Thursday, October 17, 2013

Agility Scrabble

Every year at camp we try to come up with new, creative, yet still useful and fun activities. Some go over well, some fail miserably, but occasionally there is a new activity that becomes a much loved tradition. Dumbbell throwing contest, blindfolded cupcake decorating, blindfolded obstacle course, and making pizzas all fit into this category. Agility scrabble has yet to prove itself long term, but given the response of the campers this year it has potential to be added to this category. The game is obviously based off of scrabble, and is the result of a thrift store trip where Abigail and Karin were unable to turn down a $2 game of Jenga. While stuck inside due to a bad storm this winter, a fit of extreme boredom led us to defacing our game to create a parkour version of Jenga, which led to obedience Jenga, and finally after some brainstorming, agility Scrabble. 

We took a Scrabble Junior board (because it was $1.79), added the typical Scrabble words (triple word score, double word score, double letter score) and wrote the name of agility obstacles on back of the scrabble tiles. Each agility obstacle had a point value, with weaves being the highest value (10 points), and jumps being the lowest (1 point). 

Campers were divided into two teams of fairly equal experience. (In our case this was red cabin and blue cabin as we love to encourage cabin competition at camp!) Like in “normal” Scrabble, each team drew seven tiles from the box from which they would attempt to create a “word” or sequence of agility obstacles that connected with the tiles already played. Here is where the fun twist to this game comes into play. To be able to leave their tiles on the board (and thus collect the much desired points!) one dog/handler team had to perform the sequence on the obstacles how they were set up in the ring. If they were successful, they received the points and the tiles stayed on the board. If they made a mistake, no points were awarded and the tiles were removed. Every dog/handler pair on the team had to run a sequence once before anyone could go a second time. 

Like we generally do with new activities, we only scheduled a 30 minute time slot for agility Scrabble. We like to keep activities that could be epic failures (older campers will remember carting...) short in the event that it is going horribly. This makes it easy to end the activity before dogs, campers, and counselors become frustrated. NINETY MINUTES later, we realized that this was NOT the case with agility Scrabble as we had to on-the-fly come up with a new end to the game.  We feared that if we didn’t limit the campers to two runs apiece, they would play Scrabble until either they or their dogs were incapable of moving any longer.

What we realized is that this game did not just encourage the handler to have an honest assessment of their own dog’s capability and design an appropriate level course, it also encourages a never seen before level of intensity. The campers were analyzing the dog and handler, the fluency of their behaviors, how risky a course was, if it was worth the risk, and how they could get the most points with the obstacles they had. Dog camp tends to get intense, but the level of focus, discussion and analyzing was impressive even by our standards. As the game got closer to our designated 2 rounds finishing point, teams went for longer and longer sequences, but still within the limits of the dog/handler pair. At one point towards the end of the game Rachelle, with her dog C-ATCH Sander, completed a tricky, but high-point sequence and said “I think I was more nervous for that run than I was during my C-ATCH run.” All of the campers learned important lessons in how dog’s behaviors can change or even fall completely apart under pressure that is similar to what is felt when trialing. It came down to the final run, with red cabin catching up from behind and barely beating blue cabin by nine points. It is a game definitely worth playing again and hopefully we have stumbled upon a new favorite camp game for years to come!