The Games We Play! ~ by Marion Allen

Marion is a Judge and designs many interesting Games courses. Other resources on games include:

Games – Where do I Start? (article by Natalie Kirkwood, includes log book sample)
Wild Strategic Tunnels – Pairs Game Debrief (article by Marion Allen, includes the course design)
Finding a Team or Pair (tips on getting a partner or team members)
ADAA Rule Book ($10.00 including postage for ADAA members)

Often newcomers to our agility competitions get most confused when it comes to deciding if they should enter the games. Most easily understand the concept of agility or jumping events, and if they should enter Starters, or maybe Intermediate etc, but games cause confusion so I hope this clarifies life a little. No article I write will ever give you a complete overview of the games, as many are designed by the judge of the day, and he / she writes the rules that will apply, but hopefully this will help a little.

The competition schedules will always indicate what standard your dog must be in order to enter the games. Some competition schedules limit games to dogs who have earned their AAD. Please understand that this is not to decrease your enjoyment of the competition, rather the opposite. Sometimes the very unstructured nature of games can create confusion for an inexperienced dog; sometimes the host club, due to expected entry numbers, sees this as a means of curbing the entry numbers on the day to facilitate finishing the competition at a reasonable hour. The competition secretary will have ensured that there are sufficient runs for the non AAD dogs on the schedule. So be patient, after all once you have achieved the minimum of 2 clear rounds you may apply for your AAD (but think, then you cannot run those lovely straightforward courses, fix your weavepoles and still not be faulted etc..).

Enough said, I will try and give an overview of some games. Games are either Individual or Team Games.

Team games may be for 2 dogs and handlers and are classed as Pairs games, or may be for 3 or more handlers and are classed as Team games.

  • Pairs and Team games can be run as a Relay, whereby when the first dog completes his or her whole or part course, the next dog in the team can go and run his or her portion of the course. Faults and time will be added to give a total team score.
  • Team games may run as normal Agility. Each dog in the team runs a separate and complete course, not necessarily in consecutive order even. The results are then tabulated and may either be a total of the Faults and time, or may be a total of the best 3 results in a team of 4 … allowing leeway to drop the scores of the least successful dog in the team. All dogs in the team qualify for the team card if earned and / or for a placing in the event.

Pairs games can vary:

  • Boxed Pairs: Both handlers and dogs wait in a box, demarcated on the ground, having decided who will run which portion of the course. Dog 1 runs its portion and returns to the box before dog 2 can run. However if Dog 1 makes an error he returns to the box, and dog 2 must take over where the error occurred. This change over keeps happening with any error.
  • Strategic Pairs: The judge designs a numbered course, but different to a regular course .. the course does not flow well by number. There are definite spots where it would be beneficial for another dog to take over. So the course is divided between the team members (this could apply to a 3 dog team as well) .. and each runs the portion they plan, swapping as desired. However if a dog makes an error, the other dog has to come and do the faulted obstacle. So planning can go out the window.
  • Boston Bowling: For pairs or teams. Start is usually 2 or 3 tunnels.. with a handler restriction zone (eg under an A Frame) … each tunnel leads to a set portion of the course, and the dogs choice of tunnel determines which segment of the course they run.
  • A games course may be divided into a timed and an untimed section, eg: Power and Speed, where one dog does the section with contacts with no time requirement .. just accuracy .. and the other then has to do the jump section in the shortest time possible. Faults are accumulated.

The variations for team games are endless, but remember most enter for the fun … so how you do is not crucial … even a steady dog with its AAC can muff a game simply because another dog is on the course. Remember though, your dog needs to be quite social to play team games. One does not wish to set them up to fail if they are likely to get stressed by another dog’s presence on the field.

Individual Games – Three games, Gamblers, Snooker and Steeplechase will always follow the exact rules laid down in the ADAA Rule Book:

  • Gamblers involves the dog running a course you choose (or in some cases that your dog chooses), accumulating points for the obstacles successfully completed within the time allowed. Then there is a distance work segment, called The Gamble, where the handler is restricted from working close to the dog. There is a time limit for successfully completing the gamble.
  • Snooker is based on the table version of the game (involving little coloured balls on a table…a mystery to me). The dog version is however easy to follow. You must complete the opening sequence which you design; 1 red hurdle followed by a numbered (coloured) obstacle 3 times, and then you do the closing sequence which is numbered from 2 – 7 and hope you complete it before the horn sounds.
  • Steeplechase is based on a similar event in the equestrian world, when races between competing horses started at one church steeple and ended at another.  The horse was often required to jump fences in a steeplechase.  Steeplechase has a focus on the A-frame and Weave Poles, on a course designed to showcase speed.

There is then a limitless array of individual games which depend on the creative mind of the judge of the day. I will try to give a brief description of some:

  • Take your own Line: There is a field of obstacles which can be done in any order, once each within the time allowed. Fastest time, least faults wins.
  • Quadrants: Once again a field of obstacles, and the field divided into 4 segments (quadrants). You may do the obstacles in any quadrant first , then move to those in any other quadrant until all have been completed. Obstacles within a quadrant may be done in any order you desire.
  • Power and Speed: Course is usually divided into 2 portions The power portion contains the contact obstacles maybe the weave poles and is usually not timed, the speed section is the hurdles and tunnels and is timed.
  • Helter Skelter: Usually a fast spiral, either inwards towards the centre, or from the centre outwards.
  • Steeplechase: A reasonably regular numbered course, but no refusals count and weavepoles can be corrected. Can be 2 Aframes and 2 sets of weavepoles.
  • Lord Of The Rings: A series of games I designed, based on doing the rings (tunnels and tyres) before commencing scoring on the other obstacles.
  • Trilogy: (based on the easter egg) 3 concentric courses, which can be done in any order, but each must be completed before any obstacles from the other courses is done.
  • Snap: Obstacles must be done in pairs to score points, ie – 2 consecutive hurdles and then maybe tunnels, or A frames etc. If the dog fails the 2nd obstacle of the pair, no score is achieved for either obstacle.
  • Black Jack: The aim is to score 21 points in the time allowed (obstacles have a given value). If you score less, this is your final score, if you score more…you are Busted.. and thus eliminated.
  • Gone in 30 seconds: For each section of the course completed you may steal a contact obstacle to earn bonus points.
  • Double Joker: A 2 part game, in which points are scored within a time limit for the opening sequence, followed by a Joker portion. In the Joker portion bonus points may be earned for successfully doing 1 Joker or even more points for managing both Jokers (a Joker could be: Complete all 3 tunnels, 2 sets of 6 weave poles on opposite sides of the field, or all the hurdles in the course.. etc).
  • Call, Send and Direct: Quite a challenging game, involving a segment where the dog is called from a distance over obstacles, sent away in a distance segment and the directed to negotiate another portion of the course.
  • Jokers Wild: Rather like gamblers in that you choose your own course but any obstacles your dog does while you are within a restriction zone or box earn bonus points.
  • Consequences: You design your own course scoring as many points as possible in the time allowed, but you must do a 1 point obstacle (usually hurdles), followed by a 2 pointer (tunnels, tyres, long jump) and then a 3 point obstacle (contact or weaves) … then you start again until you run out of time.

I love to use popular Movie titles to design a game, some judges are obviously card buffs, some use Board Games (Snakes and Ladders). Often the schedule will simply say Individual Game … or Team Game. Do not let that deter you .. these are usually the most fun! And if you are not eligible to compete in the games, grab the rules and work out what you would do … starting to think Games through at an early stage, without putting your dog in the picture, will definitely help your games ability for when you do become eligible to enter.

Marion Allen


Marion and Flicka

This article has been updated to reflect changes implemented in the 10th Edition of Agility Regulations (1 May 2017)