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The judges have the last word...

Handlers get the chance before the contest to 'Walk the Course' before they run it. So why shouldn't judges have the opportunity to 'Talk the Course' afterwards to  explain and, if necessary, justify the rationale behind it. If we all understood the judges' thinking more, maybe we'd get the courses we yearn for.

If you are a judge and would like to submit one of your courses for analysis,
email it to Agilitynet with an explanation and plan.

Judge: Martin Gill
Show: Trent Park  4 September 2005
: Intermediate Jumping Part II

Martin Gill's Intermediate jumping course, Trent Park Sept 2005The course - objectives: It's easy to assume that for the most part your dog will expect to jump the next obstacle as it approaches it. And as we all know, trying to pull a dog off an obstacle once it has focused on it can test the patience of a saint. I decided to test the saint’s patience to the limits with this course. There were five occasions on this course when the next obstacle to be attempted was not the next physical object. In other words, you had to work your dog past one obstacle to get to the one you did want. And I designed the course in such a way that the speed of the dog should, for the most part, carry it past the obstacle you did NOT want. As ever you cannot please everyone and the vociferous few wasted no time in telling me what they thought of my course. Those who were more kindly disposed towards it were quieter and generally very complimentary. Whichever side of the divide you were on, it became a bit of a talking point.

The Course:
This was a fairly long course as I had deliberately left plenty of room between the obstacles for spins, twirls and active handling. It started easily enough over a jump with a sharp right and back into a full set of weaves, followed by a jump offset to the right, leading to a sweeping turn to the left. Obstacle 4 (jump) was the first of a straight line; jump, jump, wishing well. The jump over the wishing well (6) launched the dog towards jump 16 but more importantly, took them at speed past jump 10 and onto jump 7. Jump 7 was followed by a sharp left turn and diagonal run between jumps 10 & 11 to find 8. The right turn that followed and the run past 11 worked well. The jump over 9 took the dog towards jump 7 and there were many late calls here to call the dog off. Jump 10 was, really, just the other side of a box; it was 7 that made it difficult. Depending on where you and your dog were, jump 10 could be followed by a run around either wing to 11. There was a choice next—either to pull your dog between 8 and 11 and run it across the face of 8, or to run between 8 and 11 and block off 8. The second option led to a straight line 12, 13 and 14 or jump, cloth tunnel, rigid tunnel. This was followed by a wall, which launched the dog past 17, to a left turn over 16, being careful not to jump 18 which was set as a deliberate trap. So left over 16 and back and left over 17 with 18, 19 and 20 (jump, long jump and tyre) as a gentle curving finish.

How to run it:
For my money, this was a course where you had to lead your dog, there were too many choices to allow your dog to get in front. And to make your life easier, you really needed a right weave (not essential but it helped). With a right weave, you could push your dog out over 3 and head off for 6, while your dog turns and jumps 4 & 5 to catch up with you, but you still need to watch them. The nature of 6 (the wishing well) is that dogs launch over it and it becomes a high, long jump. So whilst the dog is landing between 10 & 16 you should be able to move towards 7 but stay between 10 & 11. The moment the dogs legs are over 7, you should turn and head off back between 10 & 11 picking you dog up on your left and turn them right over 8. my instinct would be to run through the gap 8-11 and block off 11, but you can do it from either side. As the dog turns right again over 9 you should head off for the gap between 10 & 6 from where it is quite an easy scoop through the gap 6 & 10 and steer over 11. The point of this sequence is timing. You cannot afford to wait for your dog at 7 or 9, you need to be moving to your next position while the dog is still in flight. Because most dogs have found this sequence quite exciting they are moving quite fast and take 11 at speed so it is an easy matter to push them around the back of 8 and over 12, for the straight sequence. Some handlers made a pull through between 8 & 11 which seemed to break the forward momentum of the dog and left 8 very exposed for an elimination. It also broke up the straight line to 14. Because both the handler and the equipment were to the left of the tunnels the gaping mouth of the rigid tunnel (14) was not the attraction that many handlers thought it should be. You needed to work the dog between 13 and 14. The wall 15, following the rigid tunnel again launched dogs on their way to18 which was a trap as it was 16 you wanted next. The handler needed to get deep in the gap between 16 & 17 watching and calling your dog. Using plenty of shoulder, turn your dog left and left again over 17, left again over 18 and long jump, tyre to finish. There is nowhere to relax on this course and you need to “nag” your dog constantly.

How it ran:
Despite the high number of handlers and dogs that got the big 'E', I thought the course actually ran quite well. The trickiest part of the course was obstacles 6-11 and all the handlers knew it and consequently worked it hard, with varying degrees of success. Most partnerships dealt with obstacles 1-6 with little problem, though one or two dogs did unexpectedly make a beeline directly to the weaves and one or two  went under jump 1. A few dogs flattened over jump 4 in an attempt to catch up with their handlers. The straight sequence, 12, 13 and 14 - jump, cloth tunnel, rigid tunnel - caused a lot of problems. A lot of handlers assumed that their “tunnel mad” collie would just “do” both tunnels. While the dog was in the open between 13 and 14, a lot of handlers were busy turning left to take up a stance on the wall 15, and their dogs just came with them. All the equipment, all the exciting things and the handler were on the dog's left, of course they pulled off left. The wall 15, past jump 17 to jump 16 caused a lot of problems, as jump 18 was set as a deliberate trap and a lot of dogs took advantage of it and a few jumped over 17. 17 to 20 caused no problems. A lot of what followed 6-11 looked simple enough (jump 18 excepted as a trap) and the handlers relaxed a little and therein was the error.

Judge: Martin Tait
Show: Dordale May 2005
Class: Intermediate Agility

Judging Intermediate or setting a course for Intermediate is always a challenge. I try to make the course interesting and a challenge without over stressing the youngsters in the class. I always try to remember that there could be dogs at their first show in an Intermediate class and all intermediate really is, is an open without starter dogs.

The course - objectives: I want to try to give the slightly slower dogs a level competing field, not by setting fast traps but by putting areas of control to allow handlers to get the best turns and thereby save time. The start is designed to put all dogs and handlers level. The no wait start on this course will mean everyone is in the same boat!

Numbers 3,4 & 5 - This nice straight should get the dogs warmed up and accelerating, now the first control turn, 180 degrees back down the line and the first contact. Handler will have dog on left and I will be other side of contact, nice clear view. Another 180 turn and coming of the contact is likely to get handlers to pull dogs off  (5 faults?) Course opens up again until 11,12 where once again controlled turn will make all the difference on the clock.

13 the second contact unlucky for some? The handlers will probably now be working the dog on the right again putting them on the opposite side to me for another clear view. Now the course opens up, a simple anticlockwise circle the subtle layout of the jumps will probably catch a few handlers out and cause eliminations!! The type when you walk out the ring and fifty people pounce on you and say “it was your fault you sent your dog over the wrong jump” or even worse “ you would have won that if you had not done that” still only time will tell. The last contact, again with the handler on the far side to me. Now just get to that last jump and it’s all over.

After the event: The course seemed to run nicely; those handlers with fast dogs were able to take short cuts whilst with slightly slower dogs the handlers could make nice neat turns. The first turn, tunnel to weaves, caught out a few with some dogs soaring over the far jump but some turning too tight and missing the weave entry. Putting the wishing well in as number 19 deterred dogs from being drawn to it as they went through 14 and 15 but did seem to cause a few problems for the young dogs coming off the dogwalk onto it.

The combination of jumps 10-12 caused more problems than I anticipated mainly through handlers mis-timing the call from 11 to 12 and then pushing too hard and sending the dogs over the back of no. 10. The start caused the most problems with a multitude of dogs going 1-3, mainly caused by handlers leaving the start with the dog on their left trying to push the dog back rather than walking between 1-2 and pulling the dog around them in a clockwise direction which also had the added bonus of bringing the dog around the 2nd obstacle in a neat line for jump 3.

The course will not have suited everyone but most people seemed to enjoy it; and finally congrats to Ian Smith, winner of Part 1 in 29.33 and Shelley Stevens, winner of part 2 in 29.01.

Judge: Sam Butchart
Show: Northern Agility Week 2004
Class: Championship

Objectives: When I set up any course I always look for hidden dangers, such as uneven surfaces, faulty equipment, worn turf etc. The last thing I would want is any dog to harm itself trying to scramble round a muddy bend or fall down a rut in the ground.

Due to the weather conditions, I had decided to peg down all my wings the night before. Thank goodness I did as it was kind of windy on the day. One poor dog actually got caught up on one of the wings with its tail. The handler was so fast to react making sure her dog was okay I applause her swiftness. Just to make the records straight, I did not allow a re-run for this handler as it was the dog that hit the wing rather than the other way around.

Championship Jumping
On setting the jumping course I expected all the handlers to have a little difficulty with the constant changing direction. I was wrong; most of them made it look easy. I had set the course in a way that I could watch both handler and dog, and see how both coped with what I thought was a pretty demanding jump course.

Most handlers that did get eliminated in the jumping, in my opinion just lost concentration for the blink of an eye, and  this did not reflect the work that they had put in for the rest of the course.

I did put quite a tight time on the jumping part but had to extend it due to the weather and ground conditions.

The Run: Best run was Ian Dobison very controlled and equally very fast though both really worked as a team. Second best run in my opinion was Charlie Wyatt; he really made the course look simple. Another very fine run was the first dog and handler -Wendy Wright what a run just!! To be beat by the second last fence. Such hard lines though I am sure we have not seen the last of this team.

Championship Agility
The Agility section I had to move around quite a bit from my previous design again due to the weather and ground conditions. This is the great thing about our weather, we can, and often have to change courses around to suit the conditions thus making the courses as individual as the handlers.

I did extend the time on the agility section as I did not want the dogs or handlers under any pressure to try and get more speed out of a ground that did not warrant speed.

The Run: Yes, you guessed it most of the handlers got round my Agility course faster than they did on the jumping section. Is this due to initial nervousness?

Again I opted for a course that would allow me to watch the dog and handler and yet again most of the handlers made it look like a Starter’s course. The agility round was won by Peter Jennings who never seems to be far away from his dog at any time so congratulations Peter.

Final Course
The final run was set up again with the state of the ground in mind and a very generous time was set here. I must admit I thought the qualifying round of agility and jumping was slightly more difficult than the final course. The Final was won by Brian Aughty a lovely run even though he did get slightly bogged down a bit in the tunnel.

The Run: Overall I thought that the handling skills of the Advanced handlers, a joy to watch and the quickness of their dogs to respond to whatever the handler said or actioned was very inspiring. I thoroughly enjoyed my day and I thank all who entered and entertained me.

The Mini handlers made my jumping course much easier than was intended. The fact that the mini dogs had an extra pace or two between obstacles made all the difference to them.

Though I think the extra spacing between the obstacles was the actual downfall of the mini dogs in the agility section, they had a lot of room to go wrong and a lot did. Unfortunately this was reflected in the final as no one went clear. So no Mini champs at The Northern Week this year.

Again even though no one went clear in the final I was quite pleased to see that the Mini handlers were all still cheering and praising each other. Well done folks. And thank you for entering my first championship judging appointment.


Judge: Sam Butchart
Show: Northern Agility Week 2004
Starters Agility

Now if I may I would like to add my thoughts regarding the other class I judged on Monday. Yes, it was Starters Agility.

The Course: As you can see from the course it is not that much different from the Champ final, but I did change some of the numbers round. And gave an extra five seconds to the time.

I made the Starter course with minimum changes and lots of room for both handler and dog to be corrected if needed. I did give a pull through between 9 and 10 but I thought it was wide enough and most handlers got it okay, a change of handling side after the See Saw and  possibly again at the A-frame and everything seemed smooth. This was not a very fast course but it was won by a very fast and accurate dog. I know it was a long way round for some of us older handlers but come on, it let’s you know that your heart is still working lol and you get longer on the course for your entry fee.

The Run: I have to admit I really enjoy watching the Starter handlers working their dogs. The enthusiasm and joy on the faces is very uplifting.

Again I would like to thank all the Starter handlers for putting up with the remarks from my scribe (she is a cheeky, female dog lol), and for giving back as good as you took. I give you all my thanks

Judge: Martin Gill
Show: Longleat 2004 (Chippenham)
Date: Saturday 11th September 2004
Class: Novice Jumping (Part 1)

Objectives: As with all Novice classes (at the moment), there are two main objectives to designing the class. 

  1. It should not be too daunting and full of traps, so that the new competitors are completely scared off by it and

  2. It should be interesting enough, that the more competent handlers and dogs have to do some 'work.'

The Course: I deliberately set out to produce a fairly long course and it rolled out at about 450 feet in the end. This was not going to be a sub 20 second course. I put the main control sequence right at the start of the course, beginning, somewhat contentiously, with a three jump snake line, followed by a right turn to take you back over jump number 2.

(4). Jumps 4,5 and 6 were effectively a straight line followed by another right turn to jump 7 which was set two jump widths away, which allowed for a very wide and easy pull through to the weaves (8).  12 weaves and a shallow left turn over jump 9, (and the start of the speed section), left again into the cloth tunnel, shallow left over 11, left again over 12 and left again over 13. Bear right into another straight line sequence, over 14,15 and 16 the rigid tunnel. And a final easy control sequence, a left going 3 jump fan, with a long jump to finish.

The Run:  I have to confess to being disappointed with the way the course ran. I ran two of my dogs around it twice and achieved 3/4 clear, but on the day only 15 dogs managed a clear round - a much too low success rate for any class. The opening control sequence was, for the most part, run well and handled well. The odd dog turned wide after 6 and went through the weaves and a few knocked out jump 2. But far and away the biggest fault was jump 12, dog after dog took it out. And almost nobody went wrong after jump 13. On the credit side, every dog that took out any of the three jumps that were jumped twice, went between the wings on the second approach. Very few dogs were given the big E for taking the wrong course, most eliminations being a result of repeated weave attempts, or continuing without completing the weave.  The weaves and jump 12 were the course nemesis.

Final comments:  I still think there was very little wrong with the course. I was surprised that two Senior/Advanced handlers expressed the opinion that it was a 'bit tricky.' Several people I talked to subsequently told me how much they enjoyed it even though they had picked up faults. I believe that the problem with jump 12 was simply that the dogs were going too fast and flattening out, and that the handlers were allowing their dogs to run, but not working them. The weaves came down to lack of experience. The other problem was the course time. A friend ran one of my dogs to get a time, and I added five seconds to that to set the time, I did not realise that my dog had just run the winning time!  A time of 40 seconds rather than 35 would have been better.

Novice Jumping (Part 1)

BanditJudge: Simon Green
Show: Granite City
Class: Novice Agility

First a little bit about myself. I have been doing Agility for four years and competing for just three seasons, thus relatively speaking I am an agility newcomer. Granite City was my second judging appointment and my first agility course. I run one dog, an Australian Cattle Dog X.

Objectives: I often gripe about the number of Novice courses that don’t really require much handling thereby primarily catering for the fast collies and discriminating against the ABC dogs. It seems to me that many judges forget that this sport is comprised of two components speed and agility. Although the best pair on the day will win, if the course is a flyer this will virtually always be a collie. If the course is more intricate, it pretty much evens it out for all the dogs. Therefore, I wanted to design a relatively flowing course but one that required the dog and handler to be working together without making it impossible.

The Course: I should say is that I am a firm believer in www, not the world-wide-web but Wells and Walls are Wonderful. It really frustrates me that most agility equipment suppliers do not provide wells and walls because course after course of jumps is not very inspiring especially since the tyre is being used less and less these days. At every possible opportunity, therefore, I will put a well or wall in one of my courses, so better get training in Scotland, since I already have several appointments for next year.

Novice Agility

Judge: Martin Gill
Show: BATS
Class: Intermediate Helter Skelter

Objectives: Intermediate dogs and above seldom get offered a fun class, and when it is offered, it is usually not a lot of fun.  The temptation is to make the higher classes "work" for their trophies. I determined that my BATS Intermediate Helter Skelter would be fast, fun and furious. But, of course, you cannot please everyone and some thought it was a dreadful course. I would have liked to run it.

Intermediate Helter Skelter


The Course

First circle - The course began simply enough over a jump and into a tunnel, but you were faced with the entrance to three tunnels; the middle tunnel (cloth) was your target. The course then followed a natural curve to the right over two jumps, a spread  jump and a sweeping turn onto the long jump. This brought you back to the start of the...

Second circle - The entrances to the three tunnels were now on your right. Your target was the furthest away and you had to get your dog past the first two. Exit from the tunnel led to a weave entry. This was placed offset to the left and set the minimum distance from the tunnel, which tends to be the more difficult entry. Having done the spread/long jump/tunnel combination the dog was now travelling at high speed, so the tricky weave entry brought control back onto the course. Three jumps now curved off to the right bringing you back to the spread/long jump combination, ready to start the...

Third circle - On this circuit you did not begin with a tunnel. You had to get your dog past all three tunnel entrances on your right and and the 'start' jump on your left to take jump No. 14.  A little control was needed to straighten the dog for the tyre and then a fairly straight forward run to the finish, swinging right over two more jumps. A little bit more control was needed now to pull your dog off from jump 10 and sufficient  'push' to stop it back jumping jump No.3. And finally, tunnel/jump to finish.

The Run: This was a course you had to run. You could not be lazy on it. Circle 1 offered little challenge and was a wind up circle, though we did lose a few dogs up the wrong tunnel. Circle 2 introduced the control sequence - tunnel-weave - and predictably caught a number of people out. Circle 3 saw a good number of dogs jumping out over the final jump or taking a tunnel as there was a longish run from the long jump to jump No.14.

Final Thoughts: The course ran almost as I expected, and was great fun to judge. The queue of waiting handlers also seemed to enjoy it and certainly there was a chorus of oohs, aahs, groans and laughs as dogs and handlers negotiated (or not) the tunnel entrances. I don't recall such a vocal queue ever before, whether I was judging or competing, so I am confident that the 'fun' bit was correct.

And it was certainly fast. The set course time was 35 seconds for an approximately 500 foot long course but the winning time was less than 27 seconds. As to 'furious,' some of the handlers definitely were! Approximately 70 dog and handler combinations managed clear rounds, so I reckon I got it about right.

I was surprised by the number of dogs that back jumped No.3 after jump No.18. I had not seen that as a problem, but it did bring additional humour onto the course, as due to a stiff breeze the cloth tunnel was inflated, so those dogs that back jumped No.3, then ran the wrong way down the cloth tunnel - and that does not happen too often.

Thank you to Martin Gill for the idea for this page for starting the balling rolling with this course he set at BATS.


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