Kula’s Course Memorization Riddle

Course memorization is one of the mental skills that a dog agility handler develops over the years. Early in my career in the sport I lost more courses than I care to remember. About 20 years ago I think I got it figured out; else I would have returned to golf as a hobby. Golf is simple enough. You might lose your ball; but you never really lose the course.

I learned over time to divide the course into a series of shapes that are created by the set of obstacles. Instead of having to remember 20 things… the handler really only has to remember two, three, or four.

A Jumpers course is harder to remember than a standard course. In the standard course contact obstacles, weave poles and table create definable events and visual landmarks; all contributing to give the handler moments to breath and regroup. In jumpers, however, often there is no room to breath at all.

Cindy Wilmoth sent to me this Jumpers course designed by USDAA judge Tom Kula. I recall she said that it was very difficult to remember the course. And I can see why. The handler doesn’t even have the benefit of keeping track of the course by the rotation of the jumps. They are all rotated at the same angle. The course owns no tunnel.

These days, with my old man’s handling system I like to define the technical moments in a course. A technical moment has to be defined as a moment that I need my dog right under me to solve a technical riddle. I will use distance skills to direct my dog through the more uneventful parts of the course and then meet him at the crucial piece of real estate.

With that in mind I applied the analysis to this course. I find that course memorization might come from event driven considerations. For example…

The turn from jump #6 to #7 is a tough bit. Given the dog’s trajectory of approach through jump #6 it is a hard aback turn. This is a technical moment that requires me to be right there to pre-cue the turn and to carefully draw my dog around for a presentation of jump #6. We’ll retain the shape of the red segment of the course as we pantomime our movements in the mental warm-up outside of the ring.

The blue path shown here is about as bloody-minded as it gets. I see myself working through jumps #7 and #8 moving nearly back-wards with a constant turning pre-cue. Especially at jump #8 I’ve got to sell the tight turn for the pull-through in the transition to jump #9. If you really look at it the handler is pretty much centered in the dog’s path; but might be well behind the dog on the approach to jump #10. This is where I have to release my boy to work, relying on our distance skills. The tricky bit will be after jump #13; and that is where the handler will want to be for the next technical event… the pull-through to jump #14.

The handler should show the dog through the pull-through from jump #13 to #14 with dog-on-left. The balance of the course is a simple enough distance drill. After the first hard left, the course goes: Right, right, right, and then left. The turn from jump #16 to #17 isn’t really as easy as it looks. There’s a real possibility that the dog can swing wide and give jump #17 a run-by. So the handler might want to step in on the approach to give a little counter rotation assistance to draw the dog in.

Note too that there’s a subtle but certain left-turning bias after jump #19 (for a dog conditioned through a series of jumps to lean right into the turns).

So there’s the course, broken down into three distinct pieces. I’d love to set this up to give it a run. But you know, my training building is too small. Maybe I can give a shot in the spring in the lower field. I’ll put it in my fun file and pull it out when the time is right.

I’m going to send a copy of this to Tom Kula. Maybe he’ll grace us with a retro judge’s debriefing.

An Interesting Illusion

I want you to shut your eyes and see this course on that big screen at the back of your brain. Now tell me… how many hurdles were needed to build the course?


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.


3 Responses to “Kula’s Course Memorization Riddle”

  1. Linda Knowles Says:

    Leave it up to my friend Kula to design this! What a cool course. I would love to run this and I’m going to set it up at home and try it. Sorry I cheated to see how many hurdles it took to build the course. I’ll let someone else answer. Gee Kula is so creative with his courses. We had one similar at the Regionals at Ft Worth in Team last May but it did have tunnels.

  2. Greg Says:

    I was at the SWAT trial and got to run this fun course. Let say that I can count on one hand the number of times I have been lost on course, in the hundreds of courses I have run, but this one had me worried :).
    Fortunately for me, I have a dog in both Perf. and Championship, and we did split the walkthroughs, so I was actually able to walk this course for up to 16 minutes or so. I never had to walk a course so many times to feel comfortable with it – it probably took 8 go-rounds.
    When it came time to run, I had no trouble, and was where I needed to be, not looking at cones.
    I have a video on my youtube of me running my young BC Rip through this course for a Q : http://youtu.be/QykgismM-sg

    Your ideas of breaking down the course are good and I do tend to learn the patterns through the course and kind-of think of it in sections. I will sometimes use the double or triple as a marker, and sometimes the color of the jump as well!

  3. Rose Says:

    I set this course up today using just hoops. I had a devil of a time remembering which hoop was #8 when I ran it; a large part of that was due to under-rotating with my front cross at #7. Aside from that mental lapse, the course proved to be quite easy to run with one of my Aussies. However, with the other, the wraps at #8 and #13 proved to be maddeningly difficult. Instead of wrapping, he wanted to do a 180 from 8 to 19 and from 13 to 2. Here’s a link to video of our efforts: http://youtu.be/bnYMpTQ24sA

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