This is the final post in our series featuring the games of the TDAA’s Western Petit Prix in 2016. We’ll have a look at the Weakest Link. This is a dog’s choice game that requires the dog to save or “bank” earn points, or lose them on any fault! This is a dog’s choice point accumulation game features a valuable (but optional) distance challenge.

Following is a sample course with the simple briefing. After the briefing I will provide a short discussion of strategy.

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The Weakest Link is a game invented by Tara Choate. This is a game of point accumulation and strategy. Trisha Stall, from New Lebanon, New York will judge the Weakest Link at the Petit Prix. This game is scheduled for the morning of May 22nd in Castle Rock, Colorado. The sample course shown here is not the course designed by Ms. Stall for play at the Petit Prix.

Briefing

The Weakest Link is a point accumulation game. The object of the game is to score as many points as possible in the allotted time. Only “banked” points will count toward the final score. Points are banked when the dog performs a tire. There are two tires on the field!

Each obstacle taken by the dog must be worth as much as or more than the previous obstacle taken. To keep points earned, they must be “banked” by the dog going through the tire. There are two tires on the field! After points have been banked a new sequence of points-gathering begins. Each sequence banked must be unique, which means there must be at least one difference from any sequence previously banked.

Back-to-back performance of obstacles is permitted, but only back-to-back. A third performance shall constitute a fault.

Unbanked points are considered “potential” points. If a dog commits a fault, all potential points are lost. Faults include dropped bars, missed contacts, taking an obstacle of lesser value than the previous one, failing to bank points before the final whistle. Weaves just must be completed for points, but once started, if not completed before going on it will be called a fault. When a dog faults the judge will call “fault”. The handler then must direct the dog to the first obstacle in a new sequence to earn potential points.

If a bar is dropped on a jump that jump is out of play for the remainder of the game.

This course features a gamble that earns the dog significant bonus points. The numbered sequence (jump, weave poles, tunnel) is worth 28 points.

The gamble must be taken in the order and direction shown, with the handler behind the gamble line. If the dog knocks a bar, or misses a weave pole, or goes off course in the middle of the gamble – the judge will call “fault”. If the handler steps over the containment line the dog is faulted only if the order of performance breaks the weakest link point value rules.

Points values of obstacles:

  • jumps – 2 points
  • tire, tunnels – 4 points
  • contact obstacles – 6 points
  • weave poles – 8 points

12″ and 16″ dogs have 50 seconds; 4″ and 8″ dogs have 55 seconds to accumulate points. When time is up the horn will sound and the dog must cross the finish line to stop the clock.

Scoring and Qualification

The Weakest Link is scored Points, Then Time. Time is a tiebreaker only.

To qualify:

  • Games I – 30 points
  • Games II – 40 points
  • Games III – 50 points

Strategy

The Weakest Link is loosely based on an old television program in which contestants had to answer questions while they accumulated a load of “potential” money. If they missed a question a slightly rude English lady would proclaim “You ARE the weakest link! Good bye!”

In this game, like in the television program, all points earned by the dog are “potential”, until they are banked. And once banked, they cannot be taken from the dog. The only real restriction as to order and direction is that each obstacle performed must be worth as much as or more than the last one taken.

If your dog earns a fault keep your composure! The next obstacle that the dog takes will be the first obstacle in the accumulation of potential points.

The distance challenge or “gamble” gives a bonus that amounts to double (or more) the normal value of the obstacles in it. On this course the “bank” has a clear and easy approach from the last obstacle in the gamble. So, if a dog has nice distance skills the distance challenge is the key to a solid scoring strategy.

The only real restriction in the performance of the gamble is that each sequence must be unique. The savvy handler should plot a variety of preamble sequences that change the overall sequence. The gamble should be considered like a single obstacle which has the highest point value on the floor. Consequently, it must always be the last one taken.

Note that stepping over the containment line isn’t automatically a fault, unless the scoring of obstacles violates the as-much-as-or-more-than rule. Well, if you make the approach to the gamble from a higher value obstacle (like the teeter, in the sample course)… then automatically the judge will have to call “Fault” if the handler steps over the line.

The real question about banking is how often the dog should be directed to go there. The tire has no actual value of its own, and will use up a bit of time to direct the dog through it. Do you run to the bank every time you earn a nickel? Or, do you risk lugging around a big bag of coins (points)… the risk being that any fault will lose the entire bag.

Remember that unbanked points are lost when time expires. It is better to do the longer sequences first, and then finish with shorter sequences in anticipation of the expiration of time. It is better to be caught short of finishing a three obstacle sequence than it is to be caught short on a fifteen obstacle sequence.

Be aware of the proximity of the bank any time you direct the dog to a high value obstacle. It’s possible to trap yourself well away from a tire with no reasonable approach. In the sample course, for example, if you take the A-frame from the back of the field to the front… you are slightly stuck (though it might be very possible to turn the dog around on the dismount and head for the teeter to save the points). Also, since the judge has allowed back-to-back performances, the handler might just turn the dog around and take the A-frame in the opposite direction.

As in any point accumulation game, you should find nice logical flow for the dog so that you can move smoothly with your dog and rack up points at the dog’s best working speed.

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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 Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance part.