The following is the review of a game from course design homework for the up and coming judges’ clinic at Four Paw Sports Center in Lynnwood, Washington. It is useful to see what happens in the review process. And as this the review makes fairly typical kinds of observations, it is worth sharing to a broader audience (notably, TDAA judges!)

The judge candidates name has been removed to spare any possible embarrassment. Though there’s nothing terribly embarrassing in the game submitted for review. I’ve always believed that experience is earned the hard way… and there is no real crime in being novice. We all started there, after all.


This is a review of the game Cha Cha that was invented by TDAA judge Jeffrey Boyer.

While it is a “dog’s choice game”… the choice has provisions, as you’ll see from the briefing below.

The judge submitted this course for the review:



Reviewer’s comments:

* What you did in this design is create a flow that in itself anticipates the requirements for the game. Consequently the path is a “no brainer” for the handler. I contend that the typical TDAA game player is quite clever and doesn’t have to be spoon fed.

* The course-map is missing both start and finish lines, and the briefing provides no advice as to how time starts and finishes. Indeed, the briefing should be quite specific about time, because the exhibitor sitting in his chair outside the ring will want to know how long they’ll have to solve the riddle of the course.

* You’ve left a jump at the bottom of the field, about 3’ off the front ring barrier. A jump approaching any side of the ring should have a minimum of 10’ for both the dismount and the approach. This jump provides neither (though it could be rotated 90° and so wouldn’t be an issue).

* The briefing does not stipulate whether the tire is a jump… or if it falls into the “anything but a jump” side of the ledger.

* The qualifying criteria stipulates how many points must be earned for each level… but fails to mention the point value of each obstacle. This deserves mention in the briefing. [Frankly, I prefer to write the briefing in Word, and then import the course map into the Word document. That gives me access to spell-checking and formatting.]

* The briefing should make an explicit statement of the Scoring Basis. For example:

In the Tillman variation the game is scored by obstacle point values. And so the scoring basis is Points-Then-Time, rather than “Bars”-Then-Time. In the first use of this variation TDAA judge Vickie Tillman set obstacle values as: “Contact obstacles-3 pts; Tunnel & tire)-2 pts; Jumps 1 pt.” Qualifying criteria was then established as:

  • Games 1 – 16
  • Games 2 – 24
  • Games 3 – 32

If you use the Tillman variation, you will have to call out point values, rather than “Slow” and “Cha”.

* Frankly, you missed an opportunity here to nearly perfect-nest this game with the Superior standard course that is played immediately after. Your Superior standard course:



* I will take the liberty to show you what the game might look like using this Superior standard course as the basis for nesting:



* The numbers on this course map are numbers that I provided. After I threw away the numbers from your Superior course, I sat down to strategize how I might direct my dog to fulfill the Cha-Cha rhythm of obstacle performance. While some of the approaches to contact obstacles are problematic, this numbered path pretty much solves the qualifying criteria for any level.

* I’ve expanded the briefing for Cha-Cha here:

Briefing [Tillman variation]

The objective is for the team to accumulate as many bars of Cha-Cha steps as they can in the time allotted. A Cha-Cha bar consists of any two obstacles other than jumps followed by three jumps. For example, a bar might be a contact obstacle, a tunnel (or the tire), and then three jumps. Or it might be two tunnel performances followed by three jumps. For each successful bar, the team will earn one point. The game is scored points, then time. Time is for tie-breaking only.

Bar jumps may be used as often as desired. Other obstacles may be used only twice for credit. Obstacles other than bar jumps may be taken back-to-back, as long as this is done safely. Bar jumps may not be taken back-to-back. The first obstacle to be taken at the start of any run may not be a contact obstacle.

The following faults will be in effect:

  • Dropped bars (dropped bars are not reset and the jump is out of play)
  • Missed contacts
  • Incomplete weave pole performance
  • Back-to-back performance of a bar jump
  • Taking an obstacle more than twice (except for bar jumps)
  • Taking a contact obstacle as the first obstacle in the run
  • Incorrect number of “slow” or “quick” steps since the last successful bar

The judge will call point values for each successful obstacle performance: Of the slow obstacles: 3 for contacts & weave poles; 2 for tunnels and tire. Of the fast obstacles: 1 point for jumps.

In the event of a fault, the judge will call “fault,” and the team must begin a new bar; any points earned for an incomplete bar are lost. Counting of a bar will begin only once the “slow” steps are started.

Time begins when the dog first crosses the Start line. The timer will blow the whistle at the end of point accumulation time, at which point the handler must direct the dog across the finish line or to the finish obstacle to stop the clock. In TDAA, small dogs (4/8) will have 60 seconds to accumulate points, and big dogs (12/16) will have 55 seconds.


To the prospective TDAA: I hope the review of this game was a good resource for learning. The most important lesson to be learned from this exercise, is how to nearly “perfect-nest” a game with a standard course.

The completeness of the briefing is important. When you submit games for review the briefing should be exactly what you intend to present to exhibitors. This allows your course reviewer to ascertain whether you understand completely how the game might be played.

May judges will include specific briefings to ring personnel like the time-keeper and scribe and, of course, the scorekeeping table. The Time-keeper, for example should have specific instructions to blow the whistle to indicate the end of time. And the scorekeeping table needs to know little details like…how points that begin a faulted bar are lost, and a new bar started.

I look forward to working with you at the Four Paw Judges’ clinic.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Visit our web store: 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.