Judges Report

I’ve been considering for some time the inadequacy of the TDAA Judges’ Report. It’s modeled on other, traditional, venues. Because of that it’s not a very good fit for the TDAA.

Consider that we do that no other venue does, or probably can do. We can play any game imaginable in dog agility. As a consequence we’re spread all over the place in terms of our understanding of games, how they are played, and how to set qualifying criteria that doesn’t “skunk the field” or “give away the farm”. Frankly, we err to the latter far to often.

What we should be doing effective almost immediately, is asking the judge for an analysis of each of the games played on the weekend. Very specifically we need to focus on the qualifying rate. The judge should provide analysis as to what happened that might have been unexpected in terms of course design and how completely the briefing deals with what might happen in the game: Mindful of our understanding that “anything that can happen, will happen”.

Our analysis of games needs to go to a central repository of learning so that it can be shared with other judges who’ll be faced with design and judging for the same game. If we take this initiative the Judges Report will be reflected in the Book of Agility Games for future generations of judges.

Following is a description of the game Cha-Cha by Jeff Boyer. I’ve added some discussion (under “Scoring”) about setting qualifying criteria for this game. This comes directly from course review with the designing judge.


Cha-Cha is the invention of Jeff Boyer. The Cha-Cha dance was invented in Cuba sometime in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. A Latin dance, it is characterized, generally speaking, by two slow, rocking steps, followed by three quick steps (the “cha-cha-cha”) danced to a 4/4 beat. (And “slow” is a relative term.) In this game, the handler must figuratively dance the Cha-Cha with his dog around the “ballroom” (the agility ring).


The objective is for the team to accumulate as many bars of Cha-Cha steps as they can in the time allotted. A Cha-Cha bar consists of any two obstacles other than jumps followed by three jumps. For example, a bar might be a contact obstacle, a tunnel, and then three jumps. Or it might be two tunnel performances followed by three jumps. For each successful bar, the team will earn one point. The game is scored points, then time. Time is for tie-breaking only.

Bar jumps may be used as often as desired. Other obstacles may be used only twice for credit. Obstacles other than bar jumps may be taken back-to-back, as long as this is done safely.  Bar jumps may not be taken back-to-back. The first obstacle to be taken at the start of any run may not be a contact obstacle.

The following faults will be in effect:

  • Dropped bars (dropped bars are not reset and the jump is out of play)
  • Missed contacts
  • Incomplete weave pole performance
  • Back-to-back performance of a bar jump
  • Taking an obstacle more than twice (except for bar jumps)
  • Taking a contact obstacle as the first obstacle in the run
  • Incorrect number of “slow” or “quick” steps since the last successful bar

Refusals will not be faulted. It is the judge’s decision as to whether the Four-Paw Safety rule is in effect.

The judge will call “one” for each successful bar (set of 5 obstacles). In the event of a fault, the judge will call “fault,” and the team must begin a new bar. Counting of a bar will begin only once the “slow” steps are started.

The dog may begin anywhere along the start line. Time begins when the dog first crosses the Start line. The timer will blow the whistle at the end of point accumulation time, at which point the handler must direct the dog across the finish line or to the finish obstacle to stop the clock. In TDAA, small dogs (4/8) will have 60 seconds to accumulate points, and big dogs (12/16) will have 55 seconds.

Course Design

Course design should enable reasonable paths around the ring, with bar jumps liberally sprinkled all over. Transition distances and approach angles should be consistent with venue rules as much as practicable. For safety, contact obstacles should not be placed where they are likely to be taken as the first obstacle in the run. The obstacles should be set to enable multiple likely paths, yet allow the judge the ability to view all of them with minimal difficulty and movement. A Standard course might lend itself well to reuse as a Cha-Cha course. The number and types of obstacles in a FullHouse course might also be a useful guideline.

The sample course above I put together to test the random nature of the game. It was based on an existing standard course. Still I found myself adding jumps to the course to create three jump pinwheels and jump sets so that the jumps weren’t isolated (nothing but trouble under the stated rules.

One of the biggest mistakes TDAA course designers make with “dogs choice” courses is having too much distance between the obstacles. A dog’s choice course that is too spread out will NQ a lot of dogs. Judges will often argue the point with me. But that’s just because they don’t get it.

To test the qualifying criteria I put together 5 economical paths. Note that I studied to avoid the weave poles and dogwalk. I also tried to minimize “flow break” moments; but given the constraints of the game, that’s hard to do. Following is the order of the Cha-Cha bar segments, with cumulative course distance:

Black 21 yards

Red 52 yards

Green 80 yards

Blue 110 yards

Purple 137 yards

Note that the 5-Bar qualifier requires a dog to work a minimum of 2.49 YPS for big dogs and 2.28 YPS for for little dogs. These rates are over the range suggested by the Superior rates of travel. So I would suggest going with 2-3-4 for the qualifying criteria. There’s no sense in having a game in which only the fastest dogs have a real shot at qualifying. [Leave the 5 bar for the win!]


Cha-Cha is scored Bars (Points), Then Time


To qualify in TDAA, the teams must accumulate the following minimum number of bars (points):

  • Games I –3 Bars
  • Games II – 4 Bars
  • Games III – 5 Bars

Almost always games like this require some front end analysis in order to set proper qualifying criteria. It shouldn’t be so hard that nobody qualifies, or so that even the really wobbly and badly executed runs manage to qualify. The qualifying criteria should reflect the requirement for performance Respective to the venue.

An obvious criterion for performance would have the Masters/Superior dogs performing 20 obstacles in a set time comparable to the time use for a standard class; while Advanced/Intermediate would perform 17 or 18, and Novice/Beginner would perform 14 or 15.

This course (actually used in TDAA competition) measures about 108 yards. The judge should run the measured path through a rate of travel calculation. All of the numbers fit neatly in the course times of 50 seconds big dogs, and 55 seconds small dogs.

For this design the judge should probably set the qualifying criteria at: G1=30; G2=34; G3=40. Note that the G2 qualifier takes advantage of the 2 pts earned for each obstacle in a partial set.

Premium Blurb

Cha-Cha is a game that requires the dog to earn points to the beat of the Cha-cha: A Latin dance characterized by two slow, rocking steps (non-jump obstacles), followed by three quick steps (jumps only). This is a game of strategy and precision.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston BudHouston@hughes.net. The Country Dream web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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.

4 Responses to “Judges Report”

  1. Melissa Wallace Says:

    It’s fun to see the path the judge saw compared to what the competitors actually ran. Several competitors took the teeter-tunnel and Cha-Cha’d to A-frame tire, Cha-Cha’ing to the teeter tunnel again to get a nice loop at speed.

  2. Christine Says:

    I like this game! Agility is like a dance with your dog. Polka anyone?
    Regarding Q’s – I appreciate “easier” courses for the beginners…success keeps those new to agility going! But it does make sense for things to get more difficult as you progress up the ladder, but don’t make it so hard that people can’t achieve. I am not a judge, but I would think that one would not want to develop a course that is so hard that no one can succeed.

  3. Jeff Says:

    Your rules regarding back-to-back performances of obstacles is the opposite of how I’ve played it. I allow back-to-back performances of jumps only, but no “three-peats” (taking a jump three times in a row). I’ve found this results in more paths on the part of the teams and minimizes the potential for unsafe obstacle performances. This also avoids the need to have all the jumps set in clusters of three or more. What was your reasoning in taking the approach you did?

    As for Q requirements, I have found that a reasonable set of qualifying bars is 1.6, 2.4, and 3.2 for Games 1, 2, and 3, respectively. 1, 2, and 3 was a gimme, and 2, 3, and 4 was at the other end of the spectrum, with handlers running out of time.

  4. Michelle Says:

    I also allowed back to back of jumps only with no three peats. The handler paths in the blog were not exactly the same as I envisioned but the yardage I came up with was also an acerage of 108 yds. I included the path Melissa mentioned.

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