Chamber of Horrors

A friend sent me a few courses from the AKC World Team Tryouts in Hopkins, MN. In general these were more technical than the usual offering on an AKC weekend. You might expect that from a “World Team Tryout”… dontcha know.

I stumbled across one course that literally made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. So I must share with you.

This is a course designed by Anne Riba, a judge from northern Illinois. A modest course analysis exposes these technical challenges:

  • Blind/managed approach from #1 to #2 (yep, it starts right out with a demand for micromanagement)
  • A pull-through blind/managed approach from the teeter at #4 to jump #5.
  • A counter-side tunnel discrimination at #9.
  • A rip-saw turn out of the pipe tunnel at #9.
  • A two-jump directional discrimination on the dismount of the dogwalk at #11 (clearly favors dogs with 2o2o contacts; deadly to dogs with running contacts).
  • A tight pull-through from jump #12 to the A-frame at #13.
  • A perpendicular approach to the entry-side weave poles (out of a wrong course trap).

There are two places where one can actually release the dog to work. The first is a two obstacle sequence (#7 to #8); and the next/last is a two-obstacle sequence (#16 to #17).

Where have all the flowers gone?

As a strictly philosophical matter, I really don’t like this course. I’ve invested a lot in teaching my dog to work independently without constant micro-management. This is a course in which a dog with superb independent working skills is of no value whatsoever.

The trend to ridiculously technical has been mostly a USDAA thing the past few years. I’ve noticed that AKC courses—at least where I’ve been showing—tend to be more thoughtful with flow that allows the dog to get up working at full speed so even subtle challenges require spot-on timing on the part of the handler. Consequently, I was surprised to see this chamber of horrors.

Where are we going as a sport? I know for sure that no-one really looks to me for the philosophical underpinnings for course design. I’ll vote with my pocket-book.

I apologize to Anne Riba for the tough review. I know that course reviewers are a powerful influence on what the AKC judge puts up in the world. The role of the course reviewer should be to save the designing judge, not to damn her.

Yes Erica, I Agree

I’ve been remiss on keeping up with my blog. It kinda works like this… I’ve had a long string of weekend obligations. So when I get home I’m caught up in chores and work obligations related to the TDAA.

This past weekend I was in Tennessee leading a TDAA judges clinic. This is ostensibly a 7-1/2 hour drive each way. The return trip was pretty awful. There was a huge rain system… and I was driving along with it; so I couldn’t get out from under it at all. You’ll remember that last year I totaled my Suburban and nearly killed myself. Thus today I’m a more cautious driver in funky weather. I had a recurrent image of hydroplaning so I slowed down about 15 MPH below what I might be driving on a dry road.

Apparently not everyone was driving cautiously. Early in the afternoon I got caught up in a huge highway backup in which I traveled about three miles in three hours. There was apparently a multi-car pipe-up somewhere ahead.

Later in the day I ran into another stopped traffic scene; again, a multi-car accident some miles ahead of me. This time I find myself near a “No U-Turn” crossing. I promptly took the U-turn, drove back about six miles and went off the Interstate and found a country road. After about 30 miles of my Garmin insisting that I take a U-turn to go back to join the stopped traffic, it finally plotted a course forward. I got home at 1:30 in the morning.

In the spirit of Live to Run Again, I spent the trip listening to the first two books of the Hunger Games trilogy. The second book finished neatly as I arrived home.


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


6 Responses to “Chamber of Horrors”

  1. Chris Mosley Says:

    The World Team Tryouts courses are NOT AKC courses. The judges (and importantly, the team coach), have spent months looking at courses that those who travel to the Czech Republic would encounter. Friends of mine competing at the tryouts also spent a lot of time in study and practice on the Euro-course. At the tryouts, there were not many clean runs, but the opportunity to see competition at this level was incredible. There were lots of handling options, too, and many of us observed that there was no magic path.
    For a very few people in the sport, the international competition is attractive and achieveble. For the rest of us, these Chambers remain less Horrific.
    I expect at some point we’ll see the “backside” of jumps on course, much like the threadle appeared some time ago. But I think course design still matters to judges and course reviewers and agility organizations, and my “do not show under this judge” list is still pretty short.
    I will say that the running dogwalk discussion is lively and interesting, and does have implications for most of us!
    Chris in MN

    • budhouston Says:

      I understand the point of the Herk ‘n Jerk technical course as a preview to the possibilities in competition. I just don’t like it.

  2. Ilze Says:

    Honest to goodness, I dont’ even think this represents what a typical international course would look like– it really is over the top with in-your-face challenges, one after another. I have just started to do judging and course design in UKI which includes threadles, odd approaches etc in its philosophy but UKI still looks for flow (that wretched word that no two people have a common understanding of). That thinking (challenges in flow) is more representative of the international courses that I have seen elsewhere — they do have *some* of the technical challenges that Anne has in her course but they also provide full out run opportunities, too, which are intended to heighten the timing and execution of the technical portions. In that regard, this course maybe falls short of screening the best contenders for a world team that have to have dogs that will collect and burst and collect again and burst again in competition…..

  3. toriself Says:

    Having worked my butt off all spring (and yes, I had a blast doing it) running courses by the judges of this year’s FCI Agility World Championships, I will tell you that this course was spot on in its representation. Kees Stoel (one of the judges; the other, Jirina Mackova, had fewer courses available for practice) dishes out some gnarly stuff.

    That said, I found this post fascinating, because on any given day you could probably hear me saying quite the opposite. 😉 The courses we see every other weekend here in the states tend to require such minimal handling that, very quickly, they become incredibly boring and, ultimately, just a foot race.

    My favorite, absolute favorite, part of this game is handling my dog. That is impossible to do on *just* loops and circles and pinwheels. I am not saying that more technical courses need to take over U.S. agility. I think that would be a poor move for the sport, actually, as I suspect a large number of competitors would do just as you said and vote with their pocket-books. However, I would enjoy seeing more opportunities to compete on this type of course. I like that USDAA has implemented a Masters Challenge class so that competitors now have an *option* to compete on more challenging courses. Just as you are not a fan of “Herk ‘n Jerk” courses (an implication I disagree with, but hey, we can agree to disagree :)), I am not a fan of do-nothing-but-stand-there-and-point courses.

    Smart handling and solid communication between dog and handler makes this course look easy. I watched it happen at the Tryouts.

    • budhouston Says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful note Tori. Just so you know, I’m a huge fan of masterful handling and the performance of great dogs. What we’re really seeing now is an inescapable evolution of the sport that separates and differentiates the field as surely as pro baseball is differentiated from pony-league baseball.

      The USDAA was correct to separate the challenge class. But you must recognize that this class is intended for something less than 5% of the players in this sport. Ultimately this will be reflected market share among recreational players (when we actually have a venue that caters to the recreational player).

  4. scientifican Says:

    I have no comment on the theory behind the course, all I can say is that it looks unusually painful.

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