Ways to Handle the Serpentine
The serpentine is a relatively easy looking line until you have to perform it with your dog. Made of two or three jumps the simple serpentine requires your dog to create a curved line over those jumps. Meaning the dog alternates sides of the jump it takes. Whether they start on the side of the handler or the side away from the handler will depend on the layout of the course.
There are two options with the simple serpentine, the handler can stay on one side of the jumps or change sides in order to navigate the jumps with their dog. It really depends on the team and their level of proficiency on the serpentine.
If the handler chooses to changes sides they have the options of the Front Cross, Rear Cross, Post Turn to Rear Cross, Blind Cross and other combinations you can think of.
By definition the front cross is any maneuver where the handler changes sides in front of the dog’s direction of motion. It is now generally accepted that in performing a front cross the handler always faces the dog. If you have a fast dog the Front Cross on a serpentine could prove to be very complicated as your timing has to be good so you don’t get in your dog’s way as you too are negotiating the serpentine.
The Blind Cross is a front cross in that the handler crosses in front of the dog’s direction of motion, but the handler remains facing forward. This allows the handler better speed, but requires the handler to lose sight of the dog during the cross. Again timing is essential because the handler cannot see the dog and thus must be out of their way in time for the dog to take off correctly.
The Rear Cross is a movement in which the handler changes sides behind the dog. Though I have not seen this done on a three jump serpentine, this is a good choice for a fast dog, but requires the dog to be solid in the change of sides by the handler. The handler can keep their eye on the dog the entire time as well as the jumps they too are weaving through.
The Serpentine Rear Cross is a Rear Cross combined with a Post Turn to ensure the corner of approach that indicates the dog’s path. During the Post Turn the handler remains in the same location on the course and pivots about that location. During the Rear Cross the handler crosses the dog’s path and thus changes sides of the jumps.
If the handler chooses to stay on the same side of the jumps they can choose from the Serpentine Front Cross, Lead Out Push/Pull, Reverse Flow Pivot/Push, Drop Shoulder Push and any other combination you can think of. Most choices resemble a Push/Pull movement on the handler’s part.
The Serpentine Front Cross is a Front Cross combined with a Post Turn to ensure the corner of approach that indicates the dog’s path. During the Post Turn the handler remains in the same location on the course and pivots about that location. In the serpentine work the dog crosses paths with the handler and thus the handler remains on the same side.
The Lead Out is simply where the handler goes out ahead of the dog and the Push is a verbal and/or physical cue is given for the dog to move out and away from the handler while the Pull is a verbal and/or physical cue for the dog to come toward the handler.
Reverse Flow Pivot/Push would be where the handler turns around and faces their dog which reverses the handler’s flow of motion and draws the dog into you over the second jump and then the Push would cue the dog to go away from the handler to the final jump.
The Drop Shoulder Push in essence is a cue that sends the dog away from the handler over the jump by dropping the handler’s jump side shoulder.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of possible handling options, but it is a great place to start. Work with these and others until you find a system that works best for you and your dog. Have a couple that you can choose from as some courses may dictate the use of one over the other. And if you need some jumps to get started, just click over to Affordable Agility and order some practice jumps to work with.