Advanced Obedience -- Directed Jumping

by Cheryl May, copyright 1996 Article originally published in Heartland Dog Training Club newsletter, June 1996
cmdogsports (at)

I learned this method at a Diane Bauman camp and I love it. I have used it only on shelties, who do not like to be wrong. Horrors!

I have made training into one big game. And I do not use any corrections on this at all. My dog, Rocky, was trained exclusively with this method, and appears to understand the concept really well. (Knock wood)

First set up your jumps. The very best situation is to have two bar jumps, but you can use a bar and a high, if you do not have two bars. Set the jumps low -- 12" for sheltie size dogs; taller for bigger dogs, but nowhere near the actual height they must jump in the ring. Set them high enough so that the dog will jump them, and not just walk over. Set up an 8-10 foot ring gate in the middle between your two jumps. Make sure the ring gate is quite a bit taller than the jump height, so it looks more appealing to go over one of the jumps than to come over the ring gate.

Place the dog on a stay and walk *over* one of the jumps and go to the other side. You, the dog and each jump should form a diamond- shape pattern.

Give a big signal for one of the jumps and then focus your eyes on the jump, not on the dog. Start training with no verbal command, just the hand signal. Hold the signal the entire time! You must exercise patience. Allow the dog time to think and make a decision.

Watch the dog out of the corner of your eye so you can see how he is reacting. Only if the dog appears stressed should you offer more help. Otherwise, as long as you can see him sitting there thinking, let him consider it. Wait him out. If he mentally leaves town and starts gazing around, or appears stressed, take a step toward the jump, with your signal arm still out. Stop and see if this gives him enough help. Wait a bit. If he is still not moving, move closer, step by step. You may even need to advance to the jump and actually tap the jump with your finger. At this point, look at the dog with an encouraging expression on your face, look back at the jump and tap again.

At this point, you are probably ready to tell him to jump and get it over with. Restrain yourself -- you will be glad you did.

Here is a good place to use the clicker. Presuming that you have trained the dog to respond to the clicker, when you see even the slightest motion toward the jump, click. This usually gets a clicker-trained dog moving. I would click again as he advanced toward the jump and click again as he cleared it. Once over the jump, do not ask for a front, just throw your arms up in the air and throw a party -- lots of hurrahs, hugs, cheering and praise. And give him a tasty treat!

Then do it again. This time, you will probably not have to do as much waiting. And again, give the same thrilled reaction. We all love it when people tell us that we are wonderful -- and our dogs are particularly responsive to this kind of praise.

Even if the dog moves slowly out of the sit the first few times, you are still in the teaching phase. If you use a conditioned reinforcer (clicker), as he gets up, this will tell him "yes, that is good, keep going." Speed will improve as the dog begins to understand what is expected.

I have used this method with very young shelties and had excellent results. My dogs love directed jumping. In fact, Rocky would do much better in utility if the DJ came first. And this is a dog who stresses out very easily.

One reason I like using no verbal commands while teaching DJ is that when I am nervous in the ring, my voice may sound a little different, and I (believe it or not) sometimes cannot think of the command for each jump right away. I am better on this nervousness stuff now, but was terrible at first.

Another reason to start with signals only is so that the dog will keep an eye on you. He cannot be looking around or he will miss the signal. It is very easy for dogs to be distracted in the utility ring. In the ring, you can legally give him the verbal command, too. It is a legal extra command for dogs that have been trained this way.

In a recent discussion on the electronic competition obedience list, someone told me that using signals only is too stressful for her golden. In response, I say that if you make it fun it should not be too stressful for the dog to handle. A dog that has learned in earlier training that wrong is simply wrong, and that he must try again, will not be overly stressed by making an incorrect choice. If being wrong means punishment and harsh corrections, then I can understand the stress, but I would never train that way myself.

Utility requires a lot of independent thinking -- and is very stressful for most beginning dogs. So introducing a little stress into the training may not be all bad because it teaches them that they can overcome it and be successful.

copyright 1996 by Cheryl May.

May not be used without permission back to the Cheryl May page