Trick Training: Having Fun with a Hoop

Liz Palika
Teach Your Dog to Jump Through HoopsLisa Saputo teaching her dog,
Maggie, to jump through the hoop.

Plastic hoops – some of which are called Hula Hoops™ - can be great for dog tricks of various kinds. These hoops generally range in size from eighteen to twenty-four inches in diameter and can be found anywhere children’s toy are sold. If you buy one, get one large enough for your dog to easily jump through; if in doubt, bigger is always better.

Introduce the Hoop

A plastic hoop doesn’t look like a normal dog toy so don’t be surprised if your dog is leery of it. Just place it on the floor for a day and let your dog sniff it, walk over the top of it, and get used to it.

On the second day, nudge the hoop with your foot every time you walk past it. Then lift one side of it and bounce it a little. Don’t make a big deal out of it; just let your dog see that it’s of no consequence.

On the third day, without saying anything to your dog, just casually pick up the hoop. As you walk around the house, swing it in one hand, bounce it, and move it around. When your dog is curious about the hoop and wants to have fun with it, then you’re ready to begin training.

Through the Hoop

Your goal is to teach your to dog to first walk through the hoop and then jump through it. Take your time doing this and never force your dog through the hoop.

Have a pocketful of good treats and with a treat in one hand, hold the hoop in another. Tell your dog, “Sweetie, what’s this?” and encourage him to come investigate the hoop. Give him a treat. Some hoops have noise-makers inside and if yours does, then your dog needs to overcome any caution so shake the hoop, laugh, and encourage your dog to come closer to it. Praise him and give him a treat.

When your dog is fine with the hoop, hold it vertically with the bottom edge on the ground. Using a treat as a lure, lead your dog through the hoop as you tell him, “Sweetie, jump!” (He’s not jumping yet but say jump anyway.) Praise him and give him the treat when he does. Repeat several times.

Over the next few days, vary where you practice and have your dog walk through from both the left and the right. Many dogs will become pattern trained and think that this trick should be done only one way and in one place and you want to avoid that.

Add Height

When your dog is walking through the hoop with no hesitation, then begin lifting the bottom edge off the ground. Do so gradually, first just an inch, then two inches, then three.

How high you ask your dog to jump will depend entirely on your dog. Small dogs will, as a general rule, not jump as high as larger dogs. However, there are always exceptions. Big, heavy-bodied dogs such as Newfoundlands don’t usually like to jump much whereas Jack Russell Terriers are athletic little dogs.

In addition, take your dog’s physical abilities into consideration. If your dog has hip or elbow dysplasia, back issues, or arthritis, keep the height low – even a couple of inches.

Healthy, athletic dogs can usually jump their elbow height with ease. Work up to it gradually however. If your dog starts ducking under the hoop, that’s usually a sign that you have increased the height too quickly.

Have fun with this trick. Praise your dog, encourage him, and cheer on his efforts.

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