The Long Jump
When you first start training the Long Jump the initial stages are quite straightforward. With all the elements placed close together, sit the dog about 3 paces from the jump, then command the dog to jump - at this time you are really only putting the command to the dog’s action, which you are creating with the lead. The first couple of times the dog will probably run over the top of the jump - don’t be concerned, it’s normal. As the dog lands on the other side throw his toy over the jump and past him, releasing the lead as you do. When the dog has done a few repetitions you will find he will be clearing the jump. This will be enough for the first session. A minimum of a few hours later repeat the process; as soon as the dog is readily complying, you can dispense with the lead.
When you have gone to the trouble to set the long jump out and brought the dog to it, it is very tempting to have the dog jump lots of times. As the jump is short and the dog is enjoying the game of jumping and fetching his toy, it is very easy to do the exercise many times. I limit myself to about 6 times when the jump is short, as fatigue kills attitude.
Once the dog is jumping freely off lead I introduce the down on the other side. When the dog has complied, throw the toy either directly to the dog or past it, releasing the dog to do an informal retrieve. A common mistake at this point is to try and praise the dog as it lands, before giving it the command to go down; this can cause the exercise to become fragmented and rushed. I just praise after the down, making the assumption the dog will understand that it is being praised for both the jump and the down.
As training progresses you will start lengthening the jump. Several problems arise as the jumps gets longer. The dog is very likely to start jumping out to the side off the jump; to avoid this I place tracking poles at each corner of the jump to increase the dog’s awareness of the limits of the jump.
Another problem that can start around now is that the dog will occasionally catch its rear foot on the last element of the jump. To us it appears nothing, but think how it feels when you stub your bare toe on the leg of the bed - to anyone seeing you do it, it will appear nothing, but it certainly won’t seem trivial to you. Well, the same applies to the dog catching his foot on the last element.
As training progresses and you are increasing the length of the jump, you will need to become aware of the dog’s take-off point; this will give you an idea of the length of run-up the dog requires. A few dogs seem to have the ability to ‘see’ a stride and no matter where you set them up, the take off point will always be about right. Others have such a lot of natural ability that they can easily jump 13 or 14 feet - with these dogs the set-up is fairly unimportant, as if they get the run-up wrong they’ll just give it a bit extra, so no problem. These dogs are fairly rare and their owners tend to go round with an attitude of, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, you don’t need to worry about set-up distance, the dog will just do it.” If you have one of these dogs, be thankful; your next dog might not be the same.
For those of us with dogs of normal ability care will have to be taken; if you extend the length of the jump too quickly and the dog hurts itself, the smallest of the problems will be waiting for the pain to go. The real trouble will come from the loss of confidence caused by the painful foot, as you know from stubbing your foot. Within an hour the pain will be forgotten, but you will be careful about walking round the bed for months. If the dog catches its foot and shows signs of discomfort don’t continue. Put the dog in a down stay and shorten the jump by a foot, do one more, then stop. Start your next session with the jump at the shorter length.
Most dogs, when they are learning to do the long jump, are likely to jump flat, so will appear to struggle when you get near to full length. A secondary problem with a dog which jumps flat is that they jump with great speed (which is good), but they can become casual, and if they catch the jump at speed, loss of confidence and speed will immediately become apparent. For the dog that jumps flat I put a clear jump in the middle of the long jump, at about 18 inches or 2ft high; this will cause the dog to adjust his jump accordingly by increasing the height of his flight.
To decide on the length of the run-up, I like to position a person at the side of the jump (well away) and get them to watch for the point where the dog takes off. The distance from the start of the dog’s run to the take-off point can be adjusted, and when the distance is correct the dog will come in on a long comfortable stride to the take off point; if the dog is putting in short strides it will look hurried and might show signs of stress. You will need to keep adjusting the run-up till it’s jumping comfortably and well.
It is best if the dog’s take-off point is around 1 to 2 feet from the first element of the long jump; further from the first element will unnecessarily increase the length of the jump; closer, and it is probable the that dog’s foot will catch the first element of the jump. Pick an imaginary take-off spot about the right distance from the jump, and pace away 5 paces; leave the dog in a wait, move toward the jump and call the dog over. Watch its take-off point, then adjust the length by adding or reducing by half or one pace - using trial and error you will find out how long the run-up will need to be. There is often a temptation to try to improve the dog’s motivation by increasing the length of the run-up. If the dog’s motivation is insufficient at 7 paces, at 12 paces it will not only be insufficient but unfocused as well.
As the dog’s jumping is becoming confident and competent there are a couple of points to be taken into account. Firstly, you as the handler must not touch or put any part of your body over or past the first element of the jump, as this can cause the loss of all the points for the jump; when the dog has completed the jump, if it comes back past the last element before it adopts a stable position all points will again be lost.
For consistency from the dog in competition, consistency from the handler is imperative. After all, if we the “senior partner” can’t get it right, we’ve no right to expect the dog to.
A couple of points: “A command is an attempt” - and nobody has ever said to the judge that “The dog always does it perfect at home” - so best not to go there.
A final thought if what your doing is working for you, continue don’t change. If its not broke don’t fix it.
There are many ways of training and there are very few wrongs and rights it’s all dog specific all dogs are individuals and need to be trained as such.