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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Poorly Executed Front Crosses are...well - garbage!

Excellent JWW Course - Denver, CO

It seems like Front Crosses are the hippest thing in Agility right now and they're popular for lots of good reasons.

  1. If you're ahead of your dog, the theory is they should be running fast to catch up to you (increase in speed means beating the competition or just your personal best).
  2. You can present your dog with the correct path and avoid having them make eye contact with a wrong course option.
  3. If you're ahead of your dog, you can present a change of direction early and on or before take off (again, a speed incentive).
However, it should be noted that a poorly executed front cross usually takes away some of the advantages stated above. I bring this up because poorly executed front crosses caused the majority of issues on today's Excellent Jumpers course, resulting in run-outs, refusals, knocked bars and wrong courses.

The Problem Areas

Jump #5 - MANY handlers took jump #5 for granted and did not support the dog to this jump.  Instead they figured it was a gimme jump and pealed off early in order to execute a front cross in between #6 & #7.  Ironically, quite a few handlers had the same problem with this jump (now #16 on the course) in the ending sequence where they did not support the jump and rushed the finish.

Jump #14 was the other challenge area. Just prior to this jump, most handlers followed the dog down to the end of the weave poles and then did a front cross close to the end of the poles. When handlers came out of the front cross, the wing blocked their path and as they pulled to go around the wing, they inadvertently created a line that sent the dog over #13 and heading toward (or over) the #6 jump.  This was a surprise for me as the #6 jump wasn't even considered an off course option when the course was designed.

Additionally, quite a few people chose to do a front cross between #15 & #16.  Another surprise, to all watching, the downward motion of the handler pushed the dog into the tunnel (since the  handlers were moving in that direction) or if they were able to call the dog away from the tunnel, the dogs made a wide loop and went around the bottom side of #16, incurring a refusal/run out.

I can't help but ask if the almighty front cross was the best option for this course.  While there were some incredible front crosses to be found, by far, the majority didn't take into account the potential effect or direction the handler was giving to the dog.  Was it terrible handling?  Of course not, but part of the fun of watching 250+ dogs is looking for and recognizing the best of the best!

Several folks did utilize rear crosses which required a bit of patience on their part since they had to stand and wait while the dog executed the turns, but it certainly did make for a shorter path and some nice lines for the dog to follow through the course.

Bottom Line

The timely & properly placed front crosses were beautiful. Here are some of my observations on these:
  1. A front cross should be done because you are in FRONT of your dog (I know this seems basic, but you'd be surprised at how many people are coming in from behind....)
  2. A front cross doesn't mean "jump in front of the dog" and then execute the cross - the actual front cross steps can be used to help the handler cross the dog's path.
  3. A front cross does not need to be executed "in the middle of the jump". Depending on the path you want the dog to take and where you're at, a front cross execution can begin at the first jump stanchion.
  4. Think about where in relation to or between the obstacles you want to execute the cross. Where you place your front cross can have an effect on the dog's path. For example, do you want to do your front cross closer to the next obstacle, in the middle of the two, etc.
  5. A front cross should "pull" your dog to the next obstacle and keep it on the appropriate path.
  6. Keep in mind that wings vs. non-wings can play a significant role in potentially executing a successful front cross since they can either open up or block your intended route.
Just some quick thoughts from today's Denver runs.

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