Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

Executing Your Plan on Course

How many times have you walked an agility course, come up with a plan, and then run the course differently, resulting in a NQ? How many times have you successfully changed it and done better than you thought? My experience so far has been that changing your plan mid-stream is almost always a bad idea.

Maybe you saw other people running a different plan and succeeding. Perhaps you found yourself in a different place on course than you thought you would be. Or that snooker SQ was calling your name but other people had a better strategy. Whatever the circumstance, you decided either right before running, or actually during your run, that it would be a good idea to run differently than you rehearsed in your walk through.

This happened to me at the last USDAA trial. Storm actually (!) qualified in Steeplechase in that ultra-competitive 20” class, so we got a chance to run round 2. As we came around to the weave poles, I was much further ahead than I thought I would be. Instead of sticking with my plan to rear cross after the weave-jump-tunnel sequence, I hesitated, and then quickly completed a (not so smoothly executed) front cross, pulling Storm out at pole 10. Once our rhythm was broken, we had a hard time recovering, and rather than frustrating her with my untimely cues, I took her off the course and gave her lots of cookies.

I frequently walk a course with a Plan A and a Plan B. I plan for front crosses, but realistically know that I might not get there in time and will have to switch to a rear or a blind. If you know ahead of time that it may be necessary to change your plan, and have actually walked the course both ways, you are mentally prepared to execute either choice. Without that mental preparation, trying an alternate plan is usually detrimental to your run.

So, what do you do if you are faced with the temptation to change “on-the-fly”? If it is before your run, I would weigh the risks and benefits. Are you trying to finish your ADCH and you have 6 or 7 or 8 snooker Qs but only 2 of them are SQs? It might be worth changing your strategy if yours won’t get the points you need. On the other hand, just because something worked for a different team doesn’t mean that it is the right thing for your team. You walked the course based on your team’s strengths. Don’t disregard that walk-through based on another team’s success. If you do, you may end up like I did – rolling up a newspaper, smacking myself with it and saying “Bad Handler!”


April 20, 2009 - Posted by | Agility, Course Strategy | , ,


  1. I remember an AKC run a couple weeks ago that where changed my plan to be on a different side of the dogwalk than I had initially walked, and this time it turned out great, but very typically if I try changing the plan to one that I didnt walk or consider, it doesnt go well.
    Like you mention, you have to know your dog and how you work together and then come up with a realistic plan and the “plan B” for if you are faster or slower than you thought.
    Sometimes its nice to be the first one to run, and then you are not distracted by how everyone else is running the course. I got my first Super Q when I ran first and just did my plan… funny thing was, after I finished, I heard people saying “Well he did it, I think I should be able to get it” which no doubt was going to lead to people changing their plans to mine!

    Comment by Greg S | April 20, 2009 | Reply

    • Man the first sentence of my comment above is like a coded message with extra words and missing words… you get the idea though!

      Comment by Greg S | April 20, 2009 | Reply

      • We must think alike, because I had no trouble following it :-).

        Comment by lorriemaxx | April 20, 2009

  2. The only time I will change my plan is when I see many fast, long-strided dogs (like mine) take a wrong course that I did not see as a WC potential in my original walkthrough (that’s a real “uh oh” feeling when you realize you have to change your handling plan) or if (with Sage) I find that I am farther ahead than I thought I would be and could get the FC in instead of the RC that I walked.

    Comment by Morganne | April 20, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’ve actually managed to change my plan & make it work but that was usually with the old slow boxer boy. Thanks to him, I know I can do it & I’ve pulled it off once with Quin. As she gains speed & confidence, I don’t know if I’ll continue to pull that off.

    Comment by Kim W | April 20, 2009 | Reply

    • You may not be able to do that very often with the young, speedy Boston!

      Comment by lorriemaxx | April 20, 2009 | Reply

  4. Difficult Dash is only lovable when he puts his head on your knee and looks up at you as if only you can make him happy.

    Comment by Charl Lee Sauer | April 20, 2009 | Reply

  5. I found this blog while looking for statagies for handling a dog that runs fast, and if I try to get ahead to do a front cross, she just runs faster. To the point of flattening out her jumps and knocking bars.
    On contacts or weaves I can front cross but on a series of jumps it just does not happen. Oh the joy of finishing in less than half SCT with a blasted knocked bar on a series of jumps because I was in the lead trying to front cross. I never see a knocked bar, I always hear it just behind me.

    So I’m wondering how you and Storm deal with that issue since Storm is a fast dog. What I have been attempting so far is to really reinforce (with treats) that “here” means to target my hand, trying to get to the point where I can use my hand to pull her to me so I can cross. But I’m open to ideas.

    Comment by Roger | April 20, 2011 | Reply

    • Hi Roger,
      It’s been a while since I have been on here, so I apologize that it took so long to answer. Now that my life has settled down again, as much as anyone’s can, I’m going to try to resurrect my blog.

      If she is flattening out and knocking bars, I would consider that a jumping issue, not a front cross issue. I would recommend some grid work with her in a stay and you going near the end of the series, and continuing your motion away from her. That way she sees you in this “odd” position, rather than always behind or next to her. Also, you need distance to be able to send her away and take the short cut to the most sensible place to put a cross. It sounds like you might be trying to artificially alter her path with the “here”, instead of putting the cross in a more natural place. I don’t race my dogs to get to a spot to cross, I send them out along the curve and use the shortcut so I am already there and crossed by the time they catch up. Hope that helps…

      Comment by lorriemaxx | September 14, 2011 | Reply

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