Design for Big Dogs in Small Spaces

There’s a common myth that you can’t really put up a “big dog” course in a small space. We tend to believe that 10,000 ft2 is the true minimum. However, I must confess that I’ve been designing lesson plans for a 5,400 ft2 space for something like 15 years now. And I think I’m beginning to get the hang of it.

Here’s a sample Masters caliber Jumpers course that demonstrates several simple design concepts that make possible fitting a “full size” course into a small space (5,400 ft2).

  • We do not use spread hurdles; and for a couple very good reasons. The spread hurdle is typically intended to be taken in only one direction. That limits the sequencing possibilities in any course design. This is a 19 number course… accomplished with only 12 obstacles. Another good reason not to use a spread hurdle is that the dogs stride may be more extended, placing greater demands on the small space.

    I could go back and retrofit the spread hurdles. #1, #2, #8, and #19 are candidates. I might also feature specialty hurdles like the tire and the panel jump. The panel jump could go just about anywhere. But the tire should be reserved where you can ensure a square and safe approach.

  • The transitional distance between obstacles in a straight line is in the range of 15′ to 20′. However, any time a turn is introduced the transitional distance must open up as much as 22′. While a gentle 30° turn may require only an 18′ transition; the 90° turn will demand 21′ or 22′.
  • This course uses jump bars that are only 4′ wide and pipe tunnel that are only 15′ long. We did not use a collapsed tunnel (a one-directional space hog).
  • This course probably has more tunnel performances than a typical jumpers course. Tunnels are useful for softening (or at least dictating) a dog’s turning radius and getting a jumping sequence away from overly technical devices.
  • You’ll note that at no time does the dog’s path challenge the walls. Turning flow is introduced into every sequence approaching a wall so that there is always a minimum of 12′ clearance between the hurdle and the wall. Note that the direction of the dog’s path on the dismount from a jump is always dictated by the approach to a jump; not by the rotated angle of the jump or the direction of the next obstacle.

About the “Don’t Challenge the Wall” Rule

Here I’ve drawn the 12′ warning line around the inside of the ring. It seems to limit the usable space. However ~ it’s not that we can’t use the space ~ we should simply avoid jumping the dog directly into the wall. In the short sequence here the #3 jump is placed inside of the 12′ warning line. There is not adequate landing room after the jump.

The fix was simple enough. We approach the jump inside the warming line so that the angle of the dismount comes in at an oblique angle and doesn’t directly challenge the wall.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special00” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

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