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(Virtual) Trial Runs this Saturday(?)

December 1, 2011

Forecast looks great for this weekend – it may be cold early, but it should be a clear and sunny day. So, How about doing a NADAC Virtual Trial Run or two in the field at Hyline.

Without hauling lots of heavy equipment out there, we should be able to do jumpers and/or weavers and/or hoopers. I have a dozen of our own hoops out there already. We would need to bring some additional equipment out there to be NADAC compliant, but that should be doable. We’ll know by Friday morning if the existing course maps will be valid or replaced by new courses, so specifics about what we would need to bring out needs to wait a little.

WHAT members can run for free as this is one of our scheduled rentals of Hyline – we just move outside. If you want to submit a video for judging by NADAC, there is a $5 fee for that, but submitting for judging is optional. Non-members are welcome, but may need to pay a small fee.

I would really appreciate to hear from you all so I can plan what equipment to haul out there.

 

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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.

October 15 – pushes and leads

October 14, 2011

Take a break from watching the NADAC Championships (https://www.3pbn.tv/nadac/live/) and join us in the sunshine to practice some agility skills. The course this week emphasizes putting pressure on the dog’s path to bend off away from you or in some cases just to avoid bending in towards you.

Think about where the dog’s lead changes are. You need to manage the path to make those happen where you want them, or more appropriately, enabling your dog to decide to make them where they work best for the course. It is October in Northwest. Even if it is sunny, the ground is still wet from rains earlier this week. Because of that, I’ve designed the course such that the natural places for lead changes are on the flat, between jumps or on/in ground level obstacles (tunnels and hoops). Not counting the lead changes inside tunnels (which happen simply because the dog has to make them there irrespective of your input), how many lead changes are there on the course? Identify them in your walk through, then make sure your dog understands where the next obstacle will be, at least one obstacle distance ahead of time so he/she can make that lead change in the optimal location.

As always – practice what you want to work on – that is much more important than performing the entire course as designed…

Regular course Saturday Oct 1st

September 27, 2011

A course for Saturday. Seeing more boxes also in NADAC lately, so I put one in there. It is about open level in challenge, though I stuck with just six weave poles (cuts the wear on the dogs’ shoulders in half). On the other hand, the discrimination at #9 may be a bit beyond the open level. For those handling the course from a distance, the 11-12-13 sequence may be a challenge – turning a dog that is heading towards you around to head away from you is tough.

No Bars Down

September 16, 2011

This is more of a handling practice setup than an true course. I think we sometimes focus too much on completing a full course than on practicing particular skills. Still, for those who want to run it as a course, that option is there as well.

There is rain in the forecast for tomorrow, so for the sake of safety for the dogs, I’m using hoops instead of jumps. Actually, for practicing handling, hoops are better than jumps, because they force the handler to give much clearer directions than when using jumps. This is because there is no obstacle performance at the hoop, so the need to really manage the path on the ground is much greater. You have to manage 100% of the time, because while at a jump, you can catch a breather during the dog’s air time, not an option with hoops. Also, because most dogs run faster with hoops, the timing of cues becomes even more critical.

The setup does include the dog walk, and I have made the entry quite straight, again due to the rain forecast. If you don’t want to practice the dog walk, or if it appears too slippery, you may want to skip it. The AF on the right side is there to provide an opportunity to work that obstacle, but it isn’t included in the numbered sequence.

Main practice opportunities:
– tunnel/DW discrimination
– serpentines
– direction change
– distance handling (or alternatively, handler sprinting)

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.

Weavers Saturday Sept 3rd

September 2, 2011

After a long break, we’re back for agility practice. Hopefully, the fall will be drier than the first half of the year was, so we can get plenty of practice sessions before winter. For Saturday, I’ve designed a weavers course.

Weavers is another of the NADAC courses that has the same design for all levels, albeit that the number of poles in the weave sets are varied (Elite has 12 poles in two sets, where one set is executed twice. For open, the set that is executed twice is reduced to 6 poles, and in novice, both set of poles are reduced to 6 poles).

Note that I drew in a 15pt and 20pt line. Feel free to ignore them. The 15pt line may be a bit generous, but because of the way the course runs, it isn’t necessarily much easier to work the 15pt line than the 20pt line. You could place yourself close to the line between weaves #9 and tunnel #10, but then you may not have enough room to cue tunnel #12.

The course deserves an additional comment. You will not see a course with a start and finish on the same side of the ring at a trial. To get the trials moving smoothly, courses are designed to exit on the side opposite of the start. That way, the next to run dog can get into position before the currently running dog has finished. In our practice sessions that isn’t a consideration since we let each team own the course for a set amount of time, having only one team in the ring at any time.