Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

Front Cross Controversy

There is a local rivalry – of the friendly type – regarding front crosses.  One camp is convinced that front crosses slow the dog down and rear crosses allow them to run without interference from the handler.  The other camp insists that front crosses speed the dog up because most dogs run faster if the handler is ahead of them giving them clear direction.  Everyone agrees that it is important to have as many tools as possible in your toolbox, but we can’t agree on whether to use the open-ended wrench or the socket.  So who is right?

Interestingly, I think both camps are correct under certain circumstances.  The reason that one side thinks front crosses slow the dog down is that they have observed so many handlers executing crosses in the dog’s direct path, which does shorten their stride and slow them down.  The other side has learned that correctly placed front crosses keep the dog racing forward because they have clear cues and are driving toward the handler.  The key is “correctly placed” front crosses.

Consider the short sequence below.  The first diagram shows a path for rear crosses.  While the rear cross line looks more economical for the handler, it is not giving the dog as much information, which will cause the dog to slow down.  From three to four, the handler must be facing (and running toward) jump four until the dog commits, so he is traveling in and facing the direction of the off-course tunnel.  If the off-course is avoided, there is still the possibility of the dog turning wide as they look at the tunnel, wasting yardage.  From five to six, the handler is again behind the dog, so they must face the off course jump beyond six.  As a result, the turn from six to seven will not be as tight as it could be.

Diagram 1

Diagram 1

Looking at one of the possible front cross plans (Diagram 2), the handler uses a front cross between two and three to create a smooth turn.  They can then support jump four while moving in the direction of five.  As the dog jumps over four, the handler executes a front cross at five, allowing him to step between five and six and perform a post turn to bring the dog over seven.  With this plan, the dog should never consider the off-course jump as a possibility.

 

    

Diagram 2

Diagram 2

 

The third diagram shows an overlay of the two dogs’ paths.  The one with rear crosses has used more yardage and was probably running slower as well because he had to interpret the handler’s somewhat ambiguous cues.  The one with front crosses has a smoother, more direct line because there is no question about which obstacle the handler is indicating.

Diagram 3

Diagram 3

This will break down if the front crosses are not placed correctly.  Look at the last diagram, below.  The plan is the same, but the placement of the front crosses actually slows the dog down.  This is frequently seen at trials, even with very experienced handlers.   In both places in the sequence, a well-placed rear cross would be better than the front cross that was executed!

Diagram 4

Diagram 4

Obviously there are many more ways to handle the sequence, using a variety of crosses.  I use rear crosses and occasional blind crosses when it makes sense to do so.  With two fast dogs, there is no way I can always be ahead.  Well-trained dogs can be taught that rear crosses mean tight turns, and some dogs will keep their speed up while driving away from the handler.  However, I’m of the camp that believes staying ahead of the dog and using correctly placed front crosses gives the dog a clearer path, causes him to drive toward the handler, and results in a faster sequence.  When faced with a choice, you’ll see me running all out to make that front cross the majority of the time.

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April 23, 2009 - Posted by | Agility

5 Comments »

  1. This is pretty interesting. I love the diagrams because they give me something to set up in my yard if it ever dries out. Thanks

    Comment by Jackie | April 25, 2009 | Reply

  2. I’m in the front cross camp but it’d be interesting to take 2 dogs (experienced & inexperienced) & time each of them going through both versions of the sequence.

    Comment by Kim W | April 27, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’m a beginner so I’m lost…
    I don’t understand the Front Cross diagram. It looks like on the first cross you are turning away from the dog and not towards it.
    Would you walk the pattern and tell me what foot I should be landing on to make each cross? Then I can probably figure out which way I should be turning.
    Pogo thinks I’m crazy.
    Thanks…

    Comment by Laurie Arnold | April 29, 2009 | Reply

    • Ok Laurie, let me try to walk you through it. As you can see, the dog starts on the left side of the handler. As you go across in front of jump 3, you are going to keep your shoulders facing jump 2 and turn toward your dog. If you follow the “four steps” of a front cross, your first step will be with your left foot, and the last step will be with your right foot in the new direction (towards 4). The dog will now be on your right. As you move between 4 and 5, your shoulders will stay pointed toward 4 to support that jump, and you will turn toward 5. Your first step will be with your right foot this time, and your last will be with your left foot going toward the gap between 5 and 6. Your dog will now be on your left. The last turn is a post turn (where you turn in place), with your dog just following you around over 6 and 7. Did this help?

      Comment by lorriemaxx | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  4. […] Another excellent post out in the blogosphere: https://lorriemaxx.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/front-cross-controversy/ […]

    Pingback by A Discussion of Obstacle Focus « Bud Houston’s Blog | May 1, 2009 | Reply


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