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Training for the Long Jump

Pati Mah explores training for the long jump obstacle.

by Pati Mah

For those of us who are Olympics fans, we've just enjoyed a couple of weeks watching athletes jump higher, run faster, throw farther, and do amazing gymnastic routines. Whether setting Olympic or World records or just personal bests, it all boils down to not settling for the status quo but believing in achieving something better. I remember how thrilling it was when Lilly and I first ran a sub 50-second master standard run in early-mid 1990's. Now Luke and I routinely run mid to high 30's on far more complex courses.

Stuart and I have always taught and trained with the attitude of innovating and setting the standard rather than just playing catch up to someone else's standard. One reason for our faster times and greater accuracy is a reflection of the understanding that our dogs are far more capable of learning a large number of cues than previously thought possible.

One example is our use of verbal cues to let our dogs know to shift their weight to their rear so they can turn tightly over a jump. It also informs the dogs that they are not continuing straight ahead. This information is provided on the takeoff side of a jump (as opposed to the landing side). By stacking commands, we can tell the dogs not only that they are turning, but also in which direction to go. A verbal cue of, "quiet left" lets Luke know that he should collect his stride and turn left. This allows me to have a tight left turn regardless of where I am or which side I am on.

This same concept can be applied to other obstacles. Consider the long jump. A long jump does not need to be jumped in an all-out sprint with a huge stride. You can get the same lovely turn over a long jump that you do on a regular jump. Communicating to your dog prior to take off is again the key to letting your dog plan accordingly.

Many people are familiar with teaching a dog a figure-8 around a single jump. You can do this same figure-8 over a long jump. Begin with a single board and just two of the marker poles. As you and your dog develop the rhythm you can add a board at a time and the other two marker poles. As you add boards make sure you give your dog plenty of room to make the approach on the second part of the figure-8. This means being a little further back from the long jump than you might be used to with a single jump figure-8.

Once you have taught the figure-8 and your dog understands the cue to turn tightly over the long jump, you can then practice your new skill within sequences. Keep it simple at first but then gradually increase the difficulty as you and your dog become proficient. As with all skills training, remember that you also need to balance your training by going straight ahead over a long jump. In the end, you want to be able to have your dog go straight or turn tightly equally as well.

One added benefit of training this skill is that your dog starts understanding the long jump as an entrance and exit rather than just a square or rectangular "blob." Think of it as the same skill as teaching a dog to go find the entrance to the weaves from anywhere rather than diving into the middle of the poles. You will be able to send your dog to the long jump even if he is not perfectly lined up and have him self-correct to jump the obstacle properly. While the current trend in our country is on handling skills, you can actually have faster times and greater accuracy by focusing on some very easy to teach dog training skills.

Some additional jump maps:

Pati Hatfield Mah began agility in 1993 as a way to give her Belgian Malinois, Lilly (CH, ADCH, APD, MACH, U-ACH, CDX, MXP, MJP, NAC, NGC, RS-N, CGC) something else to do. Pati and Lilly quickly became one of the top teams competing in the sport. They were members of the AKC World Agility Team in both 1996 and 1997 and the USDAA 1997 30" National Champion. Prior to agility, Pati worked extensively with modifying problem behavior in family dogs. For this reason there is a great deal of focus in her training programs on the behavioral aspects of training - both dogs and handlers, as well as solving problems.

Pati currently competes with her five-year-old mixed breed, Luke (Platinum Lifetime).


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