Blackjack is the invention of Jonathan Brown, former President of the Agility Association of Canada (AAC) and is a now defunct titling game for Canine Performance Events (CPE). Blackjack can still be played as a titling game in the TDAA or TopDog. Blackjack is a game of strategy and agility. The Vegas variation of Blackjack is possibly more exciting and challenging than the original version.


The purpose of this game is to accumulate 21 points in the fastest time. Accumulating more than 21 points disqualifies the team.

At least one corner, one side, and one jump must be completed successfully. Corners are typically made from tunnels placed in the corners of the course; sides are always contact obstacles and weave poles which are placed along the sides of the course. The jumps are arranged in a random fashion in the middle.

No contact obstacles may be taken back-to-back. At least one obstacle must be taken between contact obstacle attempts, whether successful or not. Four-paws are required for commitment on any obstacle.

No obstacle may be successfully performed more than twice for points.

Dogs shall accumulate points within a time period established by the judge, usually sixty seconds. If 21 points are accumulated under the time limit set by the judge, the dog and handler go to the table to stop time.


Blackjack is scored points then time. The highest point value wins. If two or more dogs have the same number of points then time breaks the tie.

Points are awarded as follows:

•         Jumps, 1 point

•         Tunnels, tire, window, 2 points

•         Contact obstacles, 3 points

•         Weave poles, 4 points

A team scoring over 21 points is eliminated.

Course Design

This is an example of a typical Black Jack course.

This Blackjack course includes the table (near the center of the course), which is used to stop the clock. The table is near 6 to 8 single-bar, non-winged jumps. The contact obstacles and weave poles will be arranged on the outer perimeter of the course. The four corners include a collapsed tunnel, a pipe tunnel, a tire or window jump, with the fourth corner being another tire or pipe tunnel.

This is an example of a Vegas variation of Black Jack. This course was designed for play in the TDAA. The written briefing for this variation should include the advice:

In the Vegas variation two distance challenges are included in the course. After the traditional point accumulation, the team may attempt one of the two gambles on the course. The Ace gamble is worth 11 points, is noted on the course in white numbers. The Blackjack gamble is worth 10 points indicated on the course in black numbers.

A successful performance of a gamble will not be required for the purpose of qualifying. However, if the dog goes over-time in getting to the finish line after the performance of the gamble, then the bonus for the gamble is lost. Further, if the dog incurs a fault during the attempt of either gamble, then the gamble bonus is lost.

This is an example of the Vegas variation of Blackjack designed for play with big dogs. The course was designed by Becky Dean.

•         Ace Fault – In a variation on the Vegas variation, if the dog faults the Ace gamble, he receives only one point (providing the dog succeeds in performing the first obstacle without fault), regardless of the number of obstacles completed in the gamble.


It is important in Blackjack to make a good estimate as to the quickest way for a given dog to earn the necessary 21 points. Aside from the obstacles required to be performed, and the prohibition against back-to-back performance of contact obstacles, the handler must take into account the specific strengths and weaknesses of his dog.

The handler must also have the ability to add up the point values of the obstacles to arrive at an even 21 points. If something goes wrong on course, the handler will have to change the plan, but still do the arithmetic to arrive at 21 points.

In the Vegas variation, the handler’s ability to keep the math straight will be somewhat more difficult. If the handler attempts a gamble, but fails because of an off course or a refusal, the dog will earn the simple value for the obstacles completed, but not the gamble bonus. According to the rules, the handler is eliminated for going to the table with more than 21 points. The handler probably should attempt each gamble, straight away. If the dog completes one of them, the dog earns the full points. If the dog fails at one, then he needs to fill the 21 points after the dust settles on the two gambles. This means the handler is going to have to be pretty quick on my feet (or doing math in his head).

Qualifying and Titles

Blackjack is eligible as a qualifying game under Top Dog and TDAA rules. As all dogs must earn 21 points, the point schedule should be based on a reasonable standard course time in which 21 points might be earned. In the sample course, for example, the qualifying criteria was set as follows:

•         Games I – 21 points in 55 seconds or less big dogs; 60 seconds small dogs

•         Games II – 21 points in 50 seconds or less big dogs; 55 seconds small dogs;

•         Games III – 21 points in 45 seconds or less big dogs; 50 seconds small dogs

In the Vegas variation of Blackjack, in addition to stipulation for time the qualification criteria shall be:

•         Games I – 21 points

•         Games II – 10 points + the Ace gamble; or 11 points + the Blackjack gamble

•         Games III – Both the Ace gamble and the Blackjack gamble


•         Redux ~ In the original version of the game the judge would specify the beginning obstacle at the start of the class. The order of subsequent obstacles is the handler’s choice. The first obstacle must be attempted, if not, points are deducted from the dog’s score double the value of the opening obstacle.

We’ve moved away from this definition because specifying the starting obstacle creates a limit on possible strategies in any dog’s choice game.

•         Vegas variation – This is the invention of Becky Dean. Two gambles are included in the course. After the traditional point accumulation, the team may attempt one of the two gambles on the course.

–         The Ace gamble, worth 11 points, is noted on the course in letters (tunnel, tunnel, dogwalk). USDAA advanced rules will be used to judge the Ace gamble (only refusals on the contact obstacle only will be called).

–         The Blackjack gamble is noted on the course with numbers (jump, jump, jump). USDAA masters rules will be used to judge the Blackjack gamble (refusals for any obstacle). If the dog successfully completes jump, jump, and then incurs a refusal at the dogwalk, but then successfully completes the performance of the last jump, the team will earn 3 points (rather than 10).

If the dog incurs a fault during the attempt of either gamble, he’ll earn simple points for the obstacles completed to that point, but will not be able to earn the gamble bonus.

No more than one obstacle in either gamble can be performed back-to-back except when attempting the gamble. However, one obstacle from the ace gamble could be performed in conjunction with one obstacle from the Blackjack gamble without incurring a penalty. If more than one obstacle in a gamble is taken back-to-back, the team will not be eligible to earn the gamble.

Gambles can be completed at any time during the run.

When playing the Vegas variation, for the purposes of league play, Blackjack should be scored points-level, then time. It’s given that dogs will probably have a score of 21. Points- Leveling for placements will take into consideration successful performance of on-course gambles using this order of precedence:

  1. Both the Ace gamble and the Blackjack gamble
  2. 11 points + the Ace gamble
  3. 10 points + the Blackjack gamble
  4. 21 points no gambles



Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

A branch of American military service once used a leather collar as part of their combat uniform to protect the combatant’s neck from saber cuts. The leather collar resembled the seal used in canning fruit and vegetables. This accoutrement of the uniform helped create at least two nicknames for servicemen of this branch. What is the branch? What are the nicknames?

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.

One Response to “Blackjack”

  1. Nancy Hoffman Says:

    It is the Marines! The nicknames are Leatherneck, and Jarhead


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