Something that cropped up this week - bizarrely from two completely seperate sources (one by email, one in a training session) - was the subject of Ketschker turns. These are more common on the European scene than in the UK, but they are starting to creep into the UK.
Basically, it seems to be a blind cross where your dog is wrapped around behind you
I had a dig around on YouTube and thought it was interesting but debated the value of it.
A blind cross, by the way, is a term in used in agility to described where you cross your dog's path, but because your dog is behind and your facing forwards, you lose sight of your dog for a fraction of a second (and a lot can go wrong ... I mean, can happen, in that fraction of a second).
Blind crosses are a bit like the Marmite of the agility world - they give rise to a lot of controversy and are either loved or hated with equal vehemence. The other major types of cross are: front and rear; so named because they depend on whether you are crossing your dog's path in front or behind of the actual dog ie do you see your dog's face or tail as you cross the dog's path.
Fortunately in this week's Core training session we had a chance to try it out for ourselves. Gemma was taking the class and had us running a course based on a Champ course she'd run.
Between 11 and 13 there is a perfect opportunity to try a Ketschker turn.
The normal run ...
Initially I ran this by pivoting through 360 degrees at the blue cross next to the wing of 12 to pull Kira round. No special handling was needed to start the turn as she'd just come out of the weaves so wasn't moving too fast and she's very responsive to my body language. Turning my shoulders and body was sufficient to get her to turn at the wing, then as Kira committed to the jump I signalled an Air Brake. An Air Brake is where I raise the hand away from the dog (in this case my left hand) in front of the main controlling hand and raised up above that hand. It's purpose is to signal to her that there is a radical turn coming up after the obstacle and not to accelerate to hard away. Continuing to pivot round draws Kira round and round the wing. As her nose came past the wing I "drew" her into me to encourage a tight wrap. "Drawing" is where I pull both hands into my chest and signals Kira to come directly towards me. In this context that ensures a very tight wrap on the wing. Finally as we began to exit I completed the turn and moved my right hand out to send Kira onto the jump at 13.
OK, a very detailed explanation of what is quite a simple and, to be honest, very ordinary manoeuvre. What I'm trying to get across here is, that although it's ordinary, a lot of thought and components when into it to get the best possible speed and precision for this test.
The Ketschker turn ...
The positioning was almost identical, with myself at the blue x again next to the wing of 12. Again I pivoted Kira with my shoulders to bring her round to commit to the jump. As she landed on the other side of the jump, I waited until I could see her head through the wing of the jump and then turned back the other way. This is the critical point - for a fraction of second as your head and shoulders are turning you lose sight of your dog. You also have to bring the controlling hand, in this case the right hand, across your body to pick your dog on the other side so your dog also loses sight of it. As soon as I had sight of her again I began to move towards the jump at 13. The rest of the sequence was completely normally.
Standard handling: from the end of the weaves to the jump at 14 was 4.4 secs.
Ketschker Turn: from the end of the weaves to the jump at 14 was 3.8 secs.
The Ketchker turn was faster, and not by an insignificant amount either. We're talking about over 1/2 a second here. In the higher grades that could easily bump you 10 or more places.
On talking about it in the class, we think it was because when you pivot and draw, although your dog knows she's to wrap the wing, she has no indication what the next obstacle is, so until you've completed your pivot and started to move to jump 13 she can't accelerate. Using the Ketschker turn you can start moving towards 13 as soon as she's behind the wing so she can really accelerate out of the turn towards 13.
Interestingly everyone thought Kira look very comfortable doing the Ketschker turn. She has been trained with blind crosses before, so she's not uncomfortable working behind me without direct eye contact. A dog that has only been worked in front of a handler might well struggle more with this manoeuvre.
However I would class this as a "high-risk" handling technique. You do lose sight of your dog for a fraction of a second and as I said before, a lot can happen in that fraction.
So am I going to be adding it to my toolbox? You bet! 1/2 a second is a life time on an agility run, and is well worth the risk.