Top Cat Course Review

An old friend of mine sent me this course. What I would like to do is review the course, understanding that it has never been put up in the world and that the review therefore hypothetical. I find this course illustrative of the types of challenges that face us in agility. My anonymous friend’s contribution to the topic is serendipitous.

Top Cat, I’ll call him, says in a note to me: “Thought I would share with you a sample of what I would love to design for my AKC courses!  Problem is 90% of the exhibitors would want my head on a pike!”

Let’s see if he still loves it when I’m done with my review.

This is the course design question of the day: Is our sport only for the young long legged kids who can outrun their dogs? And, if that is what the course demands, is it a huge design flaw?

Should those of who don’t fit the “long legged kids who can outrun their dogs” description run off to find a not-very-challenging flavor of agility where they hand out qualifying ribbons like pop-corn?

Anyhow, here’s the course:

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I pretty much know that I will crash ‘n burn with my dog on this course; though I’d have fun giving it a go. Mind you I don’t play the same game that most AKC players do, with the dog tied at my hip, running from obstacle to obstacle like a game of connect-the-dots. I’m an older fellow though not real old; but I have arthritis in my knees and so must rely on “training my dog” to perform wicked stuff when I might be at a considerable distance.

I’ve annotated this course with three markers: A, B and C, in dark circles. These are what I consider “control positions”, which is a place on course where I must be in the picture near to the dog in order to solve the technical challenge at hand. I’ll explain each as I go along. But right now I want to point out to you that given my dog’s rate of travel there’s absolutely no way that I get from “B” to “C”. So I must choose which one of them I’ll have to attempt from a distance (whilst yelling out verbal directionals, crossing my fingers, and trying to hold my mouth right). I’m guessing that position “B” will be the distance try, which promises a failure likelihood up in the 90 percentile range.

Walk Through

The “A” control position is intended to solve the opening which offers a subtle “option” challenge.

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The typical novice player might be a bit of a goober, making an approach to jump #1 too square (the red line), which would create a hard to solve option challenge after jump #2. The more advanced handler has the black line. This line too is uncomfortable. The net effect is for the dog to have a depressed angle approach to both jump #1 and jump #3. While I recognize that this is a common challenge I am nervous about the potential for injury to a dog for slicing into the sharp little jump cups on the standards. And it’s not as though this were a flat serpentine in which the dog could assume a natural turning radius to gain focus on each jump. The dog will power through the opening line with no turning radius whatever excepting a bit of a concave approach to jump #3.

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This is my favorite part of the Top Cat course. From control position “B” I can pretty much verbally direct my dog from jump #4 all the way back to jump #11. There are two wrong-course options in this segment of the course (after jump #4 the #14 jump is the option; and after jump #5 the #8 jump is the option); but I’m confident that if I put enough urgency (and panic) in my verbal directives I can solve easily.

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The difficulty really arises at jump #11. I have a choice of turning directions.

A turn to the left (black line) surely presents jump #2 as an option to a dog with considerable work ethic. To the left is the natural turning direction; but the handler needs to be there (in the “B” position) to affect the pull-through.

A turn to the right (red line) offers less risk but results in a longer and less efficient dog’s path. For someone who can outrun his dog, on the other hand, it probably presents a better opportunity to get to the courses chief technical challenge, in the vicinity of jump #14.

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This is the wicked challenge on the course. We can for the moment overlook that the course designer stretched the handler between two control positions so that only the long legged kid who can outrun his dog can be at both places.

The moment at jump #14 begins with a blind/managed approach to the jump followed by a virtual threadle from #14 to the weave poles at #15. The black line represents a perpendicular approach to the weave poles which will, I guarantee, result in a 50%+ NQ rate in a class of Masters/Excellent players (who on some level believe they have trained dogs). The red line represents a managed approach to the weave poles in which the handler will micro-manage the dog around to square up the approach and hope upon hope that the over-zealous judge doesn’t see a refusal in the solution.

Note that the blind/managed approach to jump #14 is constrained by the #5/9 jump which leans in applying compression against the real estate afforded the handler to get the job done.

A final observation on this course is that the two jumps which require hard-aback turns, jumps #11 and #17, are both designated as wingless single-bar jumps. Both of these attributes lower the visual acuity of the jumps and raise the likelihood of a dropped bar or refusal caused by the dog just running past it because it didn’t stand out to him.

Can this course be saved?

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I’ve tweaked the course subtly (not so subtly, maybe). I wanted to maintain the challenges envisioned by the original designer. But I really didn’t. I took out both of the hard-aback turns, preferring instead to allow jumping sequences in which the handler can release his dog to work, rather than be in the picture, micro-managing the dog’s work.

I’ve moved the blind/managed approach challenge to jump #13 because it’s easier for the handler to be in position to solve.

I also took out that silly threadle to the weave poles and replaced it with an ugly-butt approach that will allow the dog to demonstrate his understanding of the performance. I’ve actually replaced the threadle approach with a blind/managed approach; which at least provides the handler with adequate real estate to do whatever it is he needs to do.

Note that I got the obstacle count up to 20.

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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 “Top Cat Course Review”

  1. whitewaterwoman Says:

    I think the course as Top Cat designed it is fine, and certainly it doesn’t require you to be 20 and long-legged to get through it. I set the course up on a too generous a scale (which should really just make it harder). The only problem I encountered was the weave entry. Belle’s weaves are obviously not independent enough for me to go on my merry way. And I obviously need to learn when to stay put. http://youtu.be/rJtpe4f4NSQ

    Rose

  2. Pat Says:

    Sorry, but it seems to me that as long as your dog has a verbal for doing the back side of an indicated jump, which is not hard to train, you don’t need to go much further onwards than jump 13 (unless you *want* to) to get #14… you just send the dog around the right side of it (so he turns left to jump over #14) so there is no ambiguity as to *what* exactly he’s supposed to back-side. Am I missing something here?

    Also if you are concerned about incurring an off-course after #11, would you not turn the dog R over that jump so that you can more clearly show him the correct #12?

    Indeed, it seems to me that most of the course could be handled from the area amongst jumps 10-11-12-13, if you really wished? Though greater mobility by the handler is always going to give a higher probability of smooth suave results, that’s just the way life is. And I mean, the weave entry and the verbal back-side cue thing are “just dog training”, after all, aren’t they?

  3. jessicavdl Says:

    I thought the first course looked great. I also feel slightly offended by your condensing usage of ‘long legged kid’.

    • budhouston Says:

      “Condensing”???

      I can’t really take responsibility for the universe of language which might offend. Though I’d be delighted to know “why” the language I used caused offense.

      At any rate, the use of the phrase “long legged kid” isn’t condescension, but colorful phraseology for a type of competitor. I recall that Lee Trevino (a golfer, if you’re not old enough to remember) used to call his young competition “flat bellies”.

      I submit all of this without apology. It is what it is.

      Regards,
      Bud Houston

  4. Karissa Says:

    Too funny that Rose and I had the same idea. I filed this course away when you originally posted it and finally was able to set it tonight. I felt that the original Top Cat course ran very well. My big dog did struggle with wanting to go wide at 11 and taking the off course 2 jump, but I did not have a problem beating her to the backside (probably because I was not there supporting 11 very well!). My little dog had a surprisingly tight turn at 11 (for him), but his struggle was between 4 & 5, which didn’t even present itself as an option to my other dog. They keep us on our toes.

    Fun course, though! Thanks to Top Cat for sharing it with us (and you, too, Bud).

    My biggest surprise was that nobody else seemed to consider taking 14 from the right side of the jump (rather, the side closest the weaves). To me that seemed the best choice because 1) you have no risk of the off course jump option and 2) I feel the line (especially if you wrap 11 to the left) naturally pushes the dog to the backside on the right of 14. Honestly, I didn’t even attempt to take 14 from the left because it would not have presented well to my dogs.

    Here’s my video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIh32Hd_qVQ

    I did have to get slightly creative with my set-up due to lack of equipment. :o)

  5. Rose Says:

    Karissa, I chose to take 14 from the left since that made it a simple 180 to the weaves. (Taking it from the right, necessitates a 360. It also entails a longer handler’s path.) We do a lot of backside work, so I wasn’t worried about Belle cutting in front or behind me and taking 5. I did, however, hugely underestimate the difficulty of the weave entry for Belle.

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