A Serpentine

A “Serpentine” is an arrangement of obstacles that undulates in serpentine fashion. It is the nature of a serpentine in agility that the handler will have to find a way to change sides to his dog.


Here’s a serpentine exercise that will give you work on changes of side, in a relatively small space. The flow of these five jumps is essentially serpentine. It is not possible for a handler to efficiently negotiate the five jumps without changing sides at least once. And, as we shall see, there are circumstances that might necessitate at least two changes of sides.

Path of Least Resistance

You’ll find that most handlers will analyze a small sequence exactly as though they would an entire course. They will pick the easiest and most accommodating path, which is most likely: Starting with the dog on the right the handler will maintain a position central to the dog’s arc through jumps 1-2-3, then push the dog out over jump #4, crossing behind the dog between #3 and #4, and call the dog up to #5.


This is the essential fast dog handling plan. The handler is determined to push his dog through the sequence. It has a lovely feel to it and is the most obvious plan from an intellectual point of view to be grasped by the novice handler.

Please take note that the handler is putting a turning movement in a nearly straight line. This is actually a fairly advanced plan of attack considering the sake of the dog. The handler must ask the dog to drive forward in obstacle focus while showing a turning movement.

Putting Turning Movement at the Corner

A handler will be more successful in agility throughout his career if he learns to put turning movements at the corners of the turns, and not in the lines. I often use “commuter driving skills” as an apt analogy. We know when we drive our cars that we use our accelerator in the lines and turn the wheel at the corner. We should learn to drive our dogs in the same fashion.


The adaptation we’ve made here is for the handler to step around jump #3 to put his turning movement out on the flat, and at the corner. There’s actually two corners in the dog’s path between jumps #2 and #3. It’s kind of a subtle thing. Can you see them? A handler with a slow dog probably doesn’t need to sweat this kind of thing. But the handler of the keen fast dog had better see both corners and get his timing cues right.

Now, with dog on left at jump #3 the handler can continue to support his dog through jump #4 without showing a turning movement. The change of sides has already been accomplished.

Landing Side Cross

Because I do mixed level classes some of these lessons are obvious to my more advanced students. And so I have to do something to adequately challenge them. It’s not my style to allow my students to languish in one-dimensional comfort. So I like to give them something fun to work with.


We’ve made the serpentine a bit of a distance challenge here. The handler will send his dog forward to jump #2 and then slide to the landing side of jump #3 for a layered or landing side Front Cross. Note too that the handler opens the sequence working at a comfortable lateral distance from his dog. The lateral distance lead-out is a routine part of my teaching. You’ll note that the problematic distance advantage is more lateral (to the left) than forward. And so the handler learns to cheat in both directions.

The Lion of Winter

Last week we had a terrible ice storm. The freezing rain crusted over everything making the ground slick and dangerous and enveloping everything outside in a mantle of ice.


The world was extraordinarily beautiful, that’s for sure. I’ve seen this only a few times in my life (coming from Arizona and all). And it still seems quite magical to me.


On the other hand, it’s also tough on the trees. I spent yesterday morning down by the pond with my chainsaw. The dam road had become impassible for all of the downed pine branches. They were too big and heavy for me to drag away and so I had to cut them up.

You don’t want to burn pine in a wood-burner. The wood I cut will be mostly good for a few bonfires. Both of our cabins have out-of-doors fire pits and campers through the year delight in hanging outside with their dogs and friends around a toasty crackling fire.

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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