Games 2fer ~ Standard Course and 12 Tone Row

The following discussion is mostly about how the course designer creates a dog’s choice game by nesting against a standard course. This is intended for our TDAA judges’ continuing education but might be of considerable interest to the exhibitor as well (as certain secrets will be revealed).

I am a stickler on nesting these days. I know that a well-nested course can save about a half an hour in course building. So if you have a day with two standard courses (for three levels) and two games (for three levels); then you can calculate the number of “half hour” drags against the day ~ (2 * 3) + (2 * 3) = 6 hours of unnecessary down/drag time.

This is going to be my starting reference point… a standard course for the Superior level. This class may actually be conducted after the play of the game; and that makes no matter. The important thing is that we’re going to minimize the transition between classes no matter which we do first and which we do second.

I have done some rearrangement here.  I’ve taken out the table; rotated and slightly moved the A-frame; slightly moved the teeter; and added a single jump (at 50/20). It is my intention to use the A-frame as the #12 obstacle; even though the #12 obstacle is traditionally the weave poles. I’ll explain my thinking in a discussion below.

I’ve also, on this course drawn what I call a “key line”. I wanted to find me a path that incorporates exactly 12 obstacles, without repeating any, in a logical flow, that ends on the A-frame as the 12th obstacle. I like to actually find the winning strategy first… and not have to agonize over it as an exhibitor might, later on. And next I should demonstrate how I know it’s going to be the winning strategy.

You’ll notice that I’ve opened up the left border of the course and put a line of numbers, 1 through 20 there. And I’ve moved the #12 to the A-frame with the expectation that the dog dismounting the #12 obstacle will promptly cross the finish line.

I’ve also put a gap between the #8 and the #9. Any sequence or strategy including an obstacle with a number lower just cannot be the winning strategy.

Now you see that I’ve moved all of the numbers onto the field. I put all of the winning strategy numbers onto the “key line” path but randomly arranged, not in a way that would suggest the order and direction of the path. Where possible I put the number on the opposite side of the obstacle to obscure the flow.

All the rest of the numbers are placed on obstacles that are not part of the “key line”. Note obstacles can be taken bi-directionally. If a number is included on both sides of the obstacle, then the value of the obstacle will depend on which direction it is taken. If the obstacle has only one number associated with it… then it has that value regardless of the direction it is taken.

If we think back to the original Superior standard course, I believe at a trial I can have this game/course built very quickly. As the master course builder I’ll assign a person to pick up the old number cones; and give a different set of number cones to another person to lay down. And before old numbers can be picked up and new numbers are down… I’ll have tweaked the equipment and I’ll be calling for the exhibitor briefing. I reckon this will take me about 3 minutes tops.


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

The purpose of 12 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 A-frame, 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.

The game starts and stops with a common start & stop line at the front of the ring.

Small dogs (4″ and 8″) will have 55 seconds; Big dogs (12″ and 16″) will have 50 seconds.

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

More Discussion

I’ve made this game for “all levels”. Games that are made for all levels are the ultimate time savers. In addition to not having to tweak equipment and move numbers around, you’ve also saved yourself additional briefings for each class and in many cases, the additional walk-through.

I introduced the concept of a “key line” above. I always will test a games course with two or three strategies. This is an important concept for the course designer. First of all, it allows me to check the interval spacing between obstacles so that those distances are consistent with TDAA standards (or the standards of whatever organization I might be designing for). I note too that the dog’s path can’t always be predictable, so I try to look at spacing in a way that I can just about ensure that the handler has adequate room to work and things are kept safe for the dog no matter what direction they might want to go.

Another reason I trace out “key line” paths is that I can measure those paths to decide what kind of standard course time to set for the game. I’ll often take a reasonable strategy for a game and measure it against the SCT for that class to arrive at the QCT for the game itself.

It was not necessary to trace out more than one “key line” for 12 Tone Row by the way. There can only be one top scoring path and so I only needed to draw one line.

In this rendition of 12 Tone Row I used the A-frame rather than the weave poles. The original game designed by Becky Dean used a set of 12 weave poles as a serendipitous matter. Well, in the TDAA we typically use only 6 weave poles so that the obstacle has size balance or parity with the rest of the equipment. And with only 6 poles the “serendipitous” matter got a little fuzzy. Also, since the game is designed for all levels I’m painfully aware that the Beginner/GI dogs probably shouldn’t be challenged with the weave poles as qualifying criteria.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

Who was the artist who did this comic cover illustration?

The first correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the April Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special04” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


7 Responses to “Games 2fer ~ Standard Course and 12 Tone Row”

  1. Ronni Says:

    John Romita

  2. Ronni Says:

    In keeping with the theme of this game, you could tell everyone the last obstacle must be the A-440-frame!

    • budhouston Says:

      Hey Ronni,

      The briefing states “Only 12 obstacles may be performed and the 12th must be the A-frame, in either direction. ”


      • Ronni Says:

        ??? Whoops! I think I was being too obscure. Your briefing directions were crystal clear but since the title of the game has a musical reference (12 tone/Schoenberg) I thought the A frame should also have a musical reference (A440 hz, the concert A tone), especially since the 12 weave poles were taken out.

        At least I amused myself…

  3. Betty Says:

    The cover was a collaboration with John Romita, Sr. penciling it and John Mooney inking it.

  4. Adrienne Says:

    Hmm… So do all judges build twelve-tone row courses this way? Can’t wait for it to show up at a trial mear me!

    Secrets indeed!

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