Jump Training

Part two

Now my puppy is keen to jump over a pole on the ground that looks like a hurdle (also called a clear jump), I need to remove myself from the jump. Do not move away from the jump, simply slide around the upright so that your tummy is leaning against it instead of your back. Change as little as possible so that your puppy continues his actions without setback. As your puppy learns to enjoy this game you will be able to move a few more inches away from the jump without detracting from his performance.

At this stage you might notice that as he crosses the pole your puppy is turning to look at you to see if you are going to reward him. If not corrected this will develop into a twisted jumping action, which is not what we want. We want the dog to be able to stretch out and reach to his full capacity freely. We actually want the dog to look at the jump: to look where he is going!

To prevent your puppy developing a twisted jumping action you will need a pot with a firmly fitting lid. The pot will be placed on the ground the other side of the pole to draw your puppy towards it, instead of looking at you. To start, take one piece of food from the pot, close the pot and put the titbit on top of the pot and place the pot on the ground, you will need to slip your finger into your puppy’s collar to keep him the other side of the pole, while you do this. Now allow him to jump the pole and help himself to the titbit. Continue to repeat this action, allowing the puppy to jump the pole and claim his reward, until he knows the game and completely ignores you. You should not be saying anything at this stage.

Whatever you do, do not say, "no, no, leave it, wait!"

Good dog trainers only teach one thing at a time and we are teaching the jump – not food refusal! Keep it simple. We want the puppy straining on the collar to get to the titbit pot.

You simply hold his collar, place the pot with titbit on top the other side of the pole, then release the collar and allow your puppy to jump over the pole to get his treat. He should not look to you during this procedure. He will now be developing a straight jumping action. Remember the pole is only on the ground (or a few inches above it if you are working with an older dog) so he will not find it necessary to run round the jump to get to the titbit, which he might do if we introduced this scenario using a higher jump. Repeat this sequence of events as many times as it takes until your puppy gains the confidence to ignore you and jump the pole as soon as you release his collar, and help himself to the titbit.

When you have reached this stage (which most puppies do in a few minutes) you can introduce a word to inform your dog that he is doing well and he can have the treat.  Say the word as he crosses the pole and allow him to take the titbit as usual. You should choose a word that is new to your dog. It is not a jump command but a marker to tell him he is doing it right. Rather than saying, ‘Yes’ or ‘Good dog’ you should use an unusual word that your dog has not heard before. It will come to mean, ‘that’s right, that’s what I want, now you can have your treat’.  I use "WIN", it tells my dog he has won the treat and he can have it. Having chosen your word, introduce it as your puppy jumps the pole, just before he helps himself to the titbit. By now he should be so familiar with this game that he will not falter; he will jump the pole and help himself to the titbit. Repeat this sequence until it is established; the puppy does not look at you when you say the word as he jumps the pole.

All you need to do now is to place the pot as usual but omit the titbit on top of the pot, release the collar to allow the puppy to jump, and calmly say your word, "Win" as he jumps the pole. He will then stand sniffing at the pot wondering why he can’t get his reward; at this point, you will open the pot and give him a treat from the pot. To keep his focus on the pot (not you) do not pick up the pot, but bend over to take the treat out, leaving the pot on the ground and feed him on top of the pot -just the same as when he helped himself.

Now you have developed a sequence that can be used to teach your puppy all of the working trials jumps. What you have got is a puppy that is focused on the jump, or at least the pot on the other side; as he jumps the pole you identify his achievement with a marker word (said in a calm manner), and when he arrives at the titbit pot he waits for you to open it and reward him.

Contrast this with a puppy that is distracted by his owner moving around, flapping their arms, or throwing a toy to encourage him to jump, and the puppy rushing off to retrieve the toy, all the while being bombarded with a confusion of words delivered in an urgent manner. He might arrive on the other side of the jump but did he actually learn anything?

The X Factor

Dog training comprises many repetitions at every stage, but do remember to stop while he is still having fun. Do not allow him to become weary or bored.

After X repetitions (‘X’ being the magic number that allows your dog to learn without over cooking it) it will be time to remove yourself from the jump. Remember until now you are standing right beside the upright. This next bit gets easier on your arms. Place the pot as usual, but instead of stretching to hold your puppy on the other side of the pole, join him, so you and he are on one side and the pot of treats is on the other side of the pole. Now without saying anything let go of his collar and allow him to jump the pole to get to his pot. Keep very still; say your word, "Win" just as he crosses the pole: only then join him to open the pot and reward as usual. Your aim is to get the dog to jump the pole and arrive at the pot without looking at you. To facilitate this you are keeping very still and quiet, only saying your ‘Win’ word calmly as he crossed the pole, after which you re-join him and open the pot to reward him from his pot on the ground. Do not rush this, allow him to build confidence to jump the pole and wait at his pot on the other side for you to join him. Looking at you when he should be jumping will detract from his performance.

This might seem like a lot of effort just to get your puppy across a pole on the ground that he could jump anyway (or even step over) – without all this palaver! In fact you are not just teaching your puppy to jump the pole; you are forming a sequence of events, a training regime that can be used to train all the working trials jumps.  By strategically placing the pot you will be able to take your puppy gently by the collar to the other side of the pole and release him to jump the pole when it is placed slightly higher. As you raise the height of the pole the dog will have to make more of an effort to jump. He will need to stay focused on the job in hand to learn how to use his body to achieve his goal without interference from you.