Archive for the ‘TDAA Course Design College’ Category

The Border Collie Effect on Pipe Tunnels

January 26, 2014

More than a dozen years ago I started a collection of writings on course design for dog agility (under the working title “The Border Collie Effect on Pipe Tunnels”) It never coalesced into a finish product. But now that I pick it up again this writing is surely amusing fodder for my long ignored web log. I’ve been working recently on designing courses for my own upcoming judging assignments and have been reviewing a ton of TDAA courses. Course design is always a good topic.  

What I thought I might do is present the drawings and associated text and then update the script with current thinking (See “Time Capsule Review,” below.) Twelve years is a long time in a young sport like dog agility.

The working title of the piece: The Border Collie Effect on Pipe Tunnels might have evoked obvious associations a dozen years ago, but stretches the imagination today. To be sure only a dozen years ago pipe tunnels often were not adequately bagged and bound. When a dog with tremendous inner combustion got in, the tunnel would get banged around pretty good. Often the pipe tunnel that you saw when you walked the course didn’t much resemble the pipe tunnel you came upon when you ran your dog as the tunnel likely had a new GPS address and was shaped differently.

These days most pipe tunnels in competition are bagged by about a ton of dead weight, to the extent that they actually pose a hazard to the dog with too much energy and too much trust.

Designing for Flow

April 1, 2002

The most important obligation of the course designer is to create flow for the dog. In order to do so we must understand how dogs move. Without that essential understanding it is unlikely that the designer can create a course that is safe and fair.

The dog nearly always moves in parallel with the handler. If the dog is ahead of the handler, he will curl back to the handler’s position.


In the course segment shown here you see a long line from the end of the seesaw through jump #11. If the dog is at all faster than the handler, it is unlikely that the dog will reach jump #11 without an off-course penalty, or a refusal, unless the handler has a superb Go On (continue in a straight line) directional. Remember that the contact obstacles, and often the weave poles dictate the starting position of the handler. Most handlers will closely attend the dog’s performance of the teeter, to see that the dog hits the contact. Most significantly, that means that the handler has no advantage in real estate, forward of the dog.

This is an error in course design. Most typically this error appears on Novice courses, as the designer does not understand the curling-back effect of the dog working ahead of his handler. The designer thinks that he’s giving the Novice dog a nice straight line with no awful turns. When in fact some gentle turns would be a blessing for the dog and handler team.

It would be easy enough to redesign this opening to accommodate the dog’s tendency to curl-back to the handler. This might mean readjusting the balance of the course. But there is no sense in including any long outruns in a course that doom most dogs in the field to failure.


A better design would be to make the opening line curl naturally, for the benefit of the dog, as in this illustration. The dog’s flow will naturally follow the path the handler must take.

Unfortunately, in fixing the dog’s line we’ve presented a rather difficult challenge for the Novice handler and his dog. Obstacles #8 through #10 require the dog to work on the handler’s right side. For obstacles #11 through #14, the dog should be on the handler’s left.

So we’ve left the handler with a very technical turn. Coming off of a double spread-hurdle with the dog on the wrong side, the Novice handler is not likely to have the requisite skill to affect a cross behind the dog. Most will try some kind of ugly Back Cross at the double, risking a bar down, or a refusal. This is too much of a challenge for the Novice dog and handler, but probably fine for Open/Advanced or Masters/Excellent dogs and handlers.


For Novice teams the best way to soften a difficult corner requiring a change of sides is to use a pipe tunnel. In this illustration the pipe tunnel is presented so that the handler can do a Front Cross or a simple Post Turn to get the dog into the tunnel. The tunnel allows the handler to set up for the dog-on-left performance of the balance of the sequence.

The double-bar hurdle is usually a required obstacle. So the course designer needs to find some other place to put it. In this case the double was moved to follow tunnel, providing a nice straight approach and not grinding the dog into a hard turn after.

Time Capsule Review

Back to present time… I have several misdoubts about the initial writing. What really reaches out to grab me is how sympathetic I was to handlers without much skill or training foundation for their dogs.

The proposition that a long straight line is killer remains true today. For the designing judge this might be a very core riddle to his course design. Does the handler understand the risk of being behind in the line?

Also, in the initial illustration the sequence begins with the teeter. What I said then is true today. Many handlers will be glued against their dogs in the performance of the teeter or any other technical obstacle, putting them sorely at risk in the riddle to follow. Looking at the first drawing I can guarantee you that today I’d be positioned somewhere around the #10 jump while my dog is finishing up the teeter. At least this would be true in the ideal / “I trained my dog” world.

More on course design tomorrow.     


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.


Dr. Dolittle

December 20, 2013

A pull/push-through is a course design feature that has the handler drawing the dog between two perfectly good obstacles both of which are wrong-course choices. This really reminds me of an old exercise I used to put up in seminar work (I believe I stole the concept from Nancy Gyes who ran a variation of the exercise):


The end goal of this handling exercise was to introduce the RFP as a control movement. What’s really cool about this old exercise is that it’s now fair game in the USDAA’s Masters Challenge class. Better get practicing.


The push/pull-through is as likely to be a matter of wrapping the dog pretty much as in a threadle. However the target obstacle will be beyond the gap, and not necessarily presented squarely to the dog. In this example the #3 jump is virtually a back‑side approach.


In this example the wrap doesn’t turn immediately to the push/pull-through. They are separate events so that the moment of the challenge resembles more the handling exercise I showed above.

What is most interesting about this example is the long transitional distance from jump #3 to jump #4. This will be a common feature of the push/pull-through.


This is a slightly more subtle application of the push/pull-through. The 270° transition from jump #2 to #3 sets up both the #1 jump and the pipe tunnel as wrong course options. The push/pull-through has the handler drawing the dog between the pipe tunnel and the #2 jump. It’s worth noting that the pipe tunnel itself constitutes a backside approach.

Background Color

The final example above features an obstacle “cluster”. I wrote to some extent on this design feature of the Masters Challenge classes in my blog posting called Sensitivity. These challenging classes will borrow from European course design conventions. One of the chief differences from traditional American design is that the Europeans seldom reuse an obstacle. I suppose this goes to a granularity in scoring. If a dog drops a jump bar the designer wants to be sure that the dog has another opportunity to drop a bar. And this opportunity is lost if the jump has been reused. The obstacle cluster is a cagey design feature that allows a gang of obstacles to occupy a small place in space.


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.


December 19, 2013

I’m doing an end-of-year inventory of course design challenges. I have a couple judging assignments coming up early next year (USDAA). I’m delighted with the Masters Challenge class which essentially allows any evil thing I’ve ever imagined. Today’s topic is the threadle.

In its most simple form the threadle is represented by two jumps set on a common plane, side-by-side with a small space left between them. Oh, and both jumps are intended to be taken in the same relative direction.

Simple threadle


It’s worth noting that the Threadle in itself requires a “backside” approach to the second jump in the combination. Backside approach is the emerging common term to describe a jump (or other obstacle) that is presented with no clear natural approach, preventing the handler from simply releasing the dog to work. It is also known as a “managed approach” and a “blind approach”.


 A survival strategy for handlers with big dogs that don’t have tight & neat turning abilities is to turn away from the gap, rather than into it. Surely this strategy sacrifices a bit of time by increasing the distance on the flat. This approach also removes much of the risk associated with solving the threadle through the gap; but it introduces some risk that didn’t exist in the raw threadle. For example, it might be too easy for the dog to back-jump the #1 jump in this illustration.


A course designer might be pouty about any handler not following his prescription for dictated handling (as though the “big dog that doesn’t have tight & neat turning abilities” is some kind of a threat to the field.) And so they’ll engage in design conventions to defeat the around-Robin-Hood’s-barn strategy.

Here, for example, the course designer has rotated the jump introducing the threadle, making a left turn problematic and increasing both the distance of the transition and the opportunity for a back-jump of jump #1.


The course designer might use other tricks to defeat the alternate approach to solving the threadle. In this illustration the designer did two things worth noting. First of all, a wrong course obstacle has been placed to thwart a left turn and the angle of approach to the jump introducing the threadle has been set at an angle that invites the traditional handling of the puzzle.

Any Obstacle Threadle


A threadle doesn’t have to be a pair of jumps. Just about any obstacle might be a part of the course designer’s conspiracy. This illustration just scratches the surface. Note that in the transition from the pipe tunnel into the weave poles the “entry side” of the weave poles is offered to the dog; so unless the dog is an amazing creature who absolutely understands his job in the weave poles then the handler might consider a bit of shaping to make the approach (and so, execute the dictated dance of the threadle).

The transition from the weave poles to the jump begs the question… was the handler able to get to the weave poles with dog-on-right?

Soft Threadle


At first glance you’d have to believe that the challenge has softened in this combination threadle because the intro jumps have been eased back to take out a dimension of depth in the approach to each subsequent jump.

The set of these jumps has introduced the real possibility of a run-out refusal. This challenge did not exist in the simple threadle because the dog had no capacity for approach to the subsequent jump and therefore the subsequent jump is not eligible for a refusal call before the dog actually turns back to the gap. However in the case of a (so-called) “soft” threadle the refusal plane of each subsequent jump is live before the dog actually turns back.  

The threadle may be soft, but the heart is hard.

Obviously, from a handling POV the dog needs to be geared down through this series of jumps to draw in the turning radius.

Hard Threadle


This combination threadle increases the depth of the transition from the introducing jump to the subsequent jump. You might argue that this is no longer a threadle at all, but now a series of “back-side approach” riddles. But inasmuch as the solution calls for the Zee-shaped transition I’ll call it a threadle.


The next step after “hard” is “a whole bunch harder”. In this series threadle the dog will get a square look at the wrong side of both of the subsequent jumps. After drawing the lines (always a marvelous illusion!) it doesn’t really seem like such a hard thing to do.

Course Design Considerations


The course designer has a broad measure of control of the approach to the threadle challenge. And considerable attention should be given to the consequence of the approach. In the illustration the dog has a depressed-angle approach from the table. In general this disposes the dog to the right-turning through-the-gap solution. Though a more depressed angle will introduce to a greater extent the wrong course challenge of the second jump of the threadle.

Certainly the threadle challenge will be messy if the depressed-angle approach is from right to left. That means that the handler will be fighting against the natural turning direction while faced with doing a rather precise and technical handling thing.


Note that a threadle absolutely requires the handler to be in a control position. It is a challenge that requires micromanagement. The dog cannot be released to work. In the design of the challenge the course designer should understand that when two control positions are positioned with a fast transition between them, then only the young long-legged handlers who can outrun their dogs will survive the challenge. So if the course designer’s ambition is to thwart old men with arthritic knees, like me, then this is a dandy way to do it.

Comments Invited

If you have anything to add to the discussion of the threadle, I’d love to hear about it and share with the readers of this blog. I know that I pretty much left out any discussion of handling; because mostly I’m interested in the design aspects right now.

I didn’t talk about the dismount of the threadle except in the limited discussions of combination threadles above. If you think about it, the dismount of a threadle is pretty much the same kind of riddle as the dismount of any obstacle or sequence. And so I didn’t give it the discussion that it might deserve.


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.

Variations on Dare to Double

November 29, 2013

For a prospective TDAA judge I assembled a document containing three distinctly different variations of the game Dare to Double in order for her to understand how the game might be played. My original objective was to find on my computer an example of the game with a “robust” briefing. And of course I stumbled across two interesting variations.

To summarize:

Example #1 is a course design and briefing from a trial I judged in August of 2009. This is the most common version of Dare to Double. What makes it distinctive is a rule declaring that “A warning whistle is blown 15 seconds prior to the expiration of time.” Of course the table isn’t live until that whistle blows. This is a favorite game in the TDAA. The most canny competitors have a doubling strategy for the opening; and a rule-of-thumb strategy for the last 15 seconds. If this variation has a down-side, it is that fast dogs with excellent A-frame skills (and a handler who gets the math) will always rule the game.

Example #2 features a variation of Dare to Double designed by TDAA judge Victor Garcia. This game was played in competition at the Petit Prix Warm-up Workshop held in conjunction with the 2013 Petit Prix in Latrobe, PA, and using the rules of the Petit Prix. What makes this different from the “common” version is that there is no warning whistle. And so the competitor is left with trusting to an internal clock as to when to go to the table. But to tell the truth this version exposes and encourages the popular “Double ’til the end of time” strategy. The essence of the strategy is to work on doubling ’til the bitter end, and don’t go to the table, accepting the loss of half the points as a push.

Example #3 and last example is the “Flanigan” variation of Dare to Double. In this variation the dog is limited to two performances of the doubling obstacle; introducing an amazing challenge of timing strategy. Doubling ’til the end of time isn’t a good option. This variation offers the possibility that good timing and performance might very well prevail over speed.

Dare to Double example #1 ~ common



Dare to Double is a simple dog’s choice game, which means that he will earn points for taking obstacles in the order and direction of his own choosing. The team has 50 seconds to accumulate as many points as possible. The game begins at a start line designated by the judge and ends at the table. If the dog gets to the table before time expires, he keeps all points, if he fails to do so half the points are lost.

The value of scoring obstacles is based on a simple 1-3-5-7 system:

  • 1 point for jumps
  • 3 points for tunnels and tire
  • 5 points for teeter, dogwalk and weave poles

Scoring obstacles can be taken only twice for points. Back-to-back performances are allowed. Jumps that are knocked down will not be reset.

The A-frame has a special value (Note that the A-frame was not included in this list above). It is the doubling obstacle. During the run, a handler may double his current points by performing the doubling obstacle. A successful performance doubles all points earned up to that time. If, however, the dog faults the A-frame, then the dog loses half of his existing points.The dog may double points any time, as many times as time allows. The only restriction on doubling is that the A-frame cannot be performed back-to-back. The dog must do another obstacle, for points, before attempting to double point values again.

A warning whistle is blown 15 seconds prior to the expiration of time.

Scoring and Qualifying

Dare to Double is scored points then time. The winner is the dog finishing with the most points. In case of a tie, time is the tiebreaker. The table is live during the entire run. If the dog gets on the table at any time, scoring ends. To qualify:

Games I – 40 points
Games II – 80 points
Games III – 160 points


Dare to Double example #2 ~ sans warning whistle



The objective is to score as many points as possible in the given time: 12″16dogs 50 seconds; 4″8 dogs 55 seconds. The table stops time and is live at all times.  A dog arriving at the table after time expires is “Faulted” half of all points. Jumps are 1 point; Tire and Tunnels 3 points; Dog Walk, Teeter and Weaves 5 points. Obstacles can only be taken twice for points.  Back to back performance is permitted.

The A Frame is the Doubling obstacle: During the run a dog will earn “Double” all points by successfully performing the A Frame. On a missed down contact on the A Frame, the dog is “Faulted” losing half of all points. Points can be doubled at any time and as often as the handler wishes. The A Frame is eligible for doubling only after any other point has been earned. When the A-frame is not eligible for doubling the dog may still Fault half of points in the performance.


Dare to Double is scored Points, then Time. GI dogs need 50 points to qualify; GII dogs need 100 points to qualify; GIII dogs need 150 points to qualify


Dare to Double example #3 ~ Flanigan Variation



The game begins at the designated start-line, and ends at the table. Big dogs have 50 seconds to accumulate as many points as possible; Small dogs have 55. The dog must get to the table before course time elapses. If the dog gets to the table before time expires, he keeps all points accumulated on course. If the dog fails to do so, half of the points are lost. There will be no warning whistle. If the dog hits the table at any time during the run, scoring and time will cease.

Obstacles can be taken only twice during point accumulation. Back-to-back is permitted. Jumps that are knocked down will not be reset. Jumps = 1 point; tunnels and tire = 3 points; contact obstacles and the weave poles = 5 points.

During the run, all current points can be doubled by performing the A-frame. A successful performance doubles all points. If, however, the dog faults the A-frame, half of the existing points are lost. In the Flanigan Variation the A-frame can be performed only twice during the dog’s run, and an obstacle must be completed for points between each performance of the doubling obstacle.

Scoring and Qualifying

Dare to Double is scored Points, Then Time.

  • Games I => 40 points
  • Games II => 70 points
  • Games III => 100 points


In the traditional Dare to Double you can double as often as you want, so long as you score points in between performances of the A-frame. The savvy player will quickly get the fundamental underlying math. Basically you get a handful of points on your dog and then start doubling until the end of time.

But the Flanigan variation is something else entirely; you only get to do the A-frame twice for double points. Now, if you double too early it lowers your capacity to score the most points. If you double too late time may expire and you’ll lose half your points. It is certainly a canny game of timing.


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.


November 15, 2013

From notes on an airline napkin:

I’ve taken a long journey on a short road.

The person in agility is inextricably bound by two import roles. He is both dog trainer and handler. One is not more important than the other. While handling is fundamental to directing an agility dog, training is the coup de grace.


I’m preparing for a healthy weekend workshop. The theme of the workshop is “weaving” in these parts: teaching the entry without shaping or management; the dismount; and fantastic footwork (using Susan Garrett’s thinly split poles method). I think I have the right mix of exercises. More often than not, when the lesson plan contemplates a specific skill to be taught the dog, the outcome of the training is a pointer to homework.


You may recognize this as the “Shark Bait” exercise. It’s a beginning point for the weekend workshop.

Another TDAA Course Review YouTube


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.


November 12, 2013

I’m deep in course review duties for the TDAA, trying to catch up. I’d like to share a part of a review from this morning, which I have captured in a YouTube video:

I apologize for the background noise. I was watching Morning Joe while working.


I’ve been busy trying to upgrade my writing / blogging tools for me new Windows 8 computer. It’s been an adventure. One tool I’ve needed is a new screen/video capture. Frankly, I’m most interested in Freeware; though if I find something that really works well, I wouldn’t mind upgrading to a commercial package.

Doing a web-search is always a crapshoot. A lot of stuff that purports to be “free” is just a crippled version of the software that makes you buy before you can even test how it works. The only thing that was free… was the download. Other packages are like Trojan Horses that will drag a bunch of painful utilities that constantly pop-up and replace default software; change your home page; put worthless menu bars on your internet browser, and so forth. So, you gotta be careful.

The screen/video capture software that I found is something called Active Presenter. It’s a fully functional editor with an option to upgrade to a more robust commercial system.

Weekend Workshop

We have a weekend workshop scheduled for this Sunday. Our topic is weave poles, with an intention to build speed, and faultless performance; while looking at common challenges that we see in competition.

I need to get on with the design of the lesson plan. And, of course, I need to clean up the building, set the floor, and test elements of the lesson plan. I’d better get moving.

If you are interested in getting your dog in this workshop (2 or 3 hours Sunday afternoon) you should get in touch with Marsha: We’ll cut off registration with the workshop fills.


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.

Class Plan

July 16, 2013

Okay, it’s about a bazillion degrees outside; and I spent the morning yesterday setting up this course on the grassy out-of-doors agility field. I don’t actually have minions to help me, so you can imagine the buckets of sweat that soaked my clothes.

Marsha isn’t a big fan of out-of-doors play. For me playing on grass is fundamental. It’s how agility was meant to be played. I’m sympathetic to Marsha, and everybody who prefers to play in the shade and away from the bugs. Weather is cruel more often than not in Ohio. Either it’s freezing and icy; or it’s muddy and wet; or it’s brutally hot. There might be a dozen days out of the year on which conditions are perfect for both human and canine.

I’m very aware of the safety issues when working a dog out in the sun. With our dogs, I’ll only work outside for ten or twenty minutes when temperatures are so high.


This course, by the way, is both the oldest and the latest course challenge for Top Dog Agility. We’ve had a subtle rules change that allows re-running of any course. What it really means is that a course or game never “closes” but is left open like the high scores on a video game at the arcade where everybody has a shot at getting to Top Dog.

I’m having a conversation with a club down in Valencia, Argentina about joining us in the play of this course. That should be fun! Hey… isn’t it Winter in Argentina?

Meanwhile back at the ranch

I have a class coming this evening. The out-of-doors course will be our league play course. But class needs to be in the building (in the shade). I don’t have air conditioning in the building. The best we can do is run the big fans on people and dogs.

Since I dragged all of our big equipment down onto the field, that means I had to come up with a set of the floor for lesson planning purposes. Small Universe comes to the rescue! This is a product that I created (several years ago now)… which is a .pdf with a wide variety of sequences that are arranged by different dimensions. All I have to do is scan through them, find one I like, and then click on the picture to spawn it into Clean Run Course Designer. Then, of course, I can modify it for my immediate needs.

Small Universe has been a life saver for me many times over.


I shared in my last blog a new contact training protocol for the 2o2o position. Marsha immediately put it to use for her crazy redhead BC Phoenix, and it has been transformative and amazing, IMHO. And so I wanted in this lesson plan to provide a foil for testing and practicing the method. What’s substantially different in Marsha’s work with Phoenix and this lesson plan… is that Phoenix gets to do his thing in the presence of other dogs and people. That heightens the crazy redhead gene, to be sure.


I’ve reversed the flow so that we get to work in both directions. Naturally I have about six or eight sequences that are based on either set of the bi-directional equipment. You should know that our full-size teeter is on the lower field. I’ll actually be using one of teacup teeters (8 ramps) in class.

Crazy Calendar

For like the next three weekends I’ll be out on the road doing judges clinics for the TDAA. I’ll be traveling with Hazard and Haymitch and will have an opportunity to run both of them in the TDAA trials that are part of the TDAA clinic experience. It’s actually problematic whether I’ll be able to run them at all, because I’ll be very busy in the conduct of these clinics.

At any rate we’d love it if you can come out and run your small dog in one of our clinic trials. If you are anywhere nearby I’d appreciate the opportunity to meet you and see you work with your small canine athlete. Here’s the immediate schedule:

Jul  20 – 21, 2013  Trial   T13067 Agility Cues For You LLC
Louisville, KY
Judge-of-record/Presenter:  Bud Houston (w/judge applicants)
Contact:  Christina Wakefield   (e-mail: Indoors on astroturf with rubber infill.  Day of show entries allowed. Classes to be determined

Jul  27 – 28, 2013  Trial   T13027
Bella Vista Training Center Lewisberry, PA
Judge of Record:  Bud Houston  (applicants will be judging, records will show Bud Houston as judge)
Contact:  Stephanie Capkovic  (e-mail: We have had an in-fill sport turf installed, 3 standards and 5 games

Aug  3 – 4, 2013  Trial  T13016
Rocky Mountain Agility

Arvada, CO
Judge of Record: Bud Houston (judge applicants and recerts will judge performance) Contact:  Zona Butler (e-mail: dirt surface

Of course, I copied all of this right off the TDAA Events Calendar.


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.

Hobday on Steroids

May 23, 2013

I promised to share the Saturday Rollacoaster ride. This was the JWW course put up on Saturday:


There are four Hobday boxes on this course. It is a course that pretty much NQ’d every dog that is actually faster than the handler.

The use of real estate was especially devastating. The course runs the handler from corner to corner up the side; then down the side; then diagonal across the field. From a handling POV the handler must have a presence in or near the box to solve. Try solving this kind of thing from 30 ft away (or more) as I have to do with my dog who is faster than I am.

The audience was enthusiastic on the rare qualifying run. It’s a fun bunch of people in Western PA.

If I were to design such a course for a USDAA Masters Challenge class, I’m sure the course reviewer would ask me to tone it down a bit. Masters Challenge is supposed to be extreme… not crazy.

Without doing a blow-by-blow of the course let me illustrate one little moment in the course. In the dog’s path from jump #7 to jump #8 he is set on a wrong course trajectory to a wrong course at jump #1. In the TDAA, mind you, we require a minimum of 12′ for the handler to solve the wrong course option. So the spacing to solve the wrong course option on this AKC course is pretty much what we ask for in the TDAA. For big fast dogs, it really should be a minimum of 20′. And this “corner-of-the-box” option is presented like 7 times on this course. Good luck with that.

Here’s my run on this course: YouTube.


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.

Internationalization pt 3 ~ Ketschker

March 7, 2013

Okay this movement is all the rage right now. It can be defined as a combination movement: Front Cross followed by a Blind Cross. I’ve been teaching it for about 15years. I originally called it the Mitchell Flip; because the first time I ever saw it was by a student of mine during an RFP[1] exercise. He did this thing that clearly was not an RFP. Though what he did worked in the exercise. Being one never to dismiss a thing that works, I began to study the movement, and then to teach it.

Mitchell went on to train with a smart aleck in the sport who forbade him from using this movement. And so I’ve pretty much trimmed the “Mitchell” from the description of the term and in my own writing now call it the Flip. With some irony I note that the “smart aleck” now, some 15 years later, has incorporate the Flip in her own handling repertoire because she has observed it winning in competition.

I looked back to find where the Flip might have first appeared in my own writing. On my web store, by the way, I have something like five years of unique weekly lesson plans; for three training levels and nested with a weekly league play game. These are documented in the pages of the JFF Agility Notebook; available at: Notebook. Anyhow, here’s a PDF sample page from the October 2000 Notebook: Sample.

About eight years or so ago I got a note from Pati Mah; after she read something I’d written on the Flip to tell me that she had been using the movement for a couple years. So, we really shouldn’t give everything over to the Europeans as the onliest innovators in agility. We’re just slow to adopt in this country.

In the same time period I got a note from somebody in Europe who told me this was a movement they were playing with in Europe, where they call it the Ketschker.

The set of equipment I typically use to teach the Ketschker comes from the opening sequence of a course once used at the AKC Nationals. Correct me if I’m wrong I think it was 1999 or 2000; and I’m pretty sure it was round 4.


 Do you remember this sequence? Animal Planet covered the event. They showed this bit with Elicia Calhoun and her dog Soni… earning a refusal at the #2 tire. They played that bit over and over again; and she made the same mistake every time. To be fair, she was approaching the riddle as a Vee-Set. Soni went into the fourth round leading the pack. Had Elicia pulled this off, she very likely would have won that year.

The handler starts the Front Cross as the dog commits up through the tire. The handler must pull the dog in the perpendicular transitional line and then commit to the Blind Cross before the dog can actually catch him. The amazing thing about teaching this… most people are successful the first time they every try it. And yet, a big number of them fail when using their default handling plan. Of some 350 masters dogs and their handlers, about 25% of the field failed on this opening.

Only two dogs got to see a Flip to solve this opening at the AKC Nationals that year. And both of them were successful. I even remember the names of the two dogs[2] after all these years.


This YouTube video demonstrates the Ketschker that is used simply to tighten the dog’s turning radius: [Chip, handled by Rosie Ison.]. Note that the handler might simply have drawn the dog on Post. But she gambled, effectively, on the notion that the Post is a softer cue and the dog’s turn might have been much wider than necessary.

Here’s a video complete with schmaltzy music that gives the movement a real workout

Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day

If I were pressed to define what it means I’m not too sure I could come to a definition agreeable to everyone. If you craft a good one, I’ll put it on the Glossary of Agility Terms.

I was going to do a full rant on Internationalization. Indeed, this is third is a series I’ve been working on in anticipation of the Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day Internationalization topic. The first two I wrote were: Part 1; and Part 2.

In a broad sense Internationalization is two-fold: Course challenges, and handling skills. If I sound like I object to the course challenge side of the coin; It is not the challenge itself that I object to. It is the course designer’s bloody-minded approach to placement. Many movements require control position by the handler. That means the handler needs to be right there with his dog to get it done. So imagine that the course designer puts a control position challenge in the upper-right corner of the course map; followed by a diagonal speed building run to the lower-left corner of the ring. Now we’ve created a scenario in which only fast long-legged kids can race from corner to corner keeping pace with their Border Collies. Us old folks are left pitifully out of position just wishing we were there.

Challenge Course

Here’s a very short and interesting course that several clubs are running (under the aegis of Top Dog Agility Players) over the next couple weeks. We’d be delighted if you would join us. Please note… all scores will be aggregated as a single competition. If you want to play drop me a line at I’ll send you a score-sheet and give you a heads-up to rules for performance and faults.


A More Fulsome Grind

This is not a Top Dog course (but could be!) I included this just to make it a more full-length course.


Course Design College ~ Understanding the Dog’s Path

I’ve been reviewing a lot of courses the past few days. I would very much like to address the course designer’s responsibility for engineering a square and safe approach to contact obstacles.


This is the kind of thing I’ve been seeing (and way too much of it). Taking the picture at face value you must be thinking “What’s the big deal?” The dog’s path looks perfectly straight and safe for the approach to the dogwalk.

Here’s the problem… the line was drawn by the Clean Run Course Designer. And what you must know is that CRCD is an idiot robot. Note that the corner of approach is out modestly on the left of the jump labeled #2. In truth, there is no corner of approach at all to the jump… you should draw a straight line out of the pipe tunnel through the jump to truly understand the dog’s path.


This is the dog’s path, more truly rendered. Most dogs will actually manage the up-ramp of the dogwalk just fine. But a dog working at any real speed will get on the ramp out of square and will dump off the ramp, losing footing, about half-way up.

This was not the dog’s fault nor truly the handler’s fault. It was the fault of the course designer.

Most challenges on course are essentially the course designer’s riddle. What is never an appropriate riddle to the competitor is… do you know how to do this without hurting your dog?


  The problem of approach is really easy enough to fix. The course designer might move the jump more to the south (down); or could rotate the dogwalk in anticipation of the dog’s turning radius.


All the foregoing being said, this is a perfectly acceptable on-course challenge. The placement of the pipe tunnel will surely protect the dog from too perpendicular an approach from the left side. And now the riddle is a valid one… do you know how to do this without earning the wrong course fault?

And you must know that the dog’s true path favors the wrong course.


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.

[1] The RFP, don’t you know, can be defined as a combination movement: Front Cross followed by a second Front Cross.

[2] Bogie and Birdie


January 30, 2013

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… 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):

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 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.