The Last Hurdle
Q. This is my first season competing with my collie, Taggie. I’ve been told he has lots of potential and will go far if only he would jump the last hurdle. Instead of going over it, he turns back to me. Whatever I do, he won’t take the last fence! It’s the only thing stopping me from getting a clean run. Do you have any advice?
A. How very frustrating for you!
Why the last fence?
- Associations are made in a split second. Tag may have knocked his toe on landing after the last hurdle – ouch! He may have seen a helper throw a leash as he took off and assumed it was aimed at him – ouch! Is it a surprise that Tag is suspicious of the last fence?
- All those dogs ringside are in a frenzy to get at the equipment. Taggie questions the wisdom of jumping the last fence and landing in the middle of them.
- It is possible that Taggie is anticipating the praise he receives at the end of a round and is preempting you. He turns back to his handler too early for congratulations on a job well done (but not finished).
Mental Imagery You and Taggie are both very apprehensive about the last fence and reinforce each other’s anxiety. Picture another fence after the last one and continue to work Taggie over it. Pretend the finish line is not where the judge has set it. This should help you avoid tensing up as you approach the final hurdle.
All the Hurdles are the Same By becoming last-fence-obsessed, you may be unwittingly rubber-stamping Taggie’s behavior. Act at the last fence just like you do at fences number one, two, and three. It’s possible that your dog believes that all the extra attention he gets at the last fence is his reward for refusing it.
Lower the Jump Make it as easy as possible for Taggie to jump the last hurdle so that you can praise him for his performance. Start with the fence at mini height. As the fence is raised, and your dog continues to jump it, both of you will relax and cease to think of the last hurdle as your biggest obstacle.
Go on Teach your dog the “go on” command. Teach him to go over a fence to a target or toy. The reward and praise is delivered after the fence, not before it. And the spectators who cheer Tag to the end of his run will be shouting ‘go on’ too! Your command to send Tag down the home stretch will be reinforced by the crowd.
Have a break it’s amazing. Some problems disappear as suddenly as they appear for no discernible reason. Have a week or two off and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Don’t let this problem dominate your dog agility training. The last fence is only 1/20th of the course. Keep practicing other agility exercises. If you get a hang-up about the last fence, so will your dog.