Over the years I have seen many dogs do the palisade, some safely and others in ways that made me gasp or cringe. I've seen dogs reach the top of the palisade, then fall off backwards either to be desperately caught by their handler, or to land less than gracefully, and sometimes be injured. Or the dog makes it to the top and manages to get over, but becomes hung up on their waist, only gets one back paw over, etc. and fall face first on the far side, risking neck/back damage; a few times I was positive the dog actually had broken their neck. I've also seen a wide variety of dismount styles, some which spread the impact throughout the body, and others which focus all that impact on the dog's front assembly.
This article is aimed at one specific issue, dogs that make it up the palisade but not over, or make it up and over, but with little control of their body in the process. I'm sure there are many scientific terms for what is going on, dealing with time, speed, weight, friction, etc. but I'll just power on with laymen's terms and cartoon drawings :-).
A successful palisade is a very smooth jump, meaning the dog launches, "runs" up the palisade, grabs the top board with their front paws, brings their back feet up to the top board, brings their entire body over the top of the palisade in a single controlled motion, then "runs" down the back side until they step/jump off and land on all four feet on the ground. Like this:
Dantero's Ares – Palisade in Slow Motion
There are other methods to dismount, different methods being preferred by various trainers, but any proper dismount is a smooth and controlled motion.
So what causes a dog to get to the top of the palisade, and either fall off backwards, or get hung up at the top and dismount in an unsafe, and potentially very dangerous way? Many times, it is the dog's trajectory on the jump. In that perfect palisade, when the dog gets to the top of the wall, their momentum is taking them up and forward. Ideally the dogs momentum will allow them to grab the top of the palisade with their front feet and pull their front end up and over. In the same motion the rear legs will grip the top of the palisade and allow the dog to collect themselves as they are preparing to dismount.
If the dog launches from too close to the base of the palisade, they have too much "up" momentum/trajectory, and not enough "forward". (see the red trajectory line in the graphic below). When they get to the top instead of pulling themselves up and over in a controlled manner, they will be trying to grab the top of the wall to stop their upward momentum. If they are able to grab the top of the palisade, the sudden pull forward changes their trajectory from being up and forward, to mainly forward. Think of reaching out, grabbing a railing on a deck, and yanking yourself towards it. This results in the dog getting hung up either on the waist or back legs as the come over the palisade, causing them to fall off the far side, many times landing on their head/shoulder, with the potential to do serious damage to the dog. If the dog is unable to grab the top of the palisade, or does grab it but can't continue enough up/forward momentum, they end up falling backwards off the palisade. The following video shows a successful out jump, and an unsuccessful return. You can see the change in the dogs trajectory/momentum between the jumps. Also look at where the dog launches from, and first impacts the palisade.
Dantero's Ares – Palisade in Slow Motion
The line on the left, in red, is an example of the trajectory a dog takes when jumping to close to the base of the palisade. The line on the right, in green, is an example of the path we want the dog to take when jumping the palisade. Note that both dogs hit the palisade in a similar spot, but their angle of momentum is different as they reach the top. So the question is, how do we get the dog to change their takeoff point, and therefore the angle of their jump?
First, let me backtrack just a bit. I am a firm believer in teaching my dog to do an a-frame, with proper technique, before ever putting them over the palisade. One thing this helps teach the dog is how to achieve the correct trajectory/momentum when going over the palisade. If you have not done this yet, I would strongly recommend going back to basics and teaching the a-frame first. Teaching the Palisade
After spending some time on the a-frame, if the dog still jumps to close to the base of the palisade, it's time to introduce some props to help fix their take off point. Each dog is different, and each will respond differently to the props and where they are located. One of the following usually works, but be creative. The idea is simply to block the base of the palisade, so the dog begins to take off further out, without making the dog jump from so far out that they have too much forward trajectory, and not enough up. I recommend trying only one prop at a time due to the fact that many dogs can find props intimidating. It is better to keep the dog motivated and happy jumping as this can be an intimidating task, especially on the palisade. Be ready to take the process slow and use lots of motivation.
- Have the handler and a helper hold a PVC pipe in front of the palisade, approximately where the X is in the picture to the left. This pipe can also be put up on legs so the handler does not need to hold it using thick wire with a loop at the top to slide the pole through, PVC fence stakes, or by building legs using more PVC and 90 degree joins
- Place a piece of PVC on the ground in front of the jump at the Y location
- Place a larger object, such as a row of cardboard boxes about 12in x 12in in front of the palisade at the Z location.
Depending on your dog's method and distance in the dismount, some of these props can be put on both sides of the jump and left there for the out and return, others may need to be moved so the dog can dismount safely, then added in before the dog does the return jump.
Utilizing a video camera is one of the best ways to understand any problem the dog might be having and how to solve it using this guide. Try setting up the video camera from the angle in each of the graphics that are drawn in this article. Have the dog take off from various locations, counting out the steps on the video. Move the props around. By watching the video you will be able to see how start and prop location effects where the dog takes off, where they are first contacting the palisade, and what their trajectory is when they get to the top. This will help you determine the best takeoff, prop style and location for that specific dog, which will help build the proper muscle memory and technique for the palisade. Each dog is different and will require adjustment of the takeoff, prop location and style as to maximize the proper palisade jumping technique.
Calice du Dantero – demonstrating proper palisade technique