Notes on the Tandem Turn

Editor’s Note: This is the last bit/continuation of the discussion from an old lesson plan over the last two days. Put all three together for the complete discussion.

I am very fond of a wrap-up exercise that combines the skill-sets and training objectives of the day. So in this exercise I gave my students a mirror image of the previous exercise and added on the dogwalk after jump #5. And, to complicate matters I reintroduced the containment line from the first exercise.

The handler is essentially faced with a fairly advanced sort of Tandem Turn at jump #5. It’s a thing we call the layered Tandem. The handler will turn and step towards the dog as the dog is coming up and over the bar, convincing the dog of the change of direction. However, as the dog turns away and commits out to the dogwalk the handler doesn’t actually cross behind the jump at all. He steps back to the landing side of the jump and layers the jump between himself and his dog.

You know, I can remember a time when there was only one dog in our training center consistently capable of the layered Tandem. It was my boy Bogie… about eight years ago. Today, we have at least 50 dog and handler teams for whom the layered Tandem is a natural part of their repertoire. We work on this skill enough that it’s natural to both dog and handler.

Nonetheless, after this exercise I promised all of my classes that within the next couple of weeks I’d include a very structured Tandem Turning exercise. The Novice students especially are baffled by the mechanics of movement and training implicit in this rather advanced skill. As a instructor: no matter how many you’ve trained a skill in the past… you just gotta keep training them!

What is a Tandem Turn?

The Tandem Turn is a form of the Back Cross. Rather than crossing behind the dog on the approach to an obstacle, the handler crosses behind the dog on the dismount or landing side of the obstacle. Most Back Crosses would be greatly improved if the handler would use the Tandem rather than the Back Cross. Risk is greatly diminished. Having said that… there are times when only a Back Cross will do. This is not one of them.

In a Tandem Turn the handler is simply turning a corner. It’s pretty much like every corner the handler has turned in his entire life, and should look like it. Dogs are terrific students of handler movement. If the handler were to fail to simply turn the corner—let’s say he decides to have convulsions and flap his arms instead, or cock back his arm away from the dog as though doing a wind-up to throw a baseball out into center field… then the turn away from the handler’s position would likely be spoiled for the dog.

Trouble with the layered Tandem

Though many of my students nailed this exercise, the biggest mistake that was made by some, was to arrive at jump #5 hugging the jump. The problem with this is that the handler has no room to step.

It’s very important to understand about a Tandem Turn: It is not a hand-signal, or an arm-signal. The Tandem Turn is a whole-body signal. That includes, arm signal, step, and rotation. So the handler should reserve room to step towards the dog to sell the change of direction with a compelling step. Especially in the layered Tandem (in which the handler has no intention of accompanying the dog through the turn) the handler should convince the dog of the turn.

Putting it all together

Note in this sequence that it is in the handler’s interest to send the dog on to the pipe tunnel to earn an advantage in real estate in order to arrive at jump #5 at approximately the same instant as the dog.

The entire sequence is sweetened a bit if the handler remembers to incorporate a bit of Kentucky Windage to put the dog on a proper path when sending ahead.

The handler falling back for the Front Cross in the transition from jump #4 to jump #5 should move as deeply into the pocket as possible to give the dog plenty of room to make the turn without the handler getting in his way.


My intention in this writing has been to demonstrate the flexibility with which I approach using the lesson plan. I tend to view the lesson plan as a vehicle for discovery, both routine and the inspired, to the teaching points I should be making with my students. I tend to adapt as I go along. And, I am completely unashamed about teaching beyond the black and white limits of the plan.

In our Dogwood Instructor camps I make the point quite early with the certification candidates that we all teach from our own experience. What I will do or say or where I might go as a teacher might differ dramatically from what any other teacher might do or say or go. Is one of us right and one of us wrong if we make completely different observations and teaching points? I don’t think so.

One of the hard parts about teaching is finding that one thing you can say to a student that they are ready to learn and constitutes a logical next step in the progression of their learning. Coaching and teaching in agility is rather like building a brick wall. You lay the wall one brick at a time. You can’t lay the upper bricks, until you have laid the lower.

To continue the analogy, teaching is further complicated by the notion that in mixed group classes your students will have bricked up their walls at varying stages of completion. With one student we might be laying bricks down upon the foundation; while with others we are placing bricks at the top of the wall.

And yet, when I make a teaching point to a student I seldom, if ever, give the teaching point to the student in off-line conference. I always address the entire group so that everyone can get the benefit of what I’ve just said.

Note that I spent no time whatever in this discussion with the exercises that were on the other side of the floor. And yet, those exercises had their own evolution and discovery and might merit just as complete a discussion as I’ve given here. But, it’s time to move on to next week’s lesson plan where it all begins again.

I’ve warned my students that in the next eight weeks every lesson plan will include at least one distance exercise.


If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.
— Tennessee Williams


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.


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