Helter Skelter

I had a bit of fun with our Sunday mini-clinic with a bit of a Helter Skelter course. 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. This game is extremely popular with dogs and handlers alike.

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I was somewhat challenged, as usual, by using only half the floor to create the course. So this is an odd abridgement of the true Helter Skelter course, especially with the use of the table which surely must be considered a flow breaking obstacle. However, the table represents an obstacle that is high on our training and conditioning objective list; and so it worked neatly in this game.

Also the traditional Helter Skelter course begins in the center and then unwinds into an ever expanding spiral. The course I designed here works in the opposite premise, starting big and then tightening.

What was quite fun about the course is the variety of option challenges presented to my students. After the first romp around the outside the dog is pretty much conditioned to charge at the course. But the second loop presents at least two compelling wrong course options which demand a measure of both skill and luck to avoid. The final small loop presents a single option to the tire which has been twice conditioned to the dog.

Training Sequences

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There are plenty of opportunities in this set of the floor to practice distance challenges. Indeed if as a handler I have mastered the simple handling objectives of a sequence I’ll be very interested in how I would communicate flow and direction to my dog from a distance. Of course, I could ask no less of my students.

This drawing is an example, though certainly not comprehensive of the distance challenge possibilities. In the initial presentation of the off-side tunnel I ask my students to layer to the opposite side of the inside pipe tunnel. And in the performance of the A-frame the handler should layer to the opposite side of the dogwalk.

It is not that the dog is willing and capable in his distance work. I really have to use these kinds of sequences to teach the fundamental discipline of distance work. The obvious stuff aside, like what direction is the handler facing and moving, I spend a fair amount of time talking about the effective use of real estate.

For example, in this sequence many handlers will tend to separate from the dog during the performance of the pipe tunnel. This is something of an error because there isn’t much real estate for movement up to the second send-line. And so the handler exhausts his available real estate for the dog and then manages to move so badly that the dog must be unconvinced that he should soar out into space for the A-frame.

Remember how I posed the presentation of the pipe tunnel: In the initial presentation of the off-side tunnel I ask my students to layer to the opposite side of the inside pipe tunnel. What I really want the handler to do is come around the inside pipe tunnel to sell the turn into the opposite side of our on-course tunnel as the numbering indicates. And then, rather than separating from the dog in the direction of the A-frame… the handler will actually step right up to the exit of the pipe tunnel to scoop the dog into turn and, frankly, push the dog out in front of him as soon as possible so that the handler has heaps of real estate to move as though he were on a mission.

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In this sequence we can practice the opposite side approach to the pipe tunnel from either side. Note that layering to the opposite side of the inside pipe tunnel (#12) will be highly effective. But frankly stepping between the tunnels for a Front Cross might be all the sequence calls for; though I’ll often have to point out to a student that in order to do a Front Cross the handler will actually need to be in front of the dog.

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This is a fun little bit with threadles into the pipe #4/#9 pipe tunnel. I always use threadles to teach whimsical movement that communicates direction to the dog like a high spirited dance. And therein lies the notion of my insanity.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

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