March 10, 2021

Episode 279: Pinwheel Problems

In this episode (17:57)

In this episode, the BDA team discusses one of the most classic jump sequences in all of agility: the pinwheel.

You Will Learn

  • What a pinwheel is.
  • How most people handle pinwheels.
  • Problems people encounter on pinwheels.
  • Why dogs sometimes mistakenly turn away from the handler on pinwheels.
  • How to handle pinwheels better.
  • How to vary your reinforcement schedule to help your dog stay motivated on pinwheels.

- Listening to Bad Dog Agility, bringing you training tips, interviews, and news about the great sport of dog agility. (upbeat music) - I'm Jennifer, - I'm Esteban, - And I'm Sarah, and this is episode 279. Today's podcast is brought to you by the and the new Teeter TeachIt an easy to use tool, that controls the amount of tip on your Teeter, so you can introduce motion to

your dog in a gradual way. Go to for the new Teeter TeachIt, and other agility training tools and toys. Use discount code BDA10 to get 10% off your order. That's - Today, we're going to be talking about, pinwheels and dog agility, and that word can be very ugly for a lot of our listeners. Pinwheels can be demotivating for dogs, and some people really, really don't like

them. So first let's talk about pinwheels. I mean, let's define pinwheels. Jennifer, do you have a working definition for pinwheels? Like when a beginner comes in, and they start taking classes, and everybody else in that class, they're on their second, third, or fourth dog, and this poor novice person, this is their first dog, and everyone's like, "oh, it's a pinwheel," and they're like, "what's a pinwheel?" - I

don't know that I have a working definition, but I always try to describe it as very much what it is. So three, usually three or four jumps that kind of fan out, like the spokes of a tire, where the path of the dog is generally gonna be perceived as being a circular path, with the handler on the inside. So we typically see it with three or four jumps,

you know, probably could be spread out and made a little bit bigger, but as you said, it is something that a lot of people look at and go, ugh! I am not excited to see that. - Right, so first let's talk about, where you'll find these pinwheels, and I think the majority of pinwheels, when we look at it, when we look at it actually on kind of a

global, level, it's going to be here in North America, specifically the United States. I think they are less popular and less common in Europe, for example, where the courses are much bigger, and other parts of the world, which tend to model their courses more European, rather than say, those that you would find in the American Kennel Club. And I think there was a time, I want to say

maybe 10 to 20 years ago, that pinwheels were like, in every single agility course, seems like, to me, like there would be some pinwheel element. Okay. So let's talk about, the kinds of problems that people are having with pinwheels. Because you may be listening to this podcast, and you know, you maybe did a pinwheel or two, you're getting your dog ready for their first competition, this is your

first agility dog, and you're like, wait! pinwheels are, don't, people don't like pinwheels? Well, why not? What are some of the common problems Jennifer, that you're seeing, from, people that you're working with in your classes? - Well, as you said, because we have that circular action and the handler is often in the middle of the circle, there can be a lack of motion. And the lack of motion,

often then carries over to the dog, that can be a lack of drive. The handler's not moving, the dog decreases speed, or sometimes, the dog will maintain speed, but because the handler's not moving, they feel like it's not going anywhere, they'll rotate their shoulders a little early, because they don't have anything to do. And I think, you know, what I try to talk to a lot of people

about is, it's often in the handler's head, as much as it is the actual challenges. Meaning the handler already goes into it going, Oh, it's a pinwheel. I won't be able to move. Well, you can move as much as the circle allows, you can increase your distance. I think the other thing that's important with pinwheels, and maybe we'll get here a little bit in talking about, how we

handle through it. But, you know, quickest way to get from point A to point B is a straight line. So really, when we think about a circle, we don't really want a circle, we want more connecting the dots, maybe like in a three jump pinwheel, more of a triangle. So rather than just standing in the middle, and rotating, you know, putting your arm out and rotating through, kind

of run up to the jump, decel, run and leave to the next jump decel, kind of let your path move with the dogs, and mimic the dogs as much as possible. But I think the big thing is these handlers just standing in the center, rotating their shoulders, but not actually using motion and getting that decrease in speed. and as you mentioned, that lack of motivation. - Yeah. That's

very well put, I've never had that image put in my head about a pinwheel, but now that you said it, I think it's mathematically brilliant. Imagine a circle. And in the middle of that circle, you have a square, right? If you have like a four jumps or a triangle, right. And so it's a circumscribed within, within the circle. And so which one is using more yardage, right? It's

the circle, the circle is the longer path but if you have your dog driving there on the triangle the yardage is shorter. Right? And so that's really brilliant because that is exactly how I solve all problems related to the pinwheel. Don't handle it like a circle. Don't handle it in the classic pinwheel fashion that Jennifer described perfectly where you get to kind of sit in the middle. And

that's why at first, people kind of thought pinwheels were cool, - Because they didn't have to do very much, they just stood in the middle. - Right. So it felt like a very trained thing where I'm being so awesome. And the dog kind of knows what to do. They know to take these three or four jumps with me kind of here in the middle. And I don't need

to run around quite so much. Right. And so in an era when these came out kind of the, the, the distance lateral handling era, right. Now, things are have shifted away from that. And not only that, courses are more complex, so judges can throw pinwheels out there, right. And pinwheel setups and then lure the handler into starting pinwheel handling. But then the dog actually needs to go and

do something else. But too late, they started the pinwheel and the dog says, Hey, no, I got it. We're doing a pinwheel here. But then lo and behold the handler is doing something else now because it in fact was not a pinwheel. It just looked like the pinwheel set up. And so these dogs get tricked. And then, you know, and the handler's not very aware of it, that

they're following this pinwheel handling. I think another thing that pops up quite often, is the dog spinning out. They turn the wrong way at some point in the pinwheel. So they don't continue to, you know let's say the pinwheel goes left. They're not making left, turn left, turn, left, turn. They go left, and then suddenly inexplicably, they go, right. Right? The handler goes left. Dog goes, right. There's

no obstacle out there. And the handler is like, what the heck just happened? The dog literally turned away from me out into space. There's no obstacles out there. Right? And so I think that's also part of a pinwheel handling, like one of the problems that you run into. What else was I going to say about something, something about course design? I had the thought, and then I think

it just escaped me. It was like the dog turning the thought turned away from me. (laughing) I was going left. And then the thought went right. And I don't know what happened because I was on a mental pinwheel. But yeah. So those are the reasons that people really don't like pinwheels, I will say in the defense of people who don't like pinwheels. Right? I feel like I handle

pinwheels perfectly fine. Now that I've got the code, the secret, the cheat the cheat code. But I don't, I don't really like them very much either. You know, I don't find them technically challenging. I think even for very motivated dogs, it's kind of annoying to do a physically difficult thing and it's very difficult to run at speed. So I think of it this way. Any, have any, one

of the three of us here perhaps competed in track and field? (laughing) does anybody, can, can they, can you raise your hand - Raising hand over here. - Okay. So, Jennifer raising your hand. Okay. So Jennifer, the difference between say, I don't, I don't even know what the distances are in, in high school and collegiate track really? Is it yards or meters? Is it? - Yeah. 100 meter

dash, 200 meter, you then go 400 meter. Yeah. - So, so lets' compare the 100 meter run, just a straight run, to the hurdles. Is that, is that typically similar distance? 100, 110. - Yeah. They'll have, yeah. They'll have hurdles the same distance or in like high school, there's 300 meter hurdles, which is two straightaways and one curve and the hurdles are further apart. - Sure, sure. Okay.

So they're both very demanding events, certainly. But I imagine that hurdling takes a little bit more concentration, maybe a higher degree of difficulty. Would that, would that be fair to say? - Than running the straightaway? Of course. - Yeah. - Yes. - Right. So, okay. So same thing here for the dog, right? So the dog is like, okay, I can take three jumps straight. We can do this

flyball style. Or we can do this in a pinwheel where I have to make the effort to turn. I have to keep that bar up. I got to land at an angle. Right. And load one side of my body, more so than other side. There's more coordination, more effort I think all the way around, to get through that. Right. It's more difficult. So it's not as easy. -

Yeah. If you compare it to hurdles on hurdles on a straightaway, the, the person can jump with either leg forward so you can do right leg forward or left leg forward typically they will alternate, but when you put hurdles on a curve then it becomes more important, which leg - I didn't know they had hurdling on a curve. - Yes. That's the 300 meter hurdles. - Oh, Wow!

- So it's two straightaways and a curve. So on the curve, it becomes more important. What leg is up in like in the lead leg basically like your lead leg because it'll affect like curve is going left. So you want to try to have your left leg forward to then be able to land and bank left where if you put your right leg forward you're like heading out

of the, your lane. So, it's the same thing with the dogs right. Straightaway, it's much easier. The dog can be on any lead. Right. And they can essentially be on any portion of the bar where when you are on a curve or pinwheel the lead becomes very specific and where the dog is positioned over the bar becomes more important as well. We want that inside curve. So, absolutely

huge difference on that straight line fly ball run, and that pinwheel curved run. - Oh, okay. That is very well explained, Jennifer, I like, I like how you broke that down for everyone there. So, now we have a greater appreciation, right? It's not all just in your head, right. There are real physical, like, based on the laws of physics reasons that your dog may not like the pinwheel

as much as they like the rest of agility. Certainly. But I do feel like it's gotten into handlers heads, right? It can be a real psychological thing where they're just like, Oh, it is so demotivating. You'll see people even generalize this dislike for pinwheels to particular judges, organizations. Right. They get a rep. And here in the United States, of course it's gonna be the AKC as if USDAA

and UKI never put pinwheels in their courses, which we of course, we know they certainly do. And top handlers, you know, have have blogged and written about it. And on our podcast talked about how much they like Soviet tournaments. Slovenia does not like a pinwheel. Certainly she calls them boring. So I'll just put that on. Not challenging. They're just boring and let's move then to solutions. So Jennifer,

what are some things you like people to think about when they're trying to solve the issue? I guess let's start with, I guess it might be the same solution for all problems related to it, but it's demotivation. I think it's probably the number one thing that people say about pinwheels. What is your answer to that? - I think there's two things. I think from the handling standpoint it

is to try to stay in the motion as much as possible. So whether it be make the circumference of your circle a little bit larger, like closer to the wings, rather than standing in the center. I also think for dogs that even don't have motivation issues, getting too comfortable just standing in the middle of the circle and rotating your shoulders, I do think can encourage and lead to

more of flanking behaviors. - Right - So we see the dogs that'll kind of kick out wide and flank out wide around jumps often hurting breeds, you know, in, you know you're spinning and they're going wider and wider. You're, you're kind of feeding into that and building into that by just standing there and turning. So, move with the dogs. Also, as we mentioned, try not to stand and

pivot but rather use your motion and kind of, I think of like ping ponging from wing to wing, run into the wing run to the next wing, run to the next wing use motion as much as possible, not just to stay moving but to help cue the turn. So leaving before that point of commitment drawing your line of motion will help tell the dogs where they're going. And

then I also think from the standpoint of kind of like addressing the training of it, trying to from the beginning, doing a little bit of some kind of training and games of moving around those wings wrapping around those wings, kind of ping ponging and letting it be very much a game and something fun. So, think about like, even as a puppy I don't know, maybe eight, nine, 10

months old and you have three or four wings, and maybe you make a game out of like standing in the center, revving them up sending them out to one wing, let them come back to you send them out to the other. And it wouldn't have to be that traditional pinwheel action but very limited motion on the handler, but a little bit of opposition reflex. And on that final

wrap, you know, run out of the circle chasing after a toy or running after high value reinforcement. So that you're kind of breaking the mold and preventing the problem before it becomes a problem. You know, that the dogs get comfortable to drive to an obstacle even when the handler's there in the center. So I think you can kind of look at it both from the standpoint of training

what can you do to train the dog to be less de-motivated and more encouraged, but also what can you do handling wise to try to prevent it as well. - Yeah. I really, really liked that. The other thing I would think about is making sure that the reinforcement is there for the dog. Ideally, let's say I'm doing, I don't know a hundred pinwheels over the course of however

many years with a dog. I would love and practice to not always reward only after the pinwheel is done. I would like maybe 70% of the reward. I'm just making up numbers here. 70% to be sure you did the old pinwheel here's your reward. And then of the remaining 30 maybe chop it up over the, over the let's say there's four jumping wheel over the three jumps. After

the first jump you had 10% of reward then 20, then 30. So, you know, there's a value interspersed there throughout the, the pinwheel but I think you've absolutely hit the nail on the head with the, the solution. And it's to actually do a little bit more running, not not necessarily running faster but your yardage will be a little bit more. I love how, how you call it a

wing to wing because that that I've used that very phrase in feedbacks. - Yeah. - You wanted to jump in - Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no, yeah. I mean, I, it's just, it's funny because when we were preparing for this podcast, all we really told Jennifer was that we were going to talk about pinwheels. We didn't really prep her but she gave the exact answer that we, that we

also use in our own training, which is that wing to wing handling. So I love it when, when great minds have the the exact same solutions that kind of reinforces each of us that we're on the right track. But that's exactly what, that's exactly how we handle them and how we coach people to handle them is to run them as a series of short, straight lines, - Right.

- rather than you are a point that is pivoting around in a circle. - Right, and that word pivoting, I think is so huge and pivoting can often create the problem of the dog turning away. So if you're out there and you hate pinwheels because every once in a while, your dog is turning away pivoting in place, it may be that you kind of pivot or pull the

dog one way before you rear cross the other way. So the dog is predicting a rear cross, - Or just even lack of motion as a prediction of rear cross, right? - Right. - You're letting them get ahead of you - You slow down, they are getting a little ahead. Exactly. They start, they start thinking, Hmm. You know what? There's a fair chance we could be doing a

rear cross here and, Oh, look there is a GC tunnel. Sure. Why not? I'm going to turn away now. So again, avoiding pivoting, right. And really thinking about motion just in terms of acceleration, deceleration a little more wing to wing running. Yeah. You're adding a little bit of handler yardage but you don't get any bonus points for running less yardage. Right. The idea is to get the best,

fastest possible performance from your dog. I think there was a time when agility, at least here in the United States was a little more like obedience. Like it was very very important to get clean runs, to get titles. And maybe you wanna get through novice with three straight queues and get into open and and all that kind of stuff. But now it's, it really is about the time.

Right. We want the fastest possible time. And as handlers we're willing to walk a little bit more yardage and on a pinwheel you're generally not even on the biggest pinwheels you're not generally walking too much additional yardage - You're just adding a little clarity for your dog. - Yeah. Yeah. So I call it pinwheel handling the kind of standing in place and pivoting, and I think that's really

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