Spacing Between Obstacles in the TDAA

1 Comment

This is an important notation for the Course Design College. In this series I share observations that I make on a routine basis to judges and course designers during the course review process. It is prudent to share these common observations with all of our judges to further their understanding of course design for the TDAA.

This is intended as a comprehensive discussion of the TDAA’s guidelines for spacing between obstacles in course design.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. This is the mission statement from the Rules and Regulations for the TDAA:

1.1 Mission

The purpose of the Teacup Dogs Agility Association is to provide a competitive venue for dogs of small stature without regard to breed or pedigree, and to encourage course challenges that are comparable to the course challenges which face large dog handlers in other popular venues.

The clear understanding of this mission statement: We intend to give the handler of the fast little Papillion the same thrilling roller coaster ride in the TDAA as the handler of the fast Border Collie in any of the big dog agility organization. We want that handler to be keen and timely. And when the spacing between obstacles is blown out of proper proportion, we fail that mission.

A Bit of Science

The rates of travel for the TDAA require modest yards per second (YPS) at any level. Built into this calculus is the degradation of a dog’s rate of travel caused by performance of the technical obstacles … namely the contacts and the weave poles.

This degradation of rates of travel occurs in all flavors of agility. However, the significant difference between the TDAA and any other, is that we don’t have large expanses of real estate between obstacles to recoup and elevate the YPS.

And so, when a course is presented for competition that gives too much space between obstacles the rate of travel required for qualification is an ineffective measurement.

A Course Review


At first glance this makes a perfectly reasonable design for the Beginner level. I might tell the judge/course designer to rotate the #9 jump back to the dog’s approach (everything nice and square for the Beginner class). And I might remark that not enough room has been left for the approach to jump #1. A minimum of 10′ between the front of the ring and the first hurdle is our standard requirement.

What really jumps out at me about this course, however, is the overly generous spacing between obstacles. We’ll take a measurement.


Using the “Path” tool in Clean Run Course Designer I measured this course at 258.5′. Subtract from that the length of dimensioned obstacles… 68′ to arrive at the calculated interval distance of 198.5′. Divide by the number of obstacles (-1) and the average interval spacing between obstacles is 14.65′.

The average interval spacing should come in not much over 10′ or 11′. It should be easy to tighten up this course without losing the nice flow originally envisioned by the course designer.


It was fairly easy to tighten up this course. Now the dog has plenty of room to approach the first hurdle. Note too that a bit of extra room is given to the dog for the turn following jump #5, and the turn following jump #9.


Using the same calculation… I measured this course at 214′; subtract 68′ to arrive at the calculated interval distance of 146′. Divide by the number of obstacles (-1) and the average interval spacing between obstacles is 11.23′.

Spacing for Technical Challenges and Turns

On the approach to a technical challenge (for example, a wrong course option or approaching an obstacle discrimination) the dog’s path should measure a minimum of 12′. The objective of this spacing is too give the handler an extra heartbeat to do his job.

We also provide a minimum of 12′ when requiring the dog to turn. This is an acknowledgement of basic physics. The inertia of a dog’s movement may require an additional stride or two. The faster the dog, the greater the inertia.

With this in mind, if the course designer incorporates a pinwheel, the spacing between jumps must be a minimum of 12′. It is the nature of a pinwheel that the dog is faced with a series of turns while (hopefully) at a full run.

A Note Aside

Every so often we’ll hear an exhibitor complain that his dog runs more slowly in the TDAA than when playing elsewhere. After all rate of travel is measurable. You take the length of the course (yards) and divide by time (seconds) to arrive at the dog’s YPS.

In true fact the dog works at the same pace in the TDAA (maybe even faster). But the degradation on the dog’s rate of travel due to performance of technical obstacles has a substantially greater impact when the overall length of the course is reduced.


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.

Puppy Cannon Revisited

Leave a comment

In preparation for the TDAA’s 2013 Petit Prix today I’m going to give the game Puppy Cannon another look. There are several TDAA judges’ clinics scheduled this year. And at the trials hosting these clinics we are playing Petit Prix games. So we hope to give the rules of each of the Petit Prix games a good workout so that something suitably challenging is offered at our National Tournament. At the same time, those of you looking for a championship run should be studying up on the rules.

Puppy Cannon in League Play

At our training center here in Waterford, OH we try to give different games a good workout. It happens that this week we played Puppy Cannon. And from our experience I’ve made some gentle revisions to the rules to make this former “training game” a solid game for competition.

Puppy Cannon




The objective of Puppy Cannon is for the dog to do three of the four numbered sequences shown on the course map. The sequences can be taken in any order. The dog starts on the table and must begin with the pipe tunnel (the Puppy Cannon) before the performance of each of the three sequences.

The judge may specify that certain sequences are bi-directional. On this course there are no bi-directional sequences.

After the final sequence the dog should go directly to the table to stop time but may transition through the pipe tunnel (without penalty) to get to the table.

Scoring and Qualifying

Scoring for Puppy Cannon is Time, Plus Faults. The dog with the lowest score wins. Our course distance is about 197 yards. To qualify a dog must finish without going over the established SCT:

4″         113

8″         101

12″         91

16″         82

20″         74

[Please note: These are not TDAA calculations.]


The course designer was striving for sequences of some technical merit. Previously Puppy Cannon has been presented as a pipe tunnel surrounded by three simple and inconsequential handling sequences. As a game of competition, these sequences should be imbued with a bit more depth.

Variation Notes

Incorporating four sequences and requiring the dog to do only three of them is a unique variation. It allows the handler to select those sequence that play to the dog’s performance strengths. On the other hand, the U-shaped pipe tunnel labeled #1 white squares and #1 white circles introduces an interesting element of composure. Should the dog select a tunnel entry other than the one the handler had planned, then the handler should be prepared to take the opposing sequence. That being said, the calculating handler might also put the dog into the entry on which he’d planned and take the 5 faults for a wrong course. It is a Time, Plus Faults game, after all.

Of particular interest in this course design is the notion that the handler will want his dog taking the Puppy Cannon towards the table twice, rather than away from it twice. And so the opening gambit might be how to get the dog to the opposite end of the Puppy Cannon pipe tunnel from the start at the table.

An important departure from the previous rules of this game is that the judge may not require a final performance of the Puppy Cannon pipe tunnel after the last sequence. Frankly, the course design might not lend itself to that final performance and so it should not be required.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Visit our webstore at: Our web store includes more than five years of lesson plans for three levels of agility training in the pages of The Just For Fun Agility Notebook; and each includes a “game of the week” for league play. Many of these are the games we play today in the TDAA.

Games of the Petit Prix Part 2 ~ Last of the Mohicans

Leave a comment

In preparation for the TDAA’s 2013 Petit Prix today I’m going to give the game Last of the Mohicans a robust discussion.

Last of the Mohicans is a game that has grown from training game, to a game for qualifying and titling. And like any converted training game, the training lessons attend the competition.

It’s possibly a bit of a risk putting a game like this into our national tournament. Calling a handler for “stopping” can be a bit subjective. It’s like calling a refusal. And whatever the handler does, it’ll be a big glaring debatable fussover for everyone outside the ring. If it helps any the criteria for calling the handler for stopping is discussed in the briefing of the game, below.

Also, the game requires the judge to have a mind like a steel trap when evaluating the dog’s path and whether, or not, it crosses back over itself. Prior to the tournament I’ll have a long discussion with the judge of record for the class to make sure we’re ready, and to minimize the potential for error. Ideally, this game will get a lot of play in regional competition and we’ll be more prepared, having more depth in experience.

Last of the Mohicans

In the years before the American Revolution certain frontiersmen were greatly feared and respected by hostile Indians because they had learned to load their muskets with powder and shot, and even fire their muskets, while on the run without stopping or even slowing down. This agility game was devised as a means of teaching the very Novice handler to stay in motion when running an agility course (and not stop alongside every jump on the way).



You’re a settler comfortable in your homestead (the collapsed tunnel) when word comes to you that a band of marauding Indians is on the war path, killing and scalping -defenseless settlers. You know that your only chance to survive is to make it to the fort (the table). As the crow flies it’s not very far away. But to get there you must go all the way around the mountain (the A-frame).

The dog will earn one point for each obstacle performed without fault between the homestead and the fort. The homestead (collapsed tunnel) and the fort (table) have no point value. The dog with the most points wins. Time is a tie-breaker only.

However, should you be caught by the Indians, and scalped, your dog will earn no score. And the scribe will indicate on the scribe-sheet: “RIP”.

These events will lead to you being caught and scalped by the Indians:

  • The handler stops (the Indians will catch you while you’re standing still)
  • The dog runs past an obstacle and the handler turns back to correct (you’ve run back towards the Indians. Bad strategy)
  • The dog’s path crosses itself (again, your path has taken you back towards the Indians). By definition, if a dog repeats an obstacle, he has crossed his own path.
  • The dog commits to any contact obstacle with all four paws.

Course Design

Last of the Mohicans gives the course designer an opportunity to use the set of equipment on the floor, making a transition from a standard class with very little movement of equipment. However, the course designer shouldn’t be too lazy in the transition. Competitors will seek a perfect score in this dog’s choice game. So, the solution shouldn’t be absolutely obvious or predictable. Some movement of equipment might be required to make the task a handler’s riddle.

Let’s take a TDAA standard course for example. This is the course on which the Last of the Mohicans course above was based:


What I immediately like about this standard course, for the purpose of setting up Last of the Mohicans is that the A-frame is central on the field. You’ll note in the briefing the requirement to “go around the mountain”. It helps to have a mountain to go around.

The immediate requirement for equipment movement will be in the start and stop obstacles. The tradition is for Last of the Mohicans to begin with the collapsed tunnel and end on the table. The collapsed tunnel probably needs to be closer to the front of the ring; and a table should be added to the field.

Judging Notes

Last of the Mohicans is one of the rare games in which you must be a judge of the handler; specifically for stopping or significant hesitation. This fault, since you are taking their scalp after all, should be accorded the same measure of restraint that you might use for calling a hesitation refusal on the dog. The word “significant” gives us a good measuring tool: If you can say the word SIGNIFICANT as the handler hesitates, then you must blow the whistle and take his scalp. However, if all you can get out is “SIG…” you’re doing the team a disservice.

Mindful that the original intention of the game was to encourage handlers to stay in motion with their dogs, the judge should establish criteria for movement at the beginning of the course and at the end. In briefing the judge might advise that the handler could be standing still when calling the dog through the collapsed tunnel (the homestead); but had better be in motion when the dog comes out. Also, the table (the fort) is where time ends; so if the handler comes to a stop on the approach to the table… then it is such a shame that he will be scalped right outside the front gate. However, if the handler moves past the table to the side opposite the approach, then the judge will deem that he is safely in the fort.

Note that the scalping fault for the dog crossing his own path should be the obvious and measurable only. We’ve already stated that repeating an obstacle will constitute the path-crossing scalpage. Also, look for this sort of thing:


During the briefing you can reassure exhibitors that you won’t be looking for bulges in the dog’s path to find crossing faults; but having a mind like a steel trap you’ll certainly be calling the obvious.


Last of the Mohicans is scored points, then time. Time is a tie-breaker only. The dog earns 1 point for each obstacle performed correctly.

If the handler stops or attempts to go back to correct any obstacle he is deemed dead by the judge. At that point the game ends and the team earns zero points.


Typically the number of obstacles should dictate the qualifying criteria. Give GI a nice easy flow; make GII a bit more challenging technically; and make GIII stretch a bit for the qualifying score. In no case should a perfect score be required at any level. In our sample course above, with 15 scoring obstacles, the qualifying criteria might be:

  • Games I ~ 7 points
  • Game II ~ 9 points
  • Games III ~ 11 points


The significant strategies to this game are:

  • The Q and keep your scalp strategy: Don’t try to be a hero, understand how many points are required to qualify; go out and get them and get safely into the fort.
  • The greedy man’s strategy: This is like a game of “What’s My Line”. Go for the gusto; figure out what are the maximum number of points available, then figure out a way to get them without stopping and without causing the dog to cross his own path. Just remember: No guts, no glory.

Staying in motion is a pretty good strategy for agility in general; and certainly in this game will keep the handler from being scalped. If the dog runs past an obstacle without committing to the performance the handler will have to accept the missed point and continue. Remember that going back to correct the dog is a scalpable offense.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Visit our webstore at: Our web store includes more than five years of lesson plans for three levels of agility training in the pages of The Just For Fun Agility Notebook; and each includes a “game of the week” for league play. Many of these are the games we play today in the TDAA.

Games of the Petit Prix Part 1 ~ Puppy Cannon

Leave a comment

In preparation for the TDAA’s 2013 Petit Prix on this blog, over the next few days, I hope to give a comprehensive discussion of each of the games scheduled for that championship competition.

At the same time we’ll be having a robust round-table discussion on the TDAA Judges’List on Yahoo so that our judges can share they experience and expertise in the design and play of these games. Of course that discussion won’t be limited to the Games of the Petit Prix.

Now… the documentation below comes right out of the Book of Agility Games. I will be sure to share any possible enhancements to the basic rules that arise from our discussions on the Yahoo List.

Note that I’ve made additional comments to the text; these will be presented in bold blue type.

Puppy Cannon!

Puppy Cannon is a fast and furious game of handling, often used as a training game but suitable as a game of competition for top competitors.


The objective of this game is for the dog to do all three of the numbered sequences shown on the course map. The sequences can be taken in any order, and in either direction. The dog starts on the table and must begin with the pipe tunnel (the Puppy Cannon) and return to the pipe tunnel after the performance of each of the three sequences.

The judge may specify that certain sequences are bi-directional.

After the performance of the final pipe tunnel, the dog must be directed back to the table to stop time.


Scoring for Puppy Cannon is Time, Plus Faults. The dog with the lowest score wins.

Course Design


In many ways the design of Puppy Cannon resembles Beat the Clock, except that the central obstacle is a pipe tunnel, rather than a tire. The featured tunnel should be straight and aimed, like a cannon, at some obstacle (which may or may not be the next correct obstacle).

In the design of this sample course two other pipe tunnels are engaged… aiming at wrong course obstacles; but with sufficient room for the handler to turn the dog towards the next correct obstacle.

On this course the judge specifies that the white-numbered sequences are bi‑directional.

Note that the table is the starting obstacle on this course. This should not be viewed as a constraint. The judge might use any beginning obstacle.

Design Analysis

Note that the spacing between obstacles might seem more generous than you might see in typical TDAA sequencing our course work. These distances are consistent with our course design guidelines. While wrong course “options” are central to the intent of the game, we require a minimum of 12 for the avoidance of a wrong course option.

The sample course includes two tunnels that aren’t central to the game (like the tire in Beat the Clock). They both are set very intentionally to introduce the possibility of the wrong course option. While the exhibitor may be giving his best focus to the central tunnel… these too should come into play.

The handling sequences might be more challenging than was portrayed here. However, we don’t want to get far from the main premise of the game… to challenge handlers to demonstrate their ability to direct the dog when shot out of a tunnel. And so any peripheral handling challenges should not overwhelm the basic challenge of the game.

Please note that the final game at the Petit Prix will be Black Hole. This is a really basic follow-the-numbers sequencing game that has the cruel twist… if a dog goes into a pipe tunnel he is immediately eliminated… and the game ends. At this year’s Petit Prix it could prove to be exceptionally challenging, so immediately following a game in which the dog is directed to dive into every pipe tunnel that offers itself.

Judging Notes

Dogs should be judged according to their respective level in the standard classes. That means, when appropriate, refusals and weave pole errors should be faulted.

In briefing the judge should be very clear on several points:

  • After the start the dog must be directed to the central pipe tunnel
  • After each sequence the dog must be directed to the central pipe tunnel
  • The three sequences can be taken in whatever order the handler desires
  • Which, if any, sequences are bi-directional
  • The dog must be directed to the finishing obstacle after the final performance of the central pipe tunnel.

The judge should offer neither handling advice nor strategy advice to exhibitors in briefing.

Qualifying and Titles

Qualifying Course Time (QCT) is based on the measured length of the overall course using rates of travel appropriate to each dog’s level and jump height. After faults have been added to time if the score is equal to or less than the established QCT, then the dog shall receive a qualifying score.


Original ~ Puppy Cannon was originally envisioned simply as a training game; mostly to demonstrate that turning the dog on the dismount of a pipe tunnel could be quite a trick of handling. In this variation there is no established course time.

Premium Blurb

Puppy Cannon is a game featuring the pipe tunnel as a test of the handler’s skill when redirecting the dog. It is typically played with three (or more) small numbered sequences that can be taken in the order of the handler’s choosing. Puppy Cannon is scored Time, Plus Faults.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Visit our webstore at: Our web store includes more than five years of lesson plans for three levels of agility training in the pages of The Just For Fun Agility Notebook; and each includes a “game of the week” for league play. Many of these are the games we play today in the TDAA.

Quidditch Design Tutorial

Leave a comment

For a moment, let’s make this a tutorial on the design of a Quidditch course. This is an obscure study… which is to say, there’s like 3 guys in the whole world worrying over the matter (and I’m not really sure who the other two are).

Here’s a rare look at the course review process. This is all based on a game that was submitted for review. I’ve carefully redacted the review to remove the cuss words. The game under review is Quidditch.

I rarely get involved in the design process; this game and course being an exception. There was some sense of urgency. Because this game was for the Petit Prix and the judges had like eight months to prepare for it… naturally we were still working on the courses at the last minute, while the club was screaming for the courses so they could send their exhibitor catalogs to the printer.


Your course feels cluttered to me… and I want to fix that. I suggested bringing the containment down to 8′ because there wasn’t room for the handler to set up for the beater; but after shrinking the containment… you also crowded the sequences against the line; once again taking away important handling room. First step in uncluttering… is to move stuff away from the beater.

Beginning with the lower/right sequence I’m going to rotate it around. And I’ve changed the sequence slightly; thinking ahead, I want a nice opportunity for a bludger on the dismount of the sequence which wasn’t really possible with the #4 jump crowded against the containment. So the #4 jump goes away.

I’ve also rotated the tire for the approach. It’s really difficult to design everything for a natural approach to the tire in this game. But we’ll really try as we go along.

Btw, since you’ve gone to four sequences rather than the traditional three… it allows us to name the four sequences after the four houses of Hogwart. That can be a nice touch.


On the Ravenclaw sequence I’ve pretty much preserved the original challenge. I’ve backed everything a tiny bit off the beater containment. Note now that swapping the weave poles for the pipe tunnel makes the pipe tunnel a for real bludger opportunity after the Ravenclaw sequence. And, the #1/#4 jump in Ravenclaw is a bludger opportunity after the Griffindor sequence.


I really changed your Slytherin sequence. First, I altered the colors of the numbers. All that black stuff up there added to the clutter. I took the A-frame out for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that it would trap the judge at the back of the ring, to get a view of the contact, yelling out numbers to a scribe at a distance.

In the design we continue to watch for a nice square flowing approach to the beater. This design once again introduces a bludger after the #5 jump of the Slytherin sequence.


I’ve changed your Hufflepuff sequence just a bit. By reversing the direction of the wrap it allows for a square approach to the beater (which I had rotated early on). Also… the #1 jump in the sequence serves as a bludger on the approach to the beater. I like the balance of that. Note that all of the sequences now have bludger challenges without ever actually using a dummy jump.


In a final adjustment I changed the position of the table and rotated the start line so that there’s a choice of either Hufflepuff or Gryffindor as the starting sequence. You know, if I had wanted to I could have run the start line from the vicinity of the table to the upper right corner of the course. That would have allowed the exhibitor to start on any one of the four sequences. I might be tempted to do something like that at some small regional trial. But at the Petit Prix it would be a drag on efficient ring administration.


The next bit we really need to attend to is checking whether the Qualifying Course Time (QCT) that you established falls within the rates of travel standards for all dogs. As you can see, I measured this course at around 100 yards. And you established, in your briefing 60 seconds for big dogs, and 65 seconds for small dogs.

I ran the 100 yard estimate through my Rates of Travel calculator using a mid-range rate of travel, and came up with these interesting numbers:

Games I 4″ / 8 “


12′′ / 16′′


Games II 4″ / 8 “


12′′ / 16′′


Games III 4″ / 8 “


12′′ / 16′′


We really aren’t so interested in GI and GII for the Petit Prix… everybody competes at the Superior/GIII level. The calculated times for GII, however, suggest that you might want to toughen up on the QCT. At a minimum you make it 55/60; but you could toughen it up to 50/55. Note that I did not bother to include Slytherin in the measured calculation. In the strategy of the game the handler must decide whether to risk the Golden Snitch (75 points) to steal another 100 points for Slytherin and beater. The faculty at Hotwarts will tell you, dealing with Slytherin house is a good way to get snake-bit.

* * *

Your briefing says “Each sequence can be successfully completed only once and only 3 sequences may be completed.” Oh, I really disagree. You put four out there… you really should take the opportunity to entice the greedy. Remember, there are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. But there are no old bold pilots.

Your briefing says “If a team completes or attempts one sequence more than once the final score for the team will be zero.” This is from the original rules. It makes you wonder… why would anybody want to do that? That being said… I’ve seen a handler repeat a sequence with her dog because she thought that her dog’s fault of the beater actually faulted the sequence which preceded it. So I’m thinking… setting the score to zero is a terrible punishment for not completely understanding play of the game. And you would feel awful if that exhibitor went out to the parking lot and shot herself. So, we should soften this rule to say “If a team completes a sequence more than once the second performance will earn no points.”




Big dogs will have 55 seconds and small dogs 60 seconds to complete at least three numbered sequences. When time expires the dog must be directed to the table to stop time. The point values for each of the sequences are 15, 20, and 25 points. Each sequence can be successfully completed only once; but all four sequences may be completed.

Each obstacle has individual point values that are earned by a team if a sequence is only partially completed prior to time expiring.

• 1 point for jumps

• 3 points for tunnels

• 5 points for contact obstacles and weave poles

Upon successful completion of a sequence the dog can earn bonus points for a successful performance of a tire; the ‘Beater’ bonus, for which the team will earn an additional 25 points if the tire is performed from behind the containment line. Refusals will be faulted on the tire, but nowhere else on course. The initial direction of the dog’s approach to the tire will define the run-out plane of the obstacle for the purpose of judging refusals. If a dog commits a refusal on the tire, the Beater bonus is lost. If the handler faults the containment line, the Beater bonus is lost.

After attempting the Beater bonus the team should attempt another sequence. If the team completes three different sequences they will earn a ‘Keeper’ bonus of 50 points. Note: the bonus points earned or missed by the completion of the tire do not affect ability for a team to earn the Keeper bonus.

A dropped bar, some off-courses (see wrong course rule, below) or a missed contact will be considered a sequence fault. The team can immediately reattempt the same sequence or move to another sequence.

When time expires no new points can be earned.

The Bludgers Rule

  1. A Bludger (wrong course obstacle) performed during the performance of an individual sequence shall result in a sequence fault. No points are earned for the performance of any individual obstacle unless the sequence is not completed due to expiration of time.
  2. Performance of a Bludger after the successful completion of a sequence on the way to the Beater (tire) shall be considered a fault of the Beater. The ability for the team to earn the Beater bonus is lost. The team should proceed to the next sequence, or to the table if appropriate.
  3. If the wrong course occurs: Bludgers (wrong courses) shall not be faulted: between the starting line and the first obstacle of a numbered sequence; between the Beater and the first obstacle of a numbered sequence; between the Beater and the table (to stop time).
  4. No points shall be earned for the performance of any Bludger.

Expiration of Time

If the whistle sounds prior to the completion of the three sequences, the dog should be directed to the table. The team will earn individual points for obstacles completed prior to the sounding of the whistle. When the dog touches the table, time will stop. No table performance is required.

The Golden Snitch

If a team successfully completes all three sequences, earns all three 25 point Beater bonuses, and touches the table prior to the 60 or 65-second whistle sounding, the team will earn the Golden Snitch bonus of 75 points.


Quidditch is scored Points, Then Time. The dog with the most points wins. In the case of a tie, the dog with the shortest time will be the winner.

A perfect score requires completion of all three sequences and successful performance of the Beater bonus. The scoring notation would look like this: 15-25-20-25-25-25-50-75.


• Games I: 55 points

• Games II: 75 points

• Games III: 95 points


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. Five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook are available on the web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.