A Primer on Skyhoundz Judging Criteria

by Jeff Perry

To gain insight into the manner in which Skyhoundz judges evaluate freestyle performances at Skyhoundz Regional and World Championship events it is useful to first review the Skyhoundz Guidelines. These Guidelines set forth the core standards or “framework” that Skyhoundz judges employ to score freestyle routines and consequently compare and contrast the performances of competing teams.

Under the PAWS scoring system, judges will evaluate each team’s ability to cleanly execute a challenging, varied, innovative and exciting routine within the time allotted. The PAWS scoring system requires judges to evaluate teams in four distinct categories. These categories are Presentation, Athleticism, Wow! Factor, and Success. The PAWS scoring system is as follows:

Presentation The team’s presentation of a crowd-pleasing routine with exciting choreography, continuous flow, good disc management and smooth transitions.

Athleticism A demonstration of intensity and athleticism in completing catches, tricks or maneuvers together with an evaluation of the dog’s speed, quickness, control, and leaping ability relative to its size.

Wow!Factor A team’s ability to successfully complete challenging tricks, sequences, throws and moves, including catches by the canine team member of throws with varied spins or releases. Also, the presentation of completely new moves, or a novel or unique presentation of a previously performed move, will result in higher scores in this category.

Success The successful execution of a planned routine with specific consideration given for the difficulty of the throws/catches and tricks. A team’s overall success score will affect, positively or negatively, the scores in all PAWS categories. In this category, it is entirely possible for a team with a few misses to score higher than a team with no misses if the team having the misses completes a more difficult routine.

In order for a trick to be scored in a Skyhoundz competition, it must begin or end with the disc in flight. In other words, every trick must somehow involve interaction between a thrower and a canine with a throw occurring either at the beginning or conclusion of the interaction between the thrower and canine. If a thrower does a freestyle move that does not involve the canine, it does not get scored. Take juggling for example. If a thrower juggles discs and then stops, we don’t score the juggling. If, however, a throw is made to the canine contemporaneously with the juggling, the trick will be scored. We like to think that everyone knows what a “take” is. However, we see them at virtually every competition. We do not score “takes.” A “take” occurs when a dog “takes” a disc out of a thrower’s hand, mouth or off of a thrower’s body. Remember, to be scored, the trick must begin or end with the disc in flight. It does not have to fly far, or even spin for that matter, but it must be airborne. Roller throws are the only exception to this rule.

Of the four PAWS scoring categories mentioned previously, the last two, Wow! Factor and Success probably have the greatest impact on a competitor’s overall score. They also provide the most obvious means of distinguishing one competing team from another. Further, the failure of a competing team to score highly in Wow! Factor or Success will likely impact the team’s scores in the other categories. Here is how this can happen. Take, for example, the Athleticism category. As judges, we have seen many incredibly athletic canines fail to score well in Athleticism because they simply did not catch discs consistently or because the thrower failed to make good throws or sufficiently challenge the dog. The Athleticism score is not based on one incredibly athletic catch in a routine replete with numerous misses. Instead, it is based on a Judge’s overall impression of a team’s ability to channel the athleticism of a canine in a manner that results in the successful completion of attempted athletic tricks and/or catches. In other words, you must do well in the Success category to achieve high scores in other categories. It is worth emphasizing that we do not give credit for attempted tricks. A trick must be accomplished successfully in order for the trick to have a positive impact on a team’s score.

Wow! Factor is a key category because, much like a difficulty multiplier in competitive diving, the category also impacts the overall score. If two competitors have perfect routines, the competitor with a more difficult and innovative routine will score higher in Wow! Factor and most likely in other categories as well. While we are discussing Wow! Factor let’s take a moment to also address the issue of vaulting in competition. On the subject of vaulting, the Skyhoundz Guidelines read, in pertinent part, as follows:

Since the welfare of competing canines is of great concern to everyone, vaults, utilizing the trainer’s body as a launch pad, should be minimized or excluded from routines altogether. If attempted, vaults should be performed in a controlled and safe manner. Excessive height, or frequent repetitions of vaults, will not increase the likelihood of a higher score.

Vaulting or other tricks in which a canine uses a portion of a thrower’s body as a launch pad can cause the canine to reach spectacular heights and/or travel great distances across the ground. These tricks can be exciting and crowd pleasing. In fact, there is a perception held by some competitors that you must vault your canine in order to be successful in a Skyhoundz competition. This is completely false. Excessive or repetitive vaulting can work against you because, from a judging perspective, vaulting is viewed as not having a particularly high degree of difficulty relative to a host of other more difficult maneuvers that an innovative team could attempt.

Another popular misconception is that high vaulting dogs receive higher Athleticism scores. In reality, a team’s Athleticism score is determined by a canine’s speed, quickness and leaping ability… but only in relation to the quality of jumps that are commenced from the ground. Repetitive vaulting takes up time and keeps a team from performing more innovative and difficult tricks. If you perform vaults in a Skyhoundz competition, you may impress the crowds, but there are, arguably, many other ways to impress the judges.

In recent years some have criticized Skyhoundz criteria for being too subjective. A number of elaborate and sometimes confusing scoring systems have evolved in an attempt to take the subjectivity out of judging a canine disc team. However, we believe that when teams perform the same trick or throw, there is always a qualitative difference between the performances of the competing teams. This qualitative difference cannot and should not be reduced to an objective standard. Even our distance accuracy event is not truly objective. After all, judges are evaluating whether a dog actually jumped to make a catch, whether the canine was inbounds when a catch was made, etc. We like to analogize attempts to create objective methodologies to the “compulsory figures” event in competitive figure skating. In “figures,” skating competitors individually skate over a series of identical figures etched in the ice. The question of whether the skater successfully skated the figure is more of an objective determination. A judge looks at the marks made by a skater on the ice. The style or athletic effort of the skater in skating the figures is not really relevant. Having said that, I wonder how many people have ever seen a televised ice skating “figures” event or gone out of their way to watch this event? In our view, the rules and scoring system of the Skyhoundz Championships are designed to encourage innovative, exciting and entertaining routines rather than compilations of compulsory tricks and maneuvers that force competitors to share the same path to success.

As always, Skyhoundz judges invite questions at Skyhoundz events. If you want to improve your scores, judges are always happy to make suggestions. To gain the maximum benefit from your conversation with a judge, be sure to approach the judge in a non-confrontational manner even if you disagree with the scores that you received. Once you understand the rationale for a judge’s scores and see, through the judge’s eyes, how your performance was evaluated relative to the other competitors in the competition, you will be equipped with the knowledge necessary to score better in future competitions.

To conclude, it is important to remember that no matter how you score, competing in a Skyhoundz canine disc competition will always be serious fun for your dog.

Reprinted with permission from Hyperflite, Inc. www.hyperflite.com.

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About the Author

Jeff Perry

Hyperflite co-founder Jeff Perry and his mixed-breed, animal shelter adoptee, Gilbert won the 1989 Canine Disc World Championship in Dallas, Texas. Prior to taking the World title, Perry and Gilbert won the Southeast Regional Championship for three consecutive years. Gilbert and Perry went on to be featured on NBC’s top-rated “Today Show,” along with numerous appearances on CNN and ESPN and other national and international media over the years. As a member of the ALPO Canine Disc Celebrity Touring Team, Perry was a media spokesperson for the 10-year period in which ALPO sponsored the Canine disc Championships.

Throughout the years, in countless interviews and public appearances Perry has extolled the virtues of adopting shelter animals. According to Perry, shelter mutts make wonderful companions and great disc dogs.

Perry and his canines have performed hundreds of times before sold-out stadium crowds at professional football and baseball games all over the world. Internationally, Perry has performed before huge crowds at Olympic Stadiums in Berlin and Barcelona and has made public appearances in Canada, China, Spain Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Gilbert and Perry were featured entertainers at the prestigious “Colare de Oro,” the Italian equivalent of the Westminster dog show.

While performing in Japan, Perry met the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan (the future emperor and empress of Japan) after one of more than 200 shows that he performed in Japan over a five-month period at the Animal Kingdom in Nasu. While in Japan, Perry and his dog Cosmic K.D. also entertained thousands of spectators in the Tokyo dome.

From 1990 to 2005, Perry served as the Chief Judge of the World Canine Disc Championships.

Perry, along with Peter Bloeme and Greg Perry, co-founded Hyperflite in 2000 and, shortly thereafter, designed and patented the revolutionary K-10 disc, the first canine disc designed exclusively for canine competition.

Perry, along with Peter Bloeme, co-produced the internationally-acclaimed Disc Dog Training DVD, the top-selling disc dog training DVD of all time. In addition, Perry co-wrote Disc Dogs! The Complete Guide, the most authoritative book ever written on canine disc sports.

In his spare time, Perry also serves as a Contributing Editor for Flying Disc Magazine.

A strong proponent of the health and fitness benefits of canine disc play for dogs and owners, Perry founded one of the first canine disc clubs in the country. Over the years, Perry has taught countless canine-disc aficionados to throw flying discs and helped even elite-level competitors improve their throwing abilities.

In addition to his canine disc activities, Perry still finds time to engage in some of his other favorite pursuits, climbing, backpacking and flying. Perry, a skilled pilot, has flown powered aircraft and hang gliders for more than 25 years and has logged more than 2000 hours in many types of aircraft. In fact, his aeronautical experience and understanding of aeronautical principles were instrumental in the design of the Hyperflite K-10 disc.

Perry received a Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.) in Journalism from the University of Maryland, a Juris Doctor degree (J.D.) from Mercer University and a Master of Laws in International Law (LL.M.) from the University of Miami.

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