On Course Design

You know, I’m judging a USDAA trial at the end of the month. For this trial I had to design 38 courses to be run over three days. This is a fantastic and traumatic feat for the course designer.

Naturally I’m keen to share some of the courses with you; but that would be inappropriate should anybody down in North Carolina be paying attention. Courses can be shared only after the fact.

This will be a two-ring one-judge trial. For the exhibitor it makes for a relaxed kind of day. There are never conflicts; and everyone can watch every run should they be so inclined. For the judge, on the other hand, it is a grueling nonstop weekend running from ring to ring trying to set the best pace with negligible downtime for running dogs.

The cool thing about a two ring trial is that I don’t have to be quite so ardent in my nesting as I would be working in a single ring. While I don’t want to work the course builders to death with complete rebuilds (which they can do while I’m judging dogs in the alternate rings); I do have considerable flexibility in making course changes that would be a drag on time in the single ring.

While I was designing courses for this trial I found myself attenuated to flow and the appropriateness of challenge. Really, if you think about it, the individual competitor deserves every time he walks into the ring something that will be fun; something that offers a realistic opportunity to qualify. It’s too easy when you’re designing 38 courses to go brain-dead, hurried and indifferent. This is true especially when nesting Starters and Advanced courses to the Masters course. It’s easy to insinuate the ugly residue of Masters in the Advanced course just for being a bit lazy.

Anyhow, for the weekend I probably came up with only two new and interesting (to me) new course concepts. I also dredged a couple of old favorites (the crafty exhibitor would have to dig very hard and be very lucky to find them). Once you have the central course concept, nesting spawns out in all directions… to the lower level classes, and to the games.

I’ll be sure to share courses after the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

For work with my own dog (and a series of private lessons this weekend) I went out and borrowed something I saw on somebody else’s blog. It was titled “Lidocaine” or something like that. Don’t ask me, I don’t know; I think the gist of the blog post was to suggest that religion and politics on Facebook gives you a rash.

The author’s original course had the weave poles at #2. I’m working a dog with contact issues and needed the dogwalk to be there. Later I came back and stuck the weave poles into that bit of dead space between the A-frame and teeter, for alternate sequencing.

I like running my dogs on courses designed by other people. They’ll do things that wouldn’t occur to me to do. And that is the nature of the real world; prepare for the unexpected.

Observations on this Course

The hard aback turn on the dismount of the dogwalk can be a tricky bit particularly if the handler has to run to the dismount to sit on the dog’s head before turning back to jump #3. With a Front Cross there’s some potential for reversing the dog’s direction and putting him right back on the dogwalk for a wrong course.

What I would like to do with my own dog, after making a presentation of the dogwalk, is to move on an oblique path to the outside corner of the #3 jump. After my dog assumes the unambiguous position it should be an easy matter to show him a nice straight line through jump #3. That also leaves me in position to pre-cue the turn and manage the interesting handling bit after the jump.

Another interesting bit is the “serpentine” from jump #9 to jump #11. The transition from jump #9 to #10 is a blind/managed approach. Do you see that? And this is offered with two tunnels crowding the landing side and calling to the dog.

I ask if you see it. The rotation of jump #9 presents a common illusion that obscures the blind approach, because of the rotation of the jump. The dismount is dictated by the approach and not by the rotation of the jump.

Here I’ve rotated the jump square so that the illusion is evaporated and you can more clearly see the challenge of the blind approach.

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Okay, there’s some other interesting stuff about this course I’ve stolen. It will have to wait. It’s late and I’m about to turn into a pumpkin.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running.  www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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.

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