Dog Agility Courses, How are They Approved

dog agility course mapHave you ever wondered if and how the various organizations manage all the course designs for all the trails run throughout the year?  Well, they do have a system in place that starts with the judges getting their courses approved before a competition.

Most dog agility organizations require the judges course designs to pass a review process to be certain that organization’s criteria for that class is met. And before that takes place the judge must design a course following that respective organization’s design rules.

According to USDAA, their goal is to encourage flexibility and creativity while staying within the level of difficulty set forth in the USDAA course design guidelines. During their course review process, the judge submits their designed course to a reviewer four to six weeks before a trial. Comments are based on conflicts in the course to the course guidelines. Once the judge resolves the conflicts, the course is resubmited in final form to the reviewer.

The AKC uses a similar 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. With the AKC, representatives are assigned to judges so course reviews are completed by the same reviewer. As with USDAA, the reviewer points where the course design is in conflict with guidelines and regulations. The judge then modifies these areas in compliance to said guidelines.

CPE has course reviewers for the entire country and their process is similar in that judges submit courses at least six weeks before use in a trial. One of the reviewers find any conflicts in the design to the CPE Course Design Guidelines.

In a perfect world that would be the end to it, but in truth equipment variations or failures, irregularities in terrain or footing or other safety hazards may require “tweeks” to the original course design. Most have procedures for the judges to follow to report these changes if any are necessary.

There is also the opportunity for competitors to question course design changes if the changes cause safety concerns or the course is notably different from the original design. In doing so, however, the key is to be polite and asking these questions after the briefing or during the walk-through. After the runs start is not the right time and most likely will not lead to changes due to fairness to the dogs that have already run. You always have the opportunity to scratch if something about the course concerns you.

If there is a major violation of safety and the judge does not share your concern, you may bring it to the attention of the trial secretary or contact the sponsoring organization after you have returned home.  No organization can rectify a problem without knowing what it is. And remember, ultimately you and your dog’s safety is your responsibility. If you find a course unsafe, by all means, don’t run the course. What one handler finds unsafe may be just fine with another.