Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

On my way to Springfield, IL this morning I drove through a town in Ohio. Some fellow had released a bunch of wild animals from his private zoo and committed suicide after. The police dealt with the problem in predictable fashion. They shot all they could find. Our relationship with the wild animal kingdom isn’t all that swell. At the end of the day I believe only a monkey and a wolf were still at large. With any luck the wolf will make it up into Canada. The monkey will probably freeze in the winter.

No, I didn’t see any wild animals driving through Zanesville.

Notes from Nowhere: The Course Design College

It was never my intention for the posts to the TDAA course design college to become codified into Judges’ Guidelines. The original intention is to share comments that I make over and over again to TDAA judges as I review their courses. They don’t actually all read my blog.

In the next year I want to attend to a philosophy of course design in the TDAA that favors nice flowing courses with a central technical challenge. It’s a tip of the hat to the NADAC philosophy, without being quite so histrionically wimpy about technical challenges on the course.

This likely means that the nature of the course design college will ultimately be more about course design, as originally intended. Hopefully we’ve got most of the obvious stuff out of the way.

Speaking of obvious stuff… allow me to share with you some of the observations I’ve made in course review over the past week.

The Pretty Page

I often get courses like this for review:

Orientation of the Course

This course is actually upside down. It’s disorienting to the handler who when facing into the course has to turn the page around in the direction he’s facing. Consequently all the numbers are upside down. If you insist on portrait presentation you should flip the course around. I personally favor landscape presentation, which isn’t nearly as disorienting to the exhibitor.

Start and Finish Lines

You should always show start & finish lines on all of your games and courses; (the exception being, if you’ve indicated that time stops on the table, it doesn’t need the additional clutter of a finish line passing through it). By visualizing the start and finish lines you can (and should) calculate where the time-keeper will have to sit to have a clear sharp view of both lines.

On this course I indicated the position of the time-keeper. You don’t really have to do this on your courses (unless you’re judging for one of those really anal agility organizations). It is useful to go through the mental exercise.

Sloppy Numbering

The course designer should be neat in the placement of numbers on course. You should place numbers very much as you would set out number cones: neat, out of the way. Sometimes if an obstacle is performed multiple times I’ll crowd and stack the numbers neatly in front of the obstacle.

Course ID Information

This course came to me with no course ID information. I have several rules personally for applying course ID information:

  • Put in the name of the class and the suite number. Anticipating making copies of the courses I’ll elevate the point size and make the name of the class bold. This makes identifying the course easy for exhibitors picking up their course maps.
  • Include the name of the host club.
  • Include the date of the event.
  • Identify yourself (the judge). As a bit of color, include your home town.
  • Don’t put the course ID information on the course where the text has to compete with the placement of obstacles. Instead, open a border on the page and put it in the border.
  • Don’t put boxes around your course ID information. Boxes are just clutter.

Background Lines

The course should be numbered from a corner. Numbering from the center is intended for the master course builder and only if the club is using the baseline method. If  you’re really thoughtful you could ask in advance if the field already has foot markers and, if so, from what corner the numbers begin.

Dog’s Path

The dog’s path is useful for the course designer to conduct basic analysis; things like measuring the interval between obstacles. It is of little to no use to the exhibitor and just clutters the page.

By the way CRCD includes a little widget that allows you to make the dog’s path invisible so that you don’t have to re-specify the properties of the line every time you want to see it. It’s okay to have lines… but you should turn them off before printing exhibitor copies of your courses.


I will typically put a 2’ border around the course, except for the border reserved for course ID information, which needs to be opened up enough to contain the information traditionally used to identify a course for posterity. Adding borders is really a finishing touch that brings the course into definition, and neatens it up; kinda like tucking in your shirt.

Note that when you’re numbering a course, the number can overlap onto the border with is a convenient way of keeping the number from crowding the course.

The Finished Product

Better! Don’t you think?

Time Plus Faults Scoring

A thing I see all too often when reviewing courses: The briefing says the scoring basis is Time Plus Faults. Then under qualifying the briefing will advise something like:

  • Games I – is allowed 2 faults
  • Games II – is allowed 1 fault
  • Games III – Clean Run -no faults allowed

When you have Time, Plus Faults scoring you set the qualifying bar when you establish the Qualifying Course Time (QCT). That means it doesn’t matter how many faults the dog earns so long as when you add the dog’s time to the dogs faults (converted to seconds) the number is less than or equal to the established course time.

Consequently what the handler should find interesting is the times that are set by the judge. Note that in a perfectly nested game we differentiate both by level and by jump height. The judge uses the rates of travel from the standard classes.

Specifying Faults for a Game

Often enough the judge will in a briefing list the faults for a game. For example a game came across my desk with the notation: “Off-courses and knocked bar.  Each fault adds 5 points to your score.” (sic)

It would be better to say that the game (a numbered course) will be judged under the performance rules from the standard classes. We all know what that means. We fault refusals on contacts for GII and GIII, and subscribe to the Four Paw Safety Rule for GI; and we have three definitions for weave pole performance respective to GI, GIII and GIII.

Sometimes it’s important to indicate the exception to performance rules in a briefing. For example in Black Hole refusals are (traditionally) not faulted. And this should be so noted in the briefing.

In Strategic Pairs wrong courses are not faulted. And this should be so noted in the briefing.

Course Design College ~ An Index?

I suppose at some point I should create an index to the Course Design College postings I’ve put on my blog. The purpose of the Course Design College is to make share observations that I have to make over and over again to judges when doing course reviews; with the optimistic goal that TDAA judges will read them, understand them, implement them… and save me from repeating myself, over and over again.

A couple days ago I was reviewing a set of courses based on a long narrow field. The course designer fell into the trap of creating long oscillating waves with the dog’s path, without so much as a crossing pattern. I searched back through the Course Design College postings to find Twist and Twine ~ Superior Course Challenge ( I also had a posting in which I ventured that the secret to designing in a small space is in repeating obstacles (naturally creating crossing patterns). But I don’t remember what I called it; and it was eluded text searches on my computer.

Bud’s Google-Proof Trivia Contest

What was the town in Ohio I drove through this morning where they were on the look-out for wild animals released from a private zoo?


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.


3 Responses to “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!”

  1. Chris Mosley Says:

    Not sure what town you drove through, but the animals were in Zanesville before they set out from their cages. I did read that the officers couldn’t tranquilize the animals in the dark. Good to know I guess.

  2. Michelle Says:

    Is this the blog entry you were trying to find Bud?
    I save the links in a file of the course design college I want to refer to or share with other judges.
    Sounds like you are experiencing(again) similar course review issues that I did when reviewing. Borders, numbers, lines, spacing, briefings.

  3. Linda Says:

    For those of us who need reading glasses, the worst course maps are those with 3 courses on one side of the 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Two of the maps are less than 5 x 4 each. While all the identifying info (date, club name, judge, class) is beneath the map, the smallest print possible is used. Many course maps I see also have the day of the week. I like your idea of including where the judge is from–haven’t seen that on maps. Although most judges tell you in the briefing, having it in print would help you remember.

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