Jumping is the first obstacle skill that most people teach their future agility dogs. Some dogs are natural jumpers, some are not. All of them can benefit by a careful progression of training skills needed to navigate a series of jumps presented in an agility course.
Unlike Arrow (pictured above), my current dog in training, Deagan, is not a natural jumper, and will go around a jump if he can. He is quite tall, and the bar needs to be set at 16 inches in order for him to actually jump, rather than step over the bar. Deagan has done some work with a single jump as well as two classes of foundation training preparing him for agility (in addition to all the work we have done on impulse control and attention).
I decided to put up a jump at home that Deagan would have to clear in order to get where he wanted to go (that would be the positive reinforcement for jumping, of course). The jumping practice could then happen without an elaborate set up, and as the action became easy for him, I could add the verbal cue for jumping (“Hup!”) just before he took off. It was an effortless way to add in a bit of training (I did remove the jumps when our rainy season started).
A friend invited me to share practice time at an agility training facility. During our first visit, we got accustomed to the space and worked on relaxing on the mat, and my big dog did go a bit wild playing with toys in the open toy box (that I didn’t see, but Deagan found quickly as soon as he was off leash). At the second practice I kept Deagan on leash, at first walking around the arena. I gave Deagan a few click/treats for making eye contact, and for getting onto the table (a skill he has already learned). Then I took him over a few jumps (still on leash).
And it happened – we were connected, running together. If you do agility with your dog, you know what I mean. If you don’t do agility, you don’t know what you are missing. You and your dog are a team, navigating through space as one and time seems not to exist. When the connection happens, it seems like flying. I was thrilled – the journey has begun.