One of the most common things that will incur a fault on the agility field is a bar coming down, but why do dogs knock bars? It is never that your dog does not care. Hidden health issues should ALWAYS be considered a possibility to check. If a dog is dropping bars, and it is not because of a physical challenge, then it is either a lack of education or an environmental challenge. Our dogs always do the BEST they can with the EDUCATION we’ve given them in the ENVIRONMENT we are expecting them to perform.
The Top 10 Reasons Dogs Drop Bars
#1 – Course Design
Difficult approaches combined with dogs at high speed can see bars come down. This is not one of the main reasons, but I’m putting it out here for you to consider if you have the occasional dropped bar. The real challenge with knocked bars is when it happens on a regular basis.
#2 – Dog’s Visual Picture
If your dog does not normally knock bars, but you do get one down, look at what is around the jump and see if that creates some visual confusion for your dog. The App, “Dog Vision HD” by Laan Labs will help you see things from your dog’s perspective (Android | Apple IOs). You can check out my video blog “Why Colours Matter in Dog Agility (Featuring Nicki Gurr)” for more on this topic.
#3 – Rehearsal of Dropped Bars
If dogs start super young and drop bars, that gets built-in as part of the agility performance as the dog thinks it is “ok” and does not understand that part of agility is keeping bars up. Be strategic on layering in the good and do not rehearse what you do not want. Raising agility dogs and timelines of what to do when is a whole other topic in its own right. I’ve done a full workshop in Agility Nation on ‘Puppy Training for Agility’. The first thing would be to avoid jumping and sequencing for young dogs. Do not be in a hurry; there is a better way. Build confidence with the fundamentals while your puppy grows.
#4 – Lack of Clarity
A dog’s lack of clarity on jumping cues, cues that are conflicting, late or not given at all will cause bars to come down. There is a MYTH that verbal cues should not be used as they make dogs drop bars. The myth buster is that it is only true if you use cues only “every once in a while”, causing the dog’s head to turn to you because he is surprised, then his pelvis drops, and he will hit the bar. The FACT is that verbal cues used consistently create clarity, understanding and confidence for your dog.
#5 – Lack of Fitness
The dog’s fitness level and readiness for the sport includes strength, flexibility, proprioception and cardio endurance. It is only fair for the dog to prepare him for the physical skills needed for agility performance.
#6 – Lack of Focus Forward
Your dog understanding ‘Focus Forward’ is important for agility performance. When your dog is looking forward and listening to you, it is much easier for him to calculate distances and physically prepare for the jump. I’ve covered focus forward before on my blog. It’s a vital part of my agility foundation. You can see a short video where I’m waiting for Swagger to focus forward before I release him to take a tunnel in the video on “Loose Potatoes (Sometimes Dog Training Needs a Plan B)“.
#7 – Lack of Education in Jump Training
Put in the time and effort to educate your dog on jumping skills. Now, it’s no secret that I have always used Susan Salo’s jump training program. I think it’s a phenomenal program to teach things like how to weight shift back before a jump, how to read that distance. Jump education really needs to be a commitment by you for your dog.
#8 – Lack of Confidence in the Dog about Jumping
A dog who slows down going into the jumps, adds extra steps before the jump, or takes off way too early, may not know how to jump effectively. Where does confidence come from? It comes from you putting in the layers so that you are hedging the bets that your dog is prepared, that he understands jump work, has the physical abilities, knows how to do the job … and when he does do that job, you celebrate that success.
#9 – Lack of Understanding on Adjusting Strides / Extension and Collection
Dogs need to read what they need to do on a jump and be able to adjust their stride accordingly. There might be extra strides or strides to leave out. Our dogs need the understanding of jumping in collection and in extension and we can provide that to them in our training. We can help them on course with our consistent verbal cues. In my H360 program we have cues that we train strategically to tell our dog how to prepare his body for the jump and the path he will be taking.
#10 – Inexperience in the Environment
A dog’s inexperience in the environment you are asking him to perform in is a big reason bars might be coming down. It could be a higher level of excitement created by the environment, and the dog has never been given the opportunity to learn how to be thoughtful when aroused. This can be caused by a different surface, the weather, different obstacles, distractions, obstacle combinations before and after the jump. Make sure your dog is prepared mentally as well as physically for the sport of dog agility. It all starts with my 5C Formula for Success that I’ve got in my blog post “Protect Your Dog’s Confidence“.
Tip of the Iceberg
The reasons a dog might knock bars is the tip of the iceberg, however, considering the reasons is your starting point.
I’ll repeat that hidden health issues should ALWAYS be considered a possibility to check.
In January, my online workshop for Agility Nation was a masterclass on dropped bars. One of the things I covered was the importance of videoing every competition and training session, and to record keep so that you can collect data on the bars that fall. Keep the data on a spreadsheet for ease of analysis.
What to include when you are collecting data on knocked bars:
- The date and location.
- Time of day the bar dropped and in relation to the last time the dog ate. I discovered Encore was hypoglycemic, as she dropped bars further away from her meals. When I started giving her cookies to help with her condition, the number of dropped bars decreased.
- Handling approach: threadle, backside, slice, throwback, roll back.
- Jump placement in relation to other obstacles. Was it the first jump, in a pinwheel, 180, etc.
- What was the obstacle before the jump, and the obstacle after the jump?
Your data collection will show you the circumstances where your dog is more likely to knock a bar and will give you something to work with to help your dog.
So, the above are my top 10 reasons why dogs may knock bars. If you’ve got others, be sure to leave them in the comments!
Today I am grateful for how much more knowledge we all have to help our agility dogs compared to years ago, and for how much easier videoing makes it for us to collect vital data.