It is Not the Mountain We Conquer

I have been busy. While it’s my “down” season I have a list of chores longer than your arm in preparation for the new year. Prominent in my list of tasks is unfinished business for the TDAA. We can expect a slate of rules changes and rewrites of the Judges’ Guidelines and Course Design Guidelines by March 15th of next year. Of course that means that all of these changes have to be presented to our membership by the first of the year… which means that this isn’t much of a “down” season, at all.

In the mean time I’m staying current with posting trial premiums and course review. Our set of the floor this week comes from a review of courses submitted by Courtney Keys, a TDAA judge. One of the games she had to design design was Contact Donut. This is a game that I’ve believed for many years is not ready for primetime. So that forced me to engage in a bit of analysis to find a way to heft the game into a state worthy of competition. I think we managed to pull it off. Following is the documentation for the game as it will appear in the Book of Agility Games.

Contact Donut

Contact Donut is the invention of Linda Northrop. This exceedingly simple game tests reliable contact performance at speed and is appropriate as a training tool at the intermediate level. The game also allows the handler to experiment with working his dog at a distance.


The objective of Contact Donut is to accumulate as many points as possible by running a circular course composed mostly of tunnels and contacts in a period specified by the judge: appropriate to the rates of travel for the organization with some built-in expectation of success working at a distance.

The dog begins at a designated start line in the circle or donut of obstacles and on completion will begin again and continue until the end of course time. A whistle will end course time; the dog and handler must get to the table to stop time.

Bonus points are awarded for the performance of contact obstacles if the handler can direct his dog to perform the course while remaining in any of three concentric containment areas (the donut hole) at the center of the course. If the handler steps out of the donut at any time the dog will earn no bonus.


Contact Donut is scored Points + Bonus – Faults, Then Time. The dog with the most points is the winner. Time is a tiebreaker only.

Values are assigned to the obstacles as follows: 5 points for contact obstacles; 1 point for tunnels and jumps.

Three bonus containment areas are shown on the course. Bonuses are awarded for contact obstacles only. The handler must be inside of the respective containment area both for the ascent of the contact obstacle and for the descent. Four paws constitutes commitment on the ascent.

  • 2x multiplier ~ from a 10’ containment line contacts are valued at 10 points
  • 3x multiplier ~ from a 15’ containment line contacts are valued at 15 points
  • 4x multiplier ~ from a 20’ containment line contacts are valued at 20 points

On any fault the dog will be charged according to the fault schedule of the respective venue. They dog may not earn a bonus on a faulted obstacle. It is the judge’s call whether refusals will be faulted.

Course Design

This is a Contact Donut course designed by Bud Houston for league play at Topdog Agility Players in Waterford, Ohio. The dummy obstacles are more a matter of nesting the course for class. And for the game, they certainly add interest and complexity.

Note that the #1 jump is rotated so that the handler can make the initial send into the course from the containment region of the field. In the course the #9 pipe tunnel is drawn up into the field to accommodate the repeated loops of the course.

For this course small dogs are given a Qualifying Course Time (QCT) of 60 seconds and big dogs a QCT of 55 seconds.

This Contact Donut course utilizes the traditional three contact obstacles, using the crossover with straight over planks in lieu of the dogwalk. This game allows the handler to work closely on the dog’s contacts, or for a more advanced dog, to work the dog at a distance.

In the Contact Donut course the contact obstacles are typically placed on the sides of the course, while tunnels are used to soften or direct the turns in the corners. The “Donut Hole” should be a clearly defined area in the center of the circle of obstacles.


Establishing qualifying criteria is a tricky business. There needs to be a balance between level, jump height, and expectation of success working at distance. Here’s a possible schedule:

  • Games I ~ 35 points
  • Games II ~ 50 points
  • Games III ~ 65 points

The Games I qualifier in this schedule is based on a single performance of the loop with 10 bonus points. Games II will require 25 bonus points and/or more than one completed loop. Games III requires 40 bonus points and/or more than one completed loop. Only a lot of experience with competition will prove this schedule. We have neither the expectation to skunk the field, nor any desire to give away the farm.


Northrop’s Traditional Variation ~ In the game as originally designed by Linda Northrop the handler was expected to stand in a “donut hole” roughly the size of an agility table at the center of the course. Handling from the donut hole earned a 15 pt bonus. And, the course was not run as a continuous loop. The original of the game is relegated to the status of “variation” mostly to make it a more rigorous game for competition rather than a game that is mostly a training exercise.

In this variation time was traditionally stopped by taking the dog to the donut hole in the center of the course. This element is no longer recognized, simply to make more efficient use of the ring in competition.

In this variation scoring ceases if time elapses or the dog commits any fault.

The Courtney Keys Team Variation ~ In this variation of Contact Donut the game is played by two, or more, dog and handler teams. Bonuses and objective are essentially the same. However, when a dog commits a fault the alternate dog, or next dog, is expected to begin the course from the start.

In this variation faults points are not earned by the team. Instead, as mentioned above, the next dog is expected to begin the course from the beginning.

This variation should include for the purpose of qualification: Each dog is expected to successfully complete at least one contact obstacles; and the complete loop must be completed at least once.

The handler of the active dog has an option to “bail” the course with his dog. For example the handler of the first dog could pull the dog away from an approach to the teeter (for whatever reason)… and the second handler will begin the course from the beginning. This will allow the avoidance of some terrible fault in order to switch. The judge might require the handler to yell “Switch!” or something.

Premium Blurbs

Contact Donut ~ is a distance game in which the dog earns bonus points on contact obstacles while the handler works at a distance. The course is arranged in a loop and will be repeated until the expiration of time.

Contact Donut ~ The Courtney Keys Team Variation is a team variation of the game intended to be played by two or more dog and handler teams. Contact Donut ~ is a distance game in which the dog earns bonus points on contact obstacles while the handler works at a distance. The course is arranged in a loop and will be repeated until the expiration of time.

Contact Donut ~ Northrop’s Traditional Variation is a training game probably not ready for prime time as a game of competition. The objective of the game is for the handler to work away from the dog while the dog demonstrates his skill on contact obstacles at a magnificent distance.

Never Give Up; Never Surrender


“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

~ Edmund Hillary


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.


%d bloggers like this: