Planning Retrieving Runs From Outer Space
by Peter Butterfield

January 2014

Measure and Calculate the Distance of Runs (and other things) using your Computer.

Whilst driving in the countryside, have you ever looked across at an unfamiliar field and thought “Hmm! ..that could make a nice run”, and then returned home to survey your discovery using Google Maps or Google Earth? Well now, thanks to our friends at Google, you can take these voyeuristic tendencies to a whole new level. Six hundred and eighty kilometres above the Earth in fact, courtesy of the heavily subsidised GeoEye-1 land-imaging satellite and some clever geospatial data visualisation software.

Google likes to experiment with ideas all the time. A lot of stuff never sees the light of day, while other things are set aside for people who drill-down on sub-menus to see what they can find. One such repository of curiosities is Map Labs. A collection of beta-testing add-on tools that are quietly made available to the public for ‘de-bugging’ and to assess potential before possible release into mainstream use.

One particular Google Map add-on that is available at the moment is a ‘Distance Measuring Tool’ used for measuring the distance of a path on Earth. This tool allows measurements to be plotted on screen between two or more points and can be used measure practically any outdoor object from a farm gate to a whole continent. One application that I use it for is locating and planning suitable training runs for my dog. The tool makes it easy to determine the length of ground needed for a run, overlaid to scale on an image of actual terrain.

If you haven’t played with this before, here’s how…

Firstly, this only works in Google’s Classic Maps. If you’ve (been) switched to their New Maps program you will need to switch back to the Classic version. To do this, follow these Return to the Classic Google Maps instructions.

Follow these steps:

1. Visit https://maps.google.com.au

2. Click the Maps Labs link at the bottom of the left-hand panel.

3. Click Enable for the Distance Measurement Tool.
4. Click Save changes.

5. Search for a location then scroll and zoom to the area of ground that you would like to measure.

6. Click the ruler icon at the lower left-hand corner of the map.

7. Click your starting point on the map, then click your destination point. A red path will appear on the map between the two locations, and the distance will be shown in the left panel.
Map 1. Remember to click the Ruler icon to start.

Once you have plotted a line you can easily increase, decrease or move the angle of the line by simply placing your cursor over one of the flags, holding down the mouse button, and dragging the flag around. Note that the distance between the two points in the left hand panel changes as you move. Release the mouse button when you are happy with the line. Move the cursor and press again to extend the line in a new direction if you want (e.g. to plot around an obstacle like a tree or boulder, etc). If you are unhappy with your line, simply click the Reset button under the measurement. Remember, at all times, you can zoom in or out by using your scroll wheel or moving the zoom bar on screen. Note that you can choose between two different units: Metric or Imperial (English). If you really want to impress your friends, hit the “I’m feeling geeky” link next to the measurements.

Living in a city, I particularly like to use this tool to help work out if a park or reserve has enough ‘quiet’ area to set a training run for a mark or blind in. Occasionally, I cheekily use it to check the length of a run set by a Judge. Invariably, they are always better judges of distance than I give them credit for!    

Now I know what you’re thinking, and before I get bucket loads of mail I am not suggesting that this is an accurate means for determining the precise length of runs for trials. In fact, over 100 – 150 meters of heavily undulating terrain this tool’s estimates can fall significantly short of reality as it simply reports the distance a crow flies from point-to-point. An experienced eye and pacing out over actual grounds will always be the superior method. However, if you like to plan things in advance, and need to set some runs in foreign terrain, then this tool does have potential to provide you with some perspective and could lead to saving precious time when setting-up a new location.

Aside from land, this is a highly effective method for estimating the diagonal length of travel across bodies of water such as creeks or dams, and for contemplating alternative entry and exit points. As your skills and addiction to this tool grow, you will find that it can be applied to non-retrieving things as well. Like working out the size of your neighbour’s pool for example, or perhaps…well I’ll leave it to you.

There are commercial alternatives to this program available such as NearMap that use aerial photography instead and have more features. Their images are more up-to-date also, but they charge an arm and leg to subscribe to and generally have poorer resolution in rural areas than Google. A closing word of caution – like most free computer things these days, this tool could change or disappear altogether at anytime. So if you like it, make the most of it while you can.

Map 2. Useful for measuring distances across water.

Map 3. Bending the path is possible to allow for obstacles or steep undulations, but always treat the reported distance as a guide only.


This page is provided by Working Gundog Club Inc. (Affiliated with Dogs NSW)