My first introduction to jump grids was more than 10 years ago, when both Shejpa – my working cocker spaniel – and I were quite new to agility training. Since then, I have tried to learn more from different sources and develop my own understanding of jumping. In the beginning, I just followed instructions and tried to learn more about how dogs move and jump. It took some time to start seeing the nuances in movement, and even longer to begin to understand what is important and what it means for the dog’s performance. Jump grids have turned out to be an essential part of my agility training for dogs at all levels, especially during winter when we spend less time running sequences and more time building strength for next season.
It’s important to know why we do the jump grids that we do and what we want to achieve in the exercise. Just using the same setup for all dogs doesn’t make sense once you’re past the introductory phase, Jumping gymnastics and jump grids can be used for a variety of reasons, for example:
Teaching the young dog to use their body in jumping in a way that is both efficient and sound.
Reducing impact on back and front in landings.
Helping the dog to develop scope and confidence between jumps.
Building drive, independence, and confidence in the slower dog.
Teaching the crazier dog to be thoughtful while running fast.
Teaching the dog to be careful with bars.
Developing the dog’s footwork and ability to accelerate in collection.
Building sport-specific strength at any level – young dogs, elite dogs, dogs coming back to agility after an injury, or older dogs wanting to stay in the sport.
Teaching more efficient turning over jumps.
My plan for Spy is very different from what I do with Bud this winter, Spy needs to learn good jump mechanics – especially with speed and excitement. We’re gradually building good habits and adding excitement to the mix. Bud is working on maintaining and building sport-specific strength, and I’m also trying to teach him a more efficient turning style where he doesn’t slip as much without losing his amazing speed. He’s the first dog that I’ve had that has trouble on indoor surfaces like the turf most dog training arenas here use. He tries to turn on landing sometimes, which puts a lot of strain on his front legs or makes him slip and fall. Epic is also on a mission to start next season much stronger than he is now. Almost a year away from agility at age 8 means loss of speed and power, unfortunately.
Here’s an example of a Friday night jump training for Bud a few weeks ago:
I’ve taught online jumping classes in Swedish for several years and it’s one of my favorite online classes. I like to do seminars too, but working online gives the students a much better chance at learning to see for themselves since there’s video to look at. Online classes also allow for more development, since we’re working together for months and can tweak exercises to give each dog the exercises he needs most at the moment. This online class is now finally available in English. It’s run in a closed Facebook group where exercise files are posted and participants post their videos. You can start this class any month you like and you’ll have access for three months. If you sign up now, you can start on January 1st and work until March 31st.
Two weeks ago, Squid, Bud and I went to the Swedish Team Tryouts. We have one weekend with eight runs that determine who gets a spot in the Swedish team for World Championships (four spots per size), Nordic Championships (ten spots) and European Open (twelve spots for large dogs). In order to get points, you need to run clean and not more than 4,99 seconds slower than the winner of the class. The winner is awarded 50 points and all other teams get one point deducted per 0.1 seconds that they are behind the winner. One second behind the winner gives you 40 points, two and a half seconds behind gives you 25 points, etc. In order to get on the team, you need points in both jumping and agility.
I did not feel in sync with Squid. She was picking up off-course tunnels, missing weave entries and dropping some bars. We had one clean jumpers run on the first day, and that was it. Bud and I had not had a good feeling in training leading up to the tryouts. He’d been dropping more bars than usual, and my expectations were really low. Bud is just three years old and this was his first tryouts, so I was fine with that. We were just there to learn and have a good time. Tryouts are always so much fun. You get to run great courses by great judges in really good conditions. The courses this year were challenging, and a lot of really good teams didn’t get points in both jumpers and agility.
I had no luck with Bud on the first day, where we ran three jumpers courses. On the second day, we ran three agility courses. The second course had a really challenging start where very few made it to the backside jump after the first tunnel in a good way. I walked it a few different ways and had time to decide later since I was running as one of the last dogs with Bud. Since so many struggled to make it, I decided to just take it easy and threadle-rear both jumps before the A-frame. Bud can get frustrated if I rush and I thought we had a better chance of getting through it using a more defensive approach. I was really calm and not rushing at all as I gave him the three first jumps. I trusted that he would take them nicely and just worked my way forward. I then realized that I had plenty of time to make that blind, and in a split second, I decided to run for it.
I made the blind and that difficult start just felt so easy. I ran the rest of the course as calmly as possible, just trying to get us around. All bars stayed up! And when the class was finished, I realized that we’d won it by almost a second and was the fastest dog overall. I was so happy and proud that we actually could set a time like that competing with the best Swedish teams. Many of them don’t run in the same height category as Bud normally. He jumps 50 cm in normal Swedish competitions, while most of the others in tryouts normally jumps 60 cm. Therefore, we rarely get to compete on equal terms against the best dogs in Sweden. Such a thrill! I was certain that we wouldn’t be able to run the Sunday jumping run clean since we’d been so inconsistent all weekend. That last jumping run was our only chance to get on any team if we also got enough points.
I woke up on Sunday morning with a cold and a very different voice. The jumping course was a really fun one by Jan Egil Eide, requiring both running fast and trusting your dog. I ended up not being able to do either. I didn’t trust Bud in the weaves, so I got behind and had to do a rear followed by a panicked threadle-rear. And then I couldn’t run, so Bud ran the wrong way and spun before finding the last tunnel. But we got around clean! And despite those mistakes, we were fast enough to get decent points.
Suddenly, we were one of the teams with points in both jumping and agility, and everything would be decided after the last run of the day – agility. We got eliminated at the end of this challenging course, but it was also challenging for others, so it ended up not affecting our placement. At the end of the day, two clean runs (with one win) was enough to get us on the team for European Open and Nordic Championships. I’m so happy to have three championships (Swedish, Nordic, and EO) to run with my awesome badger on speed this summer! We’re still figuring out a lot of things, but we’re having so much fun together on the way to consistency and perfection.
We did our last agility trial for the year this Saturday. The arena is five hours away from where we live, but I don’t have many weekends to compete in the spring due to a lot of travelling and working. When we decided to pick up a new car in Gothenburg, it felt like a good idea to drive a couple of hours further south from there to do 3 x A3 with 3 dogs. Nine runs in five hours! And it went really well. Epic won his first run. Bud won his second and became Swedish Agility Trial Champion. Squid ran two clean runs and placed fourth in both.
This is a summary of our agility year:
Squid did one weekend of competition in January, but we didn’t get the result we were after even though she felt great. After that she had nine months off from agility. First, she had puppies. Then I probably let her run too much too early in the forest, and she showed some lameness and didn’t move well. It took some time to get an appointment with our physiotherapist, but we were back on track after two treatments in August and September. She hadn’t lost a lot of muscle as she was able to swim and walk on leash in the forest all summer, but I was nervous to start jumping and agility training again. It went well, and agility seems to only do her well. We entered our first competition in the beginning of November, and my dream goal for this year was to place top 5 once so that she would be eligible for Swedish Team Tryouts in May if she’s still fit then.
The first run was a bit weird with a few bars and miscommunication. The following two runs felt great and she ran both clean. Her times were not as good as I’m used to, and we were only fast enough to earn a leg for nationals in the last one. I had entered all dogs in a much bigger weekend trial two weeks later, but I had some trouble leaving the farm with Thomas working away that week. I went on Sunday afternoon and Squid had one standard run. I did not expect her to place since the classes were big, but she actually place fourth and our goal for the year was met! We did three runs the weekend after and Squid ran clean and won two of them. I had some handling errors in the first two runs in our next trial, but we ran the last one clean and placed fifth. And then this Saturday we had two clean runs with fourth place and one elimination. We’ve had 13 runs since she came back in November. Eight were clean, seven of them with a leg for Swedish Nationals (we need another jumping leg to be qualified for next years National Championships) and six top 5 placements (my dream was to get one).
Results are great considering we haven’t really trained agility (right now we’re focused on conditioning and jumping skills only, the rest seems to just work), but the most important thing is that Squid is back in business! I was so afraid that the lameness that came after her puppies would be the end of our agility career. Squid turned nine this September and every run with her is a gift! She’s so happy when she gets to come along to training and trials, and when I take her out of the car and she knows it’s her turn. I’m so incredibly happy to have the privilege to compete with her and feel that she does her very best at all times. All faults are mine. Squid would have had many more clean runs if I’d done my job as well as she does hers. We’re now focusing on strength and conditioning to come back even stronger and faster during next year. I’m sure that we’ve got more to do and Squid does not in any way think that she’s old.
Here’s a run from Saturday:
Epic has also had a great season. We’re a good team and our runs are often very smooth. Our problem has always been dropped bars, but I think we’ve improved this year and had more runs where all bars stay up than we’ve had before. We’ve collected eight legs for Swedish Nationals and need one more in standard agility to be qualified. We also finally earned our final agility certificate, making Epic champion of both jumping and agility. We’ve actually had even more success in bigger competitions than the normal ones. I did not have any big expectations on National Team Tryouts in May, but I worked hard in preparation for it. The feeling was amazing! We’ve never had such a good weekend of trialling and those bars stayed up until the very last run. We ran clean and fast enough to earn a spot in the Swedish team for European Open and the Nordic Championships.
We made team finals at European Open and we ran our part of the final course clean! We had a great time at the Nordic Championships. We had a bar in every run, but no other faults and we placed fairly well in total. Norwegian Open in October was another great competition for us with a lot of clean runs and a ticket to the final where we also ran clean! Epic (and I) seem to run best indoors on difficult, fast courses with big distances.
Here’s the run that qualified us for NO finals:
Bud did his first trial about a year ago and quickly progressed to class 2 in jumping. We started 2017 with a small injury and had to get some treatment and gradual build up before competing again. We started in standard agility in May and he earned his first leg with a clean run and a win. He quickly progressed to class 3 in both jumping and agility, even though that last leg in A2 took a few tries.
We’ve had some more luck in standard agility once we got to class 3. We’ve only run one J3 clean (and won it with a certificate), while we’ve ran three A3 clean and earned the Agility Trial Championship title this Saturday. Bud does a lot of great things, but there’s often something that goes wrong in a run. If we have a great flow on course he often drops one bar, which he doesn’t often do otherwise.
Bud is somewhat a different type of dog than Squid and Epic. He is very well trained and knows a lot, but he does get easily frustrated and doesn’t cope well when something goes wrong. It might just be a little hiccup in our communication that gets him frustrated. He forces me to become a better handler – I need to run fast and trust him while still maintaining communication and clarity. Bud is still very young (turning three this Christmas) and I think our communication will grow a lot during the coming year.
I’m very happy with my decision to have Bud run the large category in Sweden. This is the first year where we have five jump heights, and dogs from 43 to 49.99 centimeter can chose to compete in large and jump 40-50 cm jumps, or to compete in extra large (where Squid and Epic compete as they are about 53 cm tall) with 50-60 cm jumps. I like that I can take it easy with preparing him for 60 cm (which he has to jump internationally) and I haven’t seen any fallout from competing on lower jumps. I even like that I have to run faster to keep up with him. We now usually train on the same height as Epic (55-60). Another benefit is that I don’t have to run all my dogs in the same class since some trials are small with maybe 30 dogs or less in XL.
Bud’s clean run and win from this Saturday:
My only wish now is that I get to continue to train and compete with three sound dogs during 2018! It’s so important to really appreciate and enjoy every training session and every run with them. My thoughts are constantly with friends who lost their dogs too early, and with those that have to end their dog’s careers early because of injuries. I promise to not take anything for granted, to tell my dogs that I love them (which actually was what I did on the start line before the run with Bud above) and to take care of them in the best way possible.
The dogs and I went to Mora this weekend for agility competitions. I was just going to run Epic and Squid in class 3, but last week I asked if I could do a late entry and run Bud in jumping class 1 on Sunday morning. I feel that Bud is more than ready for class 1 handling, but he needs more work on some obstacles. My goal with him has been to be very well prepared for his first trial, so in that sense I failed. The first run of the day had both the tire and the flat tunnel in it, and I did not feel confident that he would do them on the first try if I was running normally. The tire was obstacle number two, so I could help him get that right and he did also do the flat tunnel on the first try (but with some hesitation). I guess we can consider it a good training session for the future. He dropped a bar on a tight turn out of a very fast line. I think I was a bit behind and maybe not as clear as I should have been.
The second run was with just tunnels, jumps and weaves, but with much more handling. It suited us better and I was very pleased to feel confident that I could handle him the way I would have with one of the older dogs. He was clean and fast enough to win the class! He behaved nicely before and after his runs and seemed to enjoy finally getting to run and not just watch others at a competition. Now we’ll train for another month before his next trial, where he’ll also get to try standard agility.
It’s November already, and unfortunately winter came early this year. It’s snowing, so my agility equipment is covered in snow and sheep have had to move indoors for the winter. Winters in Sweden can be really depressing, but I’m a bit more optimistic this year as we’ve got a new indoor agility facility just 15 minutes from home. I do some training on my own there, teach class once a week and train with friends every two weeks. Here are some clips of Bud from training with friends yesterday. Things are starting to come together. He’s responsive to my handling, jumps nicely, weaves with confidence, and did his first A-frame in a sequence yesterday! It looks like he’s figured out how to run it without flying too far over the apex (another “let the dog tell you when he’s ready” situation). We still have a lot of things to work on (like that weave situation that he didn’t understand, and always jumping the tire/wall jump/spread, and consistently doing perfect seesaws, and…), but we’re having so much fun getting ready for his first competition in December.
Bud’s five little sisters were born 8 weeks ago. They are absolutely adorable and so much fun. Two of them will move to new homes this week, and three will stay with us – at least for a while until we know more about them. I’m very excited to see how they will turn out. Raising puppies is a lot of fun, and a lot of work. I believe the most important things in raising good puppies is good genes. No amount of socialisation or stimulation will make up for breeding from nervous dogs. And puppies with good genes generally turn out really good even if they are raised with just basic socialisation. I’m not afraid to buy puppies from working farms in the UK. If it’s a good dog, it will turn out just as good as any dog from a breeder here.
What I think is important, and what I make my priority with my puppies, is that they get a lot of time outdoors where they can move, play and explore without restrictions. Where they are not slipping on slick floors and where they develop balance, proprioception and confidence. My puppies spend most of their days from 4-8 weeks playing and exploring (and sleeping!) in our garden (yes, even in the snow). I also make sure to let them meet as many different people as possible, including children. They get to hang out with their mother a lot and also with the other friendly or neutral dogs in the house. They get fed mostly raw, but also tries different kinds of kibble and other types of food. I’m convinced that Early Neurological Stimulation and things similar is pseudoscience, and while it probably doesn’t hurt it’s weird how many people will value that kind of thing over other many much more reasonable criteria for picking a breeder.
Bud is now 19 months and we’re having a great summer where his agility skills are coming together. There are so many exciting first times. I think I start most things a bit later than other people. It’s easy to get stressed out by all the younger dogs running courses at full height when your young dog is still working on foundation skills.
Bud has been very keen to work and easily excited all his life. But he has also been immature and easily excited also means easily frustrated if he doesn’t understand. I’ve had to teach each skill to fluency before putting skills together in a sequence. Lumping doesn’t work well with Bud.
I’ve also been reminded of the importance of letting the dog direct the pace of training. If something is not working, it’s often a good idea to not push it, but rather work on other things for a while. There are so many things that just didn’t feel right – he didn’t like them, or he didn’t understand. So I waited for a while and when I came back to it a few weeks later he could just do it, and he wanted to do it.
Bud has been jumping 40-45 centimeters for quite a long time. He did not seem ready for higher jumps and I was getting a bit stressed by it, but didn’t push it at all. Then last week, he jumped 55 centimeters on his own a few times (when just running around on the field at home). I tried to ask him to do it, and he did! And then he was able to run a fairly complex sequence with jumps on 55 without hesitation. He is still figuring out his jumping, but I’m very pleased with that he is thinking and trying his very best.
I started his weave training a couple of months ago. We’re mostly using a channel method, with some 2×2 thrown in. Things were going well until I started to close the channel. He seemed frustrated and couldn’t really do it. I tried to use guide wires because I know a lot of people are successful with the combination of channel and wires. This was very entertaining to watch, but gave me more problems than I already had. So we just stopped weave training for a while instead. This week, we’ve started our weave training again. I started with a fairly open channel, reminding him of all kinds of entries and staying in the weaves with different handling and distractions. I’ve now started to close the channel again, and everything is different. He is much more happy, much more confident and his body seems to flow in a much better way.
A third example is our running contacts training. We started about five weeks ago with a plank on the ground and he has been a joy to train. He really seems to get it and we’re having a lot of fun with proofing and teaching turns now. The only thing that has been difficult was to get rid of the thin and broad plank I used on the down ramp to smoothen the edge for him. My dogwalk has a pretty high edge at the end of the contact, and it gets more pronounced when the dogwalk is low. When I tried to take the plank away he’d have one nice hit and then it would fall apart and he’d avoid the low hits. So I didn’t take it away any more. I kept it there for a few more weeks, and then I tried to take it away again a few days ago. Now he didn’t have any problems and I think I can put the extra plank away and not take it out again until I’m training a new dog.
I’m very happy that I’ve had the patience to wait until Bud has told me that he is ready. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t been training – we’ve just trained other things (and you can never get too much foundation training). I think that a lot of problems can be avoided if we’re not pushing dogs beyond their comfort zone and if we allow them to mature. Every dog has their own timeline. I love training with Bud and I’m very excited to see him transform from my little puppy to a skilled agility dog. I’m not in a hurry to compete with him and he still has a lot to learn.
Here’s a video of to “firsts” from this weekend. His first sequence on large height jumps, and his first session on full height dogwalk with no plank.
Bud learned the jumping stand early. I like to teach it to small puppies because they are bouncy and you can often easily capture it by just standing and waiting for it to happen when the puppy has energy and is playful. I don’t care a lot about perfection at this point, I just click and reward any bounce where both front legs leave the ground until the puppy offers the behavior in order to get a reward. I also like to name the behavior early, because I think it’s good to work on stimulus control with my puppy, and they often learn to love this behavior quickly.
I have not planned for Bud to be an obedience dog, but I love to work on obedience behaviors and think they are great for anything I want to do in the future. I’ve used his jumping stand for cue discrimination, and I have added some staying in position after the jump too. But I haven’t really worked on it, and I realized recently that he always moved his back feet counter clockwise on landing. It wasn’t pretty, and he did it every time. And I had rewarded it every time. Now, I decided that I wanted him to stay straight infront of me when doing the behavior, maybe even be able to keep his back feet still and just bounce with his front feet.
If the dog is always performing the behavior in a way we don’t like, it’s not a good idea to just not reward it and wait for perfection. The dog will probably give up in the process. You could chose to reward the better responses, and not reward the ones where he moves his feet the most – but you’re still rewarding something you don’t really like. Another solution is to think about some other behaviors to train that might help with understanding and hopefully bleed over to the behavior in question. That’s what I started by doing. I worked on backing up straight, offering a stand (not a jump, just four feet on the floor) straight infront of me and some rear end awareness and finishes on my right side (moving back feet clockwise).
This helped enough for me to get much better behavior once I started the jumping stand again. There were a lot of offered jumping stands that I didn’t reward, but he did seem to remember the exercises we’d just done when I didn’t reward, and I could jackpot some jumping stands that were much straighter than before. I still rewarded back foot movement (which I don’t really see as a problem) as long as it wasn’t to his right. If I found that he reverted back to his old style, and rate of reinforcement got too low, I would remind him of one of the behaviors used before (often just standing in front of me, or some clockwise pivoting) and then go back to the jumping stand. But most important was criteria – not rewarding what I don’t want, and rewarding all the good attempts.
I made a little video of our training today. He was doing well and had some nice repetitions where he kept back feet still, and even could go from sit to stand with his back feet planted. When I found myself just rewarding many repetitions in a row, I decided to change something – challenge him. The behavior is nice, but it’s not ever finished. Just changing something small can make it a bit harder for the dog and increase his understanding of what we want. I chose to add an open hand with treats to the left. It made it harder, but he worked through it nicely and came out more confident in what I want. I usually don’t want to use a cue for the behavior when I add a challenge like this, so it would have been smarter if I’d let him offer it freely instead. Noted for the next challenge!
Home again after another weekend at an agility trial. Squid won jumpers on Sunday. Epic had a really good jumpers run on Saturday, with one bar. Agility courses were not my favourite design, and the ground was muddy. Both dogs ran well on Sunday, but picked up (the same) extra jump after a tunnel. I got the chance to reward Squid for a good dogwalk performance, so I was just as happy. I really like the relaxed attitude in Sweden that allows you to reward your dog with a toy in the ring anytime you want. You can plan it, or just choose to do it when you know you’re not going to place. I keep a small toy in my pocket for those instances. I think it’s great for training, good for the dogs (instead of a disappointed handler, you can turn it to something positive), and good for Swedish agility internationally (difference between training and competing becomes less obvious for our dogs).
Wilco had two runs per day and I really felt that I figured out more on how he needs to be prepared and taken care of in that environment. He was a bit worried about other dogs (he is very friendly and seems to take it personally if other dogs are upset in any way) before our first run, and I didn’t feel connected to him. For our other runs, I made sure that he didn’t have to be as close to other dogs. I also had more exciting play with him before and after our runs. I think he ran faster than he has before. We had some really nice parts, but he didn’t have time to weave on the first try in any run… I trained weaves at home today and he was brilliant. It’ll soon come together in trials too!
We had long days at the competition, as they ran all classes and started with class 3 (Squid and Epic) and then ended with class 1 (Wilco) with class 2 in between. Bud got to come out and play/train and just hang out around the ring. He is very good at staying calm around the ring, and also very good at focusing on training with a lot of distractions. He just doesn’t seem to view it as distractions at all. I made a video of some of the training – it’s far from perfect, but some of the things we’re working on, like:
Self control around toys
Listening to cues
Basic handling without obstacles
I hope you enjoy it even though it’s a bit too long and things are far from perfect. If you want more clips from our training (and a nice blooper from this session, where he bites my leg, blind crosses as I scream out in pain and then steals the toy), you should check us out on Instagram (@fannyftw). Today, I posted a video from his first ever jumping session.
We’re having some lovely summer weeks at home with friends visiting and a lot of dog training. Wilco is learning so many new things (dogwalk, seesaw, a-frame, weaves…), Epic and Squid are perfecting skills, and Bud is working on foundation skills and hanging around new people and new dogs.
I also find opportunities to train him when doing other things. My dogs love licking the dirty plates in the dishwasher, so I’ve started to use that as a distraction for his stay at station. It also has the benefit of letting me load the dishwasher without someone rearranging the plates…
This is of course not a very interesting video, but I wanted to share it to show how you can incorporate dog training in everyday life, while also making life a little easier for yourself.
Teaching your dog to go to a station on cue, and stay there with distractions until released, is one of many things covered in our Foundation Class, starting on July 27th.
Bud just turned 6 months, but he still feels like a little puppy both physically and mentally. We’re having a lot of fun training and growing our relationship.
Here’s a video of some things we worked on yesterday. I focus a lot on stimulus control, and it feels like he’s starting to chose correctly most of the time. I’ve mostly worked on “stand” and “sit”. Sit was his first position, and it’s his strongest cue (besides his name). I’ve been working on the jumping stand on cue and thrown in sits often enough for him to be open to another cue, but not so often that he forgets about standing. Now it seems “stand” and “sit” are fairly equal and I don’t have to be so tactical for him to be right. I’ve also introduced cues for coming to heel position at both sides. My left side is called “fot” (Swedish heel cue) and my right side is called “på plass” (Norwegian). “Fot” is stronger at the moment, and I could use it in this stimulus control session and he did it! “På plass” did not work, so I need to remember to work him just as much on my right side as on my left.
The video also contains a session of backing up (first one with me standing up) and heeling on both sides. I don’t plan on doing any obedience trials with Bud, but the foundation for obedience and agility is very much alike to me. I work on stimulus control, body awareness, play, toy retrieve, heeling, holding positions and driving to me fast. I don’t think I change that much depending on the sport I want to do in the future, and I think Bud will have excellent obedience foundations if I decide I want to do obedience too.