A crossover is a contact obstacle. Picture a table (3x3 feet) 4 feet off the ground with four ramps (one on each side) going up to the tabletop. The ramps are just like those of the dog walk. If viewed from above it makes a "+" shape with 12 foot "legs". Under some rules one or more of the ramps may be removed, so it is essential that the central "tall table" be sturdy and stable independent of the ramps.
A crossover may be used instead of a dogwalk on courses under USDAA, AAC, NADAC, and ASCA rules. It is not a legal obstacle for AKC or UKC agility.
When the crossover is used in a regular agility course the judge specifies which ramp the dog is to go up, and which they are to descend. So the tabletop becomes a crossroad requiring good handler timing and control. Depending on the course, you may need to direct your dog to go left, right, or straight ahead. What makes the straight ahead option tricky is that the handler has to move further away from the dog to go around the side ramps. And of course you still need to worry about the dog hitting the contact zones.
Also, the dog is above the handler's eye level. Many dogs who are usually responsive to directional commands will think that the rules are different when they are taller than you. It doesn't take much training to convince the dog that the same rules apply, no matter your relative eye-levels. However for dogs and handlers with little experience on crossovers this can cause unexpected results. Obedience to directional commands at a height is something that can be practiced on children's playground equipment. Combined with good dogwalk skills this will allow dogs and handlers to be prepared even if they don't have a crossover to practice upon.
If we used crossovers more, then the various issues regarding them would decrease as more people encountered them, built them, and practiced on them. A real chicken-or-egg conundrum.
Many judges hesitate to use the crossover (when available, which is seldom) for the following reasons. Should these really be "showstoppers"?
- The *handlers* don't understand how it's performance is scored - especially how and when to recover from mistakes. Judges want to design course that are fun, not frustrating.
- It is hard (but not impossible) to be in a good judging position to see both contacts without interfering with the dog and handler. Judges want to be "invisible" to the handler, yet be able to clearly see all contacts for all dogs. Taking a ramp off would make judging contacts easier, but then there is a concern about safety and equipment stability.
- Crossovers are unusual enough that using one gives a heavy "home team advantage" to members of the local club who, presumably, occasionally practice on theirs.
- Again, because crossovers are uncommon, using one often makes it the "center piece" challenge on the course. Most judges prefer to come up with challenges that have several possible skill solutions, and avoid the challenges that dictate having one skill as a pass/fail.
- Since many judges are particularly reluctant to ask Starters/Novice dogs and handlers to cope with a crossover, using it would mean a switch with the dogwalk at some point.
On the plus side for crossovers:
- They are particularly good in relay courses because of the symmetry that is possible.
- Some judges feel that crossovers take up a lot of space. Crossovers just take up space in a different shape than the dog walk. Especially in smaller rings a crossover can work well in a corner.
- If there is a known low obstacle to work around, like a drain or manhole cover, the crossover could be placed either over it, or so that the obstacle falls in the unused crux of the crossover.
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