Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Cross to Bear

No. there's nothing unpleasant going on.  That just seemed like a fun title for a post about agility - and crosses (front, rear, blind).

Moira and I have another agility trial this weekend.  It's an AKC trial and we will be running in two classes; Jumpers and Standard.  A Jumpers course is comprised of jumps (duh), tunnels and a set of 6 weave poles.  A Standard course includes the dogwalk, A frame, table and teeter in addition to the tunnels, jumps and weave poles .  At the Novice level judges are required to design courses with two side switches.  What's a side switch?  Well, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  If the dog is running on your left and a side switch occurs, then the dog ends up on your right.  Pretty easy, right?  But how do you accomplish these switches?  With crosses of course!

There are three commonly used crosses in agility; front, rear and blind.  In a front cross, you have to get in front of your dog, and pivot to bring the dog to your other side.  It's one of those things that, once you learn how to do it, muscle memory takes over.  Seriously, if you asked me to demonstrate a front cross just standing there, I couldn't do it.  They are also hell on your knees.  Many handlers try to avoid front crosses as they age because of this.  Generally speaking, a front cross will generate speed in a dog.  They have something to run toward - you!

Rear crosses occur when you send the dog ahead of you to an obstacle and then change sides behind them, to the rear, picking them up on your other side when they've completed the obstacle.  Rear crosses can be difficult because the dog has to be independent enough to get ahead of you AND they have to be able to realize that you are moving behind them and what the means.  It's called 'reading' the cross.  I LOVE rear crosses because I have a dog who reads them very well.  In the picture below, I am performing a rear cross while Moira goes over the double.  You can see me moving laterally behind her but, more importantly, see how her eyes, head and even ears are ever so slightly facing the direction I am moving?  Even her body is slightly angled.  That means she knew when she took off that she would need to turn that way to catch me.  She's reading the cross.  You can probably see that rear crosses are much easier on the human knees too :)  No twisting!

The last type of cross that can be used is a blind cross.  Blind crosses can be very risky because, in essence, the dog performs a rear cross on you!  Blind - because you lose visual contact with your dog.  Early on, I was taught to blind cross tunnels.  The dog enters the tunnel, you race to the other end - across the exit to the tunnel - and keep moving; trusting your dog to come out and be moving with you.  I did that type of cross with Sam all the time because he was a reliable, Velcro dog and wouldn't think of not sticking with me once he came out of the tunnel.  My last agility instructor discouraged blind crosses as too risky for dogs that might not be so reliable, so I learned not to do them.  My current instructor is fine with them, as long as they are done well and in the right places.  So, I'm back to using blind crosses at tunnels and, at least in class, trying them in other places.  We've had some successes and failures.  The last AKC agility trial I went to, there was a woman running American Cocker Spaniels who used blind crosses all over the place.  It was really impressive to see how well her dogs read those crosses and negotiated the courses.  It freed the handler up to take the best line and limit the amount of running she had to do.

Moira needs one more qualifying score to finish her Novice Standard title and 2 qualifying scores to finish her Novice Jumpers title.  I expect I will be using all three kinds of crosses.  Wish us luck!


  1. lots of luck, lots of fun and it will happen. Enjoy!

  2. Nice post, I bet that woman w/ the cockers was Vivian. :)