Changing Sides

Q. I have tried to tighten my Springer Spaniel’s turns by doing front crosses. Yes, the turns are tighter, but Sassy ends up knocking the pole. Where am I going wrong?

A. Knocked poles are a sign of a badly timed maneuver or incorrectly positioned handler. Moreover, it indicates that the maneuver chosen was not necessarily the best one for the job. There are three types of crosses that enable a handler to change sides and turn his dog. Practice them so that you can execute all with equal comfort, but, more importantly, learn to recognize which cross will be most effective in specific handling situations…

Front Cross A front cross is just what it says. The handler changes sides by crossing in front of his dog – dancing face to face. A front cross will focus a dog on the handler and cause it to decelerate in order to make a tighter turn. But you must ask yourself if the loss of speed will be worth and seconds gained. And you must make sure that you give your dog enough space to land and take off. Stand too close to the fence and you will be too much of a physical barrier – your dog will knock the pole.

Rear Cross The handler crosses behind the dog and the dog’s bottom is always in view. To be effective the dog must work in front confidently. The dog is focused on the equipment and speed will not be compromised. However, turns may be wide and control can be a problem if the dog is too far ahead, misses the cross and then picks his own route. And position and timing is everything. You need to cross on the dog’s take-off side of the fence, not his landing side. And, if you cross before the dog commits to the fence, you risk pulling him off it.

Blind Cross The handler crosses in front of his dog but instead of turning to face the dog, the handler changes sides with his back to the dog. As the dog finishes his turn, he is chasing his handler’s bottom. Forward momentum is maintained. The dog must be comfortable with the handler ahead of him. If the handler is unable to get far enough ahead of his dog for the cross, he risks colliding with him when he tries to switch sides. Instead of allowing the dog to keep driving forward to the obstacles, everything comes to a halt while the paramedics are called to the scene. Don’t assume that a blind cross means that you don’t have to turn your head to look where your dog is. The result can be an elimination or worse if you don’t.

Decision Time When you are deciding which cross to use, consider where your dog is coming from and where he is going to next on the course. Your handling of the first obstacle will have implications for the one that follows it. Also, think about the distance between the obstacles and the shortest path between them. Work not just the obstacles, but the spaces between them.

Select the right tool for the job. Practice all the crosses and use them where you think they will benefit you most on the course.

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
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