Q: Course Approval

Q.    I compete in USDAA, AKC, and CPE agility.  Do judges in these organizations have to get their course designs approved by someone before they are used in competition? If so, how does this work?

A.  Most agility organizations have a course review process to determine whether a judge’s course meets the organization’s criteria.  All three groups mentioned above have detailed course design rules for judges to follow.

The United States Dog Agility Association explains its course design principles in Guidelines for Course Design found at www.usdaa.com/binary/files/08coursedes.pdf .  USDAAA president Kenneth Tatsch says, “Our goal is to permit flexibility and  creativity while staying within the level of difficulty presented in the Guidelines.” During the USDAA course review process, a  judge submits a course designed to a reviewer (Assigned according to the area of the country where the course will be run) four to six weeks before a trial.  Any tournament courses are forwarded by the reviewr to the tournament reviewer (Dave Hanson).  One or two weeks after the courses are received by the reviewer, the reviewer returns comments to the judge.   Comments are based on any areas where the course design conflicts with the guidelines.  The judge resolves and noted conflicts and resubmits the courses in final form to the reviwer.  Information on course reviewers and the areas of the country they serve is at www.usdaa.com/binary/files/reviewmap10_06.pdf .

The American Kennel Club has a comparable policy.  According to the AKC Agility Judges Guidelines, “The complete set of course designs for an assignment must be submitted to the AKC Field Representative a minimum of one month prior to the start of the trial” unless other arrangements have been made.  The Guidelines and the Regulations for Agility Trials contain the basic criteria for proper AKC course design.  The AKC assigns representatives to judges so course reviews are one by the same reviewer every time, but otherwise the process is similar.    The reviewer points out any parts of the course where the design does not conform to the guidelines and regulations, and the judge modifies these areas to achieve compliance.  The AKC Agility Judges Guidelines are at www.akc.org/pdgs/rulebooks/REAJG1.pdf  The Regulations for Agility Trials are at www.akc.org/pdfs.rulebooks/REAGIL.pdf.

Canine Performance Events  currently has two course reviewers for the entire country, but the process is similar to that of the other organizations..  Judges submit courses at least six weeks before use in a trial.  A reviewer determines if they fit CEP Course Design Guidelines, found at www.k9cpe.com/forms/2009judgesguidelines.pdf.  The reviewer makes small adjustments or contacts the judge to ask for a redesign of non-compliant areas. 

In any organization’s trial, the actual course design may vary from the course that was originally submitted and approved.  Sometimes equipment variations or failures are to blame, but more often, irregularities in terrain or footing can necessitate small changes for safety reasons.  Most organizations have procedures for judges to report such variations.

Competitors may question course design in cases where the course is built very differently from the printed course map (if there is one) as well as when they notice a safety concern.  The key is to be polite and courteous when asking.  Try to question judges about your concerns after the briefing or during the walk-through.  In most cases, changes won’t be made after the first dog starts running unless something on the course moves during a run (a tunnel is moved out of position or a jump is repositioned incorrectly after being knocked down).

If the judge does not share your concern about the course design, you can approach the trial secretary or chair for questions about safety.  But ultimately, you must decide whether you can handle the course in a safe manner with your dog and act accordingly.  You may contact the sponsoring organization about course design problems or concerns after you return home from a trial.  No organization can rectify a problem without knowing what it is.

© Clean Run, January 2009

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