We went to Wales to do a three day course in the middle of April. I thought I must be mad training in Wales in April, outside in the freezing cold and pouring rain – or snow more like! It’s not called ‘Wet Wales’ for nothing is it? I packed all my waterproofs, my thermal undies, dozens of towels for the dogs and me, hat scarves, gloves – you name it - the lot. I was well prepared for the worst weather Wales can throw at you.

Surprise, surprise, there was a heat-wave! It did not rain at all and most people stripped down to tee-shirts and shorts and got sun burnt! We had a super time. The Golden Wonder’s day started with a walk through fields of Welsh sheep and a swim in the river. He needed this to help keep him cool through the day. Whilst he spent most of the day in the van he was entertained by a varied flock of chickens, who sunned themselves around the car park taunting the dogs who were waiting their turn to train. He came out from time to time to demonstrate various aspects of clicker training and I have to admit he did love showing off his skills. Whilst not the sharpest knife in the block, he knows how to work a clicker and he earned his keep on the course.

He demonstrated hand targets and retrieves beautifully, illustrating the benefits of a strong foundation in the control exercises and wowing his audience with his stunning looks at the same time. He was centre stage and he loved it!

Starting the Jumps

The Golden Wonder had not previously had any jump training, so it seemed an ideal opportunity to use him to show the students how I teach the jumps. We started with the clear jump. I had a small pot of food with a well fitting lid prepared with pieces of cooked heart (one of GW’s favourite rewards). Remember he already knows how to sit and wait and he demonstrated that he could sit in front of a hurdle just as well as he could sit anywhere else. He had previously done heelwork, sits, recalls and retrieves around the jumps at home so that the first time he sees the jumps is not when I want to teach him to jump, but I do not want control on his first jump lesson, all I want is the jump. The jump we were to use was an excellent one to start a dog on because you could put the bar right down to the ground and increase the height in small increments.

I put the bar down to the floor held the dog’s collar in one hand and the pot in the other, and letting go of his collar, lured him over the bar with the pot, clicked as he crossed the bar and then of course rewarded him. Easy!

It was really funny because he made such an effort to cross the bar on the floor that he actually jumped it when he could just have walked over it. Everyone laughed and he thought this was great fun so as we repeated the exercise, he continued his little leap in the air every time he did it. After couple of repetitions, I raised the bar to the lowest level (about six inches) and GW did his first jump with consummate ease. Of course it was not really his first jump as he is an accomplished natural jumper who enjoys jumping fallen logs and streams in the woods and he jumps on and off walls in the garden, but it was the first jump I had asked him to do.

Having taught the sequence of events; hold on to his collar, he jumps the low bar and gets clicked and then fed on the other side of the jump, it was easy to move on getting him to jump ahead of me without the lure. I simply held his collar and threw the pot over the jump to land about where I wanted the dog to land (now you know why a good fitting lid is essential) let go of the collar, click then join the dog to open the pot and reward him. I was surprised because he quickly started to lie down at the pot to wait for me to come and open it. When I thought about it I realised that in tracking training he would lie down at the pot awaiting his reward and even though he had not done this for a long time the behaviour generalised and hey presto! - a jump and a down on the other side – no commands!

I like to have the reward/incentive on the far side of the jump as it gives the dog a focus and stops him turning on the jump to look back for his reward. I also like that phrase, ‘sequence of events’ as it describes the way dogs learn many things.

So having taught this sequence of events, hold the collar, throw the pot, release the dog, click the jump, join the dog and reward, I repeated the exercise several times raising the bar to about the height of my knee and ended a successful and enjoyable first jump training session for the Golden Wonder.

His audience was suitably thrilled and delighted and now keen to get their own dogs out for their turn. Training is such fun when the dogs can’t get it wrong. We had some questions;

Q .-What if the dog goes round the jump to get the reward without doing the jump?

A . –If you position yourself correctly with one leg either side of the jump and the jump is really low the dog should have no reason to go round. Once the dog knows the ‘sequence of events’ if he cheats and goes round simply don’t click. He cannot get the reward because the lid is on the pot. Let him try again, he will quickly learn to get the reward out of the pot he has to jump to work the clicker.

Q – Can I use a ball instead of food?

A – Yes –but...

...often in the dog’s early training the pull of the ball is so great that the dog blunders into the jump in its haste to get to it and mistakes are made. I think food is better to get into the dog’s head. You may move on to use a ball later when the dog has a firm understanding of the jumps but as in all things ‘make haste slowly’. A ball can be placed in a biscuit tin when first introduced to prevent the dog going round to self reward.

Q – Why did you stop at about knee height, surely the dog could go a lot higher, he is old enough and quite fit?

A – Have you ever overdone something, like digging the garden, or decorating and then ended up with sore aching muscles? You really don’t want to do more the next day. I prefer sessions to be short and successful so the dog is always keen for the next session. It is better to build attitude and improve muscles slowly in the process than to allow bad associations to creep in or risk failure and accidents.

Q – We seem to have got stuck, my dog is okay when I am standing with one leg either side of the jump, but every time I try to send him over to the pot he goes round. What am I doing wrong?

A – You are a bit late with your click. You keep clicking the dog for standing over the pot so that is all he thinks he has to do. Go back to one leg either side of the jump and work on clicking the dog whilst he is in the air – he will soon realise that is what you want. Remember if you click him at the wrong time you still have to feed him – the clicker never lies. It is however undoing your training. If your timing is poor practise out of earshot of your dog and start again when you can get your bit right. Our pet dog handlers had great fun last week when we played ‘click when I pat your back’. It did help them hone their timing. Apparently they went home and asked their partners to touch them so they could practise their clicker skills, judging by the blushing when they reported back they had even more fun at home!