You Dang Woodchucks!

It has been a tough week. Mostly I’ve been in loopy land which is surely the outfall of the concussion I got in the car accident last week. I have a terrible pain in my lower back that is soothed only with the assist of a low end narcotic. I wasn’t even going to fill the script being high minded about drugs and all; but yesterday I really couldn’t stand it anymore and I went to the pharmacy.

In the mean time my computers have been misbehaving. I have one down in the shop; and one at home that is temperamental.

I’ve upset my calendar somewhat, canceling agility play with my pups this weekend, and a handling seminar next weekend. Already lost was an important meeting with the TDAA IT guy and picking up TDAA property in IL (that’s why I was hauling across country pulling a trailer in terrible weather in the first place). I also have a ton of personal notes that I should respond to… well-wishers for the most part. I don’t want any of ya’ll to think I’m thoughtless; it’s more like mindless. A concussion turns the brain to mush. And I find myself losing tangible grasp of daily priorities small and large. To give an example, I might be in the midst of making a pot of coffee, and though I’ll have the carafe in one hand and coffee filter in the other a moment will come upon me in which I wonder at what it is I was getting ready to do.

Okay… just to prove that I can do this stuff in my sleep (an apt description of my wide awake mental condition)… I’ve continued with my review of agility games below.

Biathlon gets a very brief review. The game mostly served to remind me that “alphabetical” is really the wrong organization for the games book. I need higher level categories that separate games we shouldn’t play for serious qualifying/titling purposes from those games that are fun, ridiculous, and not ready for prime time. And trust me on this note… any game that involves chucking tennis balls in the context of agility is somewhere is a loose range between fun and ridiculous.

Black Hole however, deserves a very serious review. I’ve wanted to do this review for quite some time. This is one of our Crazy Ilze games (games invented by Ilze Rukis) and is quite a popular game in the TDAA and likely will be in the Top Dog TOP SECRET venue. The game has over time mutated by the rational test of real competition; and so I’m retiring many of the original rules for the game to a note under Variations. The basic rules of play have been rewritten to reflect how the game should be played today. The changes in rules to Black Hole don’t really alter the purpose or strategy of the game; but make scoring more rational.


This game, the invention of Stuart Mah, was the runner-up in the 1995 Clean Run magazine games contest. Biathlon is modeled after an Olympic event that tests a variety of skills in athletic competition.


A side consists of two dog and handler teams: a shooting team and a penalty team. Both teams on the side begin in the start box. The shooting team begins a sequence designated by the judge in which two areas are marked shooting stations. Both dog and handler of the shooting team must remain in the box, as the handler tries to knock over a target with one of three tennis balls (ammo) supplied at the shooting station.

If the handler successfully knocks down the target, the team continues on the shooting course. When the first team completes the course the penalty team becomes the shooting team and must complete the shooting course in the same manner as the first team.

If a penalty is incurred by the shooting team, the dog on the penalty team runs the assigned penalty course. The shooting team must remain in place until the penalty team has completed their course. A penalty is assessed:

•         Any time the dog on the shooting team faults an obstacle;

•         Any time the shooter’s dog leaves the shooting station before the ammo has been exhausted.

If the dog running the penalty course incurs obstacle performance faults, those faults are added to the side’s course time. Any obstacle omitted in the penalty course will incur a failure to perform (20 faults).

If the dog on the penalty team leaves the start box or the penalty course to pick up loose ammo, there is no penalty other than the time it takes to get the dog back under control.

If the shooter fails to knock down a target in three tries, a special penalty is assessed. A special penalty means the handler on the penalty team must run the assigned penalty course.

During the course run, ammo that is dropped by the shooter will be considered unusable and must be left on the field.

There is no penalty if a dog picks up and carries ammo on the course. However, this ammunition is considered unusable by the shooter.

Handlers who are not on course may hold onto their dogs.

Scoring ~ Qualifying

Biathlon is scored time plus faults. The side with the lowest score wins.

Biathlon is not a game that should be used for titling purposes in any venue. The tennis balls add a complexity that creates a competitive disadvantage for certain types of dogs. And throwing the tennis balls can only lead to carnage and chaos.

Course Design

The shooting course should be designed using 9 to 12 obstacles and should be appropriate to the level of the dogs. Use mainly jumps and tunnels and occasionally, weave poles or a contact obstacle.

The penalty course ideally consists of no more than 2 or 3 obstacles and for the purposes of the special penalty, should not include contact obstacles.

The target is placed 10 to 15′ away from the shooting station. Some possible targets are a tire with a net on the end to catch the ball or soft dog toys set on a table or other suitable surface. In addition, if hitting the target will be difficult to judge, it is advisable to use jump stewards as target judges. They can signal with a flag if the target is hit or not.

The shooters course, shown in white numbers, uses 9 to 12 obstacles. The penalty course, shown in black numbers, uses 2 or 3 obstacles. The targets are labeled “T1” and “T2.” This course was designed by Stuart Mah.


•         Hurry Up and Wait – In this variation of Biathlon, a typical two-dog Relay course is run. In each leg of the Relay is a shooting station, equipped with six balls and a target. The handler on course must pause at the shooting station and attempt to hit the target. The shooter can proceed on course only after hitting the target or exhausting all of his ammunition.

•         Single shooting station – The Biathlon shooting course can be reduced to one shooting station.

•         Alternative penalty course – There may be two different penalty courses set: one course for the dogs and one course for the handlers that is more handler friendly.

Black Hole

Black Hole is the invention of Ilze Rukis, who was looking for a different ‘spin’ on the usual agility game. She created a game in which the focus is not to take a particular obstacle. What could be better than the ever-inviting tunnel opening that so many dogs just love to dive into? The game is intended to help to develop discrimination and control skills of the handler.


Black Hole is like a standard course. The handler will direct the dog on the numbered course. The dog can continue to earn points unless the dog goes into a pipe tunnel (the black hole). Scoring stops once the dog goes off-course into a tunnel.

Rules for performance faults are slightly abridged for this class. A wrong-course (other than into a tunnel) is not faulted. Refusals are not faulted; however, the handler must correct the error or earn failure to perform. If a dog goes into a tunnel with all four paws he has fallen into a Black Hole and is eliminated. At the handler’s discretion the dog may finish the course.

Scoring and Qualifying

Black Hole is scored Time plus Faults. The Qualifying Course Time (QCT) is established using the rates of travel from the standard classes respective to the level and the jump height of the dog. The dog qualifies by earning a score equal to or less than the QCT.

Course Design

This is an example of a Black Hole course. Note that the benchmark time for earning the bonus points is based on an arbitrary yards per second calculation. This course is about 160 yards long. The 50 second benchmark would be based on something better than three yards per second.

The Black Hole course should be designed to suggest a logical path to the dog that presents on-course tunnels as inviting opportunities to the dog. These teasing options should be presented with some frequency.

The Black Hole (wrong course) tunnel might be presented as an option which is loosely defined as a course that makes more sense to the dog than the course the judge actually numbered. The option is typically presented in the dog’s turning radius and possibly is framed to the dog’s attention before the turn begins. The option might also be the presentation of the tunnel as a discrimination with the tunnel along-side the correct obstacle (as in, tunnel under the dogwalk or A-frame).

Black Hole course design for TDAA is comparable to course design for the big dog venues; though the transitional distances between obstacles is considerably tighter. The designer should be careful to provide a minimum of 12′ for the avoidance of any wrong course obstacle… and the pipe tunnels in a Black Hole course should be given the same thoughtful spacing. The handler must have room to solve the riddle of direction.


The chief reasons that a dog goes off course into a pipe tunnel are that the handler has logically presented the tunnel to the dog or that the handler worries so over the potential for an off course at the tunnel that his body gives inadvertent “focus” to the tunnel. Where you have a tunnel-sucking dog, you usually have a tunnel-sucking handler.

The handler might “trust the force” of his own movement while moving confidently and reliably in the direction of the true course without giving the tunnels much attention. On the other hand, the handler could also seek to create a path for the dog that does not present the pipe tunnels logically to the dog.

Since this is a Time, Plus Faults game, the handler should be careful not to have a let down for any fault on course (other than the dog going into a Black Hole); because the dog can recover from a fault and still qualify.


•         Original ~ In the beginning Black Hole was scored points plus bonus then time; giving 1 point for jumps; 3 points for the tire or 6 weave poles; 5 points for contact obstacles and 12 weave poles. And, the dog earned a bonus of 10 points for doing this course in 50 seconds or less.

This concept has been moved aside. It frankly makes little sense for a judge to be yelling out point values for obstacles on a numbered course. Numbered courses are predictable (after all) and any game that requires a judge to announce values lends itself to scribing error.

Also, the original version specified that the dog starts and stops on a table. This is really a limiting requirement that we can ignore.

Under the original variation the game would be scored Points, Plus Bonus, Then Time.


Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What is the term (not English) suggesting that a film reflects the director’s personal creative vision?

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: 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.

6 Responses to “You Dang Woodchucks!”

  1. Natalie Russell Says:

    Bud, I hope you have a very speedy recovery! The Auteur theory is the concept that a film reflects the vision if the director.

  2. Rose Says:

    Is the term “auteur”?

  3. beth (steve) murray Says:

    rats, my son e-mailed me the answer, but we’re too late. Rose beat us!
    He also says auteur.
    BTW what does the title woodchuck have to do with this post?

  4. Deb Auer Says:

    Hey, Bud…that coffee thing? I do that all the time (and worse). And I don’t think I’ve sufffered a blow to the head.

    My excuse has always been that brilliant, creative people don’t think in straight lines. Feel free to use that instead.


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