Limbo Dancin’ Dog (How low will they go?)

Q. I started agility with my Staffordshire Terrier Tevo a few months ago. Did you know a Staffie could limbo dance? Tevo will run under the jumps no matter how low they are set. Sometimes this is really difficult and he has to duck to get underneath and crawl on his belly, but under he goes! My classmates think it’s really funny. What should I do?

A. Your dog is so clever and so creative! Tevo is still new to agility and he is experimenting with the jumps. He thinks, “Hey! There’s more than one way to get to the other side of a hurdle!” and Tevo gets a round of laughter for his antics if he goes under rather than over the pole. Which way would you choose?

When a dog is introduced to the hurdles, he has to learn that the object of the exercise is to jump between the wings and over the poles. It sounds as if Tevo is indeed targeting the pole and assessing its heights, but failing to decide to jump it. It could be that the poles were raised too soon- before Tevo learned the right way to do it was up and over. Running underneath poles is a common fault in young or inexperienced dogs and many show real determination in picking this route.

Put the poles on the ground Unless Tevo sticks his nose under the pole and lifts it over his back, he’ll have to go over. It’s the easier option, especially if there are a number of poles laid in a line.

Fill the gap underneath the pole When Tevo has started to give up limbo dancing for jumping, he still might go under a pole every now and again. Put the pole on the ground and work your way back up again. Don’t be tempted to lower it just a little. If Tevo stoops and scoots underneath, you will have to lower it again. Far better to start from ground level where mistakes are really hard to make and work up.

Do you have a jump command? You want Tevo to be checking the jump’s height, so ensure that you point with your hand above the pole and not below it. Give Tevo space to take-off and land. Many inexperienced dogs often go under poles on turns because they arrive at the hurdle before they can gather themselves up and jump.
Jumps are always a problem. Dogs either refuse them outright, go around them, or go under them. When Tevo has turned into a speedo over the jumps, you might find out that your next challenge is to stop him knocking them out of their cups.

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
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4 Comments on “Limbo Dancin’ Dog (How low will they go?)

  1. My wife and I teach 4H agility which has several skill levels. Our level one ( beginning level) obstacles are required to be 24″ to avoid as much as possible the leash looping over a standard and knocking it down. We also use the light practice jumps to teach in this level which adds a safety factor. Dropping the standards to 24″ has all but eliminated the problem of tangles.

  2. Jumping a dog on leash can be dangerous and if something goes wrong, can make him even less inclined to jump or even injure him. The leash can hit the upright (or your hand has to wave over his head while he’s jumping, which can be at least distracting and even frightening to some dogs) or you can accidentally pull the dog off course and cause him to hit the jump or land off-balance, again resulting in fear or injury. Best to set up the environment to guide the dog to the jump with ring gating or something similar and then let them jump naturally.

    While Staffies do have a sense of humor and he may be entirely acting for applause, you should also check out any physical problems that might cause him to duck under rather than jump over the bar…

    • I think the style they’re talking about is recalling- so the leash goes safely over the jump before the dog. I agree- I’ve done that, knocking over a jump and scaring my dog, that is.

      Yes, she should definitely be checking for health related problems, though I believe that was ruled out already.

  3. The number one rule of positive reinforcement based training is that you have to get the trainee to do it right so you can reward. That means setting the exercise up so that that the right response is the only possible response is critical. Doing it right, the first time and every time is the fastest way to the dog learning what you want.

    So, in addition to putting the pole on the ground, keeping the dog on a leash until they are reliably following your hand is also a must. You can’t teach the dog to jump high until you’ve taught him to jump.

    Taking the dog off leash, setting the jumps high enuf to go under and then having the dog do it wrong repeatedly is going to at worst confuse and discourage the dog so he doesn’t want to go near the jump, and almost as bad, teach him the wrong thing.

    Look at it this way. Tevo offered a variety of behaviors at the jump. No, he doesn’t know what you want, he can only deduce that based on which behaviors are rewarded. He gets rewarded (with laughter) for going under. The little light bulb goes on and voila, under he goes, everytime. Smart dog.

    As a by-the-by, the formal obedience doesn’t include the bar jump until Utility. They start with a solid jump so there is no confusion.