The Box Game ~ Games of the Petit Prix

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The TDAA’s Western Petit Prix will soon commence in Castle Rock, Colorado. This is a beautiful part of the world at the very foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The Petit Prix will be held at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in the Indoor Arena:

This is a continuing series featuring the games of the TDAA’s Western Petit Prix in 2016. Today we’ll have a look at the Box Game, a numbered course that features several opportunities to earn bonus points for modest distance challenges.

Below is a sample course with the simple briefing. Following the briefing is a short discussion of strategy.


The Box Game is the invention of USDAA judge, Brian McGunigle. John Finley of Columbus, Ohio will judge the Box Game at the Petit Prix. This game is scheduled for the morning of May 21st at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock, Colorado. The sample course shown here is not the course designed by Mr. Finley for play at the Petit Prix.


The objective of the Box Game is to run a numbered sequence while earning bonuses for several distance challenges. The distance-challenge eligible for bonus is specifically when the dog must go out of the box… with the handler staying inside the box.

Central to the course is a large boxed area which the dog and handler will enter after completing jump #1. Outside of the box are five different distance challenges. Each time the handler sends the dog out of the box and completes the send, a bonus of 5 seconds will be deducted from the dog’s score.

No bonus will be earned for an individual challenge if the handler steps out of the box, or if the dog earns a fault during the send.

Scoring and Qualification

The Box Game is scored Time, Plus Faults, Less Bonus. To qualify, the team must be under the adjusted Qualifying Course Time for their level:

Games I              4″ & 8 ” dogs            63     Seconds

12′′ & 16′′ dogs          58     Seconds

Games II            4″ & 8 ” dogs            49     seconds

12′′ & 16′′ dogs          42     seconds

Games III           4″ & 8 ” dogs            27     seconds

12′′ & 16′′ dogs          25     seconds


It’s a follow the numbers game, so any tips as to strategy clearly should be directed at how to effectively direct a dog to work at a distance.

Please note that on our web store is a series of books entitled The Joker’s Notebook which are full of step-by-step instructions for teaching a dog to work at a distance. So rule number one in your strategy should be train your dog! But don’t you know the Joker’s Notebook shows a couple years of distance training exercises and escalations. We only have two weeks until the TDAA’s Western Petit Prix. Maybe we should focus on a tip or two that will help you be successful in a simple game like this:

  1. Be the architect of the dog’s path ~ Mostly this is a matter of understanding where to place your corners. Setting a good corner of approach into a send will substantially improve your chance for success.
  2. Kentucky Windage ~ While we’re on the subject of corners and lines… you should know that a dog ahead of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position. So a good handler will bend the line of a send so that as the dog curls back towards the handler the curl brings the dog to the target obstacle, rather than off of it. [This is rather like the Kentucky rifleman adjusting his shot to incorporate the pressure of the wind.]
  3. Standing still is very seldom an effective distance strategy. You should find a way to move your feet. If you are sending out of the box… you should send to the obstacle on the edge of the box so that you’ll still have room to move in the direction of the send outside of the box.
  4. Give good information to your dog (don’t keep secrets). If you are sending the dog to a tunnel you should give a “Tunnel” command early… and feel free to repeat it. You should look at the tunnel, you should point at the tunnel, you should move toward the tunnel. This is how to give good information.Blog1126 TDAA

If your dog faults one of the distance challenges you might as well step outside of the box and pick up the pieces. You just waste time if you persist in trying to fix a problem at a distance after you’ve already lost the bonus.

Blog1126 TDAA

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance part.

Games of the 2016 Western Petit Prix; Part 1

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The TDAA’s Western Petit Prix shall be held from May 20th to the 22nd, 2016 in Castle Rock, Colorado. This event is hosted by Hosted by Rocky Mountain Agility Associates; Rocky Mountain Agility Dog Training Center, and All Positive Dog Training.

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The games of the 2016 Western Petit Prix shall be:

The Box Game; Twister; Dare To Double; Gamblers; Wild West Pinball; Weakest Link; and Jumpers. There are also three standard rounds scheduled.

I shall endeavor, over the next few days to write an introduction to each of these games. Although a couple of them are very traditional in the agility world, several are known to few agility enthusiasts outside of the TDAA.

I will begin the discussion with the Box Game. The discussion is written to a great extent to future designers of the game.

The Box Game

The Box Game is the invention of USDAA judge, Brian McGunigle. Brian conceived this game for a USDAA Starter/Novice-only trial held by ARFF in Massachusetts in 1999. People said they had fun running the game. One of the club members later reported to Brian to say they had subsequently used it in class for training.


The dog is required to perform the course in the order and direction specified by the judge.

Once the dogs clears hurdle #1, the handler must stay within a containment area specified by the judge until the dog completes the course. A 5-point fault is assessed for each time the handler leaves the containment area before the dog completes the course.

A bonus of 5 points is given to the team for each successful send. This might off-set any failed sends.


The Box Game is scored Time, Plus Faults, Less Bonus.

Course Design

A typical example of this game as played in the TDAA is illustrated by this course designed by Donette Belknap:


This is nearly a duplication of the original design of the Box Game by Brian McGunigle. What often happens with games taken from the Book of Agility Games… the original game is taken literally as a constraining definition of what is and what is not allowed.

While Donette’s design is flowing, and a lot of fun (for dogs that will work at a modest distance), it’s possible that at the Petit Prix the designing judge might test the dog and handler in a more interesting variety of distance skills.

For example:


This was a course that was not originally designed as a Box Game course. As you can see, it was a Jumpers course (played at the Racine Petit Prix in 2009). This illustrates that the course designer doesn’t really have to begin with the rigid fixture of a box. A better idea is to take a course that already has lovely flow to it, and then find the box that is hidden within it.

Significantly, the distance challenges have become more interesting than the fixed box variation. For example, on the initial send to the #5 pipe tunnel the dog’s trajectory of movement might not be to the correct entry of the tunnel. So it is left to the handler to be a bit of an engineer of the dog’s path, and sweeten that approach.

#7 through #9 isn’t a send to a tunnel at all, but a turn into a three-corner pinwheel that includes a tunnel discrimination.

#11 through #15 is a longer bit that features a wrong-course tunnel option. [The judge might in advance decide that this send is worth more than just 5 points.]

#17 to #18 features a send to the tunnel, but doesn’t really allow the handler to camp on the landing side of the last jump. [The judge might specify that this sequence gives no fault for stepping outside of the box, as the sequence is on the dismount of the course; but give the bonus 5 points if the handler stays inside the box.]


We’ve borrowed another course (slightly tweaked for the game) just to test the idea that you can take an existing course and “find the box”. The big leap we take is to move beyond the constraint that the Box Game is only and can only be a numbered Jumpers course. You have to admit that this course is considerably challenging.

It’s worth remembering that games at the Petit Prix are not necessarily about qualifying. The games are more invested in differentiating the field in terms of their levels of skill. And the test isn’t always which is the fastest dog.

The course design should be willing to think outside the Box and find some of the rich possibilities for distance work that the game ultimately affords.


Qualifying is typically based on what would be the routine QCT or SCT for a numbered sequence, building in some expectation for success in the performance of the agility team.

Keeping in mind that each successful distance challenge is typically worth 5 points; qualifying in a design of the game with three distance challenges might be:

  • GIII ~ QCT minus 10
  • GII ~ QCT minus 5
  • GI ~ QCT

Note that these qualifying criteria didn’t require perfection from GIII. But the GIII dog will certainly have to be a nifty competitor. For GI, a straight QCT is no giveaway. Remember that the dog is earning a 5 point fault every time the handler steps outside the box. So for GI the QCT merely seeks balance.

Blog1106 TDAA

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.