Stealing Inspiration

You should know that I’m in Latrobe PA leading a TDAA judges clinic. One of the most painful difficult tasks I’m faced with is getting very novice course designers a push in the right direction. Mind you, there is reference material out in the world for this sort of learning… like Stuart Mah’s Fundamentals of Course Design for Dog Agility. But you should know that, if you’ve never gone through it, the learning curve for course design can be nearly overwhelming at first.

I’m going to suggest a possible approach to course design that mightn’t have occurred to uncle Stu. What if the designer was to run across a really nice little course out in the world… and just steal the darned thing for his own? Allow me to suggest how to approach such a project. Think of it as reengineering or “black boxing”… kind of the way the Chinese appropriate American technology.

If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from two, it’s research.
– Bill Mizner

I really like this course that I discovered on a browsing tour of the internet. It has really nice flow right from the beginning. On the dismount of the dogwalk there’s a little technical bit over jump #11 and a frankly tough approach to the weave poles. And then it opens up again with probably the most technical bit being the discrimination on the approach to the pipe tunnel at #18.

Okay, we’re going to borrow this course. Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. This is apparently a course designed in Europe; because it’s laid out on a 5m grid, and the course ID stuff in the text box doesn’t resemble American English.

Let’s do the following:

  • Turn off the metric view (in CRCD, select View, and click “Metric” off)
  • Select the text box, and hit the delete key. We don’t know what any of that stuff means anyhow.
  • And just to have a little fun with it… let’s mirror the course right to left (In CRCD select Edit and select Mirror Course Horizontally).

Now we have a different looking course:

The course certainly looks different. Be honest though, this course still belongs to Sr. Baretta. There might be a couple simple tweaks the designer could make. For example we could put the #4 on the opposite side of the tunnel (American course designers after all loathe giving the dog the flowing entry into the pipe tunnel; lord save us from releasing the dog to work). And, we could put the table at #10… although that would lose us that interesting jump/weave pole transition. Also… we might put the course on its side.

Those tweaks would have the course looking like this:

Um, does this course still belongs to Sr. Baretta?

At this point the course designer should consider making some changes to the course that make the course something new and different… something that Sr. Baretta did not contemplate.

I’ll show the picture first, and then describe what I’ve done:

The sequencing in this course has been dramatically altered, and without losing some of the really interesting stuff. From the A-frame the sequence into the pipe tunnel is something altogether new. Note however that this raises the obstacle count; and so farther down in the course we’ll have to reduce the obstacle count.

The sequence from the dogwalk through jump #17 has been changed completely. In the transition from the weave poles to the newly positioned table we’ve introduced a dummy jump. Also jump #17 has been pressed in to provide more of an option to the dog in the transition from jump #4 to #5. And, we’ve turned the dog out to a new finishing jump. The tandem presentation of jump #20 and the collapsed tunnel at #11 is a challenge posed to the dog as an option two times.

Oh, and I changed the length of the pipe tunnel under the A-frame.

Plagiarism or Research?

Be mindful that one of our original objectives was to cure a bad case of the blank page and get moving with course design. And so we borrowed another course designers set of the field and had our way with it. So you answer the question… have we plagiarized the work of another agility course designer?

What if we took another step and reversed the course (ala NADAC)?

The hour is late and I really have to admit to something. In my haste to tweak out the last vestiges of Pietro Baretta I’ve ultimately created a course I don’t like very much. So I’m going to go way back to the third drawing presented in this post … and say that is the course I’d really like to finish up with. Italy is a long way away, after all.


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.

One Response to “Stealing Inspiration”

  1. Deb Auer Says:

    I do this (don’t tell my course reviewer ). I’m told some authors “retype” a page out of a classic novel just to get past the scary blank page. In course design, by the time I make a “borrowed” course work it looks significantly different from the original. And it helps the course designer – if we borrow courses we like, then we should consider why we liked that course to start with. Assuming we’re not masochists, we like good courses.

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