Time is Everything: When Every Second Counts, Count Every Second

Successful dog/handler teams have a well-developed sense of timing and time. As trainers and handlers we focus alot on the timing of our cues. Timing of handling cues is critical when it comes to a dog’s success driving a line, transitioning into a turn, performing any sequence as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In addition to a sense of timing, developing a sense of time and directing that awareness towards potential course choices is a very useful way to plan winning gambler and snooker strategies!

In a sport based on speed, and particularly in games with time limits, time is precious. The best use of time typically makes the difference between winning versus just getting around. The games of gamblers and snooker are tests of handling skills coupled with a heightened awareness of time.

There are many common suggestions for planning gambler and snooker strategies. Some count the number of obstacles, allowing for a certain number of obstacles over the most commonly encountered periods of time. This can work reasonably well if gamble opening times and snooker course times are relatively consistent, if obstacle choice and spacing are relatively uniform. Alternatively, you can occasionally still see people running, careening through crowded walkthroughs, while checking their stopwatch.

We plan our gamblers and snooker runs using a method based on knowing how much time each obstacle, and each bit of space on the ground, will take for our dogs to execute. We essentially account for every stride, attending to whether the stride is collected or extended. A jump taken in straightforward flow to the dogwalk positioned within routine distance might take roughly one second. The dogwalk might take a second and a half for our dogs that run the dogwalk. Maybe an additional half second added for our dogs that stop if we cue a stop. We add these obstacle and ground times together as we create and evaluate plans to maximize points within allotted gamblers and snooker course times.

Some actual examples will help illustrate the process. First the handler needs to really know how long it takes for the dog to execute each obstacle. This varies from dog to dog and which execution behavior is selected for each obstacle, ie: a more collected execution versus a more extended execution. Second the handler needs to know how fast the dog covers the ground. Again, this also varies from dog to dog and depends on the execution behavior selected, collected versus extended.

Gamblers Timing

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. -- William Penn

Take a recent example, the gamblers class from the 2014 US Open. Let’s calculate optimal courses for two dogs who run differently, yet both managed to execute well enough to get the higher pointed bonus. The bonus time was incredibly tight. Awareness of the dog’s time for the opening strategy, positioning the dogs in close proximity and approaching the gamble as the horn sounded, was really everything!


Upon first receiving the coursemap, an awareness of time helped identify the most critical elements of the competition. That said, reading that the gamble time was “TBA” was a pretty big hint. We also happened to remember the gamble from the very first WAO under the same event organizers back in 2011 and how tight the time was.

We looked at the higher pointed gamble and ran through our numbers. The first tunnel was either going to take 1 to 1.5 seconds depending on whether the dog entered from an oblique approach or a straight approach. To travel the 45 feet (15 yards) to get to the second tunnel from the first tunnel was going to take roughly 1.5 to maybe 1.75 seconds depending on how they exited. The 20 foot tunnel was then going to take 1 to 1.5 seconds depending on how they entered. Travelling the 60 feet (20 yards) from the second tunnel across the field to the third tunnel was likely going to take at least 2 to 2.5 seconds. The third tunnel was going to take maybe 1.5 seconds. Getting from the third tunnel to the fourth tunnel was going to take another 1.5 seconds. The fourth tunnel was going to take 1 second. Getting to the finish jump was going to take 1 second. Adding the elements up, we were thinking it would take our dogs between roughly 10.5 to 12.25 seconds to complete the gamble.

Before coursebuilding, walkthroughs, or even the briefing and the announcement of the gamble time, we worked through possibilities for several related opening strategies that allowed for quick transitions into the gamble.


The black path allowed for at least three different transitions to the closing: directly from the weavepoles (orange path); from one jump after the weavepoles (blue path); or from two jumps after the weavepoles (purple path). We added up the seconds it typically takes our dogs to perform the various obstacles and spaces between the obstacles for these paths. The process resembled the diagram and times below.


Upon learning the gamble time was 13 seconds, we knew Sweet had little margin for error. She needed to be heading for the tunnel, very near the tunnel entrance, in order to finish the gamble in time. For Sweet, we estimated that the black path proceeding then directly to the gamble along the orange path would result in the horn sounding within a few strides of the tunnel entry. [Sweet 2014 US Open Gamblers video]

While Sweet excels at turning tightly, Spice tends to cover ground and gentle arcs more quickly. We estimated that Spice could proceed from the black path through the two jumps, turning and beginning to accelerate toward the gamble along the purple path as the horn would sound. Because Spice could cover the ground within the gamble more quickly, she could afford to be a couple strides further from the gamble as the horn sounded.

We also use these estimates of our obstacle and ground times between obstacles to evaluate alternatives within the opening. For example, we considered two paths traveling from the dogwalk to the weavepoles: the black path traveling from the double to the tire on the way to the weavepoles; or the red path traveling from the double to the seesaw on the way to the weavepoles. The seesaw was worth an extra point compared to the tire. Comparing the two options: the path through the tire yielded four points in an estimated four seconds (one point per second); the path through the seesaw yielded five points in an estimated five and a half seconds (less than a point per second).


Spice’s estimated time along the black path allowed for the possibility of considering the red alternative path from dogwalk to weavepoles via seesaw rather than tire. However, the yield in points per second was higher traveling via the tire along the black path, with the possibility of picking up the additional points over the two jumps after the last set of weavepoles along the purple path on the way to the gamble. [Spice 2014 US Open Gamblers video]

Ultimately, both plans worked because of our ability to predict how long it takes each of these dogs to execute obstacles and the ground between them. Along with a bit of luck!

We also used this method for the gamblers course the following weekend at the Continental Championships of the Americas. Unlike the US Open gamble, in this case, there was plenty of time to transition to and then perform the gamble, which made it more important to maximize the number of points earned in the opening. In addition to being able to predict how long our dogs take to execute obstacles and the ground between them, we also are aware of their speeds relative to one another and other dogs we compete with on a regular basis. After Jack had a great run and was where I wanted us to be at the start of the gamble, I knew I had to find a couple more obstacles in the opening for Bird because she typically covers ground a tad faster. [Jack 2014 CCOA Gamblers] Because we know how long it takes Bird to do obstacles and cover ground in relation to Jack, I was able to pick up two additional obstacles (in this case, the tire taken twice consecutively at the start) and subsequently win the class. [Bird 2014 CCOA Gamblers video]


Snooker Timing

How did it get so late so soon? -- Theodore Suess Geisel

This method also works well for Snooker planning. We calculate how long it takes for each individual dog to get through the close, then subtract that from the total time allowed. The time left is how long we have for an opening sequence. For snooker this method is particularly useful, since there is so much variety in what obstacles or combinations of obstacles are worth high points, in how many reds are allowed to be taken, in how widely apart the reds and obstacles are spread, and in how much time is allotted. These variables make it difficult to predict strategies based merely on a more vague notion of being able to typically perform a certain number of obstacles in the average gamble or snooker time. It’s even more valuable when you and your dog run early in the running order, before others have made it more obvious what might or might not be possible; whether all 7’s is impossible or relatively easily attainable in the time allotted. Knowing each individual dog’s times for obstacles and ground between them lets the handler make the best use of that time.

For example, we ran relatively early in the running order for the snooker competition at the 2013 World Agility Open in Oveido, Spain. We did not have the opportunity to rely on watching others attempt to go for all 7’s. However, we knew from the awareness we had developed of our dogs’ obstacle and ground times that there was more than enough time for such an aggressive plan. The closing timed out at roughly 18 seconds. We had an opening plan that timed out between 23 - 24 seconds from the start jump through the three reds and three 7’s and into the tunnel #2 to commence the closing. So, if all went well, we’d be finishing the closing at 41 - 42 seconds.


Jack crossed the finish to stop the clock at 42.577. Roughly a second and a half earlier, Jack cleared the final element of the 7 in the closing. [Jack 2013 WAO Snooker video] Sweet crossed the finish to stop the clock at 42.211. Roughly a second and a half earlier, Sweet cleared the final element of the 7 in the closing. [Sweet 2013 WAO Snooker video] Both were fortunate enough to earn silver medals in these runs, not so much because of their pace, but instead from a heightened awareness of that pace.


I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time,’

so I ordered French Toast … during the Renaissance. -- Steven Wright

It comes as no surprise in a game that is about speed, timing matters. Learning how to better gauge your dog’s timing when it comes to execution of obstacles and ground will not only help create better, more competitive gambler and snooker plans, it will also help with decisions in the more traditional agility and jumping courses. Deciding which way to wrap a jump or what sort of line to create in a challenging sequence becomes more based on a heightened awareness of facts instead of a more vague sense or feeling. Give this method a try and see what you learn about how fast your dog really is!

Go through several videos of your dogs’ recent runs and fill in the chart below. Consumer video cameras record 30 frames per second, so advancing the video one frame is equal to 1/30th of a second or 0.033 seconds. Video editing software typically displays a digital time code allowing you to note time to the 1/100th of a second. Or you can simply use a stopwatch. And then, apply this awareness to a snooker course, like Blake Stafford’s Snooker from this year’s Continental Championship of the Americas, and predict the highest scoring path possible for your dog.

Jump to next obstacle

traditional 6-7 yards

straight ahead or gently leaning/arcing

turning 90 degrees

preparing approach to turn next obstacle tightly

wrapping jump back to next obstacle traditional 6-7 yards spacing


15 foot versus 20 foot

straight tunnel

entered in collection versus entered in flow

wrapping immediately back into tunnel exit

wrapping around to the same entry

u-shaped curved tunnel



wrapping immediately back into weavepoles


            stop (time to pause and reaccelerate)

wrapping immediately back around to second seesaw


stop (time to pause and reaccelerate)

wrapping immediately back onto aframe

wrapping immediately into adjacent tunnel


stop (time to pause and reaccelerate)

wrapping immediately back onto dogwalk

wrapping immediately into adjacent tunnel


            10 yards

15 yards

20 yards