Doubt is the biggest single stumbling block to the dog becoming competent at the scale, so before we commence training the scale, there are a few building blocks of understanding which need to be in place. First you need the dog to be able to approach the scale with the dog in a relaxed and focused state of mind, secondly your control needs to be of a standard where the dog can be heeled to the jump and sit without any need for manhandling. Thirdly it helps a lot if the dog has been taught to do the clear jump so has an understanding of the “over” command.
I do not train the scale until the dog is reasonably competent on the clear jump and understands the command to jump whatever is in front of it. The process of teaching any jumping can be enhanced by putting the command to the dog when it is free jumping while out walking in the woods as the dog is relaxed and happily running around encourage it to jump over fallen trees, branches etc. While doing this put the command to the dog’s natural actions. In the first article in this series relaxed control around the jumps was discussed, before starting work on the scale I would go back to earlier training and reinforce your previous work on the control. Training the scale can be daunting for both dog and handler and if your relaxed control has decayed while training the other jumps (and if you’re honest with yourself you will realize it probably has) the daunting nature of the scale is likely to cause slight stress, which in turn will affect your control; having to reinforce the control around the scale will make the whole exercise considerably more stressful than necessary. When the training has been reinforced you will be ready to start training the scale. With the scale set at about 3ft (a height which the dog is comfortable with) I start by teaching the scale backwards i.e. With the dog in the down on the other side of the scale I recall it over, with the scale set low it’s easy for the handler to get eye contact and if necessary have the dog on the lead just to guide it over. When this has been completed a toy may be thrown away from the scale as a reward to the dog. Care should be taken when rewarding the dog with play, as it might get overexcited and will need to be returned to a calm concentrated state before continuing with the jump training, dogs which are overexcited tend to be careless which often leads to falls and accidents.
. The progression from this stage is fairly straight forward. Leave the dog in an appropriate position walk round the scale, after a pause call the dog over when the dog has completed the down position call it up to heel then send it over. You are now doing a complete scale exercise but not in the correct order, careful observation of the dog’s technique must be made and the height increased gradually to maintain the dogs focus and attitude. When the scale reaches around 4ft 6ins the dog is likely to start resisting and refusing, lower the scale and insist the dog traverses the scale. If the dog jumps freely at the lower height but refuses at the higher one instead of getting into conflict with the dog at the higher height repeat the lower height a few times until the dog refuses then insist. After insistence when the dog starts to jump again serious praise and reward will be needed to rebuild the dog’s confidence. Once the dog has been taken through the period of resistance, increasing the height the moving towards full height should be straight forward. It must be remembered that dogs get tired quickly and if you increase the height by more than 6 inches a session you will be asking a dog which is suffering from slight fatigue to increase the effort. (Its my opinion that 3 sets over and back is enough for one session ) Tired dogs make mistakes when scaling which can lead to falls and negative associations for the dog. As the dog is becoming confident and competent I will for a session or two set the scale at about 4ft and instead of the normal routine place the dog out of position in the down (my preference ) walk round the scale look over and recall the dog over the scale. With practice the dog will learn to return from imperfect positions, so on the odd occasions when the dog goes out of position it will know how to correct its self for the return and complete the exercise. Once the dog has become consistent in doing the whole exercise…. the approach, halt, over on command, stay in nominated position, then return on command, It will be necessary to practice the whole exercise at various venues and on different scales. This is easily done by using other people’s scales, although in my early days in Working Trials I used to carry my jumps round on a trailer, pull up in the local park or recreation ground, sports field or even a wide grass verge on a quiet lane unload the jumps and do a couple of sets, reload the trailer and leave. If you ask the park keeper they will almost always refuse, but if you don’t ask you’ll have finished and be reloading the jumps back on the trailer before the keeper gets to you. If he complains simply apologize sweetly and next time do it when he’s not around. “its hardly a hanging offence” When the dog is consistently doing the jumps correctly I only train them a couple of times a month unless problems occur.