06 January 2009

Jumping technique seminar notes

These are my notes from a jumping techique seminar for agility dogs, the instructor was Vappu Alatalo. Hope you find it interesting!

Background and general stuff

  • Susan Salo’s jumping technique system is based on the goal of teaching the dog to jump independently of the handler, regardless of what we do (not regardless of handling, but we don’t want to have to tell them when to take off etc). Aka “the job of jumping”

  • It’s very important that the dog learns to jump on all kinds of surfaces, gravel, mats, grass etc, all kinds of surfaces we expect to ask the dog to jump on in competitions.

  • Good jumping promotes speed to, but most importantly: the dog’s health. We all know numbers of dogs who had to retire early because of arthritis, calcifications, etc

  • Bad structure of the dog is not as bad as it could have been, as long as the dog learns how to use their body. But dogs with different things like very short bags, poor angulation etc, have a harder time learning how to use their body in the best way. Their backs tend to stiffen up.

  • The exercises are set for the dog to try, feel and learn what feels right. The right thing is supposed to feel good, the wrong things to feel awkward.

  • Re-training for experienced dogs with a patterned jumpng style is like folding your hands the wrong way.

  • No speed into the exercises sets the dog up for sucess, it makes him work better.

  • When you give the dog a new exercise he should try different ways to deal with it. If the dog doesn’t, he’s likely to be scared or stressed, or dogs in retraining tend to have the same patterned way to deal with things. Then reduce the height.

  • To jump well the dogs need good core muscles, which most dogs don’t have. The bones in the shoulder are not connected, there’s just muscle and ligaments holding it together. to train core muscles: different exercises with statick balance or extremely slow movement.

  • After training jumping technique you should walk the dog in a nice trot (quite slow) for 30 minutes. That helps them to be fresh the next day.

  • No correction for refusals or dropped bars! This is a message to us about the level being too high. Reduce the difficulty and try again.

  • When the dog is not heard in the grid (feet on the ground should make as little sound as possible) he is well balanced. Loud banging shows too much weight on the front legs.

  • After at least a year of jumping technique training you can start adding difficulty to the grids by walking towards them, running, coming at an angle etc.

  • Reward the dog for thinking!

  • All kinds of balancing work is good for core muscles

  • Sitting ON the hind legs, not on the butt or sitting crooked, mean the dog already have the weight back. The spring is loaded, and the dog is set up for success.

  • All the grids are rewarded by something in the end. Handler doesn’t move (thtat’s really advanced).

  • Never put jumping and sequencing together until the dog is good at both. Work handling with the bumps until then. Bumps just equal an extended stride, and don’t produce flat, bad style in the same way as low jumps would have.

  • Evaluating distance applies to all kinds of obstacles. Put them in the end of the distance grid, even weaves, contacts etc.

  • Importance: 1- fun. 2 - solve problems on their own

  • Training easy things is putting money in the bank. Hard stuff, like difficult exercises or trialing, is taking money out. You need to keep making deposits!

  • Good jumping? Look for movement in the dog’s back. It should flex upwards.

  • Bumps make any learning easier. Remember to do it all on different surfaces!

  • For some dogs, height intervienes with the technique.

Skill set needed for the jumping dog

1 - Correct path

  • Short, fast, safe => cost efficient

  • The handler needs to tell early enough. In sequencing, the absolutely latest point to give the dog info about where to go is one stride before take-off. Usually they need this info 3-5 obstacles before. Try to give them the big picture, 3-5 obstacles being one line. Greg Derrets handling system takes care of this.

  • As long as the dog is healty and well taught, they should always turn close to the wing. V-shaping (pushing the dog out to create a better turn later on) should never be done, as long as it’s not for health reasons. When the dog is trained right, he should be able to figure out the best path himself, without our shaping of his line.

2 - Distance evaluation

  • Implies both real distance and the ground surface

  • The dog needs to know their own limits by technmique, strength, balance etc

  • the dog is able to save time by eliminating extra strides when not neccecary, a large dog can for example bounce a 5 meter distance when well trained.

  • When the dog knows all the aspects and they have the confidence, they save the right number of strides. We don’t.

  • Distance exercises are very important for young dogs, they develop all along and new limits are set.

3 - Correct take-off place

  • This is the place where the dog makes the weight shift etc to take off

  • The jump should be in the middle of the dog’s jump arc.

  • Huge oxer: the dog needs to go closer to take off in order to make the whole thing

  • Normally the dog finds it nicely.

  • How trained? Manipulate with distance grids

  • Fear of jumping? (pain) or afraid of height can screw up the take off place descisions

4 - Weight transfer

  • This is very, very important!

  • Dogs that are trotting or staidng has 60-80% of their weight on the front legs. They are front heavy creatures! Made worse for those with big ears etc etc.

  • If the dog looks at you, this gets a lot worse

  • In the air the dog should keep its weight ofer the spring that gave the push into the air (legs, mostly hind)

  • Skill comes from muscle, function (body), anxiety, take your time.

  • Oxers make the dog load their weight to the hind

  • Banging to the ground (hearing the landing) means the dog is poorly balanced. Injury risk!

  • Exercises that look difficult (the dog’s perception, not ours, f.ex. prolonged crosses, not height!) makes the dog shift their weight better, since they think they need to perform to make it.

  • After a weekend of triallyng all dogs are out of balance. Sequencing makes flat, bad jumping. All dogs need re-balancing every week at least.

  • Injuries to the hind legs or lower back will ruin the weight shift.

  • The back needs to be rounded in the air! This is harder for square dogs with short backs.

5 - Angle of elevation

  • Steep angle means the dog needs a lot of weight shift. They need to figure that out, vice versa more flat jumping.

  • No legs, ears etc should be sticking out of the immaginairy tube around the dog when jumping.

6 - Height

  • Constant heiht on the jumps leads to no thinking and then patterning. Bad!

  • Always vary the height in sequences with 10-20 cm lower and 10 cm higher than the ideal height for your dog’s size.

  • Jump low the first year of jumping, but have the high bar there every now and then, to make them think and not go into flat jumping patterns.

  • Height introduction for young dogs until approximately two years: only occasional high ones.

  • The only way to really go wrong with all the exercises is to add height.

  • All new stuff, also height, should be introduced as the end of a distance grid.

7 - Rebalancing

  • If the back is convectual, shaped as a downward arc, the dog has pushed off with the front paws, and the landing will be loud

  • The back should be curved upwards!

  • Re-balancing promotes both speed and safety, since it reduces the strain on the dog, especially the front shoulders, and it enables the dog to push off forwards with full force directly after the landing.

  • If the first step is made to save the nose from crashing into the ground, the push will be really crappy

  • The dog needs to land head up, rising its head after the jump apex (top of the arc), and do the weight shift in the landing, then pushing forward immediately.

  • Good rebalancing comes for free when everything else is in place, so it can be seen as a kind of symptom of other stuff.


  • One jump
    Normal jump or an oxer. Bump in front, 4 ft away for small dogs. If the jump is high, move the bump away up to 6 ft, 9 for large dogs. The dog sits close to the jump. One step, bump, then bar. Spider is a kind of one jump exercise, designed to help the dog jump right. During the weekend Vappu used normal bars lying on the jump towards where the dog is coming from as some kind of the same effect, the dog lifts his feet at the v-shaped bars and then makes a take-off between them. Hard to explain, see for yourself…

  • Basic grid
    Work for collection. 4-5 jumps wit bump in front. 4 ft distance for small dogs, bump 2 ft away. 6 for L dogs (3 for startbump). Jump height: 20-25 for L dogs, 10 for small. Usually same height, but jump 2 and 4 can be higher than 1, 3 and 5. Or some bumps, some jumps, but always bump, low, high, low, high and so on. Variations: move the jumps sideways to both sides so the dog needs to think a bit more, or turn them a bit, every second one each way. Bars can be crossed, or leaning to the side, or they can be slight oxers. Slice is also a kind of basic grid, only the jups are turned sideways to the same side.

  • Progressive grid
    Distance is bigger for every jump. Teaches extension. Vary this and basic grid. BG is difficult after progressive. Extension requires muscle. Landing/take-off should be in the middle between the jumps, that means the dog has understood his limits and requirements. Heights like basic grid.

  • Distance evaluation grid
    Startbump, then three jumps like in a basic grid. Then distance to the last jump between 6 and 18 feet for small dogs, 9-21 for large. The dog has to decide weather to add an extra stride before the last jump. Bump can be added to help this descision, but not closer to any of the jumps than 4 (6) feet, so 8 (12) feet is the minimum distance you can add a bump in. Change the disthance with one foot for every repetition, either longer or shorter. This makes the dog think.

  • Height exercise
    Use a distance grid, then add height to the last jump. Start with a bump, then a bar over the bump, then just the bar. This can be done with any obstacle, use distance grids whenever indroducing something new, like oxer, length jumps etc.

  • Slice
    Like a basic grid, only each jump is moved a little to the side, so that the whole thing is shifted sideways, or seen in another way, it’s a straight line with the bumps turned a bit. It’s important to do this grid to both sides, and that means changing it. Doing it backwards doesn’t matter. The dog should use a left or right gallop depending on which way you’re training. Look for static patterns. Make the angle more steep when the dog gets better at it. Slices go before bend work. All bumps!

  • Bend work
    Advanced and extremely hard work for the dogs. The handler is standing still in the turn, not moving the feet. Do this grid three time one way, then three times the other, then time each way to see if there’s any improvement, that’s the dog has learned something. Then in the end do the number 2 and 3 jumps as a straight line to straighten out the dog again. If the dog has a hard time turning close you can lift the far end of the bar to make it more obvious.

Core muscle training

  • Core muscles are not seen, they’re inside the dog. The core muscles on the pelvis, the back and stomack, and the shoulders are important to be able to jump correctly. Many dogs lack enough of these muscles, and will compensate by for example stiffeing their back.

  • They are strengthened by balance exercises, static exercises and very slow moving, like walking only one leg at a time.

  • One exercise is to gently push at the dog with your fingers, different places. Put the hind legs on some books to work the front and vice versa. The dog leans back on your fingers to keep his blance. Start with two repetitions every other day, then work gradually up to 30 reps every other day.

  • Another exervise is to lift the dog’s paws, one at a time. The dog then moves his weight to the other legs. After some time you can start lifting two legs at a time, diagonally.

  • When you have been working these exercises for a while, you can let the dog stand on a soft pillow, that makes the balancing harder.

  • Stretching neck: bent the dog’s neck to the side, using a treat by the dog’s front shoulder. Dog sitting. Move the treat down to the paws, the head following.

  • Rounding spine: teach or lure the dog to put his nose between his front legs, stretching his back.

  • Walking slowly in tiny circles (no fast spinning!) is also good for the back. Alternatively you can teach the dog to touch his hind hip wit his nose.

  • Hip core muscles can be trained by teaching the dog to sit between your legs, with their legs under his butt, the sit down. Or by backing in between two boxes (narrow) and then sit, stand, sit, stand between them.