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A NADAC Course Builder’s Primer

November 14, 2011

Revision 1

NADAC IS different

In many venues, the course builder is to set each obstacle in the precise location and orientation indicated on the course map. NADAC, however, expects a little bit more of its course builders.  Here, the course builder sets the course with great attention to inter-relationships between the obstacles on the course. Considerations of factors such as inter-obstacle spacing along the dogs’ natural path, angles of approach and departure, and obstacle orientation  are more significant than precise obstacle coordinates. Consequently, NADAC course maps do not show the obstacle coordinates, and the course, as built, may sometimes deviate in some aspect from the course map. It is important to note here that this does not suggest some form of poetic license for the course builder to customize, or improve upon the course. Instead, it should be viewed as a freedom to build the best implementation of the designed course, fairly representing all the characteristics of the original course design.

I frequently hear the comment that: “Why isn’t the course map drawn with all these considerations already applied?”. The answer to that is multifold. Firstly, although the NADAC course designers do an outstanding job designing the courses, it is extremely difficult to fully visualize all aspects of a course based just on a flat drawing. Short of performing a full test build of a course, tweaking it and then updating the course map, the map will not be perfect. Also, the course designers know that the courses will be competently built and tweaked – our judges and many other course builders are outstandingly good at this, so a level of trust that the courses will be tweaked very well is justified. In addition, there may be environmental conditions at the trial site that call for specific adjustments. For instance, if the footing is a bit slippery due to wet grass, approach and departure angles to some obstacles may need to be adjusted for the sake of safety.

At a traditional trial, the judge will tweak the course as built by the course builder. Thus, even if the builder simply made the course as a direct duplication of the map, we can be comfortable that after tweaking by the judge, it will be set very well. However, this tweaking will be significantly quicker if the course is set with all the considerations mentioned above already accounted for. This will reduce the delay between classes, which is highly desireable in just about every trial. The skill of the course builder takes on an order of magnitude greater significance with the recently introduced Video Trials because then there may not be any NADAC judge present to tweak the course.

An Example Build

In the following, I present an example of how a course builder might go about setting a NADAC course. I’m certain that there are alternative steps a course builder might take to achieve the same result, but I’m also confident that most experienced course builders would follow an approach that is quite similar to the one described below. In my example, I’m using a course that was designed for a Whatcom Agility Team (“WHAT”) practice session. In trials, courses are always designed with significant lateral distance between the start and finish to allow the next team to enter the ring before the current team has finished its run. WHAT practice sessions are always conducted with just one dog inside the fully fenced ring. Thus, for practice, we have lifted the start/finish separation restriction. You may find it helpful to print out the map so you can view it while following the build steps below. To do that, right-click on the map and open the image in a new window that you then print.


Identify the Anchor Obstacle

The first step in setting a course is to identify one obstacle to be the “anchor obstacle” 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 one obstacle that is the most difficult to move. This is not always one of the big heavy contact obstacles. An obstacle that is performed multiple times in different directions and approached from different obstacles is nearly impossible to tweak after the course has been set. This is because any adjustment of that obstacle will change the distances and /or approach angles of several obstacles, generally in a way that forces extensive tweaking of a large portion of the course. So, in the case of the weavers course in this example, 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.

Build the sequences leading to / from the anchor

Next, we choose to set the obstacles that either lead up to, or continue from, the anchor obstacle. In this example, building the path from #12 to the finish #15 is a good choice. It is a fairly straight forward path and it is constrained on the left side. In NADAC, obstacles are spaced 7 yards apart unless otherwise clearly indicated on the course map. The distance is measured along the dog’s natural path. In determining the natural path, take into consideration where the dog is coming from, flow and also that part of the distance where the dog is in the air over a jump, which affects the path. To set #13, aim about 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 orientation 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.

Defer (sub) sequences that can easily be adjusted later

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 downwards, 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, orienting the poles such that they point slightly below the finish hoop (#15), or about 30 degrees.

Link the deferred sequences

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 #4/12. 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 too 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.

Finish up any remaining sequences

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 oriented (angled) in such a way that when the dog exits #5, it sees the entrance side of #6 while also being oriented 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.

Preliminary Tweak

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. After the tweaking is completed (by the judge if in a traditional trial), lock down tunnels. When doing that, do not place tunnel bags in the curved part of tunnels. Similarly, current policy is to not bolt down weave pole bases. These are both dog safety issues (it is also less painful for a handler to run into poles if they aren’t bolted down).

Number the course

Once the course is tweaked, or close to it, the number cones should be placed. Recent instructions have been to place the cones square with the obstacles. What that means is that the number should be readable from a point directly in front of the obstacle. Place the number cones for weave poles where they don’t interfere with a reasonable path for the dog, nor for the handler. Often, the number cones for weave poles are removed before the course is run. Also, when placing numbers at contacts, place them such that they don’t become a prominent target for the small dogs. Pay attention to obstacle discrimination points to place the cones such that it is clear which obstacle is the intended one.

Additional Considerations

Many course builders and judges prefer to defer placing the jump standards until tweaking has been completed. It is much easier to move bars around on the ground than moving the entire jumps, and many builders / judges also find it easier to get a good visual image of the course without the standards. In a traditional trial setting, it is wise to check with the judge whether or not (s)he prefers to wait with the standards until tweaking is finished.

When the jumps lack a cross-bar at the bottom of the jump, i.e. when the two standards of a jump are not connected with each other, an extra jump bar should be placed at the very bottom (typically the 4″) jump cup. This extra bar is never moved up. It isn’t a jump bar, it is an erzats jump standard cross bar. For all other types of jumps, only one bar is used.

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