Have a dog that loves to run and jump? Why not use that ability to create a fun activity together that promotes learning, following direction, and developing physical strength. You and your dog can even get involved in agility competitions. Many dogs love to jump and are very good at it. Both large and small dogs can be naturally good at jumping--although a small dog may require somewhat smaller obstacles, you would be surprised at how high a talented small dog may be able to jump. Training your dog to agility jump builds your relationship with your dog, provides a fun training experience, and builds physical strength. Before teaching agility jumping, ensure your dog should be jumping, as some dogs with physical limitations, medical conditions, or certain conformational traits, such as long-bodied dogs, should avoid this exercise. Be sure to check with a veterinarian whether your dog should learn agility jumping before proceeding.
An agility jump is part of most agility competitions, so if you are planning on competing you will need to teach your dog how to perform these obstacles. Some dogs and owners may just choose to learn agility jumping for fun. To perform an agility jump correctly, your dog will need to wait patiently for the jump command in front of the obstacle, approach the jump on command, launch himself over the jump, land, and approach his handler ready for his next command. Jumping is a natural activity for dogs. Working dogs, such as herding and hunting dogs, routinely jump obstacles as part of their work, and your dog's ancestors routinely jumped obstacles while hunting and traveling. Most dogs jump naturally as part of play, so the “trick” to teaching agility jumping is to combine this natural activity with a command.
Although it may not take long to teach your dog to jump to a command, it may take weeks or months for them to develop the strength to jump larger obstacles efficiently and safely, without risk of injuring themselves. Because of the physical requirements of a jump, it can be hazardous to dogs that are not physically ready to attempt the jump, especially if a jump height is too challenging, or in young dogs where joints, bones, and muscles are still developing. Be sure to determine what is an appropriate height for your dog to jump and remember that different dog breeds develop at different rates--some dogs may be ready to start agility jumping activity younger than others. It's usually recommended that dogs are at least 1 year of age, older for giant breeds, before initiating agility jumping.
Make sure that the jumps you have set up do not present a hazard if your dog fails to clear them. Sharp objects or objects that can hurt your dog if they fall on him are not appropriate for jump construction. Usually, jumps consist of a lightweight bar suspended at an appropriate height.
Determine the recommended height for jumps for your dog based on their size and ability. Dogs are eager to please and may attempt to jump an obstacle that is beyond their ability, resulting in muscle or joint strain or injury if they fail to clear the jump Always start easy, and work your way up to more difficult jumps slowly and according to your dog's ability. Have appropriate jumps starting at 4 inches for small dogs and 6 inches for larger dogs, that will not injure your dog. Jumps are commercially available, or can be homemade with broom handles elevated above the floor.
Many agility jump training methods incorporate a long leash, 6 to 12 feet in length, and rewards such as food treats or a favorite toy, so be sure you have these available. Decide on a command you will use, such as “jump” or “over”. You can use wings or poles leading up to the jump to guide your dog toward the jump, and discourage him from going around the jump. Vary jump types to include bars, tires, hoops, logs, straw bales or whatever else is appropriate, safe, and available in your home or yard.
With winter on the horizon, we're planning on building a snow agility course up in Truckee, CA. This is a continuation of the course that we built last year for our Austrailian Shepherd. Ruby loved the course and we would like to get her prepared on the tail-end summer (no snow included) with some tunnel and jump exercises. Can you recommend any low-cost props that we can use during summer months to train on these types of exercises?
Hello Tyler, For the jumps you can actually make your own jumps using white PVC pipes fitted together with the connector pieces. You can google how to make them. The simplest ones only require the jump piece, the side bars, and the feet with the connectors in between to hold them together. You can also use anything thin and tall enough around your home, so long as it would not be a hazard if she were to bump into it, such as a large piece of cardboard or a large plastic lid set between something heavy to hold it upright. For the tunnels you can buy child tunnels at most stores for less money, or you can use something like a long cardboard box with the top and bottom taken off. It is the practice of jumping over things and going through things that helps your dog build confidence, so anything that requires her to get use to going through a dark tight space or leaping over an object will contribute to the agility. Enjoy the agility! Caitlin Crittenden
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