Dog agility is a fun and addictive game filled with thrills and challenges. It’s amazing to see the coordination between handlers and dogs as they navigate courses with grace and precision. What’s the secret behind this successful teamwork? Effective communication. To communicate with their dogs around the course, handlers use specific Handling Techniques that tell their dogs where to go next.
In this article, we discuss one of the fundamental handling techniques used in agility: the Front Cross.
As agility trainers, it’s common knowledge that clear communication is central to our work. Yet mastering it isn’t always easy. That’s why at OneMind Dogs, our unique approach involves understanding our dogs and how they see agility from their perspective.
What is the Front Cross handling technique?
Executing a Front Cross simply means you are changing the handling side in front of your dog by turning towards them. It’s a crucial technique in giving your dog clear directions on the course. Whether you’re directing them along a turn, away from a trap obstacle or cueing them to complete tight turns as drastic as 180 degrees, the Front Cross comes into play.
One of the earliest techniques invented, it remains one of the trickiest to execute properly. When we talk about a “correct” execution, we mean the execution that best suits your dog’s point of view. To continue moving safely toward the desired path after an obstacle, your dog must have enough information about where to turn ahead of time.
Late or poorly executed Front Crosses can easily lead to errors in performance, such as dropped bars or wide turns after an obstacle. These inaccuracies can also increase the chances of injury through slips or falls, especially on slippery terrain.
Essential elements in performing a successful Front Cross
Now that we’ve discussed what a Front Cross is and its impact, let’s look into the right way of doing it. A well-executed front cross is made up of seven core elements:
- Handler’s Position
- Eye connection
- Chest Laser
Handler’s movement during a front cross
The handler’s movement is the most important aspect of the Front Cross technique from the dog’s perspective. As your dog approaches an obstacle, your responsibility as a handler is to move on a parallel line toward it, until you’re sure your dog has committed to taking it (don’t wait until take-off or landing to cue!). At this point, you cue the Front Cross and move towards the next obstacle on the course, giving your dog adequate and timely information to turn safely.
The trick here is to continue moving towards the next obstacle on course all the time, and not to stop and watch your dog while they are jumping. It may seem like a lot to remember, but this strategy comes naturally with practice and close observation of your dogs’ commitment points on the course.
Importance and timing of handler’s position
Let’s talk about the importance of the handler’s position in a successful Front Cross. We can all agree that timing in dog agility is essential. In fact, it can make or break your performance.
The handler must initiate the Front Cross when the dog is committed to the jump (at least one stride away from the take-off point), no matter where the handler is positioned at that time. It might seem counterintuitive to start changing directions before your dog has even started negotiating an obstacle. But remember that dogs are forward planners: From their perspective, understanding what comes next is needed to sustain momentum.
Your position after completing a Front Cross determines your dog’s route after landing. Being one step away from their ideal line to the next obstacle will guide them toward the intended direction smoothly. Tip: The closer you are to an obstacle, the tighter your dog will turn. Dogs are always looking to be on the same plane of the course as you.
Focusing on the eye connection between handler and dog
Dogs are incredibly perceptive creatures that interpret a lot from our eyes, making them a powerful component of the agility handling experience.
As your dog moves through the course, you should maintain your eye contact with them. This helps your dog stay focused and helps you to read their intention and ensure they are committed to taking the jump. While performing the Front Cross, shift your focus to your dog’s intended line, around 1m / 3 feet ahead of your dog, so that you can still see the dog in your peripheral vision and they can still see the side of your face.
Your head direction also signals to the dog which side of handling they should continue after each obstacle. It is a common error in the Front Cross that handlers take their eyes off the dog during the turn, causing the dog to cross behind their backs to the wrong side or to a trap obstacle. Connection is essential to an effective Front Cross.
Chest laser during a Front Cross
Another factor that influences the execution of the Front Cross is your chest position, we always ask students to imagine a laser beam pointing out from their chest. It’s like an unspoken guidance system for your dog, pointing in the right direction to create clarity.
So, where should it be pointing? First, your chest should face the take-off point of that particular obstacle until your dog is committed to it. This helps the dog to focus there and to collect for the turn. As you see that commitment, continue turning your chest towards the next obstacle so that when your dog takes off, it sees your chest already pointing to where it needs to go next.
The role legs and feet play while executing a successful Front Cross
Handling a dog in agility is sometimes a bit like a dance where footwork plays an integral part. Now you might be thinking “I have two left feet, I’m doomed!”, but don’t worry, when it comes to agility it is all about muscle memory. Practising on one jump by yourself, without the dog, will have you nail it down in no time!
For an effective front cross, handlers need to pay attention to their foot positioning. The trick here lies in turning the foot closest to the dog towards their line, taking a step toward the take-off point to help the dog shape their approach. This small adjustment supports your dog’s commitment to the obstacle and makes your own turnaround a lot easier. It means that your position is already set for the next obstacle before the dog’s feet even touch the ground.
It should also be easier for you to turn and move in the direction you need to go. During and after completing the front cross, every step you take should be directed towards the next obstacle. So remember, just like in dance, keep your footwork on point!
Effective hand movements
Hands are one of the least important elements from the dog’s point of view. We like to think of the hands being used to guide the rest of your body to move correctly. For example, in Front cross you will use your dog-side hand to point towards the take-off point, which encourages your chest laser to point there as well, giving your dog clear cues on direction. Once your dog lands, switch your guiding arm to indicate a change in handling sides.
Utilizing verbal cues effectively
Along with all the physical cues, your voice can also serve as an additional guide in agility. Voice is the least important element from the dog’s point of view, but it can be a great supporting element for us handlers when we are not in the right place to use all of our other elements effectively. Incorporating effective verbals, like a simple “shhh” or calling your dog’s name as you prepare to cue a turn, can work as additional collection guidance during tight turns.
Dogs find it harder to focus on verbals when they are running close to the handler or the handler is ahead, as the movement of the handler often overrides the verbal. However, when the handler is behind or laterally at a distance, following verbal cues is easier for the dog and adds that extra layer of precision, making your communication even more seamless on the course.
Final tips to master the Front Cross
So, you’ve got a handle on what the Front Cross is and the essential elements involved. Now, it’s time to get out there and practice! Here are some final tips to ensure success:
- Watch for commitment: You have to know your dog’s commitment and take-off points before you can attempt it. Keep a close eye on your dog as they approach an obstacle. The second you see them lock their gaze on it, start your front cross.
- Practice without your dog: If you’re not really sure that you understand all the handling elements, try practicing alone. Start with just one jump, rehearsing moving your body the right way. Only bring your loyal teammate back into action once you feel comfortable enough.
- Enroll in a course: Learning by doing is good, but learning from experts is even better! Try enrolling in our mini-course where you can learn the Front Cross from scratch and get video feedback of your training from the experts. We provide comprehensive guidance on improving all handling techniques.
Remember that practice makes perfect, so don’t get discouraged if it takes time. Each step forward, no matter how small, brings you closer to becoming the flawless duo at agility trials.
Come join us at OneMind Dogs for more insightful tips, courses, and community discussions on bringing out the best handler in you. Our training method is all about using mutual respect and understanding to better communicate with our dogs because we understand that nothing speaks louder or clearer than connection with your dog!