A Moment in Amber

The National Dog Agility League is an ongoing project and passion for me these days. I want to pause a moment and share a bit of a vision statement.

A one-dimensional view of the NDAL is our ongoing league play. Each month we have a couple dozen clubs, mostly in North America, that engage in four separate competitions. The courses are closely nested so a club can compete in more than one without a lot of equipment movement. Results for these competitions are all rolled up together as a single competition. Most of these results are graced with a link to a YouTube recording so that we can all watch how other dogs and handlers solved these games and courses.

A Larger View

Recording is a time-consuming manual task. I serve as the NDAL Secretary which means that I give up a couple night’s sleep each month to report results and standings for the ongoing leagues.

But, don’t you know, the games we play and the courses we run have been set up as “open” competitions. That means I can rerun a course that was run a year ago… or ten years ago, and add my new results to that competition… including a YouTube recording.

This makes the NDAL game an interesting training tool. An instructor can compare student performances for a year or two ago, to their performances now, and get a good insight into how the skill of the handler and the training of the dog have improved.

With your young dog, you might compete with a dog you loved and worked with 15 or 20 years ago… and watch the recordings of both dogs, side-by-side.

We ran an agility league at Dogwood Training Center, up near Columbus, OH for about eight years. My boys Bogie & Birdie, and several other dogs from my household competed in that league. And, today I don’t have a scrap of recollection aside from my faulty memory to revisit those hundreds of moments of agility play. I have copies of the games and courses we played; but beyond that, not even our scores.

A Future Vision

I intend to put the NDAL catalog of games and courses online, so a person can download a course or game, and score-keeping worksheet. Then they can play the game or run the course, and then join their dogs’ scores to all the scores of all the dog that ever played it. Hopefully the new performance will be graced with a link to a YouTube recording.

For this job we need the services of a skillful programmer analyst who can create the necessary Internet tools and front-end interfaces to make it work.

Be very clear there’s not a big pot of money to compensate a programmer. A more compelling notion would be to establish a partnership share for original development and for on-going support.

That being said, this is not an endeavor intended to “make a lot of money”. We will establish upper limits to income for employees to the NDAL. The NDAL is already painfully inexpensive. But if the NDAL performed at $40K a month (don’t laugh… it’s possible); then a significant chunk of the gross should be returned to established franchises or, more realistically, reduction of cost.


Presently cost of playing in the NDAL can be summarized as:

  • Dog Registration ~ $10 for a dog. Only paid once, when the dog first competes in the NDAL
  • Recording Fee ~ $1 per run.

Performance Standard and Scoring Basis

The rules for performance in the NDAL are dramatically different than the accepted International standard. International really sucks, if you think about it. Any error is an “E” and the team must slink away in ignominious defeat.

What we do instead is give a 5-point fault to just about everything that might happen: dropped bar; wrong course; missed contact; weave pole fault… and so forth. 20 faults for failure to perform an obstacle. This allows a basic granularity for comparing performance.

And… the scoring basis is Time, Plus Faults. This is, you’ll recognize, the opposite of the Faults, Then Time scoring basis. And if you really think about it… a dog that runs a course in 48 seconds and misses a down-side contact by a half an inch really should not get a score inferior to the dog that ran the same course 20 seconds slower, without a performance fault.

The League Play Team

A League Play Team score in the NDAL is comprised from the top five scores for each franchise for the competition. A dog earns Lifetime Performance Points (LPP) which equals the number of dogs with an inferior score. So, if the game had 101 dogs playing, the first-place dog would earn 100 points; the second-place dog 99 points, and so forth.

It’s a tougher system than it sounds like. A club with only 7 or 8 players might be competing with a franchise that runs 50 or 60 dogs each month. Statistically, the bigger club has advantage.

Lifetime Performance Points

The notion of a game or course being a “historical artifact” makes the LPP earned by a dog an elastic number. For example, if you decide you want to run a course that was played five years ago. There are 200 performances recorded for that course. Let’s say that your dog comes in at 100th place. That means your dog will earn 100 Lifetime Performance Points (LPP).

The interesting thing is… the 99 dogs that had a superior score will advance their LPP by one point, because of the new score you have added. That means dogs that mightn’t even be alive will have an accrued LPP that will continue to grow over time.


Part of the score-keeping includes a field for a YouTube link. While we are running each competition around the country (and around the world) the performances of most dogs are graced with a recording of that minute in the ring. It’s marvelous to watch how different dog and handlers approached solving the riddle of a course.


The four leagues we run each month in the NDAL are based on the size of working space. The largest space is 60′ x 90′. And in this, we run the 60×90 Masters league. Each league has a theme that sets the intended level of challenge. Our leagues are:

  • 54×70 Games
  • 50×70 Fast & Fun
  • 60×90 Masters
  • 36×85 Fast & Fun

The NDAL is open to new leagues with more diverse footprint and level of challenge. For example, it’s only a matter of time before we have a 10K league (100′ x 100′).

For awhile we had a 50′ x 50′ International league. But it went away because the club for which we created it went away. And anyhow, International challenges are about as much fun as sticking sticks in your eye. [Just saying].

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. Visit our web store: www.dogagility.org/newstore. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, a comprehensive reference to all manner of agility games played for competition and fun around the world.


2 Responses to “A Moment in Amber”

  1. Karen Cannard Says:

    Bud, I think this is such a fun idea! Oh how I wish I had more videos of my first agility dog! I love watching other dogs run courses and learning from them. I also like the diversified sizes of courses! How do I get more information?

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