I got a course for review that had a start that looked something like this:


The course designer needs to cultivate an understanding of the dog’s path. The comment I usually make goes something like this: “The dog’s approach to a jump dictates the dismount. So the approach to the dogwalk is not square, not safe.” To me the statement is simple & pure. But I have this gnawing intuition that the simplicity and purity is pretty much in my mind and not easily shared.

To put it on other terms… the dog’s path is like Pong! You remember that game, right? It was like the first ever computer/video game.


In Pong the lines are clean and straight and predictable. You’ll note that after the tire I see only one corner and no curves. And under the rules of Pong the approach to the dogwalk is fairly dreadful. I’ll get argument from course designers on my Pong analogy; the argument being that “as a handler” they know how to bring the dog around square for the dogwalk; or their dog will swing wide on the turn, or will square himself for the contact by training.

Bear with me on this point… the course designer should anticipate the dog’s path in the strict terms of Pong without prejudice to handling, training, or any other unpredictable variable. The designer’s vision should be pure.

That is not to say that the course designer cannot intentionally make a test of handling skill or training. And they often do. In the illustration here, however, the course designer is obligated to create the square and safe approach to a contact obstacle. We do not make “can the handler do this without hurting his dog” a riddle on the course.


The fix I suggested in course review, by the way, was something like this. By changing the direction of the turn thru tire and jump #3 the dog is brought around adequately square to the approach to the dogwalk. The fix doesn’t completely preserve whatever challenge it was that the designer was contemplating… and, in fact, builds into the opening a Jump-Dogwalk discrimination riddle that did not exist in the original design.

After the Review


I played around with the opening a bit more. There might be a variety of fun and fanciful things the designer could do to begin the course.

What worries at me from a philosophical POV is starting a course with a technical puzzle. It’s kind of like… where do you go from there? It’s an open invitation for the course to be relentlessly technical. And you know, those kinds of courses aren’t necessarily fun to anybody but the high-strung Anorak.

What I seek, as a course designer, is a central challenge, or riddle. And I’d very much like to place it mid-course. Too early in the course creates an imbalance, and sets you up for an overly technical grind. Too late in the course disturbs the possibility of a sweeping finish, which I find highly desirable.


So, what if the opening were a wind up, rather than a grind? Think of it like pulling the shooter back on an old pinball game; you pull it back good and tight against the coiled spring; and when you’re just ready… you let ‘er rip.  

Winter Lessons for an Arizona Boy

Well you know, it’s been an interesting winter. I’ve already told you that my old computer crashed & burned. Turns out it was not a hardware fault at all. And now that the hard-drive has been wiped and restored to factory new condition… I have another stand-by production computer.

At any rate I’ve moved on to the new world of Windows 8, complete with new tools and a very different touch ‘n feel. I restored my web page to a view that might have come from a “Way Back” machine or something… www.dogagility.org. For awhile I gave that over to Top Dog in an ugly display of text. But I’ve moved all that functionality over to WordPress which serves more than adequately as a web presence (with nowhere near the cost): http://topdogagilityplayers.wordpress.com/.

In other news, about ten days ago the weather went south, dropping well below a freezing temperature. You expect very cold weather in the Winter in the northeast. Anyhow, Marsha warned that the heater had gone out in the upper cabin. And so I went down and restarted it. And so the next morning I went back down to check the cabin.

I walked in and found a geyser of water shooting up into the cabin. The mainline coming up into the cabin had burst. The consequence of turning on the heater was to unfreeze the pipes and so release the disaster. We turned the water off at the main, and called the plumber.

Count this as another lesson learned by an Arizona boy. I was aware of the peril of frozen pipes. Until now, I’ve never had the pleasure to live through it. Picture me getting sopping wet struggling with shutting off the water inside the house… and turning into a popsicle in the freezing weather outside.


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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6 Responses to “Pong”

  1. Bev Thorsteinson Says:

    I so so agree with you on this one Bud, still on the akc venue for sure, think some of the judges are overlooking this risky type of approach.   I hate it when they say it is a training issue!!!!

  2. zynischer Says:

    Broken water pipes are a disaster in any weather, but winter is a harsh, harsh season.

    I feel your pain. (as a Michigan transplant to Arizona, I’m also amused at the peregrinations of our society…)

    • budhouston Says:

      I’m sure you must miss winter in Michigan. What I tell people up here… “do you know what you do in Phoenix in the Winter?”… give a dramatic pause; “Well, you golf!”… “tho the weather is so brutal you often have to wear a sweater.”


  3. Adrienne Says:

    Funny this should come up now. This last weekend at an ASCA trial, the (new) judge had a similarly dangerous opening on the dogwalk.

    Jump one was set at about a 30 degree angle to the start line, pointing right. The dogwalk was at about a 75 degree angle, pointed left. There was an off course jump 10 feet from the dogwalk, and directly in line with jump one.

    90 percent of the entries managed the entry all right, keeping in mind this is mostly Aussies with a sprinkling of BCs, smaller dogs and just a couple heavier dogs.

    A few hit the off course. And one Golden Retriever near gave me a heart attack by running up the dogwalk plank *in a straight line from jump number one*! He ran straight off the plank diagonally over the side, over half way up. It was one of the scariest damn things I’ve ever seen in a trial.

    Very not cool.

    • budhouston Says:

      Thanks for sharing Adrienne. I’m pretty sure ASCA doesn’t have the depth of experience that it had when it was under Sharon’s keen eye.

      • Adrienne Says:

        Oh my, I didn’t want to turn this into a “dog politics” thing. I don’t keep up with those type of changes. This was an apprentice judge and I chalked it up to inexperience on her part. In future, I do plan on commenting if I see such a presentation.

        We have been fortunate in MN that the UMASC club does an excellent job of bringing in judges who are fun, fair to the dogs and have some wicked fun courses that typically exemplify the fast and flowing nature of ASCA. The challenges are there, and are often very sublty presented.

        It was just an interesting bit of timing that your post came right after I had seen this type of dogwalk presentation. 🙂

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