Obsession of the Anorak

An important distinction in the Tandem is that we disregard the rule of thumb that the handler should always be positioned on the side of the turn, because the dog turns most naturally in the direction of the handler. There are times when the clever and evil judge will design a course that intentionally positions the handler on the wrong side of the turn. The handler needs an answer to that riddle.

We rely on the premise that our dogs already understand how we move. So in the Tandem we turn towards the dog, distinctly and boldly. The dog, understanding our movement should make the turn in this new direction although the turn is toward his side.


Natural Movement

I have to slow down and make this point. When watching a student practice any movement I like to view the movement through a filter of rational comparison with how that person might move naturally through the conduct of life.

What does it look like when a person turns a corner?

Many handlers will introduce mechanics to any movement in dog agility that has no foundation in natural movement. It takes much longer to teach a dog to abide the cues of the handler when false-mechanics are introduced to the movement. But it is possible… because dogs are clever and engage naturally in a system of compensatory learning.

But wouldn’t it be better if we understood how dogs perceive our movement and use those natural cues to communicate with the dog?

Which Arm should Signal the Tandem?

There is a bit of a controversy with the Tandem Turn, that is, which arm should be used to signal the turn. It’s reported that Susan Garret calls the “off-arm” the “evil Ohio-arm,” and advocates using only the inside arm (the arm nearer to the dog.)

Of course, the turn is more than just an arm signal. At the same time the handler is rotating his body, turning, and moving in the direction of the turn. It’s also a good idea to develop a verbal command to coincide with all of these other cues. Often in seminar I will have a handler stick her thumbs in her back pockets and conduct the dog through the turn with no arm signal at all. The more compelling bits of the cue come from the rotation of the handler’s body, turning the corner, and stepping in the direction of the turn.

Whether evil or not, the advantage of the off-arm signal is that it draws the opposite shoulder in towards the dog and into the turn. When using the inside arm signal the handler must be keen to draw the outside shoulder into the turn of his own volition.

Oh, as to the controversy about which arm to use. I like to operate under the assumption that whatever works is correct. There are no “one size fits all” solutions in agility, though we may discover that inside-arm and counter-arm have different attributes.

Attributes of the Movement

This is a word that I use that isn’t in much currency in the world. An attribute might be defined as the quality of the dog’s response to a handler’s movement.

I made the claim yesterday that 90% of the time the Tandem Turn is better handling than a raw Rear Cross… but sometimes, only a Rear Cross will do. This is an acknowledgement of the difference in attributes between the two movements.


An attribute of the Tandem Turn is that it creates a wide sweeping turn. Whereas an important attribute of the Rear Cross is that it creates a tightened turn. The illustration above shows the dog earning a refusal at jump #3 because the handler uses a Rear Cross rather than a “wide sweeping” Tandem turn. Don’t get me wrong here; people get away with the Rear Cross in this scenario all the time. But if the dog does tighten the turn, which he actually should, there’ll be very little the handler can do to prevent the refusal.

To tell you the truth, if we move the #3  down to where jump #4 is,  then the Rear Cross makes considerably more sense than the Tandem Turn. But then, even with a Rear Cross a dog with powerful obstacle focus would be tempted to take the option jump and not pull through neatly (suggesting that there’s quite another handling movement with attributes more ideal for this challenge.)


So while we’re speaking of attributes, I want to introduce the possibility that a Tandem Turn conducted with a counter-arm signal might actually have different attributes than a Tandem Turn conducted with an inside-arm signal.

In this illustration I’m showing exactly what  my old retired boy Bogie would do (and did do) should I come up with a counter arm signal in the turn from jump #2 to  jump #3. He always took the counter-arm signal as an instruction to turn hard aback.

So if I truly wanted the considerably more subtle turn to jump #3, then the inside arm is the way to go.

* * *

I’m getting a bit away from Mary’s request for me to talk through the training steps. I think that tomorrow I should talk about how to deal with problem dogs. A problem dog, in terms of the Tandem, is a dog that insists on spinning towards the handler in the conduct of the turn. Ideally, we want the dog turning neatly away from us.

Though to tell you the truth, not everything has to be broken down in the granular bits and the compulsive “foundation work” of the obsessive anorak. Sometimes we train by playing and we learn by doing.

Thanks to Bernadette

I must thank Bernadette for the word “Anorak”. I had to Google up a UK-English to American-English translator to figure it out. But it’s a lovely word and especially cute because I am one and didn’t know the word for it. LOL


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.


5 Responses to “Obsession of the Anorak”

  1. Jon Says:


    I don’t agree that the Tandem Turn is better than a Rear Cross 90% of the time. I believe that the choice of which cross to use in the course you posted depends upon, the speed of the dog, the speed of the handler, the size of the dog, the jump height, and the presence of any obstacles that may be located behind jump #2. For example, my dog is 21 1/2″ fast Aussie jumping 26″ in USDAA. There was a section in a Jumpers course this weekend very similar to your course with two differences. Jump #2 was a spread jump which meant he had to jump pretty big and there was a tunnel 18 feet behind #2 in direct line with jumps 1 & 2. If I had tried a Tandem turn in this situation, he would have been in the Tunnel before I could start the Tandem. I believe that the Tandem is best suited for those dogs and handlers that have similar speed and the handler uses the jump to provide the break needed for the handler to cross behind the dog.

    To get the more rounded cornering path of the Tandem turn with a Rear Cross, I would pre-cue the cross to let my dog know he is going to the right after #2, then adjust my rate of deceleration and lateral motion to get the proper arc on the back side of 2. Since he is already three to four feet behind Jump #2 when he lands I normally don’t need to round the corner at all as long as #3 is reasonably close to #2.

    • budhouston Says:

      Well you know Jon, I’m not a one-size-fits-all kind of guy at all. And you’ll frequently catch me saying things like… “know thy dog” and “don’t run the plan, run the dog”. I understand your technical discussion just fine. And you’ve described the kind of logic that goes into the handling of a bowling ball kind of dog. You should also recognize that it’s your dog that you are talking about.

      The truth be known, there is no movement in agility that NQs more dogs than the Rear Cross. If the handler switches to the Tandem Turn at least the movement has the saving grace of the handler having continued to work through the hurdle.

      By the way as to the timing issue (your dog would “be in the Tunnel before I could start the Tandem)… of course it’s going to fail if you don’t understand the correct timing. I submit that the starting the Tandem after the dog is in the tunnel probably means you are out of position and very very very late.

      If you can’t be in position for a Tandem, you can’t do a Tandem in the same way if you can’t be in position for a Front Cross, you can’t do a Front Cross. And you can argue with that all you want.


  2. Jon Says:


    I set up your jump sequence with my tunnel trap twenty feet beyond jump 2 and tried both a RC and a TT. Starting from a dead stop, even with my dog, three feet behind jump 1, I end up about four feet behind my dog when I reach jump 2. By the time I pass the jump and start the TT, he is ten feet from the tunnel and driving forward and the TT has no effect. I tried a TT again using the outside arm when I was parallel with Jump 1 and that did pull him off the tunnel, but only barely. The only method that gave a nice arc to Jump 3 was a RC that occurred the moment he began to pull ahead of me between jump 1 and 2. Now he’s fairly fast and will drive hard between obstacles if he believes he is going straight. The TT provides the turning information too late for him to act on it, whereas the RC provides him the information that he is not going to the tunnel before he reaches Jump 2.

    Which brings me back to my original point, the TT is best for those handlers whose dogs tend to pace them or have a lot of handler focus. The jump provides a natural break for the handler to smoothly cross behind their dog. Whereas for these teams, a RC requires that the handler slow down, which causes the dog to slow down resulting in either a collision or refusal of the jump.

    Now without a tunnel trap out there, the TT would turn my dog, but because the turning information gets to the dog later, the arc would be longer than with a RC. The TT would also put me somewhat further behind my dog, which could be a disadvantage depending on the course.


    • budhouston Says:

      lol. Well Jon, a good way to change the results of scientific test is to change the conditions of the test. 😉

      You should come down and train with me sometime. I’ll teach you how to do a Tandem.


  3. Jon Says:


    I would have liked to have gone to your Rondout seminar, but our club’s trial is that weekend and since I’m Trial Sec, it might not go over well. I did use Tandem Turns & (horror) Blind Crosses with my first agility dog, but he was more of a “pacing” dog versus a “driven” dog and they helped to keep him moving.

    My current dog is a “driven” dog who wants his information as soon as possible. Letting him know that he’s turning right after going over Jump 2 rather than giving him that information before Jump 2 will result in a very wide turn or off-course.

    If I was able to beat my dog to Jump 2 then I would consider a TT as my shoulders would be turning before he starts to jump. But he’s a lot younger than I am so I didn’t try that at the trial.


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