Part of the thrill of spectating advanced Agility classes is witnessing how the handlers direct their dogs through seemingly impossible courses. Oftentimes, the crowd is left wondering, “what just happened?”
One difficult maneuver that frequently shows up in complex course design is the blind approach turn (also known as the fading turn). Here, a dog is directed towards an obstacle that is counterintuitive to the natural flow of the course, or out of the dog’s line-of-sight. An element that increases the difficulty of this turn is that other nearby obstacles may appear to the dog as the next logical course of action. The trick for a successful blind approach turn is for the handler to gain the dog’s attention immediately upon completion of one obstacle, direct the dog away from the incorrect obstacle, and subsequently towards the correct one. For dogs that are extremely obstacle-driven, a blind approach can be especially difficult.
Two exciting variations of the blind approach turn include the 270 and “threadles.” Once banned by the AKC for being considered “dangerous,” a 270 degree turn is exactly as it sounds. After completing an obstacle, a dog must turn 270 degrees to complete the next one. This maneuver can be visualized by picturing four jumps set up in a box pattern. The dog consecutively completes two jumps in a straight line (the jumps at the top and bottom of the box), and then carries out a 270 degree turn to complete the jumps which comprise the right and left edges of the box. A variation of the 270 is the threadle. Here, using the same box configuration, a dog will never consecutively jump two jumps in a straight path, but will instead make alternating 90 degree and 270 degree turns after each hurdle.
The difficulty level of these blind approaches requires constant micromanaging of the dog from the handler. A common technique used to shape a blind approach includes body magnet position, to draw the dog away from an incorrect obstacle and towards the correct one. The handler has to be extremely cognizant of where he or she is standing, especially for courses which include a box configuration, because one incorrect movement can confuse the dog and result in a fault. Indeed, errors in the blind approach almost always are a result of poor handling, and not a refusal from the dog.
When creating a course to truly challenge competitive dog/handler duos, course designers have a number of tricky maneuvers up their sleeve. Although Agility competitions rely on a dog’s athleticism, the communication between dog and handler is paramount for a winning performance. The blind approach is a demanding test of the team’s skills.