a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Jumpin' Hound

Monday, February 02, 2004

Jumpin' Hound

Attended a 2-day Susan Salo seminar up at Power Paws Friday and Saturday.

She's from the world of champion jumping horses and was stunned to see that agility people take their dogs and immediately start training them on challenging handling techniques over jumps. In horse jumping, they start with merely jumping--in straight lines, over low jumps, and very slowly increasing the complexity as the horse learns more and more how to stride comfortably over longer and shorter distances, balancing properly, extending properly, developing muscle strength and muscle memory. The horses never are introduced to tricky handling things until they're already excellent jumpers.

Yes, many dogs jump very badly. You don't have to know anything about jumping, or dogs, to see it in some cases. There are stutter-steppers, and dogs who take off way too early, and dogs who jump way higher than they need to, and dogs whose feet go all akimbo instead of looking smooth and effortless, and dogs who knock bars willy nilly, and many other things too horrific to mention on a family page.

She pointed out that a dog who is striding over jumps correctly should look effortless (picture Olympic hurdlers hurdling--you can hardly tell there's a change in their stride as they take those hurdles). And you should barely be able to hear the dog's feet on the ground.

Indeed, there were some dogs in the seminar who, going over a line of jumps, made nearly no noise, and others who clomped and thudded their way down the line. And it didn't seem to have much to do with the size or weight of the dog.

Salo's not the first person we've been exposed to who knows a lot about horse jumping and is attempting to come up with methods that apply to dogs and agility. Certainly, of all the jumping experts I've heard from or read about, she's definitely the most recent.

(That's a joke, son, that's a joke.)

She had a lot of good information and some good jumping drills (performed on geometric jump layouts typically called "grids" by everyone who works on jumping skills or skills at handling jumping dogs) and on what a jumping, striding dog should do, but she left most of us behind in being able to watch a dog run and decide whether its head was working properly, whether its shoulders were going out to the sides instead of to the front, whether it was pushing off with its rear instead of pulling forward with its front, whether it was underconfident or merely inexperienced, whether its focus point was too low or too high, and so on, all of which she used as explanations for adjusting the grid in various ways for each dog.

She said that we could all develop the proper eye over time but that it's hard because the dogs move so darned fast (most of them, anyway).

Tika knocks more bars than I like, and our instructor had already suggested that we do some grid work. Our drills confirmed that she seems to know where to place her strides but that she might not be pushing off with her back legs quite as much as she should; she was fairly quiet when she went, but not as quiet as some.

So I'll try to make use of some of the drills--Salo suggests 3 times a week for no more than 15 minutes? Or was it 5? Dang, back to my notes.

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