Canine Jumping Gold Standard or Fool’s Gold?

I am not calling anyone a fool.  I just like catchy titles!

This blog post came about when I noticed something totally unexpected while watching videos of my dog jumping and driving to a placed toy or a mark bucket.   My premise is that dogs (and other animals such as horses) use their necks to help soften the blow on their shoulders/ front legs when landing after jumping.  I believe a lack of understanding about toy placement is creating repetitive diving by agility dogs where their necks are not moving naturally due to targeting toys.  I am not against using toys but I think the toy needs to be placed further away from jumps than the current norm so the toy doesn’t impact the dog’s ability to use his neck in a natural way when landing.

The videos and screenshots are from an experiment I set up to determine the best spacing to a stop behavior after a jump (or jump grid) taken at speed.  Toys were used for the purpose of comparison. I didn’t intend to have any insights about toy placement. In hindsight, had I thought about how much space a dog needs to comfortably stop on a table after a jump, I would have come to the same conclusion.  Dogs need a minimum of  2 full strides after landing for an upcoming stop not to influence how they jump and land.


(above) Dog on right is driving towards a toy. Dog on left is driving towards a stopped behavior on a mark bucket.  The dog’s starting point was 15′ from the jump.  The toy and mark bucket were placed 15′ past the jump.  This was part of my experiment to determine optimal reward distances. 15′ was not enough distance for extension jumping.  

This link has a great description of canine jumping by a sports medicine vet:…/how-does-your-dog-jump…

(below) The mark bucket was too close to the jump.  I would not place a mark bucket or toy this close for a dog with Takoda’s stride length.  He had to work super hard to get his body organized in that short distance between landing and the mark bucket.

(below) Dog’s topline on the right was copied to dog on left to accentuate what is different. His back looks nearly identical in both (no butt flipping in either due to relaxed rear tucked legs vs. legs fully extended/ straight back). The main difference is the position of his head relative to his body. Dogs don’t look at their landing spots or dive into the ground like an arrow when running agilitiy courses.  They tend to look ahead to what is coming next… if we are doing our jobs as handlers.


(below) Video comparison with the reward point at about 22′. The green dog is running to a static toy. The red dog is running towards a stopped behavior.

When the reward point was far away from the jump (22′), the toy did not create a lowered head because it was so far forward the dog could see it and aim for it with a level head. On a side note, the distant toy created consistently earlier take-offs and landings compared to a stopped behavior.. just by by a foot or so no big deal.


(below) Top two images are with a placed toy at 6-7’and a stopped behavior at about 9′. Bottom images are with the toy at 12′ and the stop at 15′.  I had to move the toy closer than the stop to get a similar collection.  You can see how moving the reward points closer exaggerates the body position differences between driving towards a toy and a stopped behavior. The video clips I used for these screenshots were synced over the bar so the landing timing is not exactly “apples to apples” but I think it’s clear that the dog is anticipating what comes next before taking off for the jump… just like when running a course. jumping_9-_top_15-bottom_toyR_markL_comparison_9-13-19

(below) Video comparison of relative collection driving to a closer stopped behavior (stopping necessitates loading as though for another jump) and driving to a static toy, which I needed to place closer in order to get similar relative collection. When I set the reward point at 22′, the differences in form were negligible due to the toy being so far ahead that it no longer created a lowered head. I think the photo (above) on the lower right shows how extreme the first stride needs to be after diving into the ground to grab a toy.  It looks kind of cool but I think it’s saving him from doing a face plant. Imagine what a longer-backed dog would need to do to change the direction of travel from diving to running.

(above) You might notice Takoda didn’t break into a full run on one approach (slo mo) in anticipation of stopping so close 9’.   I think it shows how much he is thinking about what comes next and how difficult it is to load and stop that close to a jump.

If a dog has done a lot of jump training and jump grids that end with diving to grab a static toy that is placed less than 18′ or 20′ for a border collie sized dog (and stride length), I think its possible the dog will learn to dive over the last bar on course.  Another factor that might influence a dog’s jumping style or ability to keep bars up is a visible toy is a lure.  Are dogs looking for the toy and when they don’t see one, not know how to jump that last jump?  I don’t know.   One reason I like my dogs to drive to a mark bucket is because they are driving to a high value “behavior” vs a lure.  I think this difference is significant in terms of what a dog is learning and thinking about when they are approaching, jumping, and landing.

(above) One of Takoda’s early jumping “experiences” including some GO ONs to a ball flung far and over his head.   I either send him to a mark bucket or throw a ball over his head.

Since horses seem to come up when discussing canine jumping, here is a link for more information on horses:

(above) example of a horse free jumping that a couple of horse people thought was good natural form.  Notice how the horse raises his head when landing.

(above) cat jumping in slo-mo.  Notice how the cat uses his neck when landing.

(below) Watch slo-mo video comparison of my dog LANDING when driving towards a STOP (top) vs. a TOY (bottom).

(below) screen shot from video. Driving to a STOP (top) and TOY (bottom).


(below) Wrapping.  No dramatic difference in body position when using a toy or mark for wraps, except for head and neck position when landing.  The starting spots varied in terms of distance to the jump (sloppy on my part), but I don’t think it affected the overall test.  More speed on the approach would make it easier to see what is different due to a more forceful landing but that is not something I plan to do for obvious reasons.

(below) The toy and mark buckets were positioned 20-22 feet away. The field was sloping up to the right a bit.  The difference in landing position is negligable at this distance.

I encourage people to watch trial videos of their dogs and other dogs in slo-mo and focus on body positions when landing.  I watched a bunch of videos of some of the fastest agility dogs that don’t knock bars (and some that do).  They never land with their necks straight and heads diving into the ground.  Dogs use their necks to help soften the blow on their shoulders/ front legs when landing after jumping.   If toys are used, they need to be placed far enough away from jumps so the toy doesn’t impact the dog’s ability to use his or her neck ito help buffer their shoulders from the impact of landing.



3 thoughts on “Canine Jumping Gold Standard or Fool’s Gold?

  1. Thank you Dev, some interesting things to think about. I found that if I placed the toy further than I expected from the jump, I didn’t get “handstands” which were obviously not very good for the shoulders!

    • YES. The further away the toy is.. the better. I would not place a toy or a mark bucket closer than 20’…. maybe a bit less with Lil How far did you need to place the toy to avoid the handstand?

      • Jubilee is a munchkin at only 24 cm tall (9.5 inches). The jump is at 24 cm (her competition hegiht). and I place the toy 300cm or <10 feet away. Closer is still okay, but I like it further away, so she can land and carry on running. This is for extension jumping only. I use a toy from hand and send for wrap jumps.

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