Event Calendar
Title Mania®
Cynosport® World Games
Team USA
How to Plan a Successful Opening in Gamblers

Part 1: Introduction to Gamblers by Alicia Nicholas. Learn the basics of preparing the best opening plan for your dog. Train yourself so you can better train your dog!

Gamblers, a class that includes an opening point-gathering period in which a handler designs her own path and a closing which involves having the dog work at a distance from the handler, requires many skills. Planning your opening for Gamblers is a skill in and of itself; the handler needs to know her dog's strengths and weaknesses, as well as how quickly her dog can perform various obstacles.

The first thing to do when planning your opening for a gamble run is to find the location of the closing; you need to be near the closing sequence when the horn blows. This requires working backwards from that location, using obstacles in a flowing pattern and maximizing your point value.

You also need to know how many points are required to qualify. Usually, the judge puts the total number of points needed to qualify on the course map, but if not, take the number of seconds in the opening and divide by 10, then multiply by the highest point valued obstacle (and round up). Or you can memorize the table provided in the USDAA rules:

Opening Time (in Seconds)1-3-5-7 Point System1-2-3-5 Point System

To determine obstacle point value, you need to read your course map and go to the briefing. It will either be 1-2-3-5 or 1-3-5-7. In both these point systems, jumps, are one point, the tunnel and tire earn two or three points, and then contacts and weaves are either three or five. Finally, you have the high point obstacle at five or seven. This is usually the weaves or a contact obstacle, although, in some cases, judges leave it out and dont have a single high point obstacle.

Gamblers Obstacle Point Values
JumpsTunnel/TireContacts/WeavesHigh Point Obstacle
Go to the briefing to find out if you can do back to back (same obstacle) contacts or consecutive contacts (one contact to a different contact). Sometimes the judge will require a jump in between contacts. Be sure to consider contact safety and angle of approach when planning your path.

Some agility obstacles require more time to execute than others. Jumps, tunnels, the tire and the chute are what I label "one second obstacles" and contacts and weaves are what I consider "two second obstacles." I know that in a 30-second opening, my dog (a fast Border Collie) can do 18-19 seconds worth of obstacles. If I plan on doing the A-frame twice, that counts as four seconds worth of obstacles and I can only choose another 10-12 seconds worth of obstacles to do before the horn sounds to end the opening period.

In order to estimate your dog's "obstacle number" (the number of obstacles your dog can do in the opening), use a Gamblers course (like a standard course but with a little less flow) and time your dog doing the obstacles. An average opening for Gamblers is 30 seconds. Do the course a few times and find the average number of obstacles that you can do in 30 seconds. Keep the one-second vs. two-second value in mind! If I do two A-frames, two dogwalks and two teeters in my opening, I have used 12 seconds worth of obstacles and I may not have much left! If your dog takes twice as long to do the obstacles, you may have far less time left. I will share more specific information on determining your Gamblers obstacle number in Part 2 of this series.

Every dog is different. Running contacts can change things, as well as how fast your dog weaves. So don't base your Gamblers opening on what your friend is doing. Make your own plan, tailor-fit to your dog so that he is being successful and having fun! Back-to-back contacts are fine for some dogs and totally demotivating to other dogs, for example. Keep your dog's preferences in mind while you are planning your run.

A sign of a great Gamblers course is one that allows for many different plans in the opening. Again, while planning, keep your eye out for safety, including creating nice lines onto contacts!

Here is an example Gamblers course at the Masters level, with a 25-second opening:

Notice where you need to finish your opening to be perpendicular to jump 1 of the Gamble. So, I would like to end on the teeter with my dog on my right as the horn sounds. The point system is 1-2-3-5 with the dogwalk being 5 points. Remember, the dogwalk takes extra time and weigh that against the short 25 second opening! You may do better skipping the dogwalk and getting your points using the one-second-type obstacles that are worth two points like the tunnels and the chute. Also keep in mind that jumps are worth more proportionately in a 1-2-3-5 system than in the 1-3-5-7 system.

For a fast dog with two-on/two-off contacts (where the dog stops and waits for release at the end of the contact obstacles) that can do 14-15 seconds worth of obstacles (an obstacle number of 14/15), I would design the following opening for this example course: tire, tire, wing jump, teeter (counts as two obstacles), wing jump, tunnel, tunnel, wingless jump, tunnel, tunnel, wing jump, teeter (counts as two obstacles).

For a slower dog, I might take out doing the tunnels back-to-back. For a faster dog, I might add in another tire. Either way, I want to end on the teeter with my dog on my right to send him from jump 1 of the gamble to the A-frame.

No matter what the speed of my dog, I do not sacrifice safety in the opening! An extra 5 points is not worth cranking a dog out of a tunnel to the A-frame, or a severely angled entrance to the tire, and so on.

Check back next week for Part 2: How to Assess Your Dog's Obstacle Number for Gamblers!

This article is part of USDAA's Training Tuesday series appears on USDAA's facebook page. We encourage you to discuss this exercise on our facebook and to upload videos of your class or training group trying it out. If you have a facebook account, please join in the fun here:

Alicia Nicholas has been doing agility since 2001 and has been teaching the sport since 2004. She started her agility journey with two Corgis, and since then she has run Border Collies, a Swedish Vallhund and a Papillion. Alicia believes that dog training is a very important aspect of dog agility and encourages a strong foundation for dogs that do agility. Alicia teaches all levels of agility handling, from foundation to international level classes. She also teaches competition obedience, focus and relationship, puppy classes, how to coach yourself classes, tricks classes, and more. Alicia says, "Agility is a sport which requires mental toughness and goal setting while keeping in mind that your canine partner is in it for fun! Goals are an important part of the journey; it's how you attain them that matters!" Alicia can be reached via email at or through her website ( and you can read her blog at


Copyright © 2004-2017. United States Dog Agility Association, Inc. All rights reserved.