(by Ana Grimh, CPDT-KA)
Jumping over hurdles can be excellent for exercising our dogs, especially on those rainy, stormy, or snowy (at least, here in Wisconsin) days. You do not have to jump over the jumps with your dog, but you can create jumps from broomsticks, scraps of wood, boxes, and other household items. You could also buy materials and build simple simple jumps if you are handy, or buy an Agility or Flyball set (Miller, 2008). If you'd rather not build anything, you could enroll in our Backyard Agility class - lots of fun at a non-competitive level!
To begin teaching your dog to JUMP, follow these steps:
1. Set up one low jump. We have a video on our Youtube page (http://youtu.be/YR7v5hUcVMs) on setting up a sample jump. If your dog is cautious, lay the bar on the floor and encourage your dog to step over it by luring with a treat. As he gets more comfortable, toss treats on one side of the low jump, then the other, until he is jumping easily. Use lots of verbal praise as well, to keep it cheerful and exciting (Miller, 2008).
2. When he is jumping smoothly, add a verbal cue such as "Jump!" or "Over!" Start using the cue just before you toss the treat.
3. To fade the treat, make a motion with your hand as if you were tossing the treat, then give the verbal cue. After your dog jumps, then toss the treat. Eventually move to randomly rewarding with a treat (ie, random reinforcement), so he does not receive a treat EVERY time he successfully jumps. Remember to use verbal praise! Your excitement will keep your dog enthusiastic about jumping!
4. Gradually raise the jump to a height that is suitable for your dog. Vary the location and type of jumps, so your dog is jump-versatile. You can hang towels or jackets over jump bars to change the look, put flower pots or children's toys under them -- be creative!
Hopping over small obstacles and fences can be applied to hiking and walking - if there is something in your dog's path, you can ask him to JUMP. Puppies, however, should not jump too much or too high -- it can damage their soft baby bones and joints. Even adult dogs should jump primarily on giving surfaces (grass, not cement) with good traction to avoid injury and arthritis, and should not be asked to jump higher than is comfortable and safe. If you are unsure, check with your veterinarian (Miller, 2008).
As you can see, jumping can expend quite a bit of energy, and it is so easy to set up inside or outside! Try it out, and see how much fun you have - and when you are ready, sign up to join our Backyard Agility class to share that enthusiasm and talent with others!
-Miller, Pat (CPDT-KA, CDBC). Positive Perspectives 2: Know Your Dog, Train Your Dog. A Dogwise Training Manual, 2008.