”If dog stretches his hind legs while jumping, if he doesn’t knock or measure strides before the jump, then he is a good jumper.” As with so many agility people, this was my belief until a few years ago when one special student signed into my agility class. Little did I know that she will have such an influence on my future perception of dog’s movement, jumping and agility in general.
After few months of training in my class, she told me that among other things, she is also a horse trainer and that her biggest passion when teaching horses is actually helping them with their jumping technique. Out of curiosity, I asked her if she can evaluate jumping of my dog (Bay) and give me some guidelines on how to work on some situations that are difficult for her and this is how our cooperation started. We first started working with Bay, who I thought, doesn’t need these kind of exercises anyway. I couldn’t be more wrong. After few weeks of exercises, I started seeing the progress that I never really thought was possible or necessary. Hard to believe but she has become even faster and more reliable on jumps. She started spending significantly less time in the air compared to the times before the exercises. Her jumps became more fluent and efficient.
I was everything but an easy student. Having had a dog with jumping problems before, I’d done some jumping exercises to help her improve her jumping skills. But since there was no uderstanding behind the exercises I’d been doing, they only made the situation worse. So when Alenka presented me with similar exercises (with correct distances and heights, which made the whole difference), that I did with my first dog, I was as sceptical as it gets. I was worried that they will make my dog slowing down, shortening and measuring strides before jumps and that they will slow her down. For me, it was unimaginable that exercises like these can make a difference for a dog when he is running a course in full speed. It took me months before I really started trusting her advice. I realized that my knowledge about correct jumping was not just limited – it was non-existing.
Since I started working with Alenka a little more then 3 years ago I have learned tons about dog’s structure, biomechanics and correct jumping technicque. Now that I see a dog on a course, I’m not only seeing how fast and good he is, but I also started noticing what his movement is like, how he transfers his weight before the jump, how balanced he is in the air and how he uses his body through the whole course.
After Bay, Alenka started working with some other students as well. As every dog has different needs, she adapts every exercise to each dog. She takes every student as an individual and puts all her energy and knowledge into helping them. She has an eye for details and catches every little thing.
I feel extremely lucky and grateful that our paths have crossed few years back and I have a possibility to learn from her. Her knowledge about jumping and dog’s biomechanichs is really impressive and she loves what she does.
I always knew that at start you had to teach a dog obstacle by obstacle. As far as it comes to jumping tehquniges I did not pay special attention to that. I figured jumping style gets better as the dog gains expirience. And for some dogs it is an ok way (for some absolutely not)- but I learned that there is a better way to learn optimal jumping style and that is via jumping gyimnastics.
When you – as a person have quite complicated move to make – you don’t make it full speed and in some miliseconds at start. But if you want to be efficent and precise and not make mistakes you have to first know how to do it slow – thinking about it. I learned that the same goes for dogs jumping style and teaching the dog to have the optimal movement as he jumps.
Mistake I did with Kiwii was that I wanted a hard complicated move for her (as cik and cap) already with full speed (she is extremely explosive). She lacked jumping education and did it her way – many times knocking the bar, throwing herself over the jump – we had to repeate it a lot and I saw too many errors in every training (sometimes up to 80%).
What I love about jumping grids is also that you do not punish your dog. I do believe that fear in the dog that he will knock a bar will not give his optimal preformence. I think that the dog has to believe in himself and gain comfidence and with comfidence also comes commitment to the obstacle.
The same as it goes for other trainings – do things gradually on daily basis and set the dog up for success. Setting him up to fail can do the opposite. There is better – fun ways to teach the dog that the bar has to be respected.
After starting working with Alenka I needed my time to understand how this exercises will improve my dogs jumping style and I had many doubts. For me it is a lot easier if I can imagine a whole process of transfering from grids to actual courses. I learned that you have to trust the proces and do it step by step.
I saw big improvements in all of my dogs jumping over the course of a few trainings. They started to think to addapt and what is even more great – every training for them was successful and there was loads of fun to it.
After I do jumping grids I always come home happy and pleased with the improvement my dogs are making. The absolute opposite of my start with Kiwii when she knocked up to 80% bars on a traning doing only statical cik and cap.
The problem with training many times it that we demand too much from ourselfs and our dogs too fast.
So have fun guys!
And a big thank you to Alenka for being patient, encuranging me and always being by my side. It means a lot to me.
Starting to work with Alenka and learning so much about correct jumping technique and dog’s gymnastic, was an eye opening experience for me.
All my students know I love foundations (and single obstacle training) and I put a lot of attention to build great foundations for every obstacle dog can encounter on agility course. And until meeting Alenka, I was pretty sure my “jump foundations” were at least solid (if not great :))). I mean my dogs know very well how to turn tightly, how to find “out” from any position I send them, to stay committed to the jump, no mater from how far away I send them or how soon I run away, they distinguish “out”, collection to me, collection away from me, “in”, “half collection”, extension,… only on verbal cues,…
So what is there to know more? Well, dog knowing how to find “out” from any direction, doesn’t also mean dog knows how to JUMP CORRECTLY that out. It just means he knows from which side to take the jump and that is not enough. And the more I was working with Alenka, the more I saw how important correct jumping technique is for every dog! Not only because jumping efficiently (correctly) saves time and helps with not knocking the bars, but it also builds great confidence with dogs and what I love the most, it makes jumping so easy, that dog’s body is under much less pressure then it would be with dog, who is not using his body properly when jumping. And since jump is the most frequently used obstacle on every course, it is only fair I give my dogs the best foundations possible.
I initially started working with Alenka because of the jumping issues my Willa (malinois) had, but after seeing how much Willa improved and loved those gymnastic exercises and how many benefits they bring, I have decided that jumping gymnastic will be an important part of training for all my dogs.
So thank you Alenka for this great experience and for all your help! Because of you, I will never look on the jump the same again! 😀
I am so grateful to Alenka for all of the help and guidance she has given me with my Malinois Vesper. We had a frustrating season last year with many fantastic runs but with just one pole coming down. I thought she was quite a good jumper, however Alenka highlighted so many areas for improvement. Instead of using good technique to clear the jumps, she was simply using her power and throwing herself over them as best she could. Throughout very clear lesson plans, we have spent the past few months working on her technique, body balance, understanding leg changes and more. We saw improvement very quickly and I will continue to work on the exercises for the rest of her career.
Thank you Alenka for your guidance and mostly your support.
Helen & Vesper