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Social Distancing ~ Lesson Plan #5 ~ The Exploding Pinwheel

Social Distancing ~ Lesson Plan #5 ~ The Exploding Pinwheel
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I haven’t written to this topic in several days. I mindful that some of the training objectives I’ve shared with you in our “Social Distancing” series take at least several days, and sometimes months, to master. Anyone who is doing the homework might take a moment to regale me with your adventures in dog training. I would be delighted to hear from you.

Index to Social Distancing Training Objectives published on this blog

Social Distancing ~ Lesson Plan #1 ~ Working your dog at a lateral distance Distancing ~ Lesson Plan #2 ~ The Dead Away Send

Social Distancing ~ Lesson Plan #3 ~ The Back Pass

Social Distancing ~ Lesson Plan #4 ~ Named Obstacle Discrimination:

Invitation to Join the Garden League

If training is not enough for you, and you need the adrenaline rush of competition, then the NDAL Garden League might be quite a lot of fun for you. You are cordially invited to join us in weekly play!

The document: Garden League Rules and Stipulations contains our initial attempt to define how on ongoing virtual competition might work (including how to pay for the registration and weekly reporting). Some of our methodologies will have to be learned as we go along.

We will publish the weekly courses on the NDAL blog. You can read it here (this one contains both of the first two weeks): Garden League ~ Week of April 19, 2020.

I’ll look forward to hearing back from you.

Bud Houston
NDAL Secretary


The Exploding Pinwheel

I learned this conditioning bit many years ago from Patty Hatfield-Mah. The idea is to teach the dog to understand the pinwheel and take ownership of this common jump configuration.

We begin with the jumps in the pinwheel pushed very close together as in this illustration. The handler can draw the dog through the entire performance while remaining in one quadrant.

Note that the jumps should be set very low as there is scarcely 6’ of transition between the jumps.

Before we move on from this step, we should be fairly certain that the dog has taken ownership of the pinwheel and will bop around the four jumps without a hint of luring or showing on the part of the handler.

As in any obstacle conditioning program, the handler’s keen use of a marker combined with praise and reward are essential to the dog’s learning. Any failure should be met with a neutral response from the handler. We want a keen dog emboldened by never being corrected or treated harshly. We allow the dog room to worry through the problem and discover that thing that earns the praise and reward.


We gradually and patiently explode the pinwheel, advancing each jump from center in rational incremental steps, each of which we hold until the dog demonstrates a keenness and understanding of his job in the pinwheel before advancing to the next step.

The handler should be able to work entirely from one quadrant of the pinwheel. But this doesn’t mean that the handler should stand like a stump in the woods. We teach that a handler should face and move in the direction the dog should face and move.

A good handler would move in a robust manner that compliments the dog’s path in the pinwheel (and anywhere else on course). The teaching of the pinwheel in this manner is not about good handling, it’s about good training. When you combine good handling habit with good training discipline, good things happen in the dog’s career in agility.

One Picture is Worth …

I’m going to share with you below a number of YouTube videos I’ve published over the years that illustrate (in sometimes painful granularity) the training steps to teach the dog to “own the pinwheel”.

Note that we’re teaching the dog to work independently and to have powerful obstacle focus for a simple jump.

Cedar’s Intro to the exploding pinwheel:

Pips Introduction to the Exploding Pinwheel:






Pip’s Exploding pinwheel

Advanced Topics:

Cedar entering pinwheel from Tandem position:

Katniss & Phoenix tandem & layered:

Prim double pinwheel

Phoenix with teeter/downfield layered work:

Playful Pinwheels ~ Thinking Outside the Box

[The exercises below were published about a dozen years ago. So… when I said what I did “yesterday”… it was yesterday a long time ago. Once your dog “owns” the pinwheel you will always view this interesting configuration of jumps as an opportunity to be playful.]

While it’s true that I practice an “own the pinwheel” kind of training with my dogs, when push comes to shove I will reserve moving badly for some class that absolutely demands it. Think Gamblers, for example. In routine course work however I will endeavor to move in a way that inspires the dog and ensures that he is well directed.

I’ve written a great deal about pinwheels over the years. There’s something about a pinwheel that inspires the handler to move like an old musty stump in the middle of a swamp. Moving badly is good training… but it is not good handling.

The conundrum is ever that the dog’s path is this big robust thing while the handler’s path is more diminutive and restrained. Even a slow handler can outrun a fast dog in a pinwheel. The real painful match is when a handler is working a dog of moderate speed and handler is so completely defined by the inner limits of the pinwheel that the dog gets no sense of excitement or electricity at all from the handler. Just between you and me and the wall, if your dog isn’t one of those ballistic self starting everything-at-top-speed kind of dogs, then handling him as if he were is an error.

Blind Cross as a Pinwheel Movement


The trick in a pinwheel is to find a way to move. That means more real estate. Frankly there’s only so much real estate inside the pinwheel. But if I think outside the box, there’s plenty of new real estate for handler movement. In this first playful attack on the pinwheel I have the handler step outside the box in the transition between jumps #4 and #5 using a Blind Cross to race the dog to the outside. The transition and the moment of the Blind Cross are indicated in this illustration by the red colored paths for dog and handler.

Tandem Turn as a Pinwheel Movement


Another important skill in a pinwheel is the Tandem Turn. The Tandem is a cross behind the dog on the dismount of an obstacle or on the flat.

To play with this the handler will approach jumps #2 and #3 with dog on right, crossing behind the dog into the Tandem on the landing side of jump #3. Note that if the handler intends a Tandem Turn then he should endeavor to arrive at the jump at the same instant of the dog. The Tandem tends to create a wide sweeping turn in the dog’s path and accelerates the dog’s movement. These are perfect attributes for a pinwheel. Though you might get into a bit of trouble with it if you have an Afghan Hound or a leggy Border Collie.

Using All of Our Pinwheel Tools


s, the Blind Cross and the Tandem Turn can be applied to the same pinwheel. In this illustration the handler executes the Blind Cross in the transition from jump #3 to jump #4 and then promptly uses a Tandem Turn to step back into the box after jump #4. The Blind Cross is indicated by the red paths for dog and handler; the Tandem Turn is indicated by the green paths for dog and handler.

This is an interesting handling choice that requires a speed change. The handler begins with slow dog handling (forward and pulling) into the Blind Cross; and then abruptly transitions to fast dog handling (behind and pushing).

Note that in the conduct of the Tandem Turn the handler actually wants to arrive at the jump at the same instant as the dog. We might argue that a Front Cross would be better than a Blind Cross because the Blind Cross is a racing movement and might make the handler arrive at the jump prematurely. However this is really a “know thy dog” condition. If the dog slips forward of the handler prematurely out of a Front Cross then the handler is behind the dog at the turning jump and so a Blind Cross would have been a better choice of movement.


Pinwheel Bonus Exercise

Here’s one of the exercises I put up at camp yesterday. When I put up a pinwheel I’m mostly I’m interested in how a handler might be defined by the inside of the box where, with most dogs, there is not adequate real estate for robust movement. And so I teach a playful attack on the pinwheel which has the handler stepping out and stepping back in to accelerate the movement.


This exercise had the added twist in which I specified that the handler would stay on the opposite side of the red line while sending the dog on for the performance of the weave poles at a lateral distance.

This bit was an interesting study in pointing. The handler points more surely with his feet that he’ll ever point with his hands. And yet many (if not most) handlers will instinctively turn their toes perpendicular to the dog’s approach to the weave poles rather than parallel. Typically this will spoil the send if the dog requires the handler’s support at all.

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