The Exploding Pinwheel

The dog training objective in this exercise is to teach the dog to take ownership of the pinwheel, as though it were a single obstacle with multiple elements, rather like the weave poles. The exercise, and the diligent practice of doing the exercise, has several other benefits:

  • The dog will adopt a powerful obstacle focus for jumps and hurdles;
  • Teach and reinforce a powerful directional command: “Go On!”
  • The dog will learn to work independently at a distance from his handler;
  • The pinwheel becomes an element in competition that allows the handler to gain advantage in field position.

“Exploding” pinwheel possibly conjures an image of wings and jump bars flying everywhere as if blown up dynamite. Just to settle down the imagery… exploding means in this context that the pinwheel gradually expands away from a center position.

The Basic Set


We begin with a pinwheel drawn tight and close together. When making this introduction the bars must be kept very low so that it is safe for the big and fast dogs. As in all progressive exercises the steps should be small and incremental to ensure that the dog continues to succeed.

The handler will work the dog out in a clockwise direction, then stop to praise and reward the dog, and then resume in the anti-clockwise direction and then again praise and reward the dog.

As a basic objective is to teach the “Go On!” directional, the dog trainer should give that verbal cue to keep working. Rather than saying “jump – jump – jump – jump”… after the initial command to jump simply to tell the dog “Go on! Go On!”

The dog being unsuccessful in a training exercise is as important to our training method as is the dog being successful. When the dog is successful, he gets praise and reward. When the dog does not succeed, he is denied both praise and reward. We rely on the cleverness of the dog to sort out what he must do when the handler says a certain word, and holds his body thusly, to earn that reward.



As the pinwheel explodes to a greater extent the focus of the handler becomes more important. For the purpose of this discussion the handler’s focus is indicated by what is he looking at, what he is pointing at, what he is facing. The focus of the handler must agree with the focus of the dog.

The extent to which the pinwheel gets bigger depends on success. If the dog “gets it”… next time you make it a bit bigger.

Not every session will be perfect. That is the nature of dog training.

Though While the basic four-sided pinwheel was the training vehicle, the performance skills learned by the dog apply to jumping sequences with more jumps, occupying considerably more real estate. A basic objective from the beginning was to teach the dog to seek out jumps and get over them without requiring the handler to run in and micro-manage the simple performance of each jump.


A proofing exercise, as in the video above, gives important closure to the introduction of the exercise. Be very clear though, that this is a skill that needs refreshment and reinforcement over time.


The proofing exercise was conducted on our NDAL league course in May, 2019. All of our league courses suggest opportunities for very basic training objectives.

Note that I do this training with young dogs. I am convinced that training in the first year of a dog’s life cements the dog’s understanding of performance and behavior.

I have in my library a hundred or more recordings of dogs training with this exercise. I started doing this training and developing methodology roughly 20 years ago with my old boy Bogie. I really miss my boy and appreciate everything that he taught me.

The recordings selected here are intended to provide a concise overview of the methodology.

Something Fun

Phoenix Chasing Kory 1.wmv


Playful Pinwheels ~ Thinking Outside the Box

Editor’s Note:

I want to share with you something I wrote more than ten years ago. I wrote this before I was afflicted with arthritis. You’ll note a bit of disdain for moving “badly” as though it were a matter of sloth, rather than a physical limitation. In any case, it should be a good read for you who will play the game at a full run.  

While it’s true that I practice an “own the pinwheel” kind of training with my dogs, when push comes to shove I will reserve moving badly for some class that absolutely demands it. Think Gamblers, for example. In routine course work however I will endeavor to move in a way that inspires the dog and ensures that he is well directed.

I’ve written a great deal about pinwheels over the years. There’s something about a pinwheel that inspires the handler to move like an old musty stump in the middle of a swamp. Moving badly is good training… but it is not good handling.

The conundrum is ever that the dog’s path is this big robust thing while the handler’s path is more diminutive and restrained. Even a slow handler can outrun a fast dog in a pinwheel. The real painful match is when a handler is working a dog of moderate speed and handler is so completely defined by the inner limits of the pinwheel that the dog gets no sense of excitement or electricity at all from the handler. Just between you and me and the wall, if your dog isn’t one of those ballistic self starting everything-at-top-speed kind of dogs, then handling him as if he were is an error.

Blind Cross as a Pinwheel Movement


The trick in a pinwheel is to find a way to move. That means more real estate. Frankly there’s only so much real estate inside the pinwheel. But if I think outside the box, there’s plenty of new real estate for handler movement. In this first playful attack on the pinwheel I have the handler step outside the box in the transition between jumps #4 and #5 using a Blind Cross to race the dog to the outside. The transition and the moment of the Blind Cross are indicated in this illustration by the red colored paths for dog and handler.

Tandem Turn as a Pinwheel Movement


Another important skill in a pinwheel is the Tandem Turn. The Tandem is a cross behind the dog on the dismount of an obstacle or on the flat.

To play with this the handler will approach jumps #2 and #3 with dog on right, crossing behind the dog into the Tandem on the landing side of jump #3. Note that if the handler intends a Tandem Turn then he should endeavor to arrive at the jump at the same instant of the dog. The Tandem tends to create a wide sweeping turn in the dog’s path and accelerates the dog’s movement. These are perfect attributes for a pinwheel. Though you might get into a bit of trouble with it if you have an Afghan Hound or a leggy Border Collie.

Using All of Our Pinwheel Tools


Both tools, the Blind Cross and the Tandem Turn can be applied to the same pinwheel. In this illustration the handler executes the Blind Cross in the transition from jump #3 to jump #4 and then promptly uses a Tandem Turn to step back into the box after jump #4. The Blind Cross is indicated by the red paths for dog and handler; the Tandem Turn is indicated by the green paths for dog and handler.

This is an interesting handling choice that requires a speed change. The handler begins with slow dog handling (forward and pulling) into the Blind Cross; and then abruptly transitions to fast dog handling (behind and pushing).

Note that in the conduct of the Tandem Turn the handler actually wants to arrive at the jump at the same instant as the dog. We might argue that a Front Cross would be better than a Blind Cross because the Blind Cross is a racing movement and might make the handler arrive at the jump prematurely. However this is really a “know thy dog” condition. If the dog slips forward of the handler prematurely out of a Front Cross then the handler is behind the dog at the turning jump and so a Blind Cross would have been a better choice of movement.



Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Visit our web store: You’ll find in the web store The Jokers Notebook, a series of comprehensive training workbooks intended to teach a dog powerful skills of independent performance.


One Response to “The Exploding Pinwheel”

  1. Jean Rowe Says:

    Awesome as usual!

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