This past weekend I attended a TDAA judging clinic in Columbus, Ohio. We played a couple of the games that are scheduled for the Petit Prix in Latrobe, PA in October.
I renewed my respect for these games as legitimate challenges that will test the skill of dogs and handlers at the Petit Prix… both Helter Skelter and Cha-Cha. I will have to dedicate a discussion to Cha-Cha in the next few days.
The Book of Agility Games says “In the U.K., there is a dog agility class called Helter Skelter. The game is named after a children’s ride at parks and fairs where a slide spirals down the side of a tower.”
On first look the same-sided spiral looks almost too simple to consider as a game of competition. But in practice the handler needs to understand the subtle handling and movement differences between a tight pinwheel and a big wide open flow of obstacles. The Helter Skelter will certainly expose small errors in timing and position.
Coincidentally, we played a variation of Helter Skelter in the National Dog Agility League game for August, 2015. You can see results from my club here: http://wp.me/p2Pu8l-4h. I want to use this course as a basis for discussion of how this game tests the skill of the handler.
This variation of the Helter Skelter is called “there, and back again”. The course starts tight, then opens up; and then turns back on itself on a big sweep and tightens backup into the central pinwheel. One of the important advantages of the “there, and back again” variation is that it allows a long and robust numbered course using a minimum of equipment, and is suitable for a small space.
The Basic Pinwheel
The pinwheel is a classic arrangement of obstacles in agility. While it is typically made up by four jumps, it might also be only three jumps, and may be five, or more.
The pinwheel often invites bad movement from the handler even to the extent that the handler is standing still. If a numbered course includes a pinwheel, then the percentage likelihood that a jump is refused or a bar dropped is considerably higher in the pinwheel than anywhere else on the course. That faults result from bad movement.
A dog tends to work in a path parallel to the handler’s path. I should point out that if the handler isn’t moving, then he has no path. A handler standing with his shoulders squared as though moving parallel to the dog is actually inviting the dog to tuck in away from the jump.
The simple advice for the handler who feels compelled to camp in the middle of a pinwheel without movement… the very least you could do is face the hurdle you want the dog to jump.
On the sample course especially, as the Helter Skelter unwinds to the outside, the handler could easily find himself behind the dog. It’s one of the laws of a dog in motion that a dog forward of the handler’s position will tend to curl back toward the handler. With the dog forward, the handler shouldn’t be quite so committed to moving in a parallel path. Instead the handler’s movement should apply pressure back into the dog’s path to keep him to the outside.
There are a couple places on this course where the handler might use this triangular pressure. This illustration shows the transition from jump #6 to jump #7 which surely requires pressure back against the dog to keep him out to the #7 jump. If the handler layers to the opposite side of the #3/17 jump, then the dog biting on the wrong course option is considerable.
Test Your Brake Shoes
When you first learn to drive you learn to put your foot on the accelerator to get where you’re going in a big hurry. But at the end of the day, it’s the brake pedal that keeps you safe. So while in the tight little pinwheel of the Helter Skelter the handler might favor the brake more than the accelerator.
In this “there, and back again” variation of Helter Skelter the dog winds out; then turns around; and winds back in. After working on the big fast outside of the slide the dog will be in full extension. So the handler will want to slow things down a bit for the dog to work in a collected fashion. Use your brakes to slow down. Running an agility dog can be just like driving a car.
Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. The web store is up and running. www.dogagility.org/newstore. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.