Training your fearful four-legged friend to jump through a hula hoop is not just about teaching your dog another stupid pet trick. And, it’s ultimate purpose can be more meaningful than to be used as a building block to a sport such as agility.
Teaching a fearful dog to overcome his or her fear and use his or her mind to master a skill such as jumping or walking through a hula hoop can instill a confidence that can have a positive effect on his or her behavior. I know this because this is what happened with my dog.
My dog was extremely fearful. Surly she was one of the shyest dogs you would ever meet. She would not allow anyone other than her immediate family, which consisted of three people, to pet her. She was terrified of everyone else, even our friends and family who had known her since she was a puppy. She would become so anxious in new situations and environments that she would literally send herself into a doggy panic attack. She was in serious need of doggy Prozac.
However, I was able to circumvent the need to medicate my dog through lots of careful training, which built her confidence. I won’t go into all of the details in this article as I am not a professional trainer nor dog behaviorist. I addressed the serious problems with my dog with a wonderful professional in my area, and I would recommend if you have serious problems with your dog, that you do the same.
However, I do want to share with you this one technique that I came up with on my own that seemed to help my dog build her confidence a lot.
Materials. You will need bite-sized dog treats, a yardstick and a hula hoop.
Before I begin describing the process of how to train your fearful dog to jump through a hula hoop, a couple of words of caution. If your dog shows any signs of aggression whatsoever, it’s probably best not to try this or any other new training or behavior techniques without the guidance of a professional. Also, it’s important not to stress your dog out. Keep your training sessions short and sweet. Ten minute sessions once or twice a day work well. Don’t be in a rush to master this too quickly. Learning is half the fun! It took me at least a couple of weeks to train my dog to jump through a hula hoop. The results were well worth the wait.
Step 1: The Dreaded Yardstick on the Floor
The first thing I had to do was to overcome my dog’s fear of walking over just a simple yardstick that I placed on the floor. This we had to do as a building block before we ever even thought of going near a hula hoop. But, before your dog can walk over the yardstick, he or she must first work up the courage to even go near the yardstick. If your dog is anything like mine, this will be no easy task.
I started by holding a treat near the yardstick, as close to it as my dog was willing to go. When she walked over and ate the treat, I clicked her to mark the behavior. If you’re not familiar with clicker training and haven’t used this technique with your dog, you can just say something positive, such as the word “Yes!” It’s important that you say the same word each time, that it’s a short word like the word “Yes!” and that you say it the instant the dog performs the behavior your want, such as, in this case moving close to the yardstick at the point we specified with the treat.
Now, each time you hold the treat near the yardstick, try to move ever so slightly closer to the yardstick, so that your dog, in turn, must move closer to the yardstick each time. You may find you get to a point where your dog refuses to get any closer to the yardstick. That’s okay. Go back a step, and let him or her be successful a couple of times, then end that training session for the day. Try again the next day, and you’ll probably be able to get just a little bit close the next time.
Eventually, you’ll have lured your dog all the way to the yardstick. That’s great! And that means it’s time to move to the next step.
Step 2: I have to touch the dreaded yardstick?
For the next step, I placed the treat on the yardstick so that my dog had to retrieve the treat from the yardstick to eat it. This means that she had to touch the yardstick in the process. This was very scary for her, so it took her a long time to build up the courage to do this.
The important thing is for your dog to make the decision on his or her own to touch the yardstick. He or she must decide that the treat is worth overcoming his or her fear. I hope you are using very yummy treats! Don’t try to force or coax your dog into doing this. Just place the treat on the yardstick and be patient. It may take more than one day. Try not to get frustrated. The joy you will feel the first time your dog takes the treat off the yardstick will be worth it.
Step 3: Stepping Over the Yardstick
Once your dog has worked up the courage to take a treat from the yardstick, it’s time to try to convince him or her to step over the yardstick. This may be the most difficult part of the process.
Place your dog on one side of the yardstick and the treat on the other. For the first few times, your dog may be able to reach the treat by leaning over the yardstick and not stepping over it. Continually move the treat back until your dog must step over the yardstick to get the treat. If your dog tries to go around the yardstick, simply pick up the treat – be sure not to let him or her get it! – and try again.
Step 4: Time to Hula!
Once your dog has the hang of stepping over the yardstick, it’s time to bring out the hula hoop. It may take your dog some time to get used to this new object, so depending upon how fearful your dog is of the hula hoop, repeat either Step 3 or Steps 2 and 3 above with the hula hoop. Keep the hula hoop touching the ground during this training.
Once your dog is able to walk through the hula hoop, you can slowly start to raise it off the floor. Be careful not to raise it to high off the ground, especially if your dog is very old or very young. Otherwise, raising the hula hoop to about half of your dogs height as measure from his or her shoulders to the ground should be safe. Use your judgment or check with your vet if your not sure how high it is safe for your dog to jump.
As I said, it took my dog weeks to gain the confidence to jump through a hula hoop. But it was well worth the wait! My dog has gained so much confidence through training and dog sports that she now likes to be pet by many members of our extended family and friends. Sometimes she even greets strangers!