The act of changing sides with your dog while moving through an agility sequence is called a “cross.” Agility dogs and agility handlers must have many ambidextrous skills. It is very important to practice with your dog on the left and separately practice the same skill with your dog on the right. But when running an agility course, it is also necessary to be able to get from one side to the other without causing delay or confusion.
We define a cross to be a “front” cross when the handler crosses the course path ahead of the dog and changes sides with the dog in order to continue smoothly. The dog turns toward the handler, called an “inside turn.”
We define a cross to be a “back” or “rear” cross when the handler sends the dog ahead on the agility course path and crosses behind him. The dog turns away from the handler, called an “outside turn,” in order to be on the other side of the handler when the obstacle is completed. Both front and rear crosses are designed to accomplish a change of side in order to preserve the flow of the sequence.
As your agility training and handling teamwork develops, it is natural to feel a preference for front crosses or rear crosses with your dog. Though you should have command of both skills, you may be more likely to use more of one cross than the other. Some complex agility course configurations will lend an advantage to one type of cross over the other, but most changes of side invite the handler to choose either type of cross.
Front crosses fare very well paired with the ability to send the dog out. You should also use front crosses early on in your dog’s agility training, such as with the basic cone games used to teach jumping.
Teaching the dog to send is also important in conjunction with a rear cross. It is not possible to rear cross behind a dog who is behind you. The dog must be willing to pass the handler and continue to the next obstacle before the handler is free to change sides behind the dog.
Some dogs appear to have trouble with rear crosses even though they are willing to go on ahead and perform the next obstacle. They turn the wrong way, as if the handler had not changed sides, appearing not to have noticed the rear cross. Sometimes this is simply a problem of one-sidedness, which is solved by doing twice as many reps to the weaker side. But it is often a problem with the dog’s outside turn training, as it is more natural to turn toward the handler. You should isolate the outside turn training by using your finger pick-up to keep your dog beside you as you perform outside turn circles.
A great prop for teaching this concept is a large traffic cone. If your dog is on your left, circle the cone to the left and click as his hind end moves towards you. With your dog on your right, circle the cone to the right and click as his hind end moves toward you. Soon he’ll be ready to perform rear crosses over a single jump, and you’ll be ready to add rear crosses to your handling.
Excerpt from the book Enjoying Dog Agility by Julie Daniels with permission from its publisher, Kennel Club Books, an imprint of BowTie Press. Purchase Enjoying Dog Agility here.