Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Blind Truth

First- some romantic nostalgic background fun!
Once upon a time, 20 or so years ago, people around the country began gravitating towards the sport of dog agility.  Some of them got their start by going home to dust off the family dog after watching a demonstration. Others found their way to it via horse events or other dog sports like obedience, as was the case for us.

This might sound familiar, but trust me- agility was a different world then. When my mom started with her Utility Dog- a golden retriever- there was no such thing as a running contact, except maybe on accident. Border Collies were not the norm, and those that did run were more stock dog than anything, with handlers that could barely move without sending the dog ricocheting two miles off course.  Agility trials were something you traveled hours and hours for in order to show even a few weekends a year, and on very little practice. Less than 20 faults got you a Grand Prix Q. And, can you say "Crossover?" Training methods did not yet exist. In fact, training amounted to teaching your dog the obstacles, never mind worrying about handling. The best dogs were converted obedience dogs, like ours, that you could keep with you while you jogged about from obstacle to obstacle, sometimes pointing, but mostly just calling commands for. This wouldn’t last long.

Agility proved addicting, and like any sport worth anything, began to get competitive and evolve. Hooked as we were by the sport, we decided we wanted to be better and evolve too, which meant we would have to step up beyond the rest of the field. First we got AGILITY dogs.  Then we not only taught them the equipment, but we incorporated some handling. Only some; mostly I ran my Sheltie with rear crosses, meaning he learned a send to go on ahead, and then to follow me left or right as I cross behind him. Literally, “go” and “turn” were his only commands besides the names of the equipment. And for awhile, we were ahead of the game.

But then other people started improving their handling too, catching on about working with Border Collies and realizing that you could have fast Shelties, not just breed Shelties. So to stay ahead, we needed to improve our game even more. We went to our first seminar, where we learned about front crosses from Nancy Gyes. It was the 90’s and this was a new science. I admit, at that time it was hard! And it wasn’t even until my Sheltie was about 12 that I was even comfortable using the front cross at all. But we trudged on in the name of awesomeness everywhere.

For several years, trends flipped around a lot- rear cross versus front, outside arm, inside arm, 2 on/2 off or 4 on the floor… you never quite knew what was ‘best’ and at the time, you certainly didn’t know that there wasn’t a ‘best-‘ except for what is best for you and your dog. But the one thing everyone agreed on: DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF YOUR DOG! Meaning, if you do a blind cross, someone will throw a rock at you.  We've all heard the stories (or spend 10 minutes ringside and you will hear them):

"So-and-so does blind crosses all the time and her dog is always popping up on the wrong side when she doesn't want him to and going off course..."

"You-know-who did a blind cross in front of a tunnel and they didn't get out of the way in time and the dog broke their leg on the way out..."

It has been ingrained in most of us (at least those who have done agility for more than 2 years) by every trainer, from day one, that you never, ever do a blind cross. You do not take your eyes off your dog for any reason. If you take your eyes off your dog, they might disappear forever into the Blind Cross Vortex.  And then a bystander will throw the rock at you.

But here is the thing- there is no vortex.  The idea that you can never take your eyes off your dog is a mere urban legend. In the course of my own personal evolution I have realized that the base idea has been interpreted incorrectly from the start- the important takeaway is that you must always be aware of your dog at all times. They have been utilizing the Blind Cross across the pond and in secret pockets in the USA for a few years now- and as far as I know, none of their dogs have vanished, and there are very few agility-related stonings.  Like any other agility superpower, the key is to wield them wisely.  Oh, and train it first. The problem comes when people just start bandying the blinds about without teaching their dogs to respect what side they are trying to hold them on, or using them without a proper cue.  Of course there is inherent danger in using a power without understanding it.

And not only are they not scary dog-eating maneuvers, they are actually kind of useful.  Using a Blind can often cut down on steps for the handler, as well as allow motion to carry without a slow down or stride break for the dog.  Plus, the dog can always see you, which is really better then having them running in front with no visual cue potential. No, I don't think it takes the place of a Front Cross when you need an actute change in directions, but as far as soft lead changes and maintaining speed and momentum I see the value over other crosses.

But to use them, you must be brave. You must train. You must understand where they fit in a course before you use them on a course.

Do not be afraid- this part is crucial.  If you say you can't do it, then you never will.

What if Superman had just said, "No, I could never fly?" Then he would just be bouncing over buildings wishing he were as cool Batman.

I'm evolving. Call me Batman.


  1. Hey now! Zip, Klink, Gator, Even and Lynn are all bred as stockdogs and work sheep, any they don't do any outruns :) LOL Although, I have only been in agility for 7 have many more years on me! :)

    Blind crosses can be scary, but they are fun :)

  2. You go.....BAT GIRL!!!! I love my blinds in the weaves!!!