I’ve been preparing for a TDAA Judges’ Clinic on Norman, OH next week. As homework the judge candidates are required to design a suite of standard courses and all the games to be played on the weekend. All of the clinic participants were invited to send their courses and games for advanced review. Several of them have done so.

Course design by novice judges can be a predictable exercise. Some things we learn only by the pain and agony of experience. Though I suppose I’m obligated to share a canny bit or two and spare as much pain and agony as possible.

An important constraint in designing for Canine Sports Academy is that the “front” of the ring is on the long side of the field. The location of the entry and exit gates is a bit of a mystery (and probably should not be). The consequence of the location of the front and the ambiguity of dictated entry & exit has led to a variety of course designs in fulfillment of the home work that has the dog starting the course in one corner of the ring, and finishing somewhere at the back.

My purpose in this discussion is to design a Superior Standard course for this space, partly to get a feeling for how difficult it might be, and partly (certainly) as a tutorial for the approaching clinic.

A Blank Slate


This is the scariest moment in the life of a course designer… tabula rasa. From this blank slate I’m charged with creating something that is appropriate, first of all; but ultimately I want it to be fun, maybe even exciting.

I’ll tell you before I begin that I have little interest in my own course designs to put in a bunch of those ugly little “international” twists that has the handler micro-managing every movement of the dog. Design something that flows and causes both the dog and the handler to run. And if you need some ugly little bit to test whether the handler is awake, you can tweak it in later.

Designing with Scribbles


I scribbled a random line on the course. My only guideline is that I wanted start and finish along the front of the ring… the long side of the ring. The obvious advantage is that the time-keeper should be able to get a nice “down-the-line” view of both the start & finish lines.


My first observation of this scribbled line is that it has no fewer than seven crossing patterns (when the dog’s path crosses itself). That’s quite a riddle. The easiest obstacle for a crossing pattern is a jump. Though, to be sure, the dog’s path should be able to cross itself on the flat. You’ll often see crossing on the flat with box work.

At any rate, I decided to hard-code the crosses by setting jumps on several of the crosses.


Fairly early on the course designer should set contact equipment with a mind for the judge able to get position to see the contact performances for each.

Ordinarily on a floor of this shape you would probably want the dogwalk to be on the long wall at the back. Unfortunately my “scribbles” didn’t show the dogwalk on the back wall… so I’ll tentatively set the dogwalk on a short wall.

The down contacts for both the dogwalk and the A-frame face into the spectators. The judge gets the peanut gallery second-guessing every contact performance. My advice: Be in position, and get the call right.

The tunnel under the A-frame solves another of the crossing patterns.


Something is starting to take shape here. But I’m back to the riddle of the dogwalk. The problem with putting the dogwalk on the short end of the floor is designing a sequence that serves up the dogwalk safe and square. Following the lines of the “scribble” I set a pipe tunnel up in the corner with an exit that serves up an approach to the dogwalk nicely.

On the other side of the ring I’ve added obstacles to shape the approach to the tunnel under the A-frame. A significant challenge is shaping up in this design. The handler must negotiate the length of the floor from the dismount of the weave poles to the approach to the dogwalk. Setting the teeter on the approach to the pipe tunnel helps slow the dog and softens the mad race to the opposite side of the floor.


I’m left only with filling in the gaps in the sequence. Adding a jump or two does the trick. The jump after the A-frame is now a “soft” back-side approach, leaving the handler plenty of room to handle it big and wide, or tight and neat.


Finally, the course must be numbered. If the numbering happens to come out with more than 20 or less than 17 (as required for the Superior class) I’d have to make adjustment to the course. With a bit of dumb luck, this course numbered out at 20.

The table is optional in the TDAA. If I were forced to add a table it should be swapped with the obstacle at #7 or #12 or #14. I like the idea of #14 because it gives the handler time to get nervous about the big looping flourish of a finish to this course.


A final detail in design is adding the course information in the border of the map. I like making the name of the class big & bold so that it jumps out for the agility players picking up their courses in the morning of the trial.

I expect I would also number the grid. If at all possible the designing judge should try to find out how the floor is already numbered so that the numbering of the map matches it. And, if the club uses the baseline course building method, then baseline course maps should be prepared for the master course builder.


After throwing away the original “scribble” I used the path feature of Clean Run Course Designer to redraw the path by following the numbers. This was the result.


The whimsical line approach to course design isn’t new at all. This methodology was clearly documented more than 20 years ago in Stuart Mah’s Fundamentals of Course Design. I couldn’t find the book on the Clean Run webstore… but I did find it here: http://www.agilityclick.com/prod96.htm


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.