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When I first started designing agility courses (circa 1997), my desire was to excel in the skill of agility course design and I continued to work hard at it over the last two decades. Course design has become a passion, as well as a labor of love as agility grows and evolves.
From the beginning, I made it my mission to incorporate an obstacle path that flowed for the dog. By flow, I mean the dog’s route when drawn on paper would include easy arcs at turns, rather than sharp zig-zags. I care deeply about the well-being of the dogs who run on my courses and this methodology has suited me well.
That is just one example on what I’ve learned in my course design career. Here are a few more.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Agility Courses
No Time to Spare – Each competition Master level course can take anywhere from 2 hours to 2+ days to design. Often times I’ll get nearly done with a course, only to scratch it from existence because it didn’t meet my personal standards of being dog-friendly as well as sufficiently challenging for the handler.
Sure, when it comes to training purposes, I can toss out some obstacles and numbers in about 30-minutes. However, there are going to be key requirements missing that are normally found on a competition course. It’s important to recognize those subtle, but important differences, can create an inequality between practice and competition.
The Basics – All competition level course design has some basics that must be incorporated into every course. For example, a Masters level course will have requirements like 18-20 obstacles, a certain number of winged jumps, at least 3 side switches, a minimum of 9 challenges, both a minimum and maximum spacing between obstacles/walls/start & finish line and dozens of other safety considerations that are designed with the dog in mind. When you find yourself designing a practice session, try to create a course with the same specifications as one found in competition. This can help create consistency in timing and use of cues between practice and a trial.
Course Design is Unique to Each Individual – Everyone brings a unique style to course design. Judges, trainers and even individuals setting up their own practice session. I consider myself a pro at designing courses and I still catch myself getting into a design rut by using a specific sequence more often than others. For trainers and individuals it’s incredibly important to seek outside material for practice and avoid inadvertently setting up lessons geared toward sequences or skill-sets that you’re already good at.
All Challenges are Fair, as Long as There is Space – Challenges on an agility course are a must and as a judge, I recognize that momentary glitches can happen fast on an agility course. More specifically, I know the chances of a recovery are less likely when an off-course option is 15′ away vs. 21′ away! Challenges are great building blocks to learn from, however I’m all for rewarding recovery on the run (which will hopefully lead to a Qualifying run for you) and so my personal rule is to strive for at least 18′ between obstacles. Hint: want to increase a training challenge, shorten up the space between obstacles or if you’d like to work distance, increase the space.
It’s Not About the Course. It’s About You & Yours – From the moment those course maps go out each morning at a competition, agility handlers everywhere begin their judgement about the courses they’re going to run on that day. They like it, they don’t like it. They like this section, but don’t care for that section.
Whatever a course may look like, an agility team’s success is NOT determined by the course given. Success in agility is 100% determined by the handling YOU do and the training put into YOUR dog. This is the You and Yours Formula. Hint: To practice this formula, treat each weekly training session as a mini-competition. Incorporate course maps, plan your handling strategy in less than 8-minutes (the average time of a course walk through in competition) and then run the course with the same effort as if it were a trial.
Train Like You Compete. Compete Like You Train.
Training on agility sequences and courses that mirror those found in competition is well-worth your time. The repetition and duplication can lead to an increase in handler timeliness, consistency and solidify cues.
If you’re creating your own agility practice designs, be sure to become familiar with competition course guidelines. Most agility organizations have these available online.
Another option is to use professional course designs found in my program Sequencing to Courses currently being offered for as little as $15 a month (intro pricing closes Feb 26th at midnight, price will never be this low again). For information go to: