Games of the Petit Prix ~ Helter Skelter

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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.

Helter Skelter

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.

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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.

Triangular Pressure

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.

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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.

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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 Book of Agility Games, an invaluable reference to clubs engaged in league play.

Quidditch Design Tutorial

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For a moment, let’s make this a tutorial on the design of a Quidditch course. This is an obscure study… which is to say, there’s like 3 guys in the whole world worrying over the matter (and I’m not really sure who the other two are).

Here’s a rare look at the course review process. This is all based on a game that was submitted for review. I’ve carefully redacted the review to remove the cuss words. The game under review is Quidditch.

I rarely get involved in the design process; this game and course being an exception. There was some sense of urgency. Because this game was for the Petit Prix and the judges had like eight months to prepare for it… naturally we were still working on the courses at the last minute, while the club was screaming for the courses so they could send their exhibitor catalogs to the printer.

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Your course feels cluttered to me… and I want to fix that. I suggested bringing the containment down to 8′ because there wasn’t room for the handler to set up for the beater; but after shrinking the containment… you also crowded the sequences against the line; once again taking away important handling room. First step in uncluttering… is to move stuff away from the beater.

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Beginning with the lower/right sequence I’m going to rotate it around. And I’ve changed the sequence slightly; thinking ahead, I want a nice opportunity for a bludger on the dismount of the sequence which wasn’t really possible with the #4 jump crowded against the containment. So the #4 jump goes away.

I’ve also rotated the tire for the approach. It’s really difficult to design everything for a natural approach to the tire in this game. But we’ll really try as we go along.

Btw, since you’ve gone to four sequences rather than the traditional three… it allows us to name the four sequences after the four houses of Hogwart. That can be a nice touch.

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On the Ravenclaw sequence I’ve pretty much preserved the original challenge. I’ve backed everything a tiny bit off the beater containment. Note now that swapping the weave poles for the pipe tunnel makes the pipe tunnel a for real bludger opportunity after the Ravenclaw sequence. And, the #1/#4 jump in Ravenclaw is a bludger opportunity after the Griffindor sequence.

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I really changed your Slytherin sequence. First, I altered the colors of the numbers. All that black stuff up there added to the clutter. I took the A-frame out for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that it would trap the judge at the back of the ring, to get a view of the contact, yelling out numbers to a scribe at a distance.

In the design we continue to watch for a nice square flowing approach to the beater. This design once again introduces a bludger after the #5 jump of the Slytherin sequence.

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I’ve changed your Hufflepuff sequence just a bit. By reversing the direction of the wrap it allows for a square approach to the beater (which I had rotated early on). Also… the #1 jump in the sequence serves as a bludger on the approach to the beater. I like the balance of that. Note that all of the sequences now have bludger challenges without ever actually using a dummy jump.

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In a final adjustment I changed the position of the table and rotated the start line so that there’s a choice of either Hufflepuff or Gryffindor as the starting sequence. You know, if I had wanted to I could have run the start line from the vicinity of the table to the upper right corner of the course. That would have allowed the exhibitor to start on any one of the four sequences. I might be tempted to do something like that at some small regional trial. But at the Petit Prix it would be a drag on efficient ring administration.

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The next bit we really need to attend to is checking whether the Qualifying Course Time (QCT) that you established falls within the rates of travel standards for all dogs. As you can see, I measured this course at around 100 yards. And you established, in your briefing 60 seconds for big dogs, and 65 seconds for small dogs.

I ran the 100 yard estimate through my Rates of Travel calculator using a mid-range rate of travel, and came up with these interesting numbers:

Games I 4″ / 8 “

71

12′′ / 16′′

67

Games II 4″ / 8 “

63

12′′ / 16′′

57

Games III 4″ / 8 “

50

12′′ / 16′′

47

We really aren’t so interested in GI and GII for the Petit Prix… everybody competes at the Superior/GIII level. The calculated times for GII, however, suggest that you might want to toughen up on the QCT. At a minimum you make it 55/60; but you could toughen it up to 50/55. Note that I did not bother to include Slytherin in the measured calculation. In the strategy of the game the handler must decide whether to risk the Golden Snitch (75 points) to steal another 100 points for Slytherin and beater. The faculty at Hotwarts will tell you, dealing with Slytherin house is a good way to get snake-bit.

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Your briefing says “Each sequence can be successfully completed only once and only 3 sequences may be completed.” Oh, I really disagree. You put four out there… you really should take the opportunity to entice the greedy. Remember, there are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. But there are no old bold pilots.

Your briefing says “If a team completes or attempts one sequence more than once the final score for the team will be zero.” This is from the original rules. It makes you wonder… why would anybody want to do that? That being said… I’ve seen a handler repeat a sequence with her dog because she thought that her dog’s fault of the beater actually faulted the sequence which preceded it. So I’m thinking… setting the score to zero is a terrible punishment for not completely understanding play of the game. And you would feel awful if that exhibitor went out to the parking lot and shot herself. So, we should soften this rule to say “If a team completes a sequence more than once the second performance will earn no points.”

Quidditch

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Briefing

Big dogs will have 55 seconds and small dogs 60 seconds to complete at least three numbered sequences. When time expires the dog must be directed to the table to stop time. The point values for each of the sequences are 15, 20, and 25 points. Each sequence can be successfully completed only once; but all four sequences may be completed.

Each obstacle has individual point values that are earned by a team if a sequence is only partially completed prior to time expiring.

• 1 point for jumps

• 3 points for tunnels

• 5 points for contact obstacles and weave poles

Upon successful completion of a sequence the dog can earn bonus points for a successful performance of a tire; the ‘Beater’ bonus, for which the team will earn an additional 25 points if the tire is performed from behind the containment line. Refusals will be faulted on the tire, but nowhere else on course. The initial direction of the dog’s approach to the tire will define the run-out plane of the obstacle for the purpose of judging refusals. If a dog commits a refusal on the tire, the Beater bonus is lost. If the handler faults the containment line, the Beater bonus is lost.

After attempting the Beater bonus the team should attempt another sequence. If the team completes three different sequences they will earn a ‘Keeper’ bonus of 50 points. Note: the bonus points earned or missed by the completion of the tire do not affect ability for a team to earn the Keeper bonus.

A dropped bar, some off-courses (see wrong course rule, below) or a missed contact will be considered a sequence fault. The team can immediately reattempt the same sequence or move to another sequence.

When time expires no new points can be earned.

The Bludgers Rule

  1. A Bludger (wrong course obstacle) performed during the performance of an individual sequence shall result in a sequence fault. No points are earned for the performance of any individual obstacle unless the sequence is not completed due to expiration of time.
  2. Performance of a Bludger after the successful completion of a sequence on the way to the Beater (tire) shall be considered a fault of the Beater. The ability for the team to earn the Beater bonus is lost. The team should proceed to the next sequence, or to the table if appropriate.
  3. If the wrong course occurs: Bludgers (wrong courses) shall not be faulted: between the starting line and the first obstacle of a numbered sequence; between the Beater and the first obstacle of a numbered sequence; between the Beater and the table (to stop time).
  4. No points shall be earned for the performance of any Bludger.

Expiration of Time

If the whistle sounds prior to the completion of the three sequences, the dog should be directed to the table. The team will earn individual points for obstacles completed prior to the sounding of the whistle. When the dog touches the table, time will stop. No table performance is required.

The Golden Snitch

If a team successfully completes all three sequences, earns all three 25 point Beater bonuses, and touches the table prior to the 60 or 65-second whistle sounding, the team will earn the Golden Snitch bonus of 75 points.

Scoring

Quidditch is scored Points, Then Time. The dog with the most points wins. In the case of a tie, the dog with the shortest time will be the winner.

A perfect score requires completion of all three sequences and successful performance of the Beater bonus. The scoring notation would look like this: 15-25-20-25-25-25-50-75.

Qualifying

• Games I: 55 points

• Games II: 75 points

• Games III: 95 points

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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. Five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook are available on the web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.