010111 ~ Poke the bear with a sharp stick

I know I’ve ignored my blog way too much for the past couple of months. I’ve been busy and I have no better excuse than that. Traditionally winters have been my cave-bear down-time. But now I’m all involved in the restart of the TDAA. Thrice the work for half the pay; that’s what I’ve always aspired to!

I have yet another project hanging over me. And I’m going to share it with you bit by bit. Over the next 100 days I’m going to review and edit every agility game that I know, pretty much in alphabetical order, and lay it out right here in my blog. My goal is to continue for at least 100 days without skipping a beat. Remember when I did that a couple years ago? Well, I need to do it again.

It’s going to take more discipline than I’ve owned for awhile.

I might begin a day by writing a TO DO list for myself. Frankly it never fails that I don’t get half of the things on the list done. To give a good example I spent something like four hours a couple days ago trying to figure out how to change the hot water flow regulator on a shower handle. I like a really good hot shower. But the setting behind the handle can pretty much condemn you to lukewarm for the rest of your life no matter how big and hot is your hot water heater. At any rate, I had to solve the riddle of how to take the handle apart. And then I had to figure out how to adjust the hot water ratio. Sometimes there’ll be a dial in there than has “Hotter” on one side and “Colder” on the other. Those are, obviously, fairly easy to figure out. But this one as it happens has a dongle in the middle that has to be rotated with no clear advice to the operation. And to make matters worse it was Marsha who figured out how to tweak it. At any rate, I had 12 items on my TO DO list for that day and I managed to get to about four of them because of a stupid shower handle. It’s enough to you wear down.

All Rules for Agility are Irrational

Why is it unsafe to leap off a dogwalk at a height of 16″ or so and yet perfectly acceptable for a dog to plunge more than 26″ on the landing side of a jump? Why is it unsafe (a fly-off!) for a three pound dog to jump the final 2″ at the end of a teeter in his impatience for the plank to settle to the ground? And what profound individual defined the technical definition of a refusal? True refusals are actually quite rare. Artificial definitions allow the agility judge to make calls without actually thinking and without actually exercising judgment. In the Australian National Kennel Club (ANKC), a dog may circle the table and will not be called for a refusal if the circling continues to bend the dog closer to the table. Is this any more or less rational than the International definition? Certainly not, it’s just amusing.

You should keep in mind the irrational nature of rules as you embark to play any agility game. Bend the rules to your will if you must. Make the game your own variation. You can’t be any more or less rational than the person who originally gave definition to performance in agility.

It is the rules that make the game a contest. In our hearts, we love the contest, we love the struggle and we love the opportunity to rank ourselves. And we especially love the win. These are human conditions which are possibly not shared with any enthusiasm by the dog.

Every now and again I hear an old timer lamenting the loss of the “old days when agility was fun.” While I understand that lament, I have to disagree with the sentiment. We are all responsible for our own sense of fun. And none of the hubbub of title chasing, national championships, “World Cup” aspirations, double-Q’ing, super-Q’ing, Top Ten lists, or other egoistic measures of validation should affect us one whit. Agility is a private thing. Agility is a game we play in the park on the weekends with our dogs.

April’s Fool

April’s Fool is the invention of Joyce Sobey of Richmond, Virginia. It’s a fun game appropriate for a club outing or casual competition.


The April’s Fool course is essentially run on a numbered course. Handlers direct their dogs through the course in the order and direction specified by the judge’s numbering of the course. However, there is a bit of a twist to the running of the course. Before each dog and handler team run, they will be required to turn their back to the course. A runner will go out on the course and mark two obstacles that must be skipped during the run.

The obstacles to be skipped will be marked with an “APRIL’S FOOL” sign attached. After the course was marked, the dog and handler team must immediately run the course.

A dog taking an obstacle marked April’s Fool will incur a wrong-course penalty.

When the next handler/dog teams prepare to run, another steward will re-mark the course with two obstacles to be eliminated. The course will be different each for each run.


April Foods is scored time plus faults. The dog with the lowest score wins.

Any rational system for obstacle performance faults can be used. USDAA Starters might be the least onerous.

Qualifying and Titles

April’s Fool is eligible as a qualifying game under TDAA and TopDog rules. The most rational system for establishing a qualification mark is to use the rates of travel from the standard classes and accept qualifications under a Time Plus Faults scoring system with no additional fudging.

This game poses inherent possibilities for inequity. And so it’s necessary for the players to have a sense of humor and a balanced view of life. Not everything is fair. And not everything is equal.

Course Design

This is the original April’s Fool Course designed by Joyce Sobey and played in JFF league in Richmond, Virginia.

April’s Fool is adaptable from any course in which a sequence is specified. It could be a standard course, as in this example, or a Jumpers course.

Barrel Racing

The Barrel Racing game might take several forms, each of them borrowed with some variation from the rodeo crowd. It is guaranteed to showcase the directional and distance working capabilities of the dog and handler team. This game uses a nonstandard agility obstacle: a barrel, set on end, with a hard top. The form of the game shown here is the invention of Lyndal Nichols of Queensland, Australia, where it is played as a very serious game of competition. Lyndal’s version is based upon a set of rules originally defined by Kim Duff, in the U.S.


As with the equine version, three barrels are placed in a triangular formation which the dogs must gallop around in a set pattern. The dogs are run off-lead and the handler may guide the dog around the barrels in any fashion which encourages it to go accurately and quickly. This does not include touching the dog, touching the barrel or enlisting outside help from the spectators.

The handler must direct the dog through the course and around the barrels in the order and direction indicated by the judge.

There are two courses, one which turns right around the first barrel and then left around the second and third. The other course does the opposite, left around the first barrel and right around the second and third. The dogs must run through the start and finish poles to record a time. There is no fault for running the wrong course. The handler must correct the dog’s path to record a time.

The handler is also not allowed to carry food onto the course. However, the handler may carry a toy or ball and is encouraged to use it to promote speed and enthusiasm. The dog must pass through the start and finish poles and the toy or ball can be thrown across the finish line to ensure a fast run home.

Dogs must be twelve months or older to compete. Bitches in season may not compete or stay in the area of the competition. Dogs urinating or defecating on the course will be disqualified. Aggressive or out of control dogs will be disqualified.


Barrel racing is scored time plus faults. The lowest score wins.

There are two height divisions:

•         Mini: up to and including 16″ in height at the withers.

•         Unrestricted: no restriction in height.

Time faults are caused by:

•         3 second penalty – for the handler deliberately touching the dog

•         3 second penalty – for the handler touching the barrel

•         5 second penalty – for the dog or handler knocking the barrel over

Course Design

These are the two legitimate courses recognized in Australia. The barrels are set up in an area with a minimum spacing of 48 to 63 yards between them. This is the equine course reduced by approximately two thirds. There are two courses: one which turns right, left, left around the barrels, and one that turns left, right, right around the barrels.

There is no reason why an enthusiastic dog should not run as fast if not faster around a Barrel Racing course than a horse. The dog can get in close around the barrel and does not have to balance a rider. However, the best time so far around the course set up as in the diagram is 9.43 seconds. This is definitely a time score to smash as it is only one half the time a horse can do on a course which has been cut down by two thirds. A worth aim is to get dogs tearing around the reduced course in six seconds!


American variation – The course may be set up in a variety of patterns, as shown in the sample course. The dog is required to negotiate each of the barrels in the course in the sequence indicated by the judge. The dog must circle the barrels in a direction indicated by the judge. The judge may specify that all barrels be taken in a common direction or may change the direction of performance several times in the course.

The handler may run with his dog but is not required to.

Barrels may be placed a minimum of 20′ apart. No maximum distance is specified, which allows for some interesting transitional routes for both dog and handler. However, placing a barrel in the dog’s path between two barrels in sequence is not allowed.

Competition courses should involve six or more barrels. Barrels may be used more than once in the course. However, the course designer should not specify back-to-back performance.

The American variation of Barrel Racing is scored time plus faults. The lowest score wins. Faults are assessed for the following infractions:

•         Refusal (turning back or jumping on the barrel), 5 faults

•         Off-course (wrong barrel or barrel in the wrong direction), 5 faults

•         Failure to perform, Elimination

In the American variation, multiple barrels can be used and the pattern of placement of those barrels may be varied. The judge will stipulate which direction the dog must move around each of the barrels and these directions should be shown on a course map or clearly explained to the exhibitors.


Barrel Racing is a game which does not require the handler to be particularly fit. A dog can be taught to scoot around the barrels at some distance from the handler, leaving the handler to run the least distance, perhaps even standing in the middle of the formation, using commands and hand signals to guide the dog.

In the American variation, notice from the sample courses that the handler’s position is dictated by downstream handling, probably more so than in standard agility. In training, it’s necessary for the dog and handler to develop a vocabulary for direction of movement. In general, the handler cannot micromanage the dog’s movements as in standard agility. This is a fast event, with broad sweeping motions by dog and handler alike, with just a few commands to communicate direction and action to the dog.

Like anything else, the communication is likely to be awkward at first as the handler struggles to provide the right command with good timing, and the dog tries to learn and understand what the handler is asking him to do.

Qualifying and Titles

Barrel Racing is not eligible for titling in any American agility venue. The chief culprit is the barrel itself, a non-standard obstacle. Barrel Racing might be approved as a game for USDAA league play under the aegis of TopDog titling.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What does the red stripe up the side of Marine Corps dress blues trousers signify?


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/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. g

6 Responses to “010111 ~ Poke the bear with a sharp stick”

  1. deb auer Says:

    Called “the blood stripe,” the stripe commemorates the blood shed by Marine officers and non-commissioned officers at the Battle of Chapultepec in Mexico in 1846.

    • budhouston Says:

      That’s right… more commonly known to Marines as the “Chapultepec Stripe”; commemorates a terrible loss of life (as you noted by officers and NCOs) in the engagement; and remembered in the opening lines of the Marine Corps Hymn… “From the Halls of Montezuma… ”

      Btw, I’m pretty sure it was 1847.

      once a Marine

  2. Courtenay Says:

    Re: Barrel racing..
    The dog, in the sample course, would (could) run an almost straight line from the SF line, past barrels 1 and 2, since they both require the same direction? Just a bit unclear on the flow here.. thanks!

  3. Courtenay Says:

    Trying to figure out the dog’s path, in that case… 1 and 2 go around but…
    here’s what i have: http://picasaweb.google.com/hdsheena/Agility#5557442517308081650
    how do you go around each barrel? many circles?

  4. Judy Casserberg Says:

    I don’t know if it just me but I see April Fool as an easy add on game for a TDAA trial. I’m not so sure how well, I would do with it but it is certainly a game for someone who adjusts quickly and doesn’t need to walk a course until the cows come home. Sounds like fun.

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