Designing Dog’s Choice Games for the TDAA

A “dog’s choice” game implies that the game, or portions of the game are run in the order and direction of the handler’s choosing. Essentially he designs the course strategy for the dog.

The strategy itself is going to be shaped significantly around the rules for the game. We are all accustomed to the variety of scenarios that might influence the strategy. Here are a few examples:

  • Copycat: Immediately repeating an obstacle of the same value is faulted.
  • Weakest Link: Every obstacle performed much be worth as much as, or more than, the last.
  • Gamblers/Dare to Double: Obstacles can be performed only twice for points.
  • Snooker: Red hurdle then one (and only one) numbered obstacle. Repeat until all reds have been returned.
  • Last of the Mohicans: The dog’s path may never cross itself.

This list could go on. The quick grasp of the constraints of the scoring system shapes the dog’s path envisioned by the savvy handler.

Now… to the course review:

To the course designer’s point of view the obstacles are placed randomly around the field as it will be almost impossible to envision every strategic attack on the course. So we just plunk them out there and let the exhibitors do with it as they will.

As often happens in a dog’s choice games… the obstacles are really too spread out. The course will not have the neat transitional distances between the obstacles that we expect from play in the TDAA. What I will tell the judge is to devise two or three rational strategies for play of the game. Then use those strategies for setting the spacing between obstacles. In some cases it might necessitate adding new obstacles to the course to give more flow and scoring opportunities.

By the way, you’ll note that the first thing I did is open up that start line so that it’s not tightly defined at one place on the field. What we want to encourage in any game is an abundance of different strategies. And the more we narrow and constrain the options, the fewer options there will be. That’s logical, no?

I’ve drawn on this course a willy-nilly line without real thought to order and direction or any constraints of rules. This is a very basic test of the transitional distances between obstacles.

The only rational distance on this entire course is the interval between the two jumps to nowhere upper left of the A-frame. This course is way too spread out for the TDAA. But we really knew that without this analysis.

Okay… for the CRCD geeks out there, the dog’s path properties look like this:

Oh… and once you’ve drawn it by hand… open the properties dialog box again and click on “Fit to obstacles automatically now”.

Fortunately there was only one contact obstacle on this course otherwise I would be forced to do this analysis for each and every that we included. I am concerned with the square and safe approach to a contact obstacle. And so, I will arrange the conceivable approach obstacles so that the square and safe is nearly implicit.

Note that the distances from the A-frame to the obstacles surrounding it are in the upper range of transitional distances for the TDAA. The upper end is pretty much where you’ll want to operate in a dog’s choice game.

What I would really like to do in a “dog’s choice” game is create a multiplicity of options. And without making this too complex at all I’ve started with the obstacles surrounding the A-frame (which becomes the anchor object on this course) and visualize at least two options for direction on the approach to or on the dismount from each.

This now will shape both the spacing and positioning of obstacles.

This is what I ultimately came up with. I wanted the handler to have almost constantly more than one option for order and direction while keeping it safe as can be reasonably assured. I added some jumps to the course; and I added a pipe tunnel (taking out that dead jump that was between the A-frame and the pipe tunnel on the right).

I found the tire to be problematic in this course and so put it in a flowing loop that had no rational options to force the square approach.

The “jumps to nowhere” got folded back in to the course. The reason the jumps really weren’t going anywhere in the first place was the u-shaped pipe tunnel introspectively turned back in on itself. So I just opened it up so I could share it with the rest of the field.

What you don’t see is that I numbered several potential dog paths and used the CRCD path tool to give a bit of analysis to the interval distances between obstacles. It’s a bit more loosey-goosey than a standard course; but a heck of a lot tighter than what I started with.

What you can do to limit options

Oh… options are highly desirable. So do consider this a list of things to avoid:

  • Tightly defined start and/or finish
  • Flow without option (by definition an “option” is a choice of obstacles for the dog)
  • Use of one-directional obstacles: spread-hurdles (which we don’t use in the TDAA); teeter; and collapsed tunnel (which shouldn’t be used in a dog’s choice game anyhow… because of the complexity of chute fluffing).
  • Arbitrarily making obstacles one-directional (a mistake designers of FAST courses often make).

End Notes

The editing of the original composition presumes that I actually get to add obstacles. I did not proof the path for strategies for any particular game. Naturally the course will be based on a specific game; and so all of my strategies will coincide with the rules of that game.

Note too that in the course-designers analysis for the coherence of a design for a specific game the analysis should include a measurement of the dog’s path against the established course times and qualifying criteria. A modest strategy well executed should deliver a qualifying score and will measure at a commensurate length with the YPS of the respective level.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Where will the TDAA Petit Prix be held in 2014?

The first correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, 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.


8 Responses to “Designing Dog’s Choice Games for the TDAA”

  1. Wayne Says:

    10th anniversary: Ohio, Marysville?

    • budhouston Says:

      I do believe that’s right Wayne. But then, maybe I’m trying to influence it by the power of positive thinking.

      Hey, shouldn’t you be working on your courses?


  2. Kathy Swan Says:

    PP’14 will be held in Ohio where the first was held. This will be a celebration of the Tenth anniversary of Petit Prix – where the elite petite compete.

  3. Karen Says:

    I wish it would be in Louisville, KY!!! That would generate more interest in having TDAA trials in Kentucky!

    • budhouston Says:

      Louisville would be very cool. Though you know, the Petit Prix usually goes where there is already “more interest”. We tend to follow our fans.


  4. Michelle Says:

    Heck I’m too late – OHIO !!!!!!!

    But we’d better see everyone in Auburn WA in 2010!

  5. Betty Says:

    Thank you for this wonderful discussion about designing games!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: