Jumping is a natural activity for dogs, so getting started with this fun aspect of agility training is easy. But before you begin, remember that dogs must not jump before they are a year old - or even older in large breeds - because it can cause serious and permanent damage to growing joints and bones.
Trainer Carolyn Menteith tell us about the joys of agility jumps...
"To show how straightforward training agility exercises can be, and how any dog can learn, I worked with a dog from Dogs Trust's Harefield centre - Coca, a three-year-old Jack Russell terrier, who's very busy and active. Agility was the perfect sport for him to try, as it gave him a focus for his busy brain.
"The first thing I did with Coca was sit on the floor and throw a treat the other side of my legs, so he had to jump over them in order to get it. This is an ideal way to start dogs jumping with no equipment at all - and you can do it anywhere in the house, saying ‘Over' when the dog jumps.
"The next step was to lay a pole on the ground, and throw a treat over it to get Coca used to the equipment. You could do this at home using a broomstick. However, Coca was so speedy I don't think he even noticed the pole was there. I added another pole to make sure he paid attention to them and was happy with them there - but he didn't even pause. I then lifted one side of the first pole to make the jump slightly harder - but once again, Coca whizzed over both poles with ease.
"To step up the exercise, I set up the wings of an agility jump and laid a pole on the floor between them. I lured Coca with treats, and threw one over the pole for him to follow. This was all far too simple for him, so I raised the jump so he had to leave the ground to clear it. As he jumped, I said the cue word ‘Over' - so he linked the idea of jumping with the word.
"Coca progressed very quickly - I suspected this wasn't his first attempt at agility training. However, with some dogs these steps can take several sessions, so patience is important.
"Next, I made the jump higher, and stopped throwing the treat before Coca jumped - rewarding him only after he had gone over the jump. I was careful at this point that the jump wasn't too high because of the hard floor, and that the surface wasn't slippery for his landing.
"There are a variety of jumps used in agility, including straight fences and tyres. If you want to do agility, your dog needs to be happy jumping over just about anything (as long as it is safe to do so). You can practise at home getting your dog to jump over your legs, and you can practise on walks using fallen trees. If your dog has a good ‘wait' you can leave him one side of the tree, walk around to the other side and call him, using your cue word when he jumps. If he doesn't have a good ‘wait', you can jump over the tree alongside him.
Two poles are easy when there's a reward!
"You don't have to spend a fortune on agility equipment. There are lots of inexpensive garden sets available - including jumps from the Clix agility range from The Company of Animals (www.companyofanimals.co.uk). You can also buy cone sets (cones with holes in them, and poles) - more usually used for football training, available at most sports shops.
"The majority of us are never going to compete at agility with our dogs. But teaching your dog to jump over obstacles, either when out on your walks, or over home agility equipment, is another fun and interactive thing you can do to keep his mind and body working, and to strengthen your relationship.
On or off the lead?
"I used the training barn at Dogs Trust, which allowed Coca to work off the lead. I prefer training off-lead where possible, as I want the dogs to work for me because they want to - not because they don't have a choice. Training off the lead also makes you work harder to be interesting to the dog. If you train outdoors in an area that might not be safe, or if you think your dog may run off, you must use a lead. Make sure your dog wears a plain flat collar, use a long training lead, and make sure you don't jerk on the lead when your dog jumps."
- Do not let any dog under a year old (or 18 months in large or giant breeds) jump.
- Make sure that anything you ask your dog to jump over isn't too high, and is safe - check both the jump and the ground on either side.
- Use a toy or a treat to lure your dog over the jump.
- Always make it fun for the dog - don't ever drag him or pull him with the lead.
- If your dog is jumping while on the lead, use a flat collar and a long training lead so you don't jerk on his collar accidentally.
- Have fun!