Handler Line/Front Cross Line

28 Oct 2004Steve Schwarz

The Handler Line, Handling Line or Front Cross Line is an important concept that all Agility handlers should understand and can apply in the handling of every Agility course. It is not the same thing as the Handler Path. The Handler Path is the path the handler takes through the course.

The Handler Line only exists in a special circumstance. It is the invisible line connecting the edge of one obstacle to the edge of the next obstacle only when a Front Cross Front CrossLearning the Front Cross is planned between the two obstacles. It does not define between which obstacles a Front Cross should be performed; only the most efficient location between the chosen obstacles for the Front Cross. Because of this it is often called the Front Cross Line.

So once you’ve determined your Handler Path through the course you’ll have identified where you want to use Front Crosses. One of your next steps should be identifying the Handler Lines connecting the pairs of obstacles surrounding each of your Front Crosses. Performing a Front Cross away from the Handler Line causes the dog to take a wider, longer and slower path between the two obstacles.

The Handler Line should also be identified when a Lead Out is used in place of performing a front cross. In this case the handler should position themselves just as if they had completed the Front Cross and then release the dog, indicating the first jump and then turning towards the second jump as soon as the dog has committed.

So identifying the Handler Line and evaluating the need to execute the Front Cross or Lead Out on the line should be every handler’s goal. Using the Handler’s Line for a Front Cross is a guideline, a very powerful guideline, especially when you have a tight portion of a course where you need to control the dog’s line. My goal for this article is to help handlers identify the Handler Line, discuss alternate Handler Line definitions, and demonstrate the use of the Handler line in several situations.

Two Definitions

There is some disagreement among Agility trainers on the definition of the Handler Line. I learned about the Handler Line from Dana Pike and she defines it as the line formed by connecting the outside edges of two consecutive obstacles on the side of the obstacles where the Front Cross should occur. In the case of winged jumps the Handler Line runs from the inside edge of the first jump to the outside edge of the second jump; since the handler shouldn’t run into the jump wing if their path takes them close to the second jump. The Handler Path is shown in the diagram below by the black dashed line and the Handler Line by the red dotted line:

Handler Line Definition 1

By defining the Handler Line in this way the handler is always out of the dog’s path. In basketball parlance it leaves the dog the “lane” between the obstacles. Another way to think of the Handler Line is it is the edge of the road, where the handler always gives the dog the road to run on.

Other trainers define the line as connecting the opposite edges of two consecutive obstacles where the line starts at the edge of the obstacle where the dog enters to the edge of the obstacle where the dog exits. I’ve been told that Elicia Calhoun uses this definition. The Handler Path is shown in the diagram below by the black dashed line and the Handler Line by the red dotted line:

Handler Line Definition 2

By defining the Handler Line in this way the handler is actually crossing on the dog’s path through the obstacles. Consequently, this definition might more accurately be called the Dog’s Line. The handler still begins their Front Cross on the line, but is out of the way when the dog passes that point of their path. This approach purposefully limits the portion of the incoming obstacle available for the dog in an effort to further control the dog’s path between the two obstacles.

This definition places the handler “in the road” for the Front Cross but the thinking, as I understand it, is the handler is out of the way (“off the road”) when the dog is at that point of the course. You can also think of as giving the dog a narrower road on which to run (at least at the first obstacle).

The only complication of defining the Handler Line are the cases where a Front Cross is performed between two obstacles and the obstacles are arranged with a 180 degree angle between them. In these cases you can’t draw the Handler Line, so the plan should be to stay as close to the obstacles as possible while allowing the dog to land and change their Lead Leg. In practice this can be as close as 18-24 inches from the plane of the obstacles.

Handler Line Examples

The diagrams below show the Handler Line using the first definition in a number of situations. The Handler Path is shown by the black dashed line and the Handler Line by the red dotted line:

Between Any Two Obstacles

Handler Line A Frame to TunnelHandler Line Chute to Tire

Alternate Obstacle Angles

Handler Line Example 3Handler Line Example 3Handler Line Example 4

Why Care About the Handler Line?

Regardless of the definition, front crossing on the Handler Line is intended to restrict the dog’s path to the tightest possible path between the obstacles. This is because in order for the dog to “honor” the handler’s request for the Front Cross the dog must pass close to the handler. So when the handler Front Crosses on the Handler Line, the front cross controls the dog’s path and puts the dog “on the road” between the obstacles. Once the handler and dog are executing Front Crosses effectively the dog won’t take a wide path between the obstacles.

The following diagrams show the impact on the dog’s path of the handler not crossing on the Handler Line. The Handler Path is shown by the black dashed line and the Handler Line by the red dotted line:

Front Cross on the Handler Line

Front On Handler Line

Front Cross Past the Handler Line

Front Cross Past Handler Line

Front Cross Before the Handler Line

Front Cross Before Handler Line
In this case the dog might refuse the jump and turn back to the handler or not be able to wrap back around to the handler.

That is not to say that a dog can’t take a wider path when the Front Cross occurs on the Handler Line. But in the worst case the path for the Front Cross has the dog travel behind the handler before completing their turn. To fix this the handler holds their ground, reaches behind them and wraps the dog around their body. At the moment the dog completes the wrap it is back on the desired path to the next obstacle. As the dog learns to understand the Front Cross (or the handler learns to executes it correctly) the dog is less likely to wrap behind the handler. This is diagrammed below:

Fixing a Front Cross

That is also not to say that the handler must always stay in position at the Front Cross point either. On a tight course it might be beneficial to enforce the dog’s line by staying in place; but on a more open course the handler just performs the Front Cross on the Handler’s Line and takes off for the next obstacle. Even on a wide open course the Handler’s Line is still beneficial because it gives the handler a concrete reference point between the obstacles.

Executing the Front Cross on the Handler Line

I recorded a video clip of Mr. Peabody and me demonstrating the Front Cross on the Handler Line in my little Chicago back yard. I set up the camera pointing down the Handler Line so you can judge if I’m on the line when I make my cross.

Video Format Player
Real Media Video (97 kb) Get Real One Player
Windows Media Video (68 kb) Get Windows Media Player
To get smoother playback, right mouse click on the link and choose "Save Target As.." (in IE) to save the file to your computer. Then play the clip from where you save it. It may also be helpful to setup your player to play this very short clip continuously.

Handler Line for Lead Outs

Another scenario where the Handler Line comes into play is when a Lead Out is performed between two obstacles and the handler wants to control the dog’s path between the obstacles. In this case the handler is just removing a Front Cross by standing on the Handler Line in the location where they would have performed the Front Cross. For example, if the handler were to lead out to the “FX” position in the diagrams above they could face their body towards jump 3 and reach back with their right arm to call the dog to them over jumps 1 and 2. This is equivalent to performing a Front Cross between jump 2 and jump 3 on the Handler Line; the handler’s position influences the dog’s path in the same way.

I recorded a video clip of Mr. Peabody and me demonstrating the Lead Out on the Handler Line to clarify my description.

Video Format Player
Real Media Video (123 kb) Get Real One Player
Windows Media Video (76 kb) Get Windows Media Player
To get smoother playback, right mouse click on the link and choose "Save Target As.." (in IE) to save the file to your computer. Then play the clip from where you save it. It may also be helpful to setup your player to play this very short clip continuously.

In summary, look for the Handler Line whenever you need to Front Cross between two obstacles. You might also take a look at this discussion of applying the Handler Line to a course.

Special thanks to the members of the Agile Teach email list for identifying confusing areas of this definition (yes it was even more confusing before…).

Click this link to search the whole site for “Handler Line”.

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