Jackpot ~ from the CPE Nationals

The CPE held their national tournament this past weekend in Kissimmee, Florida. In league play this week we’ll be playing the Jackpot course from the weekend that garnered about a 3-1/2% qualifying rate. Oh yes, this one’s a booger. I’ll write my analysis (below) before we actually run the game.

The course fits neatly into my building. While it is unusual for a  “national”  tournament to be held in such a small space (unless it’s the TDAA) I think that  someone at CPE recognizes that clever course design can make even a small space suitable to big fast dogs running with ample room between obstacles for collection.

A Note about CPE

Canine Performance Events is the fastest growing agility venue in this country. It is a venue that appeals to the recreational player who does agility with the family pet. While other major agility venues shunt away the recreational player into a “P” class CPE embraces this player as their key and primary customer.

Agility is kind of like baseball. Most baseball players in this country are recreational players involved in local non-pro leagues or simple pick-up games in a corner lot. The “Pros” are a rarified and small percentage of the game. So while the rest of the agility venues are catering to the small market of top players, CPE is cannily focused on the vast majority.


A variety of rules might be applied to the Jackpot game in the CPE. This one was run like “traditional” gamblers in which there is a point accumulation period and a certain amount of time for the performance of a gamble or joker at the end.

I have the rules to the game second-hand and anecdotally; that is, somebody who attended the tournament told me how it was played. I make no warranties as to the accuracy of this rule set. Also I should note that the course is being reprinted without permission of its author, CPE judge Terry Scofield. So, my abject apologies are extended to Terry for this presumption. I think after this game design they’ll be calling him “The Scofield Kid” like that character in Clint Eastwood’s movie… Unforgiven.


Here are the facts as I understand them…

  • In the opening period little dogs will have 35 seconds and big dog s 30 seconds;
  • In order to qualify 32 points must be earned in point accumulation (for level 5… whatever that means);
  • For the joker little dogs will have 20 seconds and big dogs 18 seconds (time is clearly not the issue);
  • The joker is worth the accumulated value of the obstacle numbers assigned to each. I must mean its worth 20. While it is numbered like an old-style NADAC gamble there is no real significance… because the dog is do the entire gamble to earn the points. So, they might as well have numbered it 1-4 and called it worth 20 pts. Eh?
  • As in traditional gamblers there is a prohibition against doing two gamble obstacles one after the other during point accumulation.

An Analysis of the Gamble

This is a difficult gamble on several levels. After the very first jump the dog is faced with a triple discrimination and must get out to the farthest of the three options. One would think that the dog’s natural flow lends itself more to the pipe tunnel that the two nearer options. And yet we have to figure that most handlers will be behind (since that’s where the containment line is) and putting on the brakes, which will draw most dogs back in to the handler.

The pipe tunnel itself is problematic. While it is fairly aimed at the weave poles, any good movement the handler gives while the dog is engaged in the performance of the tunnel is surely lost because the dog doesn’t actually see it. Many dogs make turning and trajectory decisions while they are in the tunnel so the handler has a scant moment of opportunity to redirect on the dogs exit. And as simple as it seems (tunnel to weave poles) it requires both a handler will canny timing and a dog with resolute work ethic and a good training foundation.

And just to add a cruel twist, the finish turns out to be the toughest element of the gamble. The dog is faced with yet another discrimination challenge with two jumps side-by-side and most dogs as inclined as not to want to take the jump nearer to the handler. This is an opportunity for a well-timed and well conditioned “get out” directive to the dog (since we can’t rely on the dog “discriminating” between the names of two distinct obstacles). Note that the placement of the teeter  in that bit of real estate alongside the containment line hogs up an important bit of real estate in which the handler might have taken a couple of pressuring steps against the dog’s path to sell the jump farther away.

The set of obstacles for point accumulation course has a fairly predictable flow. But that’s no real indicator as there is nothing quite so unpredictable as the idea of strategy in the mind of a handler. I take it from high scoring dog’s handler in this game (Mark with Ebby the Corgi) that his strategy was flow; while a lot of his competition approached the set of obstacles with herk & jerk choppy flow and handling.

I don’t much like the idea of dictating the starting jump as such a device will limit the number of possible strategies. But it makes sense in a national venue in which smooth ring administration is highly desirable. Also they were using electronic timers and so allowed the tail to wag this particular dog.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What was the model number of “nickname” of the original Smith & Wesson cowboy pistol with a hinged frame that opened to reveal the end of the cylinder and an automatic ejection system for faster reloading of cartridges?

First correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the June Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/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.


9 Responses to “Jackpot ~ from the CPE Nationals”

  1. Karissa Says:

    I know what I’m setting up in the yard when I get home! Although I must say, the gamble looks fairly tame compared to some of the challenges we’ve been encountering in Elite Chances lately…. This will be good practice! Question — Is it 32 points TOTAL or 32 points in addition to the 20 in the closing? I would hope it’s in addition, but this is CPE…

  2. Margaret and Luigi Says:

    I saw a couple of videos of this course on YouTube and this gamble was TOUGH. I’d love a shot at it. I’ll have to work on my decidely AKC-obsessed classmates…

    As for points – normally CPE level 4/5/C require 24 points in the opening plus 20 points for the gamble for a total of 44. They may have increased the opening points since it was nationals. But given the 3 1/2% Q rate, that hardly seems necessary.

    As an aside, I went to CPE nationals 2 years ago and I seem to remember that it was Terry who also skunked the class there with his nearly impossible jackpot…

  3. Lianne Says:

    Hey Bud, we were at the CPE Nationals filming. I don’t recall it being set up w/the last jump being QUITE so hard to get, I think the line was pretty straight from the weaves to the correct jump, but it was still for sure the hardest element!

    I think part of what made this gamble so hard was that if you sent over jump #1 and tried to get ahead so you could direct your dog to the WPs, the dog usually came into the handler, either taking the jump or the wrong tunnel. So the dogs who correctly took the far tunnel either a) are tunnel suckers who saw it as they took jump #1 and would have taken the tunnel regardless of their handlers motion/direction, or b) had their handler hold back by jump #1 and keep their shoulders facing the wall to direct the dog out to the far tunnel. If it was option B, and your dog was fast, they then came shooting out of that tunnel saying “Where’s mom/dad?”. Since you had to stay back by jump #1 to get the tunnel, you were inevitably oh, at the halfway point of the wrong tunnel if you are lucky. Or further back. So the dog turns back and never really “sees” the poles, and goes off course to the tunnel or just comes to mom.

    And as you pointed out, even if you get the weaves, the last jump is far from a gimme! I think I would have preferred this gamble much more if the last jump had not been part of the challenge.

    Oh, and IMO there was NOT enough room/spacing for the big dogs. Perhaps it could have been designed better (and I’m sure it could have been!) but I saw lots of awkward jumping on big dogs on this course due to the spacing, and the jumpers course, in a same sized ring, was very tough for the big guys due to spacing.

  4. Dale Says:

    Margaret is correct – Level 4/5/C requires 24 points in the opening for Regular and Veterans heights, and two less for Enthusiast and Specialist heights. Each level lower needs two less points as well.

    To qualify, you must have the opening points, the jackpot, and be under SCT. You can earn 2, 4, and 6 points in the jackpot even if you don’t finish it, but you can’t qualify without all four obstacles.

    You can still place if you don’t qualify, and one tricky part of this course (if you didn’t get the jackpot) was making sure you took your dog over #8 so you would get a course time. Without that, you couldn’t place. Many poeple failed to do that.

    Jackpot at CPE Nationals is traditionally the course that separates the “men from the boys”, and doing it successfully earns you lifetime bragging rights.

  5. Courtenay Says:

    Smith and Wesson M1869 Revolver
    1869 “First Model American” Army Revolver.\

    And yes, I need something better to do with my time, but I respect your (fantastic, by the way) ideas on training agility, and I’m far too poor to buy the monthly books. 🙂

  6. Karissa Says:

    So who else set this up at home to play on? 🙂 As is custom, I thought it actually looked a bit easier in person than it does on paper. My Elite Chances dog (loves his distance!) didn’t have any problem at all, even when I increased the distance and stayed on the far side of the teeter. He’s such a good distance dog. My little guy who is still stuck in Open Chances struggled more with it — The only time he got the out jump was when he blew past the weave entry. lol Otherwise he would nail the first part and we’d get skunked on the last jump each time. I blame our history of heavy rewarding (by hand) after the weaves. I know what he needs to work on now! Fun course, the opening did allow for several training opportunities. I admit to opening up the spacing a bit, in line with the above comment that it was too tight for large dogs.

    • budhouston Says:

      We set it up last night for league play. Two dogs got the gamble. Unfortunately, both of them were my dogs. And so I see this as a training mission. Mostly I want to teach my students to give the obstacle the dog should be doing “focus”… I mean heck, you can at the very least look at it and point at it… lol


  7. Jeff Says:

    From what I saw, one of the biggest challenges handlers had was their approach to the #2 jump in the closing. Those that used the A-frame or the tunnel under it to set up the dog’s path into #2, then hung back so that they were moving forward to the containment line with or behind their dogs, were best able to get the dog into tunnel #4. If the handler got ahead of the dog before #2 or did not shape the path with one of those obstacles, their deceleration to the line slowed the dog. In many cases, the handler turned at the containment line too soon; if the handler turned as the dog completed jump #2, the dog generally chose the dummy jump (or, in a few cases, the dummy tunnel).

    The next challenge was where to be and how to cue the weaves as the dog left tunnel #4. In my case, I think I was too far forward, so I was ahead of my dog as she left the tunnel, and I could not turn her back toward the weaves. For some dogs, if the handler was at the end of the dummy tunnel, especially if they were not moving, the dog decided the next obstacle was the dummy tunnel on the line.

    I used the path from the double to the 2-jump combo to the tunnel/A-frame discrimination to practice our “out, tunnel!” during the opening. Did it twice for points and practice. Although it was not exactly like the closing, I’d like to think that helped us get the #4 in the closing.

    One thing that might have had an impact on the performance of the gamble was that the #2 and #4 obstacles were against a wall (the arena wall cut the corner in that area). Perhaps some dogs were not inclined to run against the wall?

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