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How to set a NADAC course, a primer

September 2, 2011

NADAC is different from most other venues in that the course builder is expected to set the course with attention to the dog path (distance, approach angles, entry visibility, and flow), even when that means diverging from the exact locations on the course map. For this reason, you don’t see NADAC course maps with obstacle coordinates. So, why aren’t the course maps initially made with all that already taken care of in the design? The answer to that is that it is very hard to really see all aspects of the design in paper form. There are other factors as well, such as taking the footing into account when setting the course. For instance, if the course is set on grass that is wet from rain or dew, approach angles to obstacles may need to be adjusted to reduce the risk of injuries.

Let’s use the course map for Sept 3rd (below) as an example.

The first step in setting a course is to identify one obstacle to be the “anchor point” for the course, and then the other obstacles are placed relative to that successively following the dog path. Choosing a good anchor point is essential. You want to select the obstacle that is most difficult to move. While that may be something like the dog walk or A-frame, that isn’t always the case. An obstacle that is performed multiple times is nearly impossible to tweak after the course has been set. This is because any adjustment of the obstacle will change the distances and/or approach angles of several obstacles, generally in a way that forces extensive tweaking of a large number of obstacles. So, in the case of the weavers course above, we start with placing the #4/7/12 tunnel at the top of the course. When we do that, we tend to place it true to the map. For me, that is the only time I refer to the grid on the map, because that one obstacle will guide (directly or indirectly) the rest of the course build.

Next, we choose to set the obstacles that either lead up to, or continue from, the anchor obstacle. In this case, building the path from #12 to the finish #15 is a good choice, since it is a fairly straight forward path and it is constrained on the left side. To set #13, we aim 45 degrees down from the tunnel exit and pace out 7 yards along a smooth path, and then place the hoop roughly angled as on the map (we’ll return to tweak the angle of that hoop later when we set hoop #6). From #13, we aim towards a point at the left edge of the ring, about 20 yards away from our position, and pace out 7 yards, from which point we place the weave poles in a way that aims towards our imaginary point on the edge of the ring. Next, we set the finish hoop by pacing 7 yards from the weave pole exit towards a point slightly in from the edge of the ring.

Analyzing the course map, we see that #10 and #11 are fairly independent on the course, because they are only executed once and they can be tweaked quite easily as there is some room available around them. For this reason, we will wait with setting these obstacles until we are almost done. Instead, we choose to build the path that goes from tunnel #7  via tunnel #8 to the weave poles #9. We aim slightly down, about 20-25 degrees from the exit of tunnel #7 and place the entrance of tunnel #8 7 yards away. With the entrance held in position, we shape it in a smooth curve such that the exit points straight down. Then pacing 7 yards in a slight, smooth curve, we place the entry of weave poles #9, pointing slightly below the finish hoop (#15), or about 30 degrees. Once the #9 poles are set, we can use tunnel #10 and hoop #11 to link the weave poles to the #12 tunnel. We aim from the exit of the weave poles slightly upwards. We can use the middle of the #14 poles as an initial point to aim towards, and place the tunnel entrance at the 7 yard point of that path. With the entrance temporarily locked at that position, shape the tunnel into a smooth curve that points its exit towards the entrance of #4. Do not lock down the #10 tunnel yet – it is likely that we will need to tweak it later. Now, following a slight curve that aims to a point about in the middle between tunnel #8 and tunnel #12, pace out 7 yards and place hoop #11. Verify that we have a 7 yard distance on the path from hoop #11 to tunnel #12. If too long or short, move hoop #11 accordingly, and then move the exit of tunnel #10 such that we retain a 7 yard path between #10 and #11.

Almost done with the initial placement, but a couple of obstacles to go. We need to place hoop #6, and we do that by pacing out 7 yards from tunnel #7, roughly parallel to the top of the ring, and aim the hoop as shown on the map. Next, we verify that a smooth path from #5 to #6 comes to 7 yards. To tweak that if too long or too short, we move #6 closer too/ further away from #5 wile keeping the distance to #7 constant at 7 yards. Next, we make sure that hoops #5 and #6 are angled in such a way that when the dog exits #5, it sees the entrance side of #6 while also being angled reasonably with respect to tunnel #7 and that when the dog exits #13, it has a good path towards #14.

Finally, we place tunnel #1. This is simple to do, because its placement is entirely controlled by the #2 weave poles, which already are set. So, we pace 7 yards roughly straight on from the weave poles and place the tunnel exit at that point. Next, with the exit held in position, we stretch it out straight towards the #15 hoop, then bend the tunnel such that it in a smooth curve allows the dog to be placed looking straight into the tunnel without interference from the #15 hoop.  Note –  this is a practice course. An actual NADAC trial course would not have start and finish on the same side since we want to be able to bring in the next team before the current team has finished without distracting or interfering with the finishing team. Our practice sessions never have more than one team in the ring at a time, so it isn’t a problem to have start and finish close to each other.

At this point, the initial set of the course is completed. Next follows a walk along the dog path, verifying distances, flow, approach angles, and visibility of obstacle entrances. Tweaking follows much the same principles as the initial set – avoid moving the anchor obstacle and solve the problem by moving as few obstacles as possible. Course tweaking will be the subject of a subsequent post.

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