December 4th, 2008

sandyzo

All Things Zodi

I've been doing a lot of training with Zodi over the last couple of months and am really enjoying our sessions. She's such a cutie-pie, albeit a huge cutie-pie :-) In addition to stuff like shaping tight turns around a post, self-control exercises and strength and balance training, we've started following Linda Mecklenburg's Developing Jumping Skills program as described in her book of the same name. This method of teaching a dog to jump is entirely new to me and I usually don't like learning a skill by reading about it but I was very curious to try it and see how well it worked.


I decided to start Zodi on a jumping program now even though she's only 7 and 1/2 months old because she's well developed physically and because she's already shown me that she's an excellent natural jumper. Plus Linda's program doesn't require a lot of jumping or jumping at speed. And while she raises the jump bar to full height fairly quickly once she starts her dogs, she mentions that the trainer should make allowances for heavy dogs and dogs with longer backs.

The other thing I did before starting the jump training was to focus on Zodi's hind end strength--especially in her lower back, hips and stifles. I've been training her to sit up on her haunches which at first she couldn't do at all. Now she can balance for quite awhile and even stand on her hind legs without support. And I'm sure all the off leash runing in the woods she's been doing has also helped.

After about a dozen training sessions (a session being anywhere from 10-15 jumps over the bar)she's now jumping 22" but I started with the bar at 12". At first I just tossed a cookie over the bar to lure her back and forth until she got the idea and then I sat facing the standard and perpendicular to the jump bar. The book says to use a clicker and treats and C/T when the dog goes over the bar without hitting it. But at 12" she would just walk over it and she wouldn't pick up her back feet so she kept hitting it and I was only rewarding her once in every 4 or 5 attempts. So she lost interest and walked away.

In subsequent sessions I raised the bar by inches until she would hop over it and could be rewarded more often. I left the bar at about 16" for several sessions while she and I both got used to the mechanics of the exercise. The more she got rewarded, the more she enjoyed the sessions until she would run over to the jump and start jumping back and forth before I could get into position and starte rewarding her.

Most of the training sessions were done in my livingroom on padded carpeting but once we got to 18" I decided to move outdoors on grass. Somehow, being on different footing confused her because she started jumping differently. Where before she'd been jumping by pushing off her back feet and landing on her front feet with her head down and forward, now she suddenly started jumping like a sheep--all four feet up in the air at once with her head up and back.

To counteract this I tried putting the bar back down to 16" and then 14" and even 12" but she continued this strange deer-like leaping, landing with a "wummph!" on the other side. Finally I decided to try putting the bar up to 20" to see what would happen. After she knocked it a couple of times using the head-up style she finally reverted to her previous style and started clearing it lightly and easily again.

Now that she's jumping 22" I try to do two shorter sessions each day instead of one longer session. That means she goes back and forth only 10-12 times in each session which takes about 2-3 minutes. I'll probably stay at this height for awhile until I feel that it's taking very little effort on her part. Then I plan to increase the height by even smaller increments (an inch or even less, if necessary)until she reaches 26". Meanwhile I'll keep working on her strength, balance and conditioning along with all the other stuff an agility dog needs to know. If I could just give up my job I'm sure she'd be ready to trial by the time she's 2 years old :-)