Agility Side Changes

Zora the corgi running though agility weave poles

In the beginner agility program I teach, the 2nd session of classes is devoted to directional skills and crosses.  It’s the class I start hearing references to dancing and having two left feet from the students, and is is where the idea that dog agility involves quite a lot of handler skills comes to the fore front.  It’s a great fun class to teach and the students are all wonderful about practicing the new skills even though they are often feeling outside their comfort zone.

belgian terv barking mouth open
Bravo says, “Put me back in my comfort zone!!” (really he says “Throw THE BALL!”)

Each time I teach this class I’m reminded of this flaw in the labeling of crosses or side changes in agility.  Cross is a term that means the dog or handler changes sides.  So if the handler was running with the dog on their left, after the cross the dog will now be running on the handler’s right side.  The labeling flaw is they are labeled in the handlers position relative to the dog, not the dog’s position relative to the handler.  Which is unlike most other parts of dog training and agility, where much is about the dog’s relative position to the handler (example heeling where the dog is walking on the handler’s left side with dog’s head in line with the handler’s hip.  The definition of heeling isn’t the handler walking on the dog’s right side with the handler’s hip in line with the dog’s head.  despite that those definitions say the same thing.).  This makes remembering the names of crosses a nightmare for new folks.

The Back or Rear cross is when the handler moves behind the dog.  So despite it is called a Back cross, the dog moves in front of the handler.

The Front cross is when the handler moves in front of the dog, and side changes by facing the dog.  So despite it being called a Front cross, the dog is behind the handler.

The Blind cross is when the handler turns their back to the dog, and side changes in front of the dog.  So despite it being called a Blind cross, the dog can see the handler, it’s the handler who can’t see the dog.

This labeling system drives new to agility people nuts.  For weeks I gently remind, when the dog moves ahead of them and the handler side changes, it’s a back cross.  Crosses are labeled with handler position relative to the dog.  I commiserate, I know it makes no logical sense, but believe me this is called a back cross,  and this is called a front cross.  I totally understand why you would want to call them the reverse.  Unfortunately the powers that named the crosses did them the way they did and there’s no going back now.  Back cross, you move behind your dog and your dog is in front of you.  Front cross, you move in front of your dog and turn facing your dog, your dog is behind you.  Something that one just has to force their brain to remember despite it making no labeling sense at all.  If you’re struggling to remember the names of crosses correctly, trust me, you are in great company with countless other beginner agility students.

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