Q. “Twister, the demolition dog, really makes the pole setters work. They see my screaming collie on the start line and roll their eyes. I don’t know how to teach her to stop knocking the poles. She is a young and inexperienced dog, but we can’t go on like this. Please help me to help her.”
A. Dogs knock poles for a variety of reasons and the first thing you must do is to look carefully at your dog and yourself. A video recording of Twister on the course would help you evaluate the problem. Is Twister knocking poles because she is so excited? Is she taking off too far away from the jump to clear it cleanly? Is it the spacing of the obstacles that causes the problems? Or does she drop a hind leg on the turns and catch the bar?
From your description of Twister on the start line, I guess that she is a green collie and eager to go as fast as she can on the course. I hope these tips will help you to help Twister keep the bars up.
It’s not a race. Let Twister work ahead. She is anxious to stay out in front so you pull the strings from behind. Keep up, but remember that she, not you, has to cross the finish line.
Don’t dip and flap. Keep your body upright. If you point to a fence, don’t bend your knees or drop your outstretched arm. If you do, Twister will mimic your dip and the fence will come down. Keep all your body movements to the minimum. You’ll look neater and Twister won’t be distracted by a lot of extraneous and meaningless signals.
Keep quiet. You don’t need to tell Twister to jump the fence in front of her. She has already worked that out. If you have been commanding her when to jump, you risk making her take off too early and knock a pole.
Jumping chute. Set up a line of jumps and give Twister the chance to establish clean jumping habits. Start with low hurdles and practice sendaways and recalls. And this is an opportunity for you to practice running from behind without flapping.
Respect for the poles. Some trainers believe that dogs need to be taught to respect the poles. Poles are raised so that the dog has to jump higher than necessary or they are filled with sand to make them heavier and harder to dislodge. Other trainers attach cans to the poles so they rattle when they fall to the ground. And some trainers stretch elastic above the pole and between the wings to trip the dog that drops a leg. A few trainers even tell handlers to pick up dropped pole and threaten the dog with it. I disagree with this approach – I don’t believe that lack of respect is the issue. These “solutions” could aggravate the problem and may be injurious to the dog.
Dog’s knock poles on the course either because they don’t know how to jump correctly or because they are handled badly.
Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at http://www.aslanagility.com