The Exploding Pinwheel

The purpose of this training mission is to teach the dog the performance of a pinwheel as though it were a single obstacle with multiple elements. Think of pinwheel as you might think of the weave poles. The Poles are only one obstacle. Take the same ambition with a pinwheel.

A discussion of the Exploding Pinwheel can be found in The Jokers Notebook (issue #0 on pages 77 and 78/of course those page numbers will change after we’ve added a lot of new text and links to YouTube videos).

We have a YouTube recording of Cedar… being introduced to the “Exploding” Pinwheel:

Introduction to the Exploding Pinwheel

The text below comes from a lesson plan I wrote something like 15 years ago. It is included here as the writing credits the person who probably invented the method.

I learned this conditioning bit from Patty Hatfield-Mah. The idea is to teach the dog to understand the pinwheel, and take ownership of this common jump configuration.

We begin with the jumps in the pinwheel pushed very close together as in this illustration. The handler can draw the dog through the entire performance while remaining in one quadrant.

Note that the jumps should be set very low as there is scarcely 6′ of transition between the jumps.


Before we move on from this step, we should be fairly certain that the dog has taken ownership of the pinwheel and will bop around the four jumps without a hint of luring or showing on the part of the handler.

As in any obstacle conditioning program, the handler’s keen use of a marker combined with praise and reward are essential to the dog’s learning. Any failure should be met with a neutral response from the handler. We want a keen dog emboldened by never being corrected or treated harshly. We allow the dog room to worry through the problem and discover that thing that earns the praise and reward.


We gradually and patiently explode the pinwheel, advancing each jump from center in rational incremental steps, each of which we hold until the dog demonstrates a keenness and understanding of his job in the pinwheel before advancing to the next step.

The handler should be able to work entirely from one quadrant of the pinwheel. But this doesn’t mean that the handler should stand like a stump in the woods. We teach that a handler should face and move in the direction the dog should face and move.

A good handler would move in a robust manner that compliment the dog’s path in the pinwheel (and anywhere else on course). The teaching of the pinwheel in this manner is not about good handling, it’s about good training. When you combine good handling habit with good training discipline, good things happen in the course of the dog’s career in agility.

As the Exercise Advances

Dog training is most effective when the trainer approaches the objective with modest progression. “Modest” means that you take small discrete steps that allow the dog to succeed. “Progression” means that the trainer always raises the expectation for performance.

The exploding pinwheel exercise should fairly early on introduce the very real possibility that the handler himself/herself mightn’t even enter the pinwheel while releasing the dog to do the entire pinwheel. Even this objective should be approached with modest progression:

CedarExplPinwheelTandem ~

As the dog becomes more confident the pinwheel itself should be big and robust, like any pinwheel in competition. Each time the pinwheel is “exploded” to larger dimensions, the dog trainer should review modest intro steps with the dog:

Katniss Phoenix ExplodingPinwheelFeb17.wmv ~

Notes Aside

This is an ongoing series intended as homework for Canine Manners distance seminar students; March 20 and 21 2017 in Broken Arrow, OK, (and others interested in training great distance skills who might visit these pages).

This topic is expanded and continued tomorrow!


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. You’ll find in the web store The Joker’s Notebook, an invaluable reference for teaching an agility dog (and his handler) to work a distance apart.


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