Jen Pinder Jumping Workshop

31 Aug 2004Steve Schwarz

I’ve been to about a dozen Agility seminars and this past weekend I participated in one of the most important seminars for dog training I’ve ever attended. Unlike other seminars that might focus on handling, course evaluation, or equipment training, Jen Pinder’s Jumping Workshop focused on analyzing dog’s jumping styles and developing an ongoing training and testing program to help dogs jump more efficiently and safely in a wide variety of circumstances. Dana Pike kindly organized and hosted this workshop at her facility in Wilmington, IL. This was a truly transformative experience.

Unlike a purely prescriptive seminar, Jen’s workshop was focused on giving everyone the skills to analyze and implement a jumping improvement program for their own dogs. The goal being to develop a dog that was confident and experienced in when to initiate a jump, balanced front to back and right to left in jumping and landing, and using the power available in its rear end to drive them over the jumps. Jen developed this program working with Susan Salo in an effort to further improve the performance of Jen’s canine teammates.

I can’t begin to describe everything Jen presented; I hope I can present a brief overview that will whet your appetite to seek out this seminar.

There were three main aspects of the program. Jen covered each in a training segment with several segments covered each day:

  • Setting up, analyzing, and tailoring "training grids" to help dogs learn to jump correctly
  • Learning what to watch for when a dog was jumping
  • Setting up and analyzing "scope drills" (tests) to analyze progress and set future training direction

In each segment of the workshop Jen would setup a training grid (also known as a jump chute) to train a particular jumping style (e.g. bouncing or one of the three striding jump styles) based on a group of dog’s jumping ability. We’d videotape and watch each dog and handler work on the grid. Jen would offer surprisingly minor modifications (the addition of a “speed bump” (pvc ground bar) or a diagonal jump bar) that would dramatically change how the dog looked at and performed the sequence.

A key point about Jen’s approach is that by making the minor modifications to the jump grid we are providing the dogs with enough additional information to help them make the right jumping decisions. Some of the dogs, our Milo included, are just throwing themselves over the jumps in whatever manner they have figured out that keeps the bars up and their handler happy. With Jen’s approach it is still the dog’s job to know when to bounce a jump or add a stride; but through this training we are giving them the positive experiences (along with the muscle memory) to help them choose correctly. With less than a dozen repetitions about three times a week a dog’s jumping can begin to improve.

As Jen mentioned during the introduction, and throughout the workshop, we would spend more time watching the dogs work than we would working our own dogs. This a key point if you are ever to implement this program on your own. I found it was important to carefully watch everyone’s dogs as they worked; during the first day it was difficult to see what Jen was seeing. But as the day progressed, and we saw each dog work the training sequences, I could start to pick out when a dog was jumping from its front end and not using the power from its rear end. At the end of the second day we were all quicker to see the problems and offer suggestions to help the dog understand what was being asked of it.

As Jen pointed out you could even hear the difference in dog’s jumping styles as dogs landed and took off for each jump. You could hear it in the sound of the foot falls and the difference in sound between the front and rear legs. Some dogs would even “puff” their lungs as they pushed hard from their front end to get over a jump.

In each segment, after covering the setup of the training grid and the analysis of the dog’s performance, Jen would setup a scope drill to test how the dog has progressed. In practice a test might only be done once a month or so depending on the dog’s progress. These scope drills might test a single behavior like bouncing a jump or taking a single compressed stride between two jumps. In general none of the aids or modifications used in the training grids are used as these drills aren’t a training mechanism; they let you analyze the dog’s current abilities and figure out where to go next.

What totally surprised me about these tests was the improvements we were seeing in so many of the dogs. Dogs who had only been through a couple dozen training grid runs with one or two additional bars to assist them on the first day were jumping through these tests powering from their rear ends with correctly timed take offs and landings on the second day. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a miracle training method, as all tests should, they also showed areas where dogs had weaknesses. With the more advanced tests Jen was demonstrating the training progression to let us know where we could be taking this program as our dogs progressed.

During the two day workshop we repeated the three step approach about a half dozen times with a lot of time for questions and discussions. Throughout the workshop Jen was patient and clear in her instruction and explanations.

As I write this it is hitting me that there is so much more information that I learned that I can’t put into words. As we told Jen during the workshop, we need her to write a book or produce a video describing this approach. It would be a great benefit to all performance dog owners and trainers. But until they are available, I strongly urge everyone to seek out Jen Pinder and learn more about training our canine teammates in safe, efficient, smart, and fast jumping.

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