Every so often on Facebook I see threads where one person posts an agility course they just ran and cries how “unfair” courses are getting today.WAO 2014

The thread often goes on to question the sanity of the judge who designed the course, before deciding that those challenges are either stupid, unsafe, unfair or all of the above.

Here is the thing…

All courses can be “unfair” if you and your dog are not prepared. Take someone who has never run agility before, even better what if they have never seen agility before. Give them a trained agility dog and have them run a novice course.

Even though it is a novice course, which would present very little challenge to most of us experienced with agility, and even though the dog is trained…it would be difficult to watch…it would likely be a bit of a train wreck. If you didn’t know the background of the dog or handler you may decide either;

1. That dog is reckless …he seems to want to go anywhere except the correct obstacle.


2. That course is unsafe, why would a judge put up a course that doesn’t have flow?

 When the truth really is; that team is unprepared.2014 EO Swag Susan action1

Think back to your time as a novice…how many times did your dog land on his shoulder because you surprised him with a sudden turn that he wasn’t expecting. It is preparation (or lack thereof) that makes a course unsafe… more so than the design.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that we just shouldn’t see; unsafe approaches to A Frames or tires, backsides on wingless jumps, tight turns out of a closed tunnel… to name a few. But most courses, if you are prepared, do have “flow.”

Take a look at this Masters Challenge course I ran at a USDAA regional this summer. People were not happy walking this course…even less so running it. Getting the dog from 6 – 7 was the biggest complaint. In the 22″ and 26″ class less than 20% of the dogs qualified. Many of the runs were “ugly” to watch as people heeled their dogs around 4 to try to get to 7 which left them out of position for 8 – 9 -10. Swagger and Feature were fast and smooth on their way to winning their height divisions. It was a fun course to run…thank you judge Lynn Sigman :).usdaa ri

Sometimes a small tweak can make all the difference in the world. It may be difficult to tell with the videoing of this course but Swagger drove from 6 -7 without question. He knew, without a doubt, that jump 4 was not to be considered.  The difference was my confidence in my verbal cue which told my dogs “come into reinforcement zone (my side) and don’t take any obstacles until further notice”. It happens so fast you really shouldn’t see a hiccup in my dog’s action. It is like jump #4 is not even there. That is when a course looks smooth and easy rather than  “unsafe” or “unfair.”

Some of you may be reading this may think “I don’t want agility to get this technical, I don’t want to be an international handler.” I just want you to consider for a moment that what may be talking is your “comfort zone.” I promise, in anything we do in life when we try to step outside of that comfort zone it voices it’s opinion. LOUDLY!

I set up International courses for my students routinely. My sixty-something year old grandmothers that attend my class each week LOVE to run them! Regardless of your goals, if the dog is prepared well and you understand the execution of the handling, these courses are fun for everyone and any dog!

Don’t give in to the voice of that comfort zone. Life may be more risky outside of it …but the rewards far sweeter and that is where all growth happens!

I leave you with two more Masters Challenge classes. These were from the recent USDAA Cynosport Championship in Morgan Hill California.

Yes, they “appeared” tough, but wow, were they a BLAST to run! Take a look at the course maps before watching the video. Decide first how you would choose to handle each course? What if, like me, you were sitting in first place with a National Championship on the line going in the Jumpers run, would that change anything for you?

 Feature Masters Challenges Standard 

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I got one of the greatest compliments of my agility career after running this next course. Someone I have admired and respected for a very long time as a friend, agility competitor and esteemed International judge Marq Cheek told me,  “Your run with Feature was the run of the weekend…maybe the decade!”  

It is a thrill to run courses like these. Even if you don’t see them that often at a trial if you practice at this level it makes your weekend trials far easier for both you and your dog!

Feature Masters Challenge Jumpers 

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Today I am grateful for judges who push us to train outside of our comfort zone by coming up with exciting challenges to our training and handling!