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!