It is much easier to train the rear cross from both the left and the right if you take the time to practice it yourself without your dog. Put aside self conscious thoughts of how silly you may look and go ahead and practice alone first! This way you can get the technique down to muscle memory before allowing yourself the opportunity to confuse your dog as you learn along with him. Now that is out of the way, it is time to train your dog the rear cross!
Before you begin, you must know the purpose of the rear cross. While on a course there will more than likely come a time when you must change directions behind your dog. This is called a rear cross. Training your dog for the rear cross, though, means that he needs to be able to reliably follow your direction even when it changes behind his back!
The lack of a rear cross trained dog can mean time wasted on the course as well as confusion for your dog. A confused dog leads to a frustrated handler attempting to accomplish a clean run with minimal penalties and a good time. There is no better time to start training your dog for the rear cross than right now! Even puppies that are only agility prospects can benefit from the start of a rear cross training session.
As with beginning any new behaviors, begin in a quiet and familiar environment to help your dog stay focused. Remember to keep training sessions short, fun and full of positive reinforcement. Your dog should already know the sit stay command first to ensure success. Remember that you want to reward your dog for following you while in a sit stay, not just for staying in place! You want him to follow you with his eyes and turn his head to face you when you change directions!
With your dog on your right side in a sit stay, take a step back. Click your clicker or say “Yep!” when your dog turns his head and follows you. Promptly reward him with a bite of food reward. Once his attention is off the food and back onto you, try stepping to his right side as if you would in a rear pass. If he turns his head and looks at you, click and reward again! Make sure you pass to each side a number of times before calling it quits for the day!
Now that your dog has come to expect a reward whenever you cross behind him, it is time proof his behavior of following your lead instead of predicting your movements. Randomize your crosses while he is in a sit stay! Start with your dog on your right side, take a step back and cross behind him. Click and reward as usual, but stay there for just a moment before crossing back over. Click and reward when he gives you his attention!
Do the same on the left side, but do not allow your behavior to become predictable! Let him wonder if you will cross or not, because he will not know the course by heart at a trial! He must be on his toes and watch your leadership, not become comfortable with a predictable routine!
Now it is time to bring in an obstacle or two. If your dog is over the age of 2 years and can easily fly over jumps, use 2 jumps to further proof the rear cross. Plan your course for the rear cross from one jump end to the next. You will be crossing between jumps after your dog has completed the first and is moving to the second. When your dog follows your direction after the second jump, he should get rewarded! Make sure to practice this going both ways, from left to right, and right to left!
Tip: To help your dog finish the first jump before following your lead, toss a toy or a treat in front of him as he jumps the second obstacle! This will help him complete the jump properly and give you time to complete the rear cross before he turns to face you.
If your are working with a puppy, don’t use jumps. His growth plates have not closed yet, so try something safer! Tunnels work perfectly for puppies! Set your two tunnels jump just like the jumps above. You will be crossing behind your dog in between the tunnels. Practice your rear cross without your puppy first so you know your course well. This will prevent confusion later on. Once your puppy has left one tunnel and heads towards the other, use your rear cross and when he follows your lead he should be rewarded!
Change It Up!
If you have regular access to a variety of agility obstacles, change up your rear cross often. Use it in between various obstacles to change your dog’s direction and always give him a hearty reward when he does! Keeping him on his toes will make training and running any course fun and exciting. It will also keep his attention from wondering so that he stays in par with your directions!
Practice at home with only a single jump. Start with your dog on your left and send him over the jump. As he comes back around send him over the jump while you do the rear cross. Turn it into a game with your dog making a figure 8 with the single jump. Don’t forget to reward him!
Take A Step Back
If you or your dog are having difficulties in working on the rear cross, don’t hesitate to take a step back in the process and work your way forward. Make sure you and your dog are able to reliably complete each step before moving ahead. If either of you run into issues, go back and try again! Keep it fun, too! Always end on a high note and you and your dog can run clean