Teaching Your Dog to Jump
All Agility courses contain a number of hurdles so to do well it is essential that an Agility dog enjoys and is reliable at jumping. The way a dog is introduced to jumping is very important. Ruth Hobday shares her methods.
I see a lot of dogs with jumping faults that can be traced back to the way the dog was taught to jump. The temptation to get the dog jumping his full height as quickly as possible is great, but many problems can be caused by making the dog jump too high before he has acquired confidence in jumping.
I see lots of dogs that run past or under hurdles, dogs that crash into hurdles not really attempting to clear them, and many dogs that hesitate, taking lots of little steps and gathering themselves before each hurdle. So many of these faults could have been prevented with a more careful introduction to jumping.
So how do I go about introducing the dog to jumping. In the years since I wrote Agility is Fun - Book 1, I have altered my method of training slightly. At that time I taught the dog to jump using several poles on each hurdle and raising the height slowly until the dog could jump his full height. Then when I felt that the dog was confident enough I lowered the height again and taught him to jump a single pole. However, I now find it much better to use a single pole right from the beginning. I find this way you end up with a much more reliable jumper and single pole jumps rarely cause any problems.
With the dog on the lead - use a plain collar not a check - and working on the side the handler is most used to, get both the handler and the dog to jump the first hurdle. If this is successful, let the handler and dog carry on over the other hurdles.
There are several points to watch:-
As soon as the handler and dog have successfully completed this, place the dog on the handler's other side and repeat the row of hurdles with the handler still stepping over with the dog. I find the earlier you start the dog working on both sides the better. However just occasionally you may get a dog who has done so much work always on the left that he gets very upset if asked to work the other side. Although having a dog that will work either side is really essential for Agility now it is not worth upsetting the dog. It is more important to get him jumping happily, then you may be able to try again to get him to work on the right. With the majority of dogs there is no problem.
Once the dog is happily doing this, I repeat it with the handler keeping to the side of the hurdle. While the dog is working on the lead, it is easier to use hurdles with uprights instead of wings which tend to get in the way. Also the handler can stay closer to the dog who is then less likely to run past the wing.
This is all I try to achieve in the first lesson. The number of times you do the line of jumps depends on the individual dog. It is important to keep the dog happy and stop before he gets bored or tired.
I continue this straight line work until the dog gets the idea of looking ahead for the next jump. The dog can then progress to working large circles of jumps. I don't begin to teach turns until the dog is going on well.
The height of the jumps will depend on each dogs progress. I move the height up fairly slowly until it is about 6 inches below the dogs full height. I then leave the dog at this height for several weeks or even months until he is really confident at jumping.
I encourage the handler to try without the lead as soon as possible but am always prepared to put the lead back on if the dog starts to run past jumps. How soon you can manage without the lead often depends on how good the handlers general control is. It often helps for the handler to go back to jumping the hurdles with the dog when first removing the lead.
I never rush a dog into jumping his full height. I find if you wait until the dog is really confident and happy jumping six inches lower he will hardly notice that extra six inches when you finally ask him to do it. Lots of practise and encouragement over simple patterns of jumps will help the dog to gain this confidence. Give lots of praise for success and achieve forward movement before tackling tight turns.
Once the dog has realised that Agility obstacles are strung together he will start to look or the next obstacle. I feel that it is so important to get this forward movement before teaching tight turns. It is so easy to actually teach a dog to circle and flap around in front of the handler, getting frustrated, getting in the way and wasting valuable time. Repeated sharp turns before the dog has the idea of forward movement quickly causes this fault.
About the author...
Ruth's new book Agility Fun - The Hobday Way (Vol. 3) Lessons for Beginners is now available. It contains more than 150 exercises and variations, focusing on discrimination, teaching turns and teaching forward movement as well as 24 courses with suggestions for many more sequences.
Available from Ruth Hobday,
Photos of Ruth Hobday source: Russell Fine Art