The Weakest Link is a game invented by TDAA judge Tara Choate for a Teacup Dogs judging assignment. Tara is a member of Columbia Agility Team in Portland, Oregon.
The objective of The Weakest Link is to score as many points as possible in the allotted time. Only “banked” points will count toward the final score. Small dogs have 60 seconds and big dogs will have 55 second to accumulate the best score possible.
The point values are:
- Jumps, 2 points
- Tire or tunnels, 4 points
- Contact obstacles, 6 points
- Weave poles, 8 points
- Gamble earns double the usual value of the obstacles. The gamble is bi-directional.
Start the round by directing the dog to any obstacle to earn points. Each obstacle taken by the dog must be worth as much as or more than the previous obstacle taken. The dog’s potential score will increase as each obstacle value is added to the overall total. But the dog can’t keep or count on these points until they are “banked”.
Points are banked (on the sample course below) when the dog performs the green colored pipe tunnel in the center of the course. Banked points are kept secure toward the final score and cannot be lost and the potential points score is set to zero. After banking the dog may begin with a low value obstacle.
Each sequence banked must be unique. There must be at least one difference from any sequence previously banked.
Back-to-back performance of obstacles (and the gamble) is permitted, but only back-to-back. A third performance shall constitute a fault.
If a dog faults, all potential points are lost. Faults include:
- Dropped bars
- Missed contacts
- Taking an obstacle of a lesser value than the previous taken
- Repeating a banked sequence
- Taking an obstacle out of sequence in the gamble (only faulted if the cumulative sequence violates the points rule)
- Failing to bank points before the final whistle
When a dog faults the judge will call “fault”. The handler is obligated to 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 except when that jump is in the gamble sequence. Every attempt will be made to reset the bar on a gamble sequence; if it has not been reset, the dog must be directed between the standards of the jump.
Weakest link is scored points, then time. Time is a tiebreaker.
There are a variety of games which can be easily nested with a standard course, and the course designer might be tempted to do the same with the Weakest Link course. But this lazy approach should be approached with some caution. It might be a better approach (no less lazy, but a lot smarter), to nest the standard course based on the set of the well-crafted Weakest Link course.
The overriding design challenge is to provide flow in such a way it might be a real trick of handling to perform obstacle of ever increasing values. The design shouldn’t be obvious or a give-away. However, no obstacle should be left orphaned by meaningless placement or unrealistic risk.
One of design challenges is to provide a reasonable approach to the “bank” from the high value obstacles, including the distance challenge or gamble. This is more difficult than it might appear. A high value obstacle that has too much low value clutter and risk will end up being ignored by most players and thereby actually reduces the size of the floor and the number of strategies that might develop.
Another consideration is to provide some flexibility and variability in the approach to the distance challenge. By rule, each banked sequence must be unique, differing in some way from any previously banked sequence. And so, if the distance challenge has only one real approach, then it will play a diminished role in the game.
Frankly, the game should be about the distance challenge. For those with the requisite skill the strategy should be a study in how many times and how many ways the gamble can be successfully scored and banked.
You will note that the list of faults does not include a fault for stepping over the containment line of the gamble. This is very important for the judge to understand. For the purpose of point accumulation the gamble (in the sample course) is considered a single 24 point obstacle. If the handler steps over that line all of the obstacles revert to their simple values and the rules of escalating point values will apply.
So, in the sample course if the handler comes out of the tunnel and does one jump on the way to the gamble, and at any time steps over the line, the judge would award the simple value of each obstacle. If, however, the handler approaches the gamble from the A-frame and then steps over the line, the dog will immediately be faulted for doing the first jump, because it is an obstacle of lower value than the last taken.
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 apart.