Ducking the Issue

My sheepdog Diva is nearly two years old. I started training Diva when she was ten months and gradually brought the jumps up from the ground to full height. All was well until we started competing. She would rather do a piece of contact equipment than jump hurdles. She loves doing contacts and runs under most of the jumps to get there. Should I train with the double bars? She doesn’t have a problem with the lower height jumps so I can’t see that there’s much to gain from bringing the height down again.

When a dog starts competing, she starts making mistakes and exposes all the holes in a training program. Your contact training must have been thorough, but lots of fun. Diva loves the contacts and she can’t wait to get there. Did you invest as much time and thought into your jumping exercises? I’m not surprised she runs under the poles to get to an A-frame on the other side.

Don’t let going under the poles become a habit If your dog insists on running underneath, make it difficult for her to do so by using extra poles on each jump. Diva will start looking up to see how high she should jump and you can slowly fade the extra poles.

Use a Jump command Back up your body signals with a verbal command. You should not only be facing the jump but giving the verbal command “Jump”. You want Diva to check the jump’s height, so point with your hand above the pole – not below it. When Diva gets the idea, body language may be all you need.

Reward Diva for going over If Diva goes under a fence, don’t let her proceed to the next piece of equipment on the course. Recall her, set her up at the fence and re-command. For a dog that is struggling with agility, starting over again may be demotivating, but if your dog is running by fences with gusto you won’t dampen her enthusiasm. Reward her for getting it right with lots of verbal praise and allowing her to go on to the next obstacle.

A-Frame reward Set up a loop of jumps that carries your dog past the A-frame. Start with them at mini height, as you know she can do this, and reward her for completing the sequience with a free trip up the A-frame.. Raise the bars a few inches and do the same again. If she is sailing over them, she wins another trip over the A-frame. Raise the bars till they are at full height. If at any time Diva goes under, mark the refusal to jump with a “wrong” or “Shame on you” and try again. No Jump. No A-frame.

Teach Diva that hurdles are fun and rewarding too! Running under poles is a common fault with inexperienced agility dogs. Balance contacts in your training program with jumping exercises and I’m sure it won’t be long until Diva is going clear on the course.

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at http://www.aslanagility.com/

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7 Comments on “Ducking the Issue

  1. I don’t believe in verbal criticism in agility. If my dogs make a mistake I “go negative’,meaning I stand still and say nothing. When they are correct I praise and reward. If they err twice, I back up and make it easier so they are successful, praise and reward, then work back up in difficulty.

  2. I was very surprised to be told my thin field lab was a bit too heavy a few months back when he was dropping a bar occasionally. I had the opportunity to put my hands on the top labs at the AKC Invitational last week and it was a real eye opener. Agility dogs should be thin like Marathon runners to stay fit and healthy.

    My comments, if a bit blunt come from personal experience.My first partner was a big boned labxgolden and our trainer had us stop and correct every dropped bar. As someone pointed out, no jump training and I didn’t know to have his hips checked until we were well into competing. I was correcting him for not doing what was physically difficult.

  3. I agree with getting Diva a physical to make sure there are no health underlying problems.
    I have always been taught when a dog misses an obstacle (and it wasn’t the handler’s fault) to just say something like “uo-oh” and take them back to try again. Never make it a big deal or scold the dog–you have to keep agility fun. I have also been taught to only say “no!” on the agility field when the dog may be about to potty on the course, not for missing an obstacle.
    When at a NADAC trial , our judge was also a vet. She talked to us about jumping our dogs at a height comfortable to the dog, and probably lower then their official jump height so as to not wear out their joints prematurely. My dog measures 24inches and that is the height we had been praticing at, but we jumped 16in at that trial and she seemed to have more fun. And she had been given a clean bill of health by the vet prior to that trial.
    I would rather my dog have a long, happy, healthy agility career than always jump @ her official height. To me there are many more ways to evaluate control, fun, and skill than just sticking to a particular jump ht.

  4. Elaine and Kim: Good points! To the best of my knowledge, Diva’s health is good, but that is always the best option to check first.

    Jean: Actually, the dog in the photo seems to just have winter coat and be a big breed. 🙂 Also, unflattering angle, lol!

  5. The failure to actually “teach” your agility dog how to jump is more common than it should be. She should also make sure there is nothing physically wrong with Diva that makes her not want to jump the higher heights. Iliospoas, neck and back muscle injuries are somewhat common among agility dogs and can cause jumping issues to arise. She could also simply jump her dog at the lower height that she is most comfortable.

  6. If its the dog in the picture, she is too heavy to be jumping. All dogs should be checked out physically before starting on agility equipment. So sad to “shame on you” to a dog who may have eye sight problems or hip issues.

  7. Hi,
    It may also be worth having Diva’s back checked. When my dog started backing off obsticals and then refusing we had the vet check her and we found she had trigger points(muscle knots) around her lower back.Accupunture and trigger point therapy have both greatly helped and now she is as keen as ever.