Why Dogs Knock Down Bars in Agility


Bulldog clearing jump. Photo credit M. Nicole Fischer

While jumping comes naturally to dogs, jumping in competition is a lot different from running and jumping in play. There are several reasons why a dog may not clear a jump and will take down a bar or refuse to jump. Position of take off is important. If he jumps too early, then he is prone to knock the bar off when his back feet cross it. If he jumps too close (or late), he is likely to knock the bar off with his front feet. Also, if he changes position while in the air over the jump, say in response to his handler calling his name, then he may drop a hip or legs, resulting in a knocked off bar.Wet surfaces can make the dog slip, causing a dropped bar.

The handler also plays a role in how the dog does over the jumps. An excellent handler makes sure that the dog is not nervous or fearful and has the confidence to clear the jumps that are presented to him. If the dog feels that he is crowded or the handler is too close, he may take down bars or refuse to jump because he does not feel that he has the room to safely maneuver. Be aware of where he is before you call him to the next obstacle so as to prevent him changing his body position while still over the jump or refusing the jump. During the run, make sure to position him so that he can run the course smoothly and efficiently.

At times, experienced dogs will start to knock down bars. This occurs when the dog stops paying attention to the jump heights and assumes that the jump will be at a certain height. He could be getting bored or nonchalant about the runs.

All of these issues can be worked through for a perfect run.

If the dog is taking off too soon or too close, place a ground bar before or after the jump during practice runs. A ground bar placed before the jump will encourage the dog that jumps too close to start jumping sooner. For the dog that starts the jump too far away, place the ground bar on the other side of the jump to encourage him to start later in order to clear both bars. This will encourage him to adjust his stride and come to the jump better prepared for a clear jump. The handler will need to look at the position of the dog’s body to decide how close or far away the ground bars should be. Keep in mind that the bars should be cleared on the apex of the jumping arc. Adjust the ground bars until the dog is able to clear the jump easily and comfortably.

Learn your dog’s individual idea of personal space. Some dogs are not comfortable jumping towards you and into your space or crowding his space. Work with the dog gradually to teach him that he can jump close to you and into that space area without any harm. Teach him that he can jump towards a potential barrier or limited space and clear the jump.

For the experienced jumper, to avoid the complacency that he is feeling in the ring, practice with jumps set at varying heights so that he has to pay more attention to them. Place the bar at an angle so one end is higher than the other on several jumps in the practice area.

Never yell at the dog for knocking down a bar. Yelling at the dog may cause him to become nervous and fearful. A confident and relaxed dog will clear the jumps efficiently.

You as the handler should look at the possible reasons why he knocked it off and find a solution. Is the jump too high? Too wide? At an awkward angle coming in or leaving it? Does he need more time to learn how to negotiate the pattern? Consider the dog and adjust the jumps accordingly until he is confident, then slowly increase the difficulty, making sure not to ask for more than the dog can offer. With time, patience and consideration for the dog, your agility runs should soon be fast and clean.


Poodle going over jump. Photo by M. Nicole Fischer.

Poodle going over jump. Photo by M. Nicole Fischer.

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