I took the MCJ course that I started in my blog Proofing the Skill and kicked it around a bit as I grapple to completely understand the Course Design Requirements for the Masters Challenge classes. 

The objective of my edits to the course was to incorporate four and five obstacle clusters. At the same time I wanted to minimize the number of times obstacles are repeated.  I’m afraid that repeating obstacles is completely ingrained in my psyche as I often have to design full course work for a 60 by 100-ish area (the size of my training building). Repeating obstacles is the real secret for designing courses in a small space. However the MC classes follow a European standard which minimizes the repetition of obstacles in order to maintain a granularity of scoring. If a jump is taken three times and the dog drops the bar on the first pass, then we’ve eliminated the possibility that he might drop it on the second pass, and maybe on the third as well.



You can think of a cluster is a four-sided or five-sided “crossing pattern”. The good old fashioned Hobday Box is a four-sided cluster, by definition. In the illustration above I’ve designed a five sided cluster. Note, by the way, that in this short sequence the dog enters and exits the cluster twice.

N Pattern


I also determined to put into my MCJ an N Pattern just to see if I could do it. This illustration is intended to draw a nice clear “N” so you can see why it’s called an N Pattern.

Masters Challenge Jumpers

BLOG916_03I’ve preserved the push/pull-through on a curve (en passant) from jump #2 to #3. I took out the second instance because it smacked of beating a dead horse. I needed weave poles on the course anyhow; and while the approach isn’t terribly evil, I was happy to put a threadle to jump #6 on the dismount.

Now comes the N Pattern, from jump #7 to jump #11.

From jump #10 to #16 I’ve allowed quite a romp with the dog at full extension. Two of the jumps, #14 and #16 are rotated subtly to close the approaches and increase the potential for run-out refusals.

MC design rule #5 is the single rule most overlooked in the MC courses I’ve seen out in the world. The rule says: The dog must be able to perform the majority of the course in extension.  Extension is defined as: “the continuation of speed as a dog approaches an obstacle. An obstacle allows extension when a dog would normally be approaching at speed and there is little-to-no turning at the exit of the obstacle such that the dog can remain at approximately the same speed when continuing on the most efficient dog path.”

After jump #16 comes the last truly wicked moment in the course. From #16 to #17 is a wide-open threadle with a wrong-course option (jump #7) confronting the dog.

And the course finishes with a fine cannon shot through the pipe tunnel.


From the onset I want you to know that I’ve designed this course with a specific sensitivity to the handler who cannot keep up with his dog.

I’ve gotten a lot of comments recently on this blog from people who have absolutely no compassion or care for the barely ambulatory handler whose dog is considerably faster. The nature of the comments goes on to say things like “life ain’t fair” and “of course the faster handler can (and should) have the advantage.”

The real question at hand is the definition of our sport. Is dog agility a test of the handler’s athletic prowess? Or, is it about the dog?

Until an agility organization publishes without ambiguity that it is indeed an equal test of the handler’s athletic ability, then I will continue to design courses that are a test of the dog’s agility skills.


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 “Sensitivity”

  1. Gwenn Clow Says:


  2. Maria Schmidt Says:

    I love your comment; “Is dog agility a test of the handler’s athletic prowess? Or, is it about the dog?”

    I am one of those “old lady handlers from the 1990’s”, with bad knees, who is not quite ready to give up on competition.

    Is it sour grapes? Maybe, but not because I can’t run my dog. But because this sport didn’t exist when I was 20 years old.

    There’s room for all of us in agility. How about a class for “senior” handlers?

  3. Pat Says:

    I’ve never said that faster handlers *should* have an advantage (nor have I seen anyone else say so here). I certainly have compassion and care for less-mobile handlers, because I AM one and only expect to get more so with time, LOL. Nonetheless it’s an unavoidable fact of physics, when you’re directing a moving dog via (even just partly via) body movement cues.

    You want to factor out differences in handler mobility? Successfully popularize a game whose rules confine the handler to a small area. Yet, other than the occasional virtuoso display for fun, people seem “oddly” uninterested in actually competing regularly in that type of game. (If you would say Gamblers type classes fall into that category, notice that the hard gambles are often solved by laboriously taking the dog out of the natural flow of obstacles, which is not what you’re promoting here, I think).

    #6-7-8-9 is certainly ugly/tricky enough, and only those with very precise timing of cues and tightly-turning dogs are going to make it flow at all. But the rest of the course is a pretty straightforward Steeplechase-type romp, is it not, especially if you turn R (rather than L) from #16 to 17. So overall it’s, like, a Steeplechasey course with a train wreck in the middle, LOL, which I’m not sure is really the intent of Masters Challenge.

    (of course those straightforward Steeplechase-type romps tend, for better or for worse, to cater more to bullet-fast dogs than to well-trained, well-handled, very agile but incrementally-slower ones. Proving again that life *isn’t* always fair…)

    I just don’t see what is so hard about saying “wow, this course here is going to be particularly tough for me, so how can I best deal with it, now and in future?” and then judge yourself on how well you perform compared to your (and your dog’s) abilities, rather than according to how you placed compared to whichever other people happened to show up that day.


    Pat, whose dog is reasonably fast, certainly a whole big lot faster than me, but we manage somehow to have fun anyhow

    • budhouston Says:

      I don’t really think I have an argument with you Pat, mostly because you don’t appreciate what I’ve said. There are some courses out there that are just badly designed ~ I am committed to not designing them myself.

      You should come out sometime when I’m judging so I can show you what I mean.


  4. Melissa Wallace Says:

    I don’t see 6-9 as a train wreck. I see it as a fun challenge, but I haven’t played USDAA in a long time because it wasn’t as much fun for me. My dogs are 7-10 inches tall… I am a disabled handler, but most observers would never think I am disabled (except at the end of the day when I can’t get out of my chair). I know where to trust my dog and where to send so that I can haul butt to the next control point. I have slow dogs, medium speed dogs, and a blistering fast Chihuahua who can regularly out run border collies and Shelties. To me the sport is about the team as a whole and how you figure out and work together to solve the puzzles or “train wrecks.” Sometimes you got it, and sometimes you don’t. I like getting placements, and I would sure like more AKC double Q’s. However, for me the sport is about me and my dog against the course. Yes, I do look to see how fast that Pap or Corgi ran it and use that as a gage of my dog’s fitness and performance.

    BTW, Maria, TDAA gives disabled handlers extra time on course. I have never used it because my current Chihuahua is too stinking fast. If my timing isn’t spot on, he takes the course he thinks is correct. LOL!

  5. KryptoBC Says:

    I like this course very much. Quite the challenge for me and my BC as we are still learning how to work at a distance and we still need quite a few skills. I am not an “old fart”, but because of genetics I got a brand new hip this spring, and I will need to get the other one done soon. The knees will follow. So I am doing all what I can to train my dog to work away from me, and I do appreciate the effort that is taken in designing courses where the dog’s abilities are tested, rather than the handler’s athleticism.

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