:

    Good one.

  4. Krista Hill Says:

    Wow – this is very interesting…thanks Bud!! Have to say that the games are my fav & my boys really love running them. Here’s my thought on this course…

    From table to #17 (in flow) to 9 to 19 to 13 to 18 (in flow-close end) to 16 to 10 to 11 (in flow) to 15 (in flow) to 20 to 14 to 12 back to table. By “in flow” I mean taken as you are coming to it not wrapping around to the numbered side.

    My only question is regarding time – I know it starts and stops with the table. Is there a max course time?

  5. Jenn Says:

    I would plan to do 15-11-18-16-8-20-14-19-9-17-7-12-table with my dog (a 15″ Sheltie).

    It looks like there is enough room to set him up at an angle on the “shallow” side of 15. I like this plan because for my dog it would be very motivating, while still accumulating a lot of points. If I were running a dog more likely to pull a bar down when asking for a “wrap” around 17, I might be tempted to substitute the chute for jump #7, being careful to make sure the dog comes out far enough to get the correct weave entry.

    Jeff posted that the maximum score possible is 169 – my plan accumulates 166 points.

    This looks like fun, I’d like to give it a try! 🙂

    • Adrienne Says:

      I LIKE this discussion. It’s very interesting to see what other people would do.

      I don’t think I personally would try the above plan. Emma finds it very confusing and de-motivating to be pulled long distances past other obstacles that are the more “obvious” choice. I think she feels like I am lost! lol

      But I would love to see YOU run it! 🙂

  6. Krista Hill Says:

    Yes, Jeff – agree with your path. Missed the fact that I couldn’t do 13 & 14. Looks like a fun one!!

    • budhouston Says:

      Actually, if an obstacle has numbers at either end, it should be considered to be separate obstacles. The only thing the score-keeping table has to keep things straight is the number that the judge calls out on the dog’s performance. And so it would be too complicated to try to keep track of “repeated” performance under any other system.


  7. Krista Hill Says:

    OK – having gone back and looked at my first plan with the repitition of 13/14 – still not too shabby with 150 pts after not getting the 14 and loosing 10 for the rep!! Afterall, it’s all in the strategy…may be a time when that sacrifice would be worth the move to maintain the flow . It’s all about what works for you and your dog.

  8. Judy Says:

    I would plan to do:

    If we executed, we would have accumulated 168 points.

  9. Jeff Says:

    Well, with the clarification that Bud posted, one path to the maximum possible score, 174 points, is


    This requires a bit of “snooking” the dog around the course, but it seems quite feasible. Not the most flowing of paths, however, but not dreadful.

    I’d be inclined to try this path at the Petit Prix but might chicken out and take an easier path to the required points simply to Q at a trial.

    A path from the right to the left of the course, beginning at #17, is possible that will collect the same obstacles and points.

    I have seen this game played where one could not repeat the physical obstacle even if different numbers on opposite ends, and where one could not repeat the numbers.


  10. Erica Says:


  11. Krista Hill Says:

    Thanks for the clarification Bud – then I’ll go back to my original plan of 17-9-19-13-18-16-10-11-15-20-14-12 for a total of 174. Think we may have to try this game in class…

  12. Brandy Says:

    Think I’d try 17-9-19-13-11-15-20-18-16-10-14-12. I think it flows fairly well with the hardest parts getting the dog out to 15 instead of in the tunnel.

  13. Mark & Ebby Says:

    Bud – this one is also good for 174 points, without the difficult transition from #10 to #11 and a faster time:)
    17, 9, 19, 13, 11,15, 20, 18, 16, 10, 14, 12
    Thanks for the Notebook

  14. Holly Schmidt Says:

    I understand that time starts and stops on the table. I didn’t see any mention of a SCT in which the course must be run. How much time do we have and are there time faults? Is time simply a tie-breaker? The answers to time constraints would determine how I would plan my runs. Pippin is my best agility dog, but if this were the last game of the weekend, he might not be in top form. He is great at snooker, so we can run past obstacles. Balto is on a medicine now that has him running at half speed, but it makes him feel so much better – so short and sweet for his path if time is important in this game. Roxy is smoking fast but running past obstacles that seem logical to her can be risky, so I’d go for flow. After I hear back, I’ll reply with a plan or two or three!!!!!!!!!

  15. budhouston Says:

    Brandy gets the official win on this one. Mark gets a consolation second place Notebook because he stole Brandy’s answer and it was the right answer still.

    Krista’s guess was pretty good, being only a couple yards longer than the winning guess. Next were Erica, then Judy, then Jeff.

    In general if your answer included a number lower than “9”… it could not be a winner. So I did a bit of analysis on the submissions by those of you who recognized that fact. Brandy’s course (the one Mark stole) was the shortest path and also the least technically challenging.

    It as a fun game!

    Just so you know, Brandy’s answer happened to be winning strategy (also the second place strategy) when the game was run in league play at my training center this last Thursday.

    Regards to all,
    Bud Houston

    • Adrienne Says:

      I liked this! May we have another challenge like this? It’s really awesome to “see” ways to deal with these types of games.


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