Whether for agility, obedience, rally, dock diving, search and rescue, Schutzhund, IPO, hiking or for fun, teaching your German Shepherd to jump is an important part of his foundational training.
You can start training your German Shepherd the basics of jumping as a young puppy, using poles on the ground, or uprights with no poles. German Shepherds should not jump higher than six inches until at least 18 months of age. Check with your dog’s breeder or veterinarian for the go-ahead to jump higher.
Once your German Shepherd’s growth is complete, you can start him on jumps. Start off low — set the bar an inch or two off the ground.
I prefer to teach my dogs to jump without using a leash. I find the leash causes the handler to get in the dog’s way, or is used to drag the dog over the jump. At best, you risk the leash getting caught in the jump and knocking it down. At worst, the leash gets caught in the jump and pops your dog’s collar, or drags the jump, which could scare her.
You will practice Leave it and Stay with your dog every time you do jump training, so don’t worry if she doesn’t do them well at first!
Keep your first several jumping sessions short and fun, using low jumps. You will gradually raise the height of the jumps as your dog becomes more confident.
I use an oxer (two-bar spread) jump like the one featured in the video. I place a toy or bowl of treats a few feet after the jump, to teach the dog to jump round, quickly and straight. If you don’t have enough equipment to create an oxer, a single jump with a pole on the ground will do. You may use guide poles to help keep the dog straight. Or, a fence or wall to one side with whatever artificial barrier you can create on the other, will also work.
I always reward my GSD for looking straight over the jump before releasing or rewarding him. This is a technique from Susan Garrett’s fantastic agility training DVD, Success With One Jump.
Place the treat or toy a few feet after the jump, and tell your dog to “Leave it.” Be sure the reward is centered as you look at the jump. You don’t want your dog to jump crooked trying to get to the toy! Bring your dog a few feet in front of the jump and ask him to stay. I like to feed these stays almost every time, to get the dog accustomed to waiting until I release him to jump. You may stay with your dog after you ask him stay, or walk a few feet away, then release.
Practice sometimes returning to your dog to feed him a treat, instead of releasing. This will prevent him from anticipating your release. You will need to adjust the dog’s distance before the jump, as well as the reward’s distance after the jump, for higher jumps or multiple jumps in a row.
If your dog is doesn’t want to go over a jump, go back to using a pole on the ground, or use two uprights with no pole. Practice asking your dog to stay, and then release him through the uprights to the treats or toy. You may need to move the bowl of treats between the uprights at first, and put your dog close to the jump, so he can be successful.
Encourage your GSD with lots play between jumps, and an excited tone of voice. As your dog progresses, try different jump configurations and distances. See Agility Nerd’s List of One-Jump Drills and Susan Salo’s Jumping Grid Workbook for ideas.