Can Agility Dogs Turn “Too” Tight?

Posted on 05/10/14 27 Comments

Over the past few years there seems to be be a growing obsession in the sport of dog agility with tight turns. The crowd lets out a collective “WOW!” when they see a dog gear down to wrap an upright like an extra coat of paint. Those tight turns are impressive! But can this fixation with wrapping uprights be taken too far? Recently I heard of handlers at a seminar punishing their dogs if they didn’t dig in to wrap a turn as tightly as their handler decided it should be done.
turning tightlyNow, don’t get me wrong, I spend a great deal of time working at creating the drive in my dogs to “want” to turn tightly, heck we have an entire section in my online class “Handling360” dedicated to tight turns. However, we need to consider that there could be such a thing as “TOO TIGHT” for our agility dogs. Is it possible that some dogs would best be served using their power to make up time on a course rather than trying to create the necessary finesse needed to turn tightly?

In order for a dog to turn tight, he has to collect his stride, power down and lead with his head around a turn. There are some instances where that powering down prior to the turn and accelerating out of it does create an advantage on the course. However, there are many more turns where, when you ask for that much collection you end up bleeding away so much speed that the dog actually loses time on the turn rather than gaining it!

Think of the training time potentially being wasted by trying to get a dog to turn tighter and tighter. That is time that may have been better spend on creating better teamwork, faster contact speed or brilliant weave entry understanding. And lets not lose sight of the fact that some dogs physically will have a more difficult time turning as tightly as others! Perhaps the dog isn’t physically strong enough to do what you think he should be doing, or maybe the dog hasn’t been giving the understanding of body awareness in order to mechanically wrap an upright like other dogs seem to be able to do.

I am not suggesting dogs shouldn’t be able to alter their speed when asked by their handler, that is something all dogs can and should to do… without exception. However, I am saying the current obsession that seems to be sweeping the world of agility on creating tighter and tighter turns many be at best a waste of training time and at worst potential injurious to dogs that are not physically capable of doing what their handlers are asking.

Recently my friends (and Canadian agility greats) Justine Davenport and Jessica Patterson and I, got together to train and examined the time lost by dogs that are allowed to drift wide on their turns.

In this first video the dog’s forward momentum and the lure of an off course A Frame potentially will drive them AWAY from the desired turn.

This next clip is one where the dogs are approaching the turn with less speed.

In this last video the dogs approach the turning jump with the most speed of the three sequences, requires the dogs to make the decision to collect to turn…or not!

Now of course these three videos do not represent conclusive science. Since none of these dogs have been trained to turn with the physical cue of a handler controlling the turn but rather to turn independent of the handler. So these videos may not be a true representation of the state of all agility dogs. By that I mean, perhaps if we had someone training with us who DOES train for their dogs to turn based on their physical body being at the jump their dog would have powered out of the turns better than ours. For example on the first video in the series you can see Feature almost came to a stand still when I tried to “collect her”…as if to say “what the heck are YOU doing there?” Obviously someone with my foot speed is unlikely to hang out at a jump and control my dogs turn, so my dogs are likely somewhat shocked to see me there :).

So rather than suggesting conclusive science, I am posting this blog only for you to consider. Is it fair to your dog to ask for tighter and tighter turns? Is it FASTER for your dog to turn THAT tightly in any given agility sequence? And is it the best use of your handling options to “be there” to control your dog’s turns if it means you are left behind, unable to adequately handle sequences further along the course.

What about you? Have you been working tight turns lately? Have you considered the balance between POWER and TIGHTNESS in your dogs training? Let me know what you think …and again, I am not suggesting these 3 videos are presenting conclusive evidence, only producing food for thought!

Today I am grateful to Jessica and Justine for putting up with a training partner who is twice their age … always so many laughs when we all get together!

 

27 Comments

  1. sarasotadogwizard says:
    Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 7:01am

    I hate when anyone tries to put things in stone like it only one way for ever dog.Love the slow motion bits, this really helps me.
    Love the shoes Susan.

    Reply

  2. Shawncowwen says:
    Monday, May 19, 2014 at 5:40am

    Very nice article, Keep sharing!

    Reply

  3. Chris says:
    Thursday, May 15, 2014 at 7:07pm

    I have been running with a male Tervueren Shepherd who has always had difficulties making tight turns (surprising for that breed, but he has a stiff spine), but he never slowed down in a turn and made up on speed by doing that. In his case, there was no point in asking for tight turns, he just was unable to do so, but he definitely made up for that by always accelerating straight after the jump no matter what the turn was. We never made it to WC FCI but we did get selected to Belgian Shepherd WC at the age of 9 (we both have been out during his top years 5 to 8 years of age due to a severe car accident). Lesson learned: respect the dog’s physical capabilities when thinking about tight turns.

    Reply

  4. Marco says:
    Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 4:13pm

    Very interesting videos 🙂

    In the end I think the key is balance, as always.

    First, in order to take off close to a jump the dog’s number of strides must increase. If there are too many strides before a tight turn then it is likely that a slightly wider but more powerful turn with less strides will be faster.

    Also, hanging out at a jump may put you in a bad situation for the next part of the course, even if you’re a fast runner.

    Finally, running a course should remain fun for both the dog and the human. I’ve seen too many handlers being obsessed by their turns, they don’t enjoy running anymore and they loose sight of the dog’s performance on the other pieces of equipment. Yes I aim for tight turns, but only tight enough so I can run efficiently and smoothly the course. When I loose time it’s not because of turns, but rather of handling mistakes.

    Reply

  5. Roché Compaan says:
    Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 6:25am

    I completely understand the point you are trying too make and I agree, one can certainly overdue training tight wraps but I don’t agree with the way you tested it, purely because in the sequence you set up, it isn’t really necessary to cue a tight turn in my opinion. It would be interesting to see what the results are when the dog really needs to make a turn where the sequence requires a turn of 180 or more degrees, my gut feel says the tight turn will win.

    So not only should one not over train tight wraps one shouldn’t overuse them in sequences either.

    Reply

  6. Bonnie says:
    Monday, May 12, 2014 at 10:46pm

    I noted that on the last video, Swagger’s path was just as tight when he was allowed to power the jump as when you managed the jump – I could tell by noting where his body was on the shadow made on the floor by the wing. Not surprising that his two times were virtually identical. Feature, otoh, made a much bigger path when you weren’t there to create a tight turn.

    Reply

  7. Liz D says:
    Monday, May 12, 2014 at 4:54pm

    This showed up on the APDT Facebook page. 🙂

    Reply

  8. Janis Krieger says:
    Monday, May 12, 2014 at 4:15pm

    I don’t strive for tight turns, I run a Boston Terrier, small in size, She is a very good jumper, I believe that handlers that focus on that could be hurting their dogs, to be able to twist so much can’t be good for their bodies.

    Reply

  9. Debbie Colbourn says:
    Monday, May 12, 2014 at 3:03pm

    As someone who has spent most of my life in sport car racing … one of our popular sayings is ” the fastest line isn’t always the shortest line ” … and as someone who runs a Gordon Setter who is very bendy and understands and does the tight turns well – she hates them ! And she is faster and happier on a looser turn, or a more natural line …. but not so loose as to be in the bad handling, recipe for a shoulder injury category. The English Cockers on the other hand are more tolerant.

    I always compare my dogs physical performance in agility against the way they run in their “bred for sport” – for us that is field work … if they can’t get the same power and fluidity (accounting for the conditions & surface) then me, as a handler am doing a great disservice to my dog and need to do something different. Our different is 1 exercise/jump of tight, into 3 of wide open as the reward.

    Reply

  10. Cheryl Bosecker says:
    Monday, May 12, 2014 at 1:29pm

    Thank You for doing that and putting it out there. I hate when anyone tries to put things in stone like it only one way for ever dog. I been seeing some not so pretty training to get dogs to turn tighter. I am glad I signed up for the 360 because I feel it a lot safer way.

    Reply

  11. kim l says:
    Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:55am

    I would also add that handler safety comes into play here. Some of the body language of the handlers was extremely awkward and not great in terms of dynamic flow. I should add, all of you ran well and beautifully so I am not criticizing the handlers themselves, more the potential for injury. I see the shoulder angles in the handlers as leading to potential injury to spines &/or falls. Also, some dogs are more affected by the handler ‘crowding’ the jump as well. Interesting set of videos!

    Reply

  12. Angela says:
    Monday, May 12, 2014 at 8:12am

    great compare/contrast ! good stuff Susan

    Reply

  13. Lisa Henshaw says:
    Monday, May 12, 2014 at 5:26am

    Great videos,
    I watched them several times. Thanks for doing that. Now could you do them again with some little dogs please? I have never done that but have done similar where the decision to turn L vs R is a 50:50 and one way is shorter, the other way smoother (usually due to angle of approach). I use a stopwatch or time the video later. Usually I find my small dog Gidget benefits from the shorter distance and all the big dogs are faster on the smoother turn. Is that to be expected or does it just mean Gidget turns like a semi trailer (she does)?
    Lisa

    Reply

  14. Linda Mecklenburg says:
    Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 7:03pm

    Super videos Susan. One thing to note is that these dogs are all skilled jumpers. I find that the less skilled the dog is at jumping, the more he benefits from some form of “management” of his turns. Of course my goal is to help my dog (or students’ dogs) improve his jumping so that he doesn’t *need* “management”. As I am sure you are aware, having to be present at every jump can be a disadvantage for many handlers. If I had longer legs and was 30 years younger I would strive to slightly modify my dogs path into certain turns without creating collection or an added stride, to potentially eliminate the “wide” landings you demonstrate. But, it won’t be happening for me so I endeavor to create the best overall jumping dogs I can and then do my best to show them where to go, letting them decide how to get there.

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Monday, May 12, 2014 at 4:30pm

      Good point Linda, this is definitely more dramatic if the dogs haven’t not be taught to turn tightly. 🙂 30 years older and shorter legs does have some advantages…but I just can think of any at this moment…that’s how the 50+ year old brain can work 🙂

      Reply

  15. Dianne Maylam says:
    Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 6:57pm

    It has been discussed for showjumping horses, with the conclusion being that a smooth ‘working on a circle’ without loss of power and impulsion is generally faster than the decrease in speed needed to make tighter turns. The ‘get away’ is also slower in the tight wrap around the wings. Less strain on joints and less strain mentally as well.

    Reply

  16. Mary S. says:
    Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 10:27am

    As a newcomer to agility with background knowledge of horses and jumping, I see a pattern. People time and time again get caught up in a ‘method’ to the extreme, jumping on the latest ‘method’ as a cure all. They forget to take the dog into consideration! There is more than one way to get there with the same result. The ‘method’ needs to be adapted to the dog rather than the other way around. Each dog is different; in conformation, in drive, in personality. Expecting a ‘method’ to overcome or replace lack of focus, talent and work ethic by the handler is unreasonable and harmful to the dog, who just wants to please. Who has no choice in the matter. More the reason to work WITH the dog, not demand it do something it might not be capable of. That is not only unkind, in my opinion it borders on abuse. No ‘method’ is foolproof because not all dogs will do their best under one method.
    We need to identify our dog’s strengths and weaknesses. We need to train and encourage our dogs to do well, to end on a positive note. At the ring, I have seen too many people punish their dogs after a DQ. Their egos and expectations are way out of proportion. If YOU are not having fun, neither will the dog.

    I believe Susan’s methods to be solid, grounded in education and experience. But handlers need to remember that the enemy of good is better. Better can mean DQs, injury, or burnout if one is not keeping things in balance.

    Rant over.

    Reply

  17. Francoise Maxwell says:
    Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 10:07am

    Just curious: where the sequences run in the same order each time? Controlled vs not controlled or vice versa?

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 12:26pm

      No they were not, I felt that by running them in the same order every time the advantage would go to whatever the dog did second as they would be better able to predict what was happening next… so we did mix it up.

      Reply

  18. Wendy A says:
    Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 4:46am

    Thanks Susan, Justine, and Jessica for doing this and posting this. Very interesting and lots to think about.
    Love the slow motion bits, this really helps me.
    Love the shoes Susan.
    Also love the stocking ? feet too. ( no shoes )?

    Reply

  19. Chelsea says:
    Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 1:03am

    Thank you for a very interesting demonstration. It does seem to come down to whether or not you need to be right there at the turn, or further down to guide through something further on, what traps the dog needs to be guided away from, and how much this sort of tight control impacts the dog’s overall health. Also, not all breeds could make tight turns like Border Collies can. But perhaps all dogs, as you say, can learn to be a bit tighter in specific circumstances.

    Reply

  20. Angela says:
    Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 12:44am

    Very interesting. thanks for sharing. I think it looks like one could choose to go close up to the jump in certain places on the course and show and go in other places. Why does it have to be one or the other?

    Reply

  21. Sheila says:
    Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 11:08pm

    Will these videos be part of our 360 course material when the Tighter Turns segment is posted? Very interesting!! (Video 2 was removed?)

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 11:23pm

      Yes Sheila they will be.

      Reply

  22. Diane says:
    Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 10:57pm

    What I would find interesting to know if the impact on the landing changes. If it means a longer running career with less injuries that would be my first choice which ever way it worked to be.

    Reply

  23. Monica Zanker says:
    Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 10:53pm

    this is so true… everyone wants tight turn right now… and I have said it over and over again … if you can be there to make it happen great but if you can’t get away to the threadle two jumps down… let it go wide a bit so you can handle where your handling really counts… this was great to watch… thanks 🙂

    Reply

  24. Charlotte says:
    Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 10:48pm

    Fantastic blog. Ripple thinks its awesome too!!

    Reply

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