Training International Agility Skills; Part_1

I’m embarking on a study, to be published as a series dedicated to training sets and competition that focus on International challenges in dog agility. The framework for this study will be the courses we run in the National Dog Agility League (NDAL).

Because we run league courses in our own training center, each league course provides a context for training. We are keen to understand the challenges posed and how we might develop and perfect the handling to successfully master those challenges.

Refer also to this discussion on International agility challenges: Masters Challenge.

September 2017 NDAL 50×50 International

It is a peculiar twist that the International League courses are based on a field that measures 50′ by 50′. While less than ideal for true International coursework, it is adequate for training. Note that all of the NDAL leagues are based on “footprint”, or the size of the working area. This league was designed specifically for a club that uses this working space.


Our study begins with the International league competition from September, on a course Designed by Christina Wakefield.


Our Game Master, Christina Wakefield, did not overwhelm dog and handler with technical challenges. Instead, the design allows the dog to get up a good working speed before presenting a couple very advanced and technical handling challenges.


The opening, #1 through #6 is reasonably uneventful. The dog starts with a wrong course option to the pipe tunnel after jump #1; and is faced with a modest wrong course option into the opposite side of that same pipe tunnel after the A-frame.


The dismount of the pipe tunnel calls the dog into a 180º turn back to jump #7. The A-frame presents a very modest wrong course option. Moreover, the handler is presented with a riddle of sides as the dog will be entering a clock-wise three-legged pinwheel.

A more important consideration will be the efficiency of the turn. The handler needs to turn the dog neatly, and possibly pre-cue the dog to the turn.


The intermezzo sequence #8 through #13 is largely without challenge. After jump #9 the wrong course option to the pipe tunnel is a very real trap for the unwary. Mostly in this sequence the handler will be preoccupied with getting into position to handle the wild ride that follows jump #13.


On the dismount of the #13 pipe tunnel the handler is faced with a pull-through to a backside to jump #14. Out of the three-legged pinwheel the handler will threadle the dog from jump #16 to #17.

Solving the Course

The International NDAL league is to me a puzzle. Playing to win isn’t really in the wheel-house. But, since this my blog I humbly offer my performances to public scrutiny. That being said, I’ll follow my own efforts with the performances of the dogs and handlers who actually won the competition.

This is Kory, a Border Collie who ran this course with zero faults in a time of 33.13 seconds. Kory finished in 18th place overall:

On this course I made liberal use of the Back Pass. An important attribute of the Back Pass is that the dog drops completely out of obstacle focus, allowing the handler to define a corner of approach. I continue to study this interesting skill… without much input from my contemporaries. I don’t expect it to catch fire in the United States until it comes to us from Europe, in ten years or so.

Meat and Potatoes

This is Chase, a Sheltie handled by Lydia Hofmann, representing Agility Dream Dogs in Albion, NY. Chase and Lydia finished this course with zero faults in a time of 30.04 seconds, finishing in 6th place overall.

I offer this video mostly to demonstrate that good old fashioned “meat & potatoes” handling is often adequate to the task of solving advanced technical challenges.

It’s also worth observing that Chase beat my dog by only three seconds… which represented twelve placement slots. To be sure, speed and efficiency have everything to do with placement.

Power of Pre-Cue

This is Mick, a Border Collie handled by Laurie Bowen, representing Sit, Stay, ‘N Play in Stroudsburg, PA. Mick and Laurie finished this course with zero faults in a time of 28.42 seconds. Mick finished this course in third place.

I’m struck by the constant pre-cue signal that Laurie uses when running Mick. It’s a subtle but simple thing based on the elevation of her lead. When the lead is low it signals Mick to turn in and stay tight and when the lead is high it means to go on and stay out. The consequence is the efficiency of Mick turning to the course. Mick, while fast and keen to work, will beat a faster dog by taking the  more efficient path.

Laurie doesn’t actually give a lot of speed cue by racing her dog and “being in a hurry”.

A Winning Run

This is Ripley, a Border Collie handled by Nic Ford, representing Wicked West Australians in Banjup, Western Australia. Ripley and Nic finished this course with zero faults in 27.62 seconds, finishing in first place.

Nic runs Ripley in an unfrantic manner, but in complete attack mode. Nic is in a hurry.

At jump #4 Nic uses a Ketchker to precue the change of direction to Ripley and tighten his turn; and does so again at the intermezzo turn to the A-frame at jump #11.


I extracted this picture from the video, so you can see the efficacy of the movement. Ripley is clearly curling into the turn as he’s coming over the bar. To be sure, the handler steals only 10ths of a second with this movement. But those 10ths make the difference between “pretty good” and the “best”.

On the landing side of jump #14 Nic does a layered/landing-side blind… which is pretty bold considering that the approach to jump #14 was a backside. This is a sequence transition worth study and practice.

Invitation to Play

New clubs are always welcome to join us for play in the NDAL. Note that our courses are forever open to record your dog’s performance. You can download the September 2017 50×50 Masters scorekeeping worksheet here:

Contact us for information on registering a dog or establishing a league franchise.

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And Those Who Were Seen Dancing Were Thought To Be Insane By Those Who Could Not Hear the Music.

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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6 Responses to “Training International Agility Skills; Part_1”

  1. Mary Beam Says:

    Thanks, Bud. I became interested in the International moves a few months ago while watching a video featuring a German trainer. This study will prove to be most interesting.

  2. Michelle Says:

    A lot to digest here as I’m still not quite up to “international challenges” with my young dog. But I LOVE how you broke this down into sections and pointed everything out. I’m going to keep reading this and studying it!

    Also, as a music geek, I LOVE that you made use of the term “intermezzo.” That’s not something I ever imagined I’d see in a discussion of agility handling!

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