The Riddle of Sides

I return from South Boardman, MI where I conducted a small TDAA judges’ clinic over four days. I took Hazard along with. Although I’m not going to run her at the Petit prix I still love competing with her in the TDAA.

My girl had a magnificent weekend. She was in the ring 8 times, and walked away with 8 qualifying scores and 8 first place ribbons. Between you and me and the wall I ain’t really bragging. I was competing against a field of handlers who were flummoxed by the essential riddle of agility: The Riddle of Sides.

With about 80 percent of the handlers in this sport I could in a two-day clinic teach a thing or two that would double their success in this sport. Okay, now I’m bragging, I suppose. But it’s true. Some things are fundamental. If you get the fundamentals wrong… how can you really expect to be successful?


The Riddle of Sides: A dog turns most naturally toward the handler. The crafty handler will dispose himself to the side of every turn; to the inside of the curve.

This design is based on one of the games we played this weekend (In and Out). I need to offer a modest discussion of how a handler might get on the turning side of the course. To me it’s a statement of the obvious. Truthfully you can’t believe it’s very obvious if about 50% of handlers get it wrong.

You’ll note that the course turns first to the right, and then sharply to the left in the junction between “loops” from #4 to #5. There is really no good reason for the handler to Back Cross the pipe tunnel at #4. At least half of the dog’s that had handler on right when they went into the pipe tunnel turned to the right when they came out. It’s one of the difficulties of Back Crossing at a pipe tunnel

The Back Cross that so many people did that really drove me nuts was at jump #6. What? It’s a fairly simple matter here to have dog on left at jump #6. Why create the emergency handling scenario? Indeed, the nimble handler will also step to the landing side of jump #6 for another Front Cross to again be on the turning side of the course after jump #7.

In and Out


The course is divided into 3 loops: the “inner” loop, the “in-and-out” loop, and the “outer” loop.

If a fault occurs during a loop, the dog must immediately restart from the first obstacle of that loop. The loop is repeated until completed without fault. Then the dog starts the next loop.  The judge will call out “fault” when a dog faults an obstacle.  Standard faults apply: refusals are not faulted.

  • Inner loop –  Obstacles 1 thru 4
  • In and out loop –  Obstacles 5 thru 12
  • Outer loop – Obstacles 13 thru 21

The standard course time for each level will be set at a rate consistent with the standard classes.


The game is scored points then time. Time is a tiebreaker only. If the dog completes the entire course before time runs out, the difference between the dog’s time and the course time becomes bonus points added to the score.


You must complete the course within your SCT for your level to qualify.

Course Design

In and Out is a wickedly difficult game to design. With the use of contact equipment it’s necessary to create square approaches to the contact obstacles to keep things safe. This is trickier than it might seem.

A common mistake in the course design is making all the “loops” move in the same direction, so that the entire competition is either clockwise or counter-clockwise. You can see that the designer of the sample course above used interesting transitions between the loops that changed directions. While the “In and Out” loop is a bit of an adventure, it’s all doable from a handling point of view and the approaches to contact obstacles are kept square and safe.

If the sample course has a flaw, it is the use of the collapsed tunnel to be taken twice… or possibly more than twice if the dog faults that loop.


This is really a simple follow-the-numbers game embellished with preposterous convention. Rather than calling it a “standard course” the inventor of the game determined that the dog could redeem any fault by repeating whichever loop he was working on. In real life this turns out to be little more than a “loser’s lap” because repeating any of the loops basically takes the dog tantalizing out of range of any possibility of qualifying (much less winning, or placing).

It’s a points based game… and basically all dogs earn the same number of points (if they finish the course). Time, the tie-breaking criteria, becomes the only essential statistic for placement.

To add insult to injury every dog that finishes under course time will be awarded a time-deduction bonus of the difference between his SCT and his actual time. This in no way changes placements; but skews the differential between those that finished the course under time, and those who did not.

I’m not advocating that the game should be played any differently than it is historically played. I just wanted to point out how silly are the embellishments.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running.


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