a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Course Design

Friday, October 01, 2010

Course Design

SUMMARY: Masters versus Advanced versus Novice, notes from the clinic.
Related posts:

Jump angles

One thing that I had trouble grasping when designing courses was the angle of jumps to make them easier to take. Here's an example.

When getting from the table to the dogwalk over the intervening jump, I kept wanting to think of the dog's path as a smooth arc (dotted line), so therefore a jump at the height of that arc would be perpendicular to the line of the arc as shown in the first case above. I kept thinking that would be easier to do.

However, what one really needs to think about is how the obstacle is presented to the dog based on where the dog is coming from. If you look at the solid line showing the dog's approach, in fact you'll note that, in the first case, the dog is approaching at a very sharp angle, which makes it harder for the dog to see and harder for the dog to figure out how to jump it. This makes refusals and runouts (the dog runs past the plane of the jump) and even knocked bars much more likely.

Whereas, in the second case above, the dog clearly sees the jump face on, and the arc of the path doesn't really change much at all, so the approach to the dogwalk remains about the same.

Course design methods

So: How does one get started building a course? Some of the methods mentioned:
  • Start with a scenario that you want to include and then build around it.
  • Start with the obstacles that you need to get to (contacts, weaves, table), rearrange roughly for good access, and build around that.
  • Draw a squiggly, crossing line (appropriate for the class level) and drop obstacles onto the path.
  • Toss all the obstacles onto the course randomly and then rearrange until they turn into a course.

Course design considerations

Then you have to figure out your judging path (how can you get to where you need to be without taking your eye off the dog or running into anything) and the appropriate issues for the level.

Those issues were actually pretty simple. For starters, only one or two side changes and they should be fairly simple. Some off course opportunities that are peripheral, not directly on the dog's path. And flowing.

For Advanced, more side changes, and off-course opportunities that are on the dog's path (that is, if he goes straight or fairly straight from where he last was and is following with the handler). And flowing.

For Masters, same as advanced, with added potential for refusals and runouts. And, as noted in the example above, you can do that often just by changing the angle of some jumps on the course. And flowing!

They're trying to promoting fairly fast, flowing, courses, not with a lot of herky-jerky. Sure, you'll see herky-jerky courses, but they'd really like the dog to be excited and moving quickly through the course.

And, at all levels--this is key: Design for the dog who is properly prepared for *entering* that level, NOT for the "top ten dogs".

One also mustn't forget, though: They should be courses that YOU would like to run, too!

My course designs

Here you go, team: My very first-ever course designs!

I started by scrawling a curving, overlapping line on the paper, putting obstacles at the crosses that could be taken in multiple directions, placing the judgeable objects at appropriate places, and then tweaking things around until it looked kind of like a course.

We were limited to having only one tunnel and only 8 winged jumps, which had to be used to make the required spread jump as well. Here's my masters course.

I had trouble with the location of the #15 obstacle because I had to get from watching the weaves to watching the up contact on the dogwalk to the down contact, and #15 was in my path. I had fixated on keeping that 13-14-15-16 "loop" in my course because there was a loop in the original line I had drawn. Well--doh--the voices of experience showed that I could get rid of the #15, change the angle of the other jump, and not appreciably change the flow of the course.

Also, the position of the tire wasn't ideal for a safe execution, so we switched it to be #1.

The instructors particularly liked the 6-7-8-9 sequence for a masters course--can take it smoothly but at the same time it presents refusal and runout opportunities.

It was surprisingly easy to change this into an Advanced course simply by changing the angle of some jumps and a slight rearrangement of the chute. (I still got a correction to a jump angle--shown in red--still figuring that out.)

Now, I'm not saying that these are great courses or that I'd actually use them, but they turned out better than I had thought I could possibly do in about 2 hours in my first attempt.

(The second night, I started and discarded several Advanced courses before coming up with one I just sort of liked, and then it was agonizing changing it to Starters--I went through about 6 designs before finally getting one, and that was with last-minute help from the instructor, too.)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I was intimidated going mentally through the Masters Standard. Of course I've never run ANY agility course, but I could see disaster looming for Katie and me (as Novices I admit) going through the 5,6,6, & 8 part. So it was interesting that your instructor liked that part! LOL!

    I'm so far behind in reading...guess you're taking a design/judging class? I'll read on.