Pat Mann, owner of the first All-American Dog to earn the AKC Obedience Trial Championship, Twister, tells us how to teach the advanced Obedience exercise of Directed Jumping in which dogs learn to distinguish between two jumps with their owner’s hand signal.
In watching many exhibitors in the Utility A classes, it seems that Directed Jumping is one of the exercises that is giving those new into Utility a lot of problems. I see dogs that are confused, and handlers that either are giving poor cues or over-handling. Over-handling in the “A” class often is forgiven, but if you develop the habit of over-handling, and carry this into Utility “B,” points that are lost will be your errors and not your dog’s. I will not go into teaching your dog to “mark” in this article, but it is an important part of teaching this exercise as well as the Directed Retrieve.
Teaching my dog (Twister) to leave me was my first hurdle. This was trained using pouches that had treats inside, wedged on the stanchion on the gating (photo 1). Having taught your dog to “mark,” where your hand is directing him to go, is an invaluable part of teaching this exercise. Pouches that have Velcro can be purchased, or you can make them from denim or any other fabric of your choosing.
Come up with a cue for the dog to focus on the stanchion (and pouch). “Mark,” “Go,” Go-Out,” “See-It” or anything you are comfortable with. Just be consistent. Start close, give your hand and verbal cues, lead your dog to the pouch, have him take it, and then give a treat from the pouch. It won’t take but a few repetitions for your dog to relate the pouch to a treat. Once this is understood, move out a few feet, give your cues, and as soon as the dog takes the pouch from the stanchion, go immediately to your dog and reward. Keep it fun! A dog that does the death march to the stanchion is not having fun and is so unimpressive to watch in the ring. If you have to run with your dog to the pouch in order to motivate him, then run. Keep increasing your distance away from the pouch, but remember to move closer if failure occurs more often than success.
Once there is consistency in running to the pouch, start close again and as soon as your dog has taken the pouch, call him, have him chase you, feed for returning to you quickly, trading the pouch for a treat or other reward. Keep increasing the distance that you send the dog to the pouch until you can send from the full length of the ring, and remember to run away – call him and make it a game. You want a run to the pouch and a run back to you.
If your dog is arcing rather than running straight to the center of the ring, you can put a jump bar on the ground about 3 feet away from the stanchion and 2 to 3 feet to the side that the dog is arcing (photo 2). It has helped Twister straighten his go-outs.
Teaching the Sit
This should be taught separate from the go-out. You can use a sit box, a “U” made from PVC, or any type of target you have used in earlier training, and put this directly in front of the center stanchion. As in everything new that we teach, start close and make sure to show your dog what is expected.
Take him to the correct location, giving your “go-out” cue, call their name so they turn and face you, and have him sit, luring him around to face you if necessary. When you have consistency, put the pouch back on the stanchion, stay close, use your cue, send him to the pouch and stay with him, tell him to sit, and give the reward.
As you increase distance, you must run in behind him to reinforce the turn and sit. You have previously taught the dog to run to the pouch and run back to you with speed. This new piece is teaching the dog to go out to the stanchion to their spot, to turn and sit, and stay there. Increase your distance, remember to use your hand to mark and also use your verbal cue, send your dog to the stanchion, and tell him to sit. Again, slowly increase the distance. Most of us are in such a hurry to succeed that we move ahead too quickly and confuse our dogs. Make sure that he understands what you want before demanding more.
Intermittently go back to sending the dog the entire length of the ring, to the pouch, (no sit when you go back to this part) and running full-speed back to you. If you will keep this as a game, this should alleviate some of the stress that your dog may feel in this training.
Sending to the Jumps
You have trained the go-out. You have trained the turn and sit. The last piece is the jumping.
Set a high jump and bar jump approximately 10 feet apart and 20 to 25 feet from the back of the ring. It will be helpful to put gating between the jumps so your dog won’t come through the center.
Begin by sitting your dog behind the jump, giving enough distance so he can jump easily. Stand off-center of the two jumps, and you should be far enough from the jump to allow room for the dog to land and come front. Assuming that you have taught your dog to cue off of the slight turn of your head, for whichever jump you have chosen, hold out your arm straight from your body to the direction of the jump, slightly turn your head in that direction, lean your body toward the jump, and simultaneously call your dog’s name and tell him to jump. If you don’t get a response, move out of position, keeping your arm straight out from your side, call the dog over the jump, and praise. Try again, hold your arm out, and if necessary move your position closer to the center of the jump. You can also angle the jump slightly toward the center to help your dog understand.
You are teaching him to follow the direction of your body, and for some dogs this can be a slow process so give your dog good, sound directional cues. If your dog doesn’t respond, or starts to take the wrong jump, take a sideways step or two in the direction he needs to go. Repeat with the other jump. When your dog begins to understand, slowly move him more toward the center of the two jumps and increase your distance from him, a few feet at a time. If the dog fails, move closer to the jump, step toward the jump, and if necessary, be more animated in your head position and bending your body to the side until the dog is successfully coming over the jump on command – call him if you need to. Slowly move more toward the center, increasing the distance of the dog from the jump. Remove the gating between the jumps (but put them back if your dog comes through the center), and as he gains confidence, begin transition of your signals to more subtle cues.
Don’t forget to work on straight fronts also. I have found that too many finishes will create anticipation and auto-finishes with Twister so I do them sporadically. As your dog becomes more confident, move the jumps further apart (20 feet between the jumps is regulation), sit your dog at the back of your ring, and your position will be at the opposite side.
Putting it Together
On command from the judge to send your dog, it is permissible to give a physical mark (but don’t hold your arm/hand position for an extended period) and to verbally give your Go Out command. The dog is to briskly go “straight” and to the “center” of the ring, and on your command to promptly turn and sit approximately 5 feet from the stanchion (not all the way to the gating – photo 3). It is permissible to say the dog’s name and the command to sit. The dog does not have to sit perfectly straight toward you. On direction from the judge to take either the high or bar jump, you then simultaneously will hold your arm out, you may “very slightly” turn your head, call your dog’s name (this is not necessary but helps if the dog’s attention is elsewhere), and give the command to jump. As the dog is in the air, that is your cue to pivot toward the dog for him to come front. Then on command from the judge, you will tell your dog to finish.
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Getting into Utility, can be a curse or a joy. Start by being a good handler, train and train some more, get outside help, break your exercises into small pieces, and work on what is broken. Don’t drill your dog into boredom, but make your sessions short and meaningful. Most of all, don’t lose your temper. I know it can be difficult, but if you feel frustration – stop. Start again later when you and your dog can be productive. Your dog will quickly learn that in competition, you can’t put your hands on him and “MAKE” him do it, so consistent patterning and making sure your dog has a complete understanding of what they are expected to do, will bring you success in the ring.
You don’t have to wait to complete your Novice or Open titles before starting Utility training. With a good foundation of heeling, and making sure your dog’s attention is on you, teaching advanced skills will keep your dog motivated and willing to learn. Good luck in your Utility training. This has been the most enjoyable and rewarding class for Twister and me.
Pat Mann began showing in obedience in 1992 with her first Papillon, but when agility became popular she said there weren’t enough free weekends so obedience was put aside. She got her mixed-breed dog, Twister, to train in flyball and also showed him in agility. About five years ago, she “was talked into getting back into obedience With a fantastic dog, and a great trainer, I have reached goals that I once would have thought impossible. Twister has made me very proud by being the first Canine Partner to earn many top obedience titles, including an OTCH, UDX2, and OM3. My highlight was the invitation to show at the National Obedience Invitational, and to represent all Canine Partners.”