Why do we need to teach our dogs jump-skills for agility – part 2
Last week we looked at set point, focus forward and grids. This week I will discuss:
Turn work is important to practice to teach your dog how to turn effectively, efficiently and safely, but also with practice comes confidence and with confidence comes speed. Just because a dog is turning doesn’t mean it needs to go slower. Teach your dogs different commands for different degrees of turn. For example turning 180° should have a different cue to turning 90°.
Our handling is arguably what gets our dog round a course thus it could be said that the dog who understands their handling cues the most will be the best prepared on the course so this is why practice is so important. We need to be completely consistent with the handling that we choose to use- regardless of which handling system you choose to use. Does your dog know when to accelerate or decelerate, does it know exactly when you ask for a rear or front cross, does it know what a change of arm means? If your dog understands your handling system well then you avoid confusion when training which creates a more confident dog.
The push round and pull through
Another important aspect to teach our dogs is when to take the refusal plane rather than the jump plane. For example when teaching pull through and pushing out behind the jump to then jump it towards you. This as with everything can be taught by breaking it down in to small bitesize pieces for your dog to learn.
What to look for and things to think about:
You need to always make a conscious effort to analyse every aspect of your dog training from teaching a sit to running a grade 7 course. By breaking down and looking at what went well, what didn’t and your transitions it will help improve your training. With regards to jumping always make a note to observe the head carriage, compression, extension over jumps, foot position- are they split are they balanced. You should also look at striding patterns over jumps, generally the more strides the dog puts in the less confident they are. Confident dogs will bounce where possible and will put in strides when needed for example prior to a 180° turn. Developing an eye for analysing like this requires practice so use it at any given opportunity, at a show, during training etc.
Before even beginning competing your dog should have a rock solid start line wait. This will result in the dog being set up at an appropriate distance. Dogs who creep forward as their owner leads out often end up far to close to the jump often running under or around it. Dogs should be set up at minimum of a stride away from the jump, again this comes back to set point exercises. A steady wait, coupled with focus forward will also allow you as a handler to get into the most efficient position to begin your course. It’s the only time you can take your time to get to the best lead out position so make the most of it.
Reinforcement is the most important aspect of dog training, without it there would be no dog training. To ensure you get the best out of your dog you need to assess your use of reinforcement. Is the reward coming fast enough, is it at the right time, is it in the right place, is it a reward that the dog would like? If any of these questions aren’t good enough then you won’t get the best out of your dog. You may think that a ball is the best reward ever for your dog but actually it finds sheepskin tug toys much better. You may reward the dog a few seconds after the behaviour thus rewarding the behaviour immediately after the one you think you are rewarding and thereby not really teaching the dog what you want at all. Likewise placement, you want to ensure the placement of the reward is the best as possible, why reward at your side if you are teaching focus forward to go over a jump? Another note on reinforcement is being particular about what to reward and what not- as a rule of thumb you should only reward average and better. If you keep rewarding only average however how are you going to teach your dog that actually this time you want a little more effort on their part. Let’s use the example of ‘wing wraps’ initially the dog turning back around the wing will get the reward but actually we don’t want wide, slow wing wraps for the rest of time so you need to keep upping the game, next time you want a tiny bit tighter and so on. Look at it from the dog’s point of view. If you always reward wide turns then why not keep doing wide turns as that seems to get the praise. Obviously be conscious of your dogs limits they aren’t superheroes! Likewise once in a while reward them for something easy, just because your dog does a lovely tug-sit-wait doesn’t mean that you can never reward a sit.
About the Author: Lauren Langman is responsible for the design and development of all Devon Dogs classes, events and workshops. She competes in Agility at Grade 7, the highest rank of competition in the British agility arena. She regularly competes and wins at top agility events in the UK including Crufts and Olympia, and has represented the UK at World Agility Championship level on many occasions.