Over the years I’ve used the “bootlace” configuration to teach a variety of different handling skills. I reckon that a complete handling seminar could be accomplished using only four jumps and a couple pipe tunnels.
Today I need to talk about the Front Cross. I’ve spent the week in a series of private lessons with a young lady and her Dachshund. And some of these notes come right out of our discussions.
The biggest problem with handling is that the human part of the team approaches the task as a problem of control or manipulation or generally fussing and waving arms over the dog’s head. A lot of the artifices that result have little benefit in directing the dog or giving the dog timely information.
I always begin any exercise with what I call the “entertainment round”… in which the handler might solve a simple riddle with the handling of his own choosing. You’d be amazed how many handlers will approach this sequence managing to put Rear Crosses at jumps #3 and #6. But that’s another story.
So, I’ll specify handling. We’d like to use this sequence to practice a Front Cross. That’s not to say that the Front Cross is the only answer or even the best. We just want to practice a Front Cross.
Wobbling the Path
If the handler is accustomed to “fussing” to direct the dog, you’ll often get to see the wobbly path. Note that the handler after sticking the dog into the pipe tunnel goes to the exit of the pipe tunnel (as though there’s something useful to be done there); then goes to hang his feet under the wing of the jump; then has to step sideways to get around the jump; and finally moves to where he should have been heading in the first place.
It’s a wonder that the dog ever gets to jump #2. And sometimes, he doesn’t.
The dog tends to move in a path parallel to the handler’s path. So from the entry of the pipe tunnel the handler can turn around and make a bee-line approach to his downfield station. Note how the handler’s path gives good parallel information and even applies slight pressure back through jump #2.
Finding the Handler Path
The savvy handler will understand that he really has to get on the other side of the dog’s implicit path in the transition between jumps #2 and #3. If the station for his Cross is on the wrong side of the dog’s path, then the dog’s path will be a big sloppy serpentine thing.
Note two spots on the course labeled X1 and X2. What the handler is looking for is a place to begin his Cross (X1) that lines up neatly in a path parallel to the dogs, and allows him to slide neatly between the jumps. X2 is a point of focus only that allows the handler to create a straight line in his movement. However, a point I often make is that the handler should continue moving to X2 until the dog is over the jump (#3). This means that the handler continues to support the dog in motion through the jump. Too many handlers will hit jump #3 as though there were a brick wall there. And I was very particular with the builders of my training building on this point… no brick walls on the training floor!
One last point here… and it’s a matter of timing. The dog turns when the handler turns. And so when the dog gets up in the air over jump #2 the handler should be at X1 and promptly get the Cross done and get in motion down his lane.
Confront & Confound
While the Front Cross is one of the most common movements in our sport… it is also one of the most flawed. I’ve documented 8 different kinds of Front Crosses, each with different mechanics and with different attributes. Actually, there are more than 8… but only 8 useful ones. The one I show here is common, but not very useful. I call it the Confront & Confound Front Cross.
Note that the handler at the moment of the Cross swings up with the outside shoulder, steps in towards the dog, and hammers up his counter-arm, facing the dog in a posture that means “stop” or “go slow”. Everything is wrong about this movement.
The Front Cross can be a sublime and elegant movement. The pressure should be against the handler’s inside shoulder. The handler pulls the dog into the turn, putting all pressure in the new direction of the course. While the rotation might be towards the dog the handler should slip through it neatly so that the dog has no sense of being confronted or “faced” whatever. Everything else is pulling away from the dog; the step, the shoulder, the focus.
Teaching is a game of repetition. Just keep saying it until they get it. And when they do get it, somebody else will come along who needs to hear the same thing.
Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest
If someone were to use the word “scoun” to call me a moron, what language would they be speaking? Note that this is a phonetic spelling. I don’t know how the word is actually spelled.
The first correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the April Jokers Notebook.
Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/web-store/ . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special04” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.