The Scale Jump

For me, the scale is about teaching technique and building fitness. I know that many trainers want to get the height really quickly, but I prefer style and knowledge rather than a dog that throws itself at the jump or does a great leap off the top. As with all my training, this takes time and patience, and requires planning. I always teach the preliminary jump sequences as described in previous issues before I commence teaching a dog to scale.

The A Frame

The scale is a contact jump so if possible I begin training with an ‘A frame’. I never use a lead when teaching  my dog to jump as it would be very easy to pull the dog off balance should the lead become taut, so I lower the A frame to a safe height taking the dog’s age, size and gusto into account. I do not want him to leap off the top! My aim is to lure him with a titbit to the apex, mark his achievement with my marker word "win" (see WTM September 2012), feed him at the apex and lure him in a steady fashion down the other side. I turn him immediately (with my food lure) and draw him straight back to the apex, mark and feed at the top, before steadily luring him back to his starting point.

I repeat this exercise a few times until the dog is keen to hover at the top for his treat and shows no tendency to jump off the sides. Then I raise the A frame to a height that makes the dog have to really make an effort to scramble to the top (if he went too slowly he would slide back down). I continue to train at this level and allow the dog to learn to use his feet to claw up the slope and to brake to come down the other side neatly. If necessary I will also feed him close to the base of the jump to prevent him running on when he touches the ground. When it is going well I introduce my scale command, "Hup". As this is a fun game I will often allow my dog to revert to this exercise to further develop muscle, technique and attitude even after he has learnt to do a full scale jump.

Not everyone has the luxury of an A frame. It is a large and expensive piece of equipment. If you have the opportunity to use one, take advantage of it. If not, do not despair – it is not essential. Without an A frame, I would teach two things prior to commencing scale training; to get the dog to walk along a board or plank of wood which I could raise slightly at one end onto a low wall, or a few bricks for example; and I would teach him to jump onto large fallen tree trunks in the woods and wait on the trunk for a reward. I want him to make a foot contact connection so that I can teach my word "Hup".  Don’t be too formal, just encourage the dog to scramble over things and have fun!

On to the Scale

Take most of the boards out of the scale jump to make it lower than the height your dog can comfortably clear at this stage. Use your titbit pot as before (see  Jump Training – part two. WTM SEPT 2012) to encourage the dog to jump over the scale to get to his treats. Mark his success with your word "Win" and reward him from the pot as before. Now add another board and repeat. Continue is this way until your dog places all four feet on the top board as he goes over. Mark and reward as before. Now you have got him to the height at which you can begin to train him to scale. Make a note of this height against your body so that you know where to start at his next session.  With careful placing of the pot you can now encourage the dog to keep close contact with the jump as he comes down to face his treats. The pot should be only just a little more than his body length away from the jump in his early scale training, so that he is using his feet on the descent rather like he did for braking on the way down the ‘A frame’. As the scale gets higher the pot may need to be a little bit further away to keep him in contact with the jump, but avoid him jumping over it to turn back to get to the pot.

If the dog is allowed to take off from too far away he may leap at the jump and hit it with his shoulder. Keep him in quite close to encourage the use of his front feet to grab on to the top and pull himself up. Ideally he should then use his hind feet to stabilise his body as his front feet begin the descent on the boards. Be observant and do not allow your dog to become tired. Just get the action you require and finish while you are both having fun. Give him a couple of days for his muscles to recover before repeating the exercise. Do not rush to increase height, work to build skill and confidence.

When competing, the dog is required to go over the scale and wait in an elected position; and then return to you over the scale. Of the ten marks allocated to the scale jump, half of these marks are given to the return, with just three for going over and two for the wait. So with most marks on the return I like to teach the dog to jump over and return without waiting. The dog’s early learning is always strong so if he is going to make a mistake in competition I would rather him not wait, than not return. If he goes over and comes straight back in a competition I should get eight points, but if he does not return the maximum points he can earn is five. I will add control when the dog wants to jump over and back. As he gains confidence, on a low scale, I allow him to jump over and back, over and back. This becomes a great game with me standing on one side to encourage him whichever way he is going. For this I keep the scale as low as I can without him clearing it. Before long I will be able to stand anywhere near the scale while my dog is put through his paces. He will not be dependent on me being in just the right place to get him over the jump.

An added bonus of not having the jump too high is that I can see over the jump to see what he is doing. I might put him in a sit facing the scale and go around the far side and call him back to me, or I might simply reward him for sitting on the far side by throwing a treat over the top of the scale for him to catch (only do this with your dog if you have previously taught him to sit and catch – this is a separate exercise). Throwing a treat over the scale is a great way of teaching the dog to look at the top of the jump ready for the return, just make sure the treat is large enough for him to easily see it coming.

Before I consider increasing the height of the scale; my dog will enjoy being around the scale jump; he will be confident in scaling either or both ways irrespective of where I am standing; he will be relaxed to sit on either side awaiting a command or reward from me.

Over the following weeks and months I will occasionally add an extra board and check the position of the treat pot to encourage good style. The dog should be jumping with or without the treat pot and enjoying his work as he develops strong musculature. On days when he does not do any jump training, I might practise some heelwork and walk him up to the scale about turn and continue heelwork away from the scale. I prefer not to combine the approach with the jump in early training; instead I teach one or the other, to keep my dog focused on that task, not anticipating the next.

When working to increase the height of the jump, I begin each session at the highest level my dog attained at the previous session. If he has been successful at this height for some time and I think he is ready to go higher I will add a board. After a few successful jumps I will remove one or two boards and continue his fitness and attitude training over the lowered scale as above. This way he gets to do the higher jump when he is fresh and lower jumps later in the session. When the dog can do a full height scale I will start any training session with a full height jump and then lower it for the fun and fitness training. By doing a full sized formal jump first, not only are you maximising on his energy levels but also, when he approaches the full size scale at a trial he will expect to do this and then have the fun stuff afterwards. Hey presto he does the full height jumps with vigour!

Anne Bussey