About Hit the Ground Running!

Hit the Ground Running Logo

In response to emails Dawn and I have been receiving from people who want to learn more about HGR, we decided to post the following information from Module 1.  A secondary motive is we hope that by sharing our thoughts about why jumping issues emerge in the first place, increased awareness could decrease the incidence of jumping issues.

About HGR

“Hit the Ground Running!” is a new approach to jump re-training, co-founded and co-developed by Devorah Sperber (USA) and Dawn Weaver (UK).

We believe jumping issues emerge for a variety of reasons and thus require a variety of solutions—solutions customized for each particular dog.  The HGR classroom includes video examples and written descriptions of the exercises that are so much fun to play that we refer to them as games.  By posting videos of your dogs playing the games, Dawn and Devorah will be able to offer feedback and help you tailor the games to suit your dog’s unique requirements.

HGR Goals:
1)     To help dogs develop efficient ways of jumping that are appropriate for their structures so they can approach the jumping challenges they face when running agility courses with full confidence and speed.
2)     To help handlers become “jumping experts” for their particular dogs so that they can continue to modify and play jumping games after completing HGR.
3)     To help handlers make the best handling choices to support their dogs in feeling confident and secure about jumping so that they can Hit the Ground Running!

HGR involves a series of fun games to play with your dog.  The purpose of some of the games is to erase old patterns of behavior your dog may have developed in relation to jumping. Other games were developed to build new patterns of behavior so your dog can experience a fresh approach to jumping so they can hit the ground running fast.  The early games are played away from actual jumps.  These games were developed to help dogs see where obstacles/props are in space, in relation to themselves, when running fast, with their handler running along side, ahead, and behind them.   By the time the games begin to include actual jumps, dogs are able to approach the challenges with more confidence and ease.

HGR encourages each dog to jump in a style that is appropriate for his/her particular structure so that they can meet jumping challenges with confidence and ease.  In addition, the games teach handlers to SEE what is really going on when their dogs are running and jumping so they can maintain their dogs’ confidence about jumping throughout their agility career.

Here are a few observations we have made about factors that can contribute to jumping issues. Dogs may fall under one or more of the categories.

1)  Some dogs appear to have developed “preferred landing spots” that are too close to jumps.  These dogs tend to land at the same approximate distance from jumps regardless of their take-off spots.  As a result, when jumping in extension, their jumping arcs tend to peak before the jump bar.  These dogs may begin to tightly tuck their rear legs or flip their rear ends up dramatically when jumping.  HGR helps these dogs learn to extend further over jumps when jumping in extension.  As a result, their jumping arcs become more centered over jumps, resulting in dogs who no longer appear to be taking-off too early.   And once these dogs realize how liberating it feels to land further away from jumps, most will modify their take-off spots to be closer to jumps without human or mechanical interventions.

2)  Some dogs don’t know HOW to run fast and adjust their stride lengths in order to find good take-off spots, so they slow down, stutter-step, shorten their strides, take-off early, or over-jump to compensate.   Often, these dogs appear to lack confidence about jumping, which can cause jumping issues to become more exaggerated over time as the lack of confidence can reduce forward momentum which makes jumping more difficult. HGR helps build confidence by teaching these dogs HOW to run fast and adjust their strides efficiently when approaching jumps so they can jump with ease.

3)  Some dogs become overly focused on NOT HITTING BARS in response to past mishaps, negative punishment for knocked bars (something as simple as the handler stopping to reset  knocked bars), or simply sensing disappointment from their human teammate.  These dogs may begin to hesitate or crouch before jumping, tuck their rear legs tightly under their bodies, flip their rear ends up dramatically, look tense, over-jump, or launch over bars.   Like category #2, their lack of confidence and/or loss of forward momentum can make it more difficult for them to clear bars and can cause more knocked bars, which in turn makes these dogs try even harder not to hit bars. They may also begin to take-off earlier and earlier over time in the misapprehension that this will ensure they will clear the jump and avoid hurting themselves or disappointing their partner. HGR brings the fun back into running and jumping so confidence levels can soar, even if a bar is knocked occasionally.

NOTE: Although this is not true in all cases, categories 1, 2, and 3 can sometimes be attributed to handlers who are overly concerned about accuracy/ Q-ing/ running clean, or tend to use loud or harsh verbal cues, or call their dogs off wrong-course obstacles often which over time can cause dogs to worry and cause them to shorten their running stride and/or develop jumping issues.

4)  Some dogs are so high-drive and physically powerful that they CAN take-off early, launch, jump long and flat, or over-jump without knocking bars most of the time.   These dogs appear to be  in such a hurry to get to the next obstacle, that they may not adjust their stride lengths appropriately when approaching jumps and either take-off too early OR take-off too late, both of which can result in knocked bars. These dogs are often extremely sensitive to movement and thus handler motion can interfere with their ability to focus on non-moving objects such as jumps.  Their inability to focus enough attention on adjusting their strides in preparation for jumping results in occasional knocked bars, which can cause these dogs to begin taking-off too early or over-jumping to compensate.  HGR helps these dogs learn to focus on their job vs. being distracted by handler movement so they can get to where they want to go as fast as possible.

5)  In addition to the categories listed above, structure appears to play a significant role in how different breeds of dogs jump, as well as how individual dogs within each breed jump.  This is why HGR offers only working spots (no auditors) so that games can be modified to suit each and every dog.

6)  Minor injuries can also play a significant role in how dogs jump.   In HGR, it is recommended that dogs take a break from jumping while progressing through the games in the Modules 1 and 2.   The main purpose is to offer dogs a fresh start but perhaps a side benefit is that taking time off from jumping allows any  minor injuries or strains time to heal.

7)  Vision can also play a significant role in a dog’s ability to jump with confidence and ease.  Obviously if a dog cannot determine where objects are in space, they will not be able to jump efficiently.  Several of the dogs that participated in the HGR test study group over the summer of 2012 had rather extreme jumping issues–consistently taking-off early, over-jumping, and launching.  These dogs showed significant improvement in their ability to run fast and jump with confidence and ease as they progressed through HGR.  They were not miraculously “cured” by HGR and they are by no means “perfect” jumpers, but we believe their dramatic improvement indicates their jumping issues were caused by various combinations of structure, undiagnosed injuries, a lack of confidence, over-arousal, or feeling stressed vs. having significant vision deficits.

8)  Obstacle specifications, such as jump heights, can play a significant role in how a dog’s jumping style evolves.  It’s unfortunate that in some agility organizations, many dogs are expected to jump at heights that are higher than what is appropriate for their size or  structure.   As dogs progress through HGR, it becomes apparent if a dog has a “jumping issue” or an “obstacle specification” issue — meaning the specified jump height is just too high for a particular dog.

9) Handling can play a significant role in how dogs jump.  In  Modules 3 and 4, the games transition into typical sequences found on courses so participants are able to see first hand how various handling choices affect their dog’s ability to run fast and jump with ease.

NOTE ABOUT HANDLING: If you watch 2 dogs chasing each other while playing, you can see how strong the language of motion is to dogs, how well they read pre-cues for turns by each other, and how they will even use pre-cues to fake each other out (like RFPs/ false turns.)  So while we can try to train and proof dogs to ignore our motion, when it comes to jumping, some dogs will do just fine with it, but other dogs will feel a bit confused and their confidence about jumping will drop as their focus shifts primarily to watching the handler to try to figure out when to ignore her motion/ physical cues and when not to. This can lead to dropped bars, which can further erode confidence… and can lead to a “jumping issue.”

The complete HGR course is divided into modules so teams can progress at their own pace and pay as they go.   Participants begin by filling out a questionnaire and uploading a video link so we can see the unique jumping challenges each dog is facing.  Modules 1 and 2 consist of simple games, most of which can be played in a backyard or garden with minimal props.  Modules 3 and 4 require a bit more space and up to 5 jumps.

Click on the link below to sign up for “Hit the Ground Running!”  HGR is currently being offered at special introductory pricing:  Module 1 at £30 (approx $48); modules 2, 3 and 4 at £37 (approx $59) each. Exact £ to $ depends on the exchange rate at the time.

http://www.dawnweaveragility.com/catalog/agility-classroom-line