Studying the Back Cross #1 of n

I’ve observed forever that there is no handler movement that NQs more agility teams than the Back Cross. Unfortunately the idea of crossing behind the dog fits neatly in the conceptual intellect bubble of the very novice player. And yet, I find the Back Cross an advanced skill for the dog. I have forever taken pains to beat the Back Cross out of my novice students, and then teach it to my advanced students.

Anyone familiar with my teaching shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve identified several different types of Back Crosses. Each has different mechanics and attributes; (The “mechanics” of a movement is how the movement is conducted by the handler; the “attribute” of a movement is the product of the movement from the dog’s performance.)

The Post & Tandem Back Cross

By definition the P&T Back Cross is a combination movement. I include it in the discussion because it is a straight-forward study that will immediately improve the Back Cross of nearly any novice player (to the extent that it will quit NQing them a high percentage of courses).

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To get a the true tightened turn of a Back Cross and avoid most of the ills usually associated with a Back Cross, the handler might use a Post & Tandem approach to pre-cue the Back Cross to the dog. In this movement the handler will draw sharply on Post and then flip back into a Tandem Turn (on the flat).

The interesting thing about this movement is that many dogs will learn to read the Post & Tandem approach as a pre-cue to turn. In other words they won’t follow the true movements of either the Post or the Tandem, but will take all of the handler’s set-up movements as information which means to turn in the opposite direction at the jump. This accomplishes exactly what we wanted, to pre-cue the Back Cross, without sacrificing additional length of path. I’m not sure why this happens with dogs except maybe to say dogs are very clever about such things.

The Flat-Work

It’s worth pointing out that before a movement can be used in combination, it should be mastered all by itself. Part of the intellectual puzzle of any kind of rear cross is understanding that the handler must change sides behind the dog, and so the dog must be forward of the handler. I apologize if this sounds obvious; but teaching a novice handler this concept is the objective lesson for the instructor.

The dog turns most naturally toward the handler. We want to embark on a mission then to intentionally teach the dog to turn away when directed to do so. As a dog trainer I place a high reliance on a simple system of praise and reward, though in the early steps of training I might shape the movement moving a lure. With that in mind… the handler might use a succulent bit of food treat to lure the dog into the turn.

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The introduction might be made flat-footed. But my personal choice is to draw the dog while in motion (that means my feet are moving). With the food treat in hand begin to draw the dog.

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I draw the dog completely across my body.

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Using the food treat as skillfully as possible lure the dog to curl away from you. Some dogs will be resistant to this. Just keep trying. A good dog trainer will always meet resistance with persistence.

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Now, as the dog turns away, is a good time to praise and reward.

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We get one extra little picture here, only to show that the handler has about fully rotated. And if I were to give you another picture, the left arm of the handler will have to come up to resume with the correct lead. I typical will point out to my students that having mastered the right-turning Tandem equal attention should be given to the left-turning Tandem. Some dogs are decidedly sided and will learn to turn away on one side easily while being quite resistant to turning away to the other.

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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