Backyard Dog Training Fun!

By Stacy Braslau-Schneck for Exceptional Canine

Backyard Dog Training Fun!

Want to make dog training fun — and looking for a game to play besides fetch? I love setting up mini "agility courses" in the backyard during the summer or in the living room during the winter.

These aren't the official obstacles of a competition course, but obstacles with similar challenges you and your dog will both enjoy. For doggy fun and human visual impact, my favorite is jumping through a hoop. You can use any kids' Hula-Hoop, but beware of the ones with noisy beads inside — some dogs are afraid of them.

Teach Your Dog to Jump Through a Hoop

Hold the hoop upright (so your dog can look straight through it), with the bottom edge of the hoop sitting on the ground. Start by rewarding any interaction your dog has with the hoop. Then, hold a treat on the other side of the hoop from your dog — just about an inch away. Let your dog reach her head through to grab the treat. Repeat that until your dog puts her head through without hesitation. At that stage, I click (or say "Yes!") and then casually drop or toss the treat just beyond the dog on the far side of the hoop.

As the dog gets more comfortable, I wait until a little more of the dog is through the hoop before clicking and then tossing the treat a little further. (You can also use a toy as the lure or reward, but it is harder to do a bunch of repetitions quickly.)

When your dog moves all the way through the hoop, you can start to raise the bottom edge very slightly off the ground — less than an inch. Your goal is to get your dog confidently moving through the hoop before you raise it. Gradually raise the height, with many repetitions at each new height, until the bottom is level with your dog's chest. (If you have a very bouncy dog, you may be able to move it a bit higher.) If this is a new form of exercise for your dog, keep in mind that she'll have to build up her muscles for it!

Teach Your Dog to Jump Over a Hurdle

I use the same process for a stick — usually a broomstick or bamboo plant stake. Start with it lying on the ground and get your dog to walk over it; most dogs won't even notice it's there. Next, prop up each end of the stick on a brick (or a book if you're inside) and follow the same treats process you used with the hoop. Gradually add more bricks (or books) to increase height. Go slowly. And don't worry if your dog knocks the stick off its props.

When your dog is jumping, make sure she's focused on where she'll land; this keeps her balanced well and makes it easier for her to clear her hind feet. Do this by leaving a treat on the floor where you expect her nose to be after a successful landing. Toss the treat or just keep it in your hand and bring it down near the ground. This ensures that your backyard dog training fun remains safe for everyone!

For more backyard fun with your dog, check out my Exceptional Canine blog post here.

Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a longtime dog trainer and a professional member of the Association of Dog Pet Trainers. She works closely with the Human Society Silicon Valley and is the owner of Stacy's Wag'N'Train, which offers small group classes and private lessons in San Jose, Calif. Stacy writes frequently for Exceptional Canine.