If you would like to know how to teach a dog to jump over obstacles or through hoops, or even in and out of the car, you’ve come to the right place.
For those of you looking for information on stopping your dog jumping up on people – you need to head over to this article.
So, today we are going to look at how to teach a dog to jump in several different ways.
We are also going to look at how to make sure your dog jumps safely without hurting himself or anyone around him.
Principles of dog jump training
The ability to jump well and safely relies on several key factors.
These include confidence, power and skill.
All three play a part.
The potential limits of your dog’s jumping ability are determined partly by his breed and size, and by the individual physique that he has inherited from his parents.
Some breeds of dog are more agile and powerful than others. And there is variation between individuals of the same breed.
A few breeds of dog should probably never be taught or allowed to jump. And we’ll look at those when we look at jump safety.
Skill is acquired with practice and good training, and confidence is built up by ensuring that dogs experience success far more often than they experience failure.
How high can a dog jump?
Most dogs will have trouble jumping over a six foot fence. In working trials, six foot is the maximum height for the scale wall test.
And as a rough guide, dogs will be expected to attempt three times their own height.
But bear in mind that these dogs are trained to complete the task.
A few dogs, especially with training, military and service dogs for example, may be able to tackle a wall or fence of over six feet in height.
The kind of jumping discussed above includes contact with the obstacle – it’s a scramble, rather than a clean jump.
Heights in agility and obedience tests where a dog has to clear a horizontal pole, that falls if touched, are lower.
Maximum height in a regular class in AKC agility classes is 26 inches. With little dogs being given lower height limits than larger dogs.
Despite that, many small dogs are outstanding jumpers.
How far can dogs jump?
Dogs are also capable of long jumping – clearing distances of up to nine feet over a series of low obstacles – in competitions.
Long jumping is a useful skill for any dog expected to work outdoors in arduous conditions, enabling dogs to clear wide obstacles as well as high ones.
Why teach your dog to jump?
Jumping builds strength, and as part of a range of varied forms of exercise, is a good way of increasing your dog’s fitness.
Jump training also requires interaction between a dog and his handler, and helps to deepen the bond of friendship and trust between you and your dog.
Teaching a larger dog to jump, can be a back-saver for his owner. At the very least an adult dog should be capable of hopping in and out of your car.
Can all dogs jump?
No. Sadly, some dogs should never be allowed to participate in jumping activities. These include many breeds where the natural ratio between the dog’s leg length and spine length has been impaired.
To protect his spine during physical activity, a dog needs a leg length that is similar to the distance between his front legs and his back legs.
If you have a dachshund or other breed with long back and short legs, jumping lessons are probably not for him. The risk of spinal injury is too great. Please consult with your vet first if you are not sure whether or not your dog is fit for jump training.
Which breeds of dog are best at jumping?
In competitions where jumping ability is necessary, working trials for example, agility, and gun dog work, you’ll find the herding and gun dog breeds excelling.
Border collies and spaniels are often the stars of the agility ring, with Labradors and German Shepherd Dogs leading the way in Working Trials.
Gun dogs working as hunting companions and competing in Field Trials have impressive jumping ability
But many other dog breeds and mixed breed dogs can with some practice and training make excellent jumpers.
Dog jumping safety
Jumping is potentially hazardous. For a number of reasons.
Firstly because a dog that jumps potentially dangerous obstacles can easily be injured.
Teaching dogs to jump fences for example, needs to be done with caution, because one day, you will come across a barbed wire fence.
Dogs that jump barbed wire inevitably get hurt sooner or later.
Protecting joints – puppy jumping
Jumping is also potentially hazardous because it puts a strain on the dog’s muscles, ligaments and especially on his joints.
For this reason we only start jumping lessons when a dog has finished growing. And, we build up the height a dog jumps gradually
Jump training is not suitable for growing puppies and many experts recommend that dogs do not jump until they are over a year old.
This is especially important in larger breeds that take longer to mature.
A six month old miniature poodle has nearly completed his growth whereas a six month old Labrador will be growing for at least another six months or more.
How to teach a dog to jump
Like so many things, there is more than one way to teach a dog to jump.
The key in all cases is to increase the height and difficulty of the jump in tiny steps. Both to maintain the dog’s confidence and to allow him to build fitness and strength.
Growing muscles takes time, and your dog will need to develop the muscles used in jumping to give him power and to protect his joints.
I’m going to look at two slightly different methods of training
Different types of jumping
The way you teach your dog to jump may depend on why you want him to learn this skill.
Many dogs learn to jump because their owners want to take part in Agility.
Agility is a great hobby for you and your dog.
We will look in more detail at how you can teach your dog to jump ‘agility style’ in a moment.
Others may want their retriever to take part in gun dog training and we often teach gun dogs to jump using retrieves.
How to build a dog jump
You will need to make a dog jump or purchase a jump of some description, for your dog to learn on. Preferably one that you can adjust in height.
I recommend you start with a simple dog agility jump agility jump like the one in this picture.
If you make your own, you will need to make sure that the dog cannot hurt himself on it if he fails to clear it, and catches it on one of his legs.
Apart from the safety aspect, if he hurts himself on the jump, it will put him off jumping.
I sometimes use ‘straw bales’ for my gun dogs, but you can also use a makeshift low fence of some sort.
The jump cue or command
You will need to chose a command or cue word for jumping. You will then teach your dog what this cue means.
I use the cue ‘over’ but it does not matter what your cue is, as long as you stick to the same one, and provided it doesn’t sound too much like any other word you regularly use around your dog.
Now let’s look at the training process
Walking the jump
The first step is to have the jump at the lowest level possible. If you have bought an agility jump put the horizontal pole on the ground.
Then with the dog on the lead, walk over the jump, between the upright poles’ many times.
He needs to feel comfortable with moving across and through this new object, with you at his side, before you start making things difficult.
How to teach a dog to jump agility style
If you are training the jump ‘agility style’ the next step is to begin to raise the height of the pole. Just a tiny bit at first, so have the pole on the lowest rung.
You are still going over the jump with the dog, both of you passing between the two poles
Now, as the dog passed over the pole with a little jump, you can start to add your cue word ‘over’.
Say the cue as he takes off, each and every time. Practice approaching the jump from both directions and with the dog on either side of you.
Practice several times a day, and over the space of several days, gradually raise the height of the jump until it is becoming difficult for you to jump with him.
Now go back to the pole on its lowest height again, and start jumping the dog with you on the outside of the jump. So that he is jumping whilst you go around.
With lots of practice, you will be able to raise the height of the jump steadily as your dog’s skill and fitness improves.
How to teach a dog to jump gun dog style
If your dog likes to play fetch, and retrieves for you on command, you can teach him to jump ‘gun dog style’.
In the early stages, you need to give the dog lots of practice crossing the jump at its lowest level with you at his side Only then should you ask him to retrieve over it.
You will also need to arrange your jump so that the dog cannot pass around either side of it, until the jump on command habit is well established.
This is because your dog will soon be working at a distance from you and initially you will need to ensure he passes over the jump both on his way out and on his return.
Dogs are not silly and will take the least demanding route if not sure what is being asked of them.
Add the jump cue
When you have walked, trotted, and run with the dog many times over a low level jump, you can begin to add your cue.
Say ‘over’ each time the dog takes off. Practice jumping with him for several sessions.
Now you are ready to retrieve
The first retrieves over a jump
For the first retrieves you will stand literally right up against the jump. It should be nice and low.
If you are using straw bales, like I do, you can even give him a couple of retrieves with him starting off standing on the jump itself. Then proceed to stand immediately in front of the jump.
The idea is to leave the dog in no doubt that every time he sets off, the jump will be crossed.
Throw your retrieves to land a short way out on the far side of the jump.
Cue the dog ‘over’ as he passes across the jump, and collect the retrieve from him as soon as he lands back in front of you.
Adding distance from the jump
Increasing the distance between the two of you, and the jump, when you send the dog to retrieve, needs to be done very gradually. If you go too fast, he will try and find a way around, and may even refuse to jump.
When you progress at the right speed it will be fun for both you and your dog.
If you have any problems, go closer to the jump again and increase distance more slowly.
If you raise the height of the jump, go back to sending the dog from very close to it again for a while.
Little dog – jumping through hoops is fun
For teaching your dog to jump through a hoop you’ll need a lure – food works best. Something tasty like a little cube of cheese.
You can use a hula hoop or fitness hoop for training – or you can buy one made for dogs
Luring needs to be switched for a hand signal really fast so that you don’t get stuck on the lure.
You’ll also need to decide on your cue word. You could use ‘through’ or ‘hoop’. It’s up to you.
If you have never lured a behavior before read Dog Lure Training first – it’ll save you from making common mistakes
Teaching a dog to jump through a hoop
Just like jumping a pole, we start with a walk through. Hold the hoop out in front of the dog with the bottom of the hoop touching the ground.
Put your hand through the hoop from the far side and lure the dog through it with the treat. There’s no jumping involved at this point. And you can reward the dog with the treat when he has passed through the hoop
Do this two or three times then lose the lure like this: Show the dog your empty hand, then immediately pretend to lure him as before. As soon as he is through the hoop reward him from your treat bag.
The movement of your hand through the hoop in this pretend luring movement can gradually become your hand signal. And in time you can teach your verbal command by attaching it in front of the hand signal
Practice with the hoop on the ground until your dog is rushing through on your hand signal, without a lure. And then start to introduce a gap between the bottom of the hoop and the ground.
It’s then a question of building up height. How high you go will depend on the size of your dog.
Never push your luck, if you go too high and your dog fails to make the jump he’ll be put off and you may have to go right back to the ground again
How to teach a dog to jump – summary
Remember that jumping puts a strain on your dog’s joints and ligaments. Build his strength and power up so that his muscles support him.
An unfit or unwell dog, very long backed dogs, and puppies under a year old, should not be asked to jump.
If in doubt, check first with your vet.
Should you find that you and your dog are loving the training and want to take it further, do consider joining an agility or working trials club.
You’ll find a safe environment where you can challenge your dog, build his skills safely, and get expert advice.
How about you?
Does your dog enjoy jumping or agility? Let us know in the comments box below.