Spacing Between Obstacles in the TDAA

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Welcoming New TDAA Judges

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Join me in congratulating to our recertifying judges and new judges after an intense TDAA Judges Clinic in Norman, Oklahoma, March 16-19, 2017.

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Cathy Jacobs ~ Floydada, TX (new)

Sara Brown ~ Norman, OK (new)

Lori Graham ~ Kerrville, TX (new)

Melissa Pugh ~ Chickasha, OK (new)

Carol Wyatt ~ McKinney, TX (new)

Deb Maicach ~ McKinney TX (new)

Debbie Vogel, Austin, TX (recert)

Emma Coombes ~ Georgetown, TX (new)

Regina Schmerfeld ~ Yukon, OK (recert)

Jeanette Bider ~ Norman, OK (new)

Kaye Kirk ~ Oklahoma City, OK (recert)

Lynn Foster ~ Temple, TX (recert)

William McGovern-Fagg ~ Norman, OK (new)

Lyn Johnson ~ Bartlesville, OK (recert)

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Carol Wyatt and her dog Deuce earned the TACh 2 at the trial in Norman. Presenting the TACh bar and ribbon for this accomplishment was newly certified (and barefoot) TDAA judge William McGovern-Fagg.

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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.

Designing for the Long Side

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Credit

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

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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.

Teacup National Agility Champions 2016

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The winners of each jump height in Petit Prix competition are accorded the TNAC title. This is a unique title in dog agility as it demands true championship. Each dog earns a weighted score over ten separate events. The winner of each jump height is the dog with the highest aggregate score. So the TNAC is certainly a measurement of consist high placement in each class.

We are pleased to present to you the four TNAC winners at the TDAA 2016 Petit Prix East:

4″ Division

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Presenting the winner of the 4″ Division ~ McCorkle, a Scottish Terrier handled by Melinda Mull.

8″ Division

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Presenting the winner of the 8″ Division, and high in trial at the 2016 TDAA Petit Prix ~ Nikki, a Jack Russell Terrier handled by Cindy Ponyah.

12″ Division

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Presenting the winner of the 12″ Division ~ Karoo, a Cavalier King Charles handled by Stephanie Stempfer.

16″ Division

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The winner of the 16″ Division was Skye, an Australian Shepherd handled by Vic Belebczuk.

Final Results

You can view the final results of the 2016 TDAA Petit Prix HERE.

Event Winners

We are proud to acknowledge the winners of each of the ten individual events at this Petit Prix competition. Winning one or more events certainly contributes to overall success in the Petit Prix, but is no guarantee of final placement. We would be remiss in overlooking these individual class champions.

Standard 1 ~ The first standard course of the tournament weekend was won by Nikki [8″ division], a Jack Russell Terrier handled by Cindy Ponyah. Nicki finished this course with zero faults in an adjusted time of 30.21 seconds.

Full House ~ This popular point accumulation game was won by Cosmo [12″ division], a Papillon handled by Sue Belebczuk. Cosmo finished with game with 61 points, in a time of 38.89 seconds.

Weakest Link ~ This game of strategy and distance skill was won by UNeeQ [8″ division], a Papillon handled by Cookie Nee. UNeeQ won with a score of 186 points, in a time of 64.20 seconds.

Standard 2 ~ The second standard course of the weekend was won by UNeeQ [8″ division], a Papillon handled by Cookie Nee. UNeeQ finished this course with zero faults in an adjusted time of 18.37 seconds.

Beat the Clock ~ This game of sequencing skill was won by UNeeQ [8″ division], a Papillon handled by Cookie Nee. UNeeQ finished the game with the cuckoo bonus, earning 13 points in a time of 37.65 seconds.

Gamblers ~ The winner of this traditional game of distance handling skill was Nikki [8″ division], a Jack Russell Terrier handled by Cindy Ponyah. Nikki finished the game with 81, and a successful gamble, in a time of 44.70 seconds.

Rekoons ~ This game of strategy and skill was won by Jasper [8″ division], a Chinese Crested handled by Susan Eienson. Jasper finished the game with 56 points in a time of 49.12 seconds.

Standard 3 ~ The final standard course of the weekend was won by Annabelle [8″ division], a Cavalier King Charles handled by Stephanie Stempfer. Annabelle finished the course with zero faults with an adjusted time of 26.81 seconds.

In & Out ~ This game of sequencing skill and strategy was won by McCorkle [4″ division], a Scottish Terrier handled by Melinda Mull. McCorkle earned 63 points in a time of 31.04 seconds.

Black Hole ~ The final game of the Petit Prix was won by McCorkle [4″ division], a Scottish Terrier handled by Melinda Mull. McCorkle blistered this wicked Black Hole challenge with zero faults in an adjusted time of 21.20 seconds.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference for learning the rules and strategies of the games played by agility dogs and their handlers.

TDAA 2016 Petit Prix East ~ Saturday Results

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Standard 2Standard 2

The second day of the Petit Prix featured four events: Three games and a single Standard run. Below you will find a link to the results for each of these events, followed by the combined results which show the total points accumulated by each dog.

Gamblers

The top scoring dog in the Gamblers class was Nikki, a Jack Russell Terrier handled by Cindy Ponyah. Nikki scored 81 points in a time of 44.70 seconds!

Beat the Clock

The top scoring dog in the Beat the Clock class was UNeeQ, a Papillon handled by Cookie Nee. UNeeQ scored 13 points (with the cuckoo!) in 37.65 seconds!

Rekoons

The top scoring dog in the Rekoons class was Jasper, a Chinese Crested handled by Susan Eisenson. Jasper scored 56 points in 49.12 seconds!

Standard 3

The top scoring dog in the final Standard class of the 2016 Petit Prix was Annabelle, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel handled by Stephanie Stempfer. Annabelle finished this course with zero faults with an adjusted time of 26.81 seconds!

 

Tournament Current Results

 

Friday Results

On the first day of the Petit Prix featured four events: Two standard rounds and two games. Below you will find a link to the results for each of these events.

Standard 1

The first Standard class of the 2016 Petit Prix was won by Nikki, a Jack Russell Terrier handled by Cindy Ponyah. Nikki finished this course with zero faults in an adjusted time of 30.21 seconds!

Full House

The top scoring dog in the Full House class was Cosmo, a Papillon handled by Sue Belebczuk. Cosmo scored 61 points in a time of 38.89 seconds!

Standard 2 ~ fixed link!

The top scoring dog in the second Standard class of the 2016 Petit Prix was won by UNeeQ, a Papillon handled by Cookie Nee. UNeeq finished this course with zero faults in an adjusted time of 18.37 seconds!

The Weakest Link

The top scoring dog in The Weakest Link class was UNeeQ, a Papillon handled by Cookie Nee. UNeeQ scored 186 points in 64.20 seconds!

 

Tournament Friday Results

 

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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 apart.

TDAA 2016 Petit Prix East ~ Day 1 Results

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On the first day of the Petit Prix we have run four events: Two standard rounds and two games. Below you will find a link to the results for each of these events, followed by the combined results which show the total points accumulated by each dog.

Standard 1

Full House

Standard 2

The Weakest Link

Tournament Current Results

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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 apart.

Games of the 2016 Petit Prix ~ Weakest Link

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The Weakest Link is a game invented by TDAA judge Tara Choate for a Teacup Dogs judging assignment. Tara is a member of Columbia Agility Team in Portland, Oregon.

Briefing

The objective of The Weakest Link is to score as many points as possible in the allotted time. Only “banked” points will count toward the final score. Small dogs have 60 seconds and big dogs will have 55 second to accumulate the best score possible.

The point values are:

  • Jumps, 2 points
  • Tire or tunnels, 4 points
  • Contact obstacles, 6 points
  • Weave poles, 8 points
  • Gamble earns double the usual value of the obstacles. The gamble is bi-directional.

Start the round by directing the dog to any obstacle to earn points. Each obstacle taken by the dog must be worth as much as or more than the previous obstacle taken. The dog’s potential score will increase as each obstacle value is added to the overall total. But the dog can’t keep or count on these points until they are “banked”.

Points are banked (on the sample course below) when the dog performs the green colored pipe tunnel in the center of the course. Banked points are kept secure toward the final score and cannot be lost and the potential points score is set to zero. After banking the dog may begin with a low value obstacle.

Each sequence banked must be unique. There must be at least one difference from any sequence previously banked.

Back-to-back performance of obstacles (and the gamble) is permitted, but only back-to-back. A third performance shall constitute a fault.

If a dog faults, all potential points are lost. Faults include:

  • Dropped bars
  • Missed contacts
  • Taking an obstacle of a lesser value than the previous taken
  • Repeating a banked sequence
  • Taking an obstacle out of sequence in the gamble (only faulted if the cumulative sequence violates the points rule)
  • Failing to bank points before the final whistle

When a dog faults the judge will call “fault”. The handler is obligated to direct the dog to the first obstacle in a new sequence to earn potential points.

If a bar is dropped on a jump, that jump is out of play for the remainder of the game except when that jump is in the gamble sequence. Every attempt will be made to reset the bar on a gamble sequence; if it has not been reset, the dog must be directed between the standards of the jump.

Scoring

Weakest link is scored points, then time. Time is a tiebreaker.

Course Design

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There are a variety of games which can be easily nested with a standard course, and the course designer might be tempted to do the same with the Weakest Link course. But this lazy approach should be approached with some caution. It might be a better approach (no less lazy, but a lot smarter), to nest the standard course based on the set of the well-crafted Weakest Link course.

The overriding design challenge is to provide flow in such a way it might be a real trick of handling to perform obstacle of ever increasing values. The design shouldn’t be obvious or a give-away. However, no obstacle should be left orphaned by meaningless placement or unrealistic risk.

One of design challenges is to provide a reasonable approach to the “bank” from the high value obstacles, including the distance challenge or gamble. This is more difficult than it might appear. A high value obstacle that has too much low value clutter and risk will end up being ignored by most players and thereby actually reduces the size of the floor and the number of strategies that might develop.

Another consideration is to provide some flexibility and variability in the approach to the distance challenge. By rule, each banked sequence must be unique, differing in some way from any previously banked sequence. And so, if the distance challenge has only one real approach, then it will play a diminished role in the game.

Frankly, the game should be about the distance challenge. For those with the requisite skill the strategy should be a study in how many times and how many ways the gamble can be successfully scored and banked.

Judging Notes

You will note that the list of faults does not include a fault for stepping over the containment line of the gamble. This is very important for the judge to understand. For the purpose of point accumulation the gamble (in the sample course) is considered a single 24 point obstacle. If the handler steps over that line all of the obstacles revert to their simple values and the rules of escalating point values will apply.

So, in the sample course if the handler comes out of the tunnel and does one jump on the way to the gamble, and at any time steps over the line, the judge would award the simple value of each obstacle. If, however, the handler approaches the gamble from the A-frame and then steps over the line, the dog will immediately be faulted for doing the first jump, because it is an obstacle of lower value than the last taken.

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. 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 apart.

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