Online agility classes and virtual trialing at home does require you to set up your own courses. If your setup isn’t built closely enough to how it is designed, you might not be practicing what your instructor wants you to be practicing, and for trials, if the course isn’t what was designed, it might not be judgeable. 

I’ve been course-building since I was about 10-years old (seriously – I became a USDAA judge when I was 13), so at this point, I don’t even think about it when I go to set up a course, but the reality is that if you’ve been attending in-person classes and trials, you’ve maybe not ever had to setup your own exercises. Over the last 18 years, I’ve learned to streamline this process so that I can build fairly accurate courses as quickly as possible, so I decided to break it down into steps that hopefully you all can use to make course building a little less frustrating for yourself!
This map is only going to cover measurements in feet, but the process will work the same for working in meters. I often build courses from maps in meters using the same system! 

1. Reading the Map

First, we have to take a look at the different types of maps you might be given. 

Course map with numbered grid lines: Here we have a map, on a 30X30 grid. You have the numbers to the exercises, and the grid to help you know how close things are to each other, but, you’ve got to do a little bit of guesswork, since the grid is in 10 foot increments. 

You might be lucky enough to get your hands on a map with coordinates of each obstacle. It’s important to know where the coordinates are being measured from. In the case of this map below, the first number is being measured from the left and the second number is being measured from the bottom. The guesswork is taken away, because you are given the precise locations of each obstacle on the grid. 

However, the coordinates are not always given to you in the same way, sometimes, the computer program is on “measure from centerline”, and you’ll see coordinates given to you like the ones in the image below. On this map, the 30X30 space is being split in half, and to measure correctly, you’ll want to start in the exact middle “0” every time. From “0”, the first number tells you how far up the grid the obstacle is, and then the second number tells you how far left or right of “0” to move to place the obstacle. 

You might also run into coursemaps that do not have numbered grids – you will need to know the scale of the grid to accurately build the course. If the course doesn’t have a grid at all – request one! 

2. How to Measure Distance
I don’t think you need to have a measuring wheel, or a long tape measure like you see at trials to measure distances accurately! Here are my go-to ways for measuring: 

  1. Determine your stride length. I like using the weave poles, since I know that a set of 6 weaves is 12 feet long, (assuming your weaves are 24” spaced!) I originally learned my stride length when a set of 6 weaves was only 10 feet long. Anyone remember those tiny weave poles gaps?! My stride length (I’m just under 5’ tall) is around 2.5 feet long, so 4 of my steps = 10 feet (or really close to that). You could also stretch out your tunnel in a straight line, and count how many of your paces it takes to complete the length of the tunnel. 
  2. Use a jump bar. Just check if you have 4’, 4.5’, or 5’ jump bars, and you can still measure things pretty quickly this way. I especially think using the bar is handy if you struggle to walk a straight line. 

3. Walking the Grid
Now that you know what kind of map you’re reading, and how you will be measuring distances, it’s time to start building your course!
If you’re just starting to build your own courses,  I suggest not using jump bars to mark where the obstacles go, but use cones, or another type of target to mark the center of the obstacle. This way you can focus on getting the angle just right later on. 

4. Checking Your Angles
Once you’ve got the center of your obstacles set out, then you can add in your jump bars and check your angles! 


5. Other Things to Consider
If you’ve got a map that doesn’t have coordinates, I really suggest writing out your own coordinates before heading out to set the course, so that you’re not having to guess, count, and do math in the moment. It’s a little bit like planning out your training session before you begin 🙂 Set yourself up for success! As course building gets easier, and guessing at distances gets easier, by all means, do the math on the fly (I know I do!), but seriously, if you’re new, give yourself a fighting chance and do some work ahead of time on the map. You’ll thank me for it later. 

Sometimes, things aren’t going to match up perfectly, because the jump bar lengths are different from the map to what you have in reality. In the image below, I show the difference between a 4’, 4’6”, and 5’ bars both with and without wings. If your course map is using 4’ bars, but you’re building with 5’ bars, that’s going to eat up a LOT of space, especially on a small space setup. 

Go Out & Try It!
Here’s a course map, in a variety of formats. Choose your system, build it, and let me know how it goes! (my jump bars are 4’6” in these diagrams) 

Let me know in the comments below, or head on over to the Synergy Dog Sports Training Group and post about your results there!