Teaching the A-Frame, Dog Walk, Teeter, and Weave Poles

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Getting your dog to nail the contacts every time
  • Navigating the A-frame, dog walk, and teeter
  • Perfecting the weave poles

The obstacles I discuss in Chapter Introducing Your Dog to Jumps, Tunnels, and Tables (the jumps, table, and tunnels) are just to whet your appetite for the sport. Now it’s time to test your teaching abilities and your dog’s concentration with the contact obstacles and the weave poles. Still fun, each one poses its own unique challenges.

The contact obstacles — the A-frame, dog walk, and teeter — are so named because each requires your dog to touch a marked zone as she gets on and off the obstacle. In agility, these zones are referred to as contacts, and they’re differentiated by a distinct, two-toned color scheme — the contact zones are a different color than the rest of the obstacle. They’re designed to not only ensure safe navigation on these raised platforms, but also to provide competition judges a means to confirm that your dog touches down as she performs the obstacle. Of course, your dog doesn’t get the safety bit — sometimes rushing the obstacle and flying off early seem more exciting. It’s your job to enforce the safety card, reining in her enthusiasm and teaching her to nail her contacts every time.
A master agility dog can make blowing through 12 weave poles in under five seconds look quite easy. Many professionals, however, contend that teaching your dog to weave — properly — is one of the greatest challenges in agility. Weaving certainly isn’t a natural motion, but most dogs rise to the challenge, and once they “get it,” shimmy through as if it was their idea!

In this chapter, I tell you how to introduce your dog to these challenging obstacles. You find out ways to keep your dog safe — and avoid penalties — by getting your dog used to touching the contact zones. I also give you some techniques for introducing the contact obstacles and helping your dog master the weave.

Using Inventive Ways to Teach Contacts

Contact obstacles look pretty straightforward. You teach your dog to run up and then down. What’s so challenging about that? The test in the training is to teach your dog to hit the contact zones on the way up and on the way down. Much easier said than done.
Why do dogs miss their contacts? It’s known as the leap factor — if the dog could speak, she’d ask “Why slow down cautiously when I can just leap on and off?” The enthusiasm is good, but the carelessness is dangerous. No one should get injured in agility.

Remember

Contact zones weren’t created to rattle anyone’s concentration; the zones are there to ensure your dog’s physical safety. In competition, dogs lose points or are disqualified if they don’t touch at least one paw in both zones.

So how can you ensure your dog learns this all-important concept from the start? Well, the most deeply ingrained habit is the one that’s learned first — so teach it once and teach it right. You’ll be off to a very good start. This section gives you some techniques for getting your dog to touch the contacts. Later, in “Cruising the Contact Obstacles,” I tell you how to apply these tips when introducing your dog to the A-frame, dog walk, and teeter.

Following the cardinal rules

Remember

There are many different techniques to teach a dog to stick (touch) the contact zones. In the following sections, you explore some new, novel, and upbeat methods. But first, remember these cardinal rules:

Think safety first: Each obstacle raises your dog off the ground. What’s up can fall down. Work with a helper initially to ensure your dog doesn’t fall over the edge of the obstacle or jump off in fear or excitement during the early learning phases. Like kids, dogs are delightfully unaware of their mortality.

If your dog falls off any apparatus, check to ensure that she hasn’t sustained any injuries. If your dog is lame or can’t move her neck, stop immediately and find an animal hospital. Pushing an injured dog can lead to permanent handicaps — at best, this means the end of her agility career; the worst-case scenario could leave your dog permanently disabled.

Stay positive: Some days agility will get the better of you. You’ll feel aggravated with your progress and wish it could be faster. Promise me you won’t take your frustrations out on your dog. One angry jerk can taint your dog’s enthusiasm for good. A cheerful attitude, tempered by the knowledge that things always improve, ensures your dog’s enthusiasm to try, try again.

Remember to take it slow and steady: Contact obstacles can take months, even years, to perfect. If your personality demands more immediate gratification, you won’t find it on an agility course. These moves are sculpted step by step over time.

Vary your approach: As you practice the methods, check in with your partner — your dog. If she’s not getting something, don’t press the issue. There are many ways to teach these contact obstacles; find one that works for both of you.

As you approach each obstacle, try to create a habitual rhythm: a way of guiding your dog on and off that has body flow so your dog’s muscles won’t forget, otherwise known as muscle memory. Think of it like riding a bike . . . once taught, never forgotten.

Promoting pausing: Two on–two off

Imagine your dog racing up one of the elevated contacts, crossing over or angling down, and then stopping on a dime with her front paws off the obstacle and her two hind ones firmly planted in the contact zone. After a millisecond pause, she’s up and racing off. This two on–two off approach guarantees a creditable performance as well as a generally safe one.
If you begin training the obstacles by back-chaining — working on the last step first — your dog will better understand the two on–two off dismount. While it may seem peculiar to introduce an obstacle by teaching the last step first, remember the agility motto: taught right, never forgotten.
In this section, I tell you how to get your dog ready for this method. I also explain how to put it to use when you introduce your dog to the obstacles.

Warning!

The two on–two off requires your dog to put on the brakes — quickly. Check with your trainer and your veterinarian to ensure this approach won’t put undue strain on your dog’s shoulders and back.

Off-course

To teach two on–two off at home, you’ll use a target disc from the start — go to Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically to get up to speed if your dog doesn’t know about targeting. Then start doing the following exercise at home:
1. Find a wide, low landing (such as a hearth or step), or rig a low rise by laying a wide, flat board on bricks at either end.
2. Encourage your dog onto the landing; then lure her front end off the step. Face her and command “Wait.”

Reward her as you click and treat or mark the moment with a positive “Yes,” followed by food rewards and/or toys.

3. Release her from the step with “Okay.”
4. Once your dog maneuvers into this position eagerly, place a target down in front of her so she can reach it comfortably without moving out of position. Say “Contact–Target.”

Reward her as she paws or noses the target.

5. Command your dog to “Stay” as you gradually add distractions to test her focus.

Toss toys, and have people or other pets present to test your dog’s ability to hold her position no matter what.

On-course

Reinforce the two on–two off technique when you first introduce your dog to the obstacle. Proceed as follows:
1. On-leash, lift your dog onto the high end of the declining side of the obstacle, or guide her up the backside of the A-frame and then turn her around so she’s facing the ground.

Ask your helper to block her from falling off the opposite side.

Warning!

Avoid maneuvering a frightened or oversized dog. Instead, lure the dog up the incline slowly (and down the same way in Step 3).

2. Have your helper place a target laced with toys or treats on the ground just beyond the contact zone.
3. Walk her down the obstacle using familiar commands: “Contact–Target.” Reward your dog enthusiastically as you release her with “Okay.”

The moment your dog gets it, offer a jackpot of rewards and play a happy game.

4. Gradually increase your dog’s steadiness through practice, switching sides and varying distractions so she’s able to concentrate no matter where you are or what’s going on around her.
5. Over time, remove the target — intermittently at first and then altogether.

Your dog will often do the “ghost target” move, where she noses or paws the ground as though the target was still there.

Discouraging leaps: Duck under

Many dogs can be taught muscle memory with a handy little trick I like to call the duck under. To get off the contact obstacle, the dog initially has to go under an arc you’ve made of PVC tubing or a hula hoop you’ve cut in half. Of course, the dog shouldn’t really have to duck, but teaching her this trick ensures she doesn’t leap on or off the obstacle. Here’s how to use this trick both off- and on-course.

Off-course

To start teaching your dog to duck under away from the agility course, do the following:
1. Steady the arc in the middle of an open floor or field.
2. Teach your dog to run under the arc by tossing a toy or treat bag through it as you trot towards it. Call out “Contact!” and try directing her using your bowling signal as she passes through.
Tip

If your dog doesn’t follow the toy through at first, guide her through on a short leash.

3. Reward her passage!

On-course

Once you’ve got the rhythm on the ground, you’re ready to use your prop on the actual obstacle. Proceed as follows:
1. Place the arc at the base of the decline.
2. Position your dog at the high end of the decline.
3. Have a helper position the target and block your dog once she’s on the obstacle.
4. Lead your dog down the decline as you say “Contact!” in an enthusiastic tone.

Muscle memory — it’s a beautiful thing.

5. Gradually phase off your dependency on the arc itself.

If your dog’s memory ever lapses, bring it out and start over from the top!

If you’re breaking a bad habit, relearning the right way will take longer, but it’s a cheerful, fun way to go about the task. Hula, anyone?

Tip

This technique also works wonders for dogs who are prone to jump on to the contact obstacles. Place the arc just before the incline, and command “Contact” as you send your dog up.

Luring your dog into the zone: Jump over

Jump over has the same general flavor as duck under (see the preceding section), but with this strategy, you use a low jump positioned three strides from the base of the contact obstacle to encourage your dog to run through the contact zone so she can make the jump. A low 4- to 6-inch jump will do — the point is to get your dog to run through the contact zone, not to work on her jumping skills. Once your dog has discovered the joy of leaping, she won’t be able to resist. Gradually phase off your jump dependency by removing the jump periodically, and then altogether. You can always resurrect the jump if your dog lapses.

Directing your dog: Follow the target stick

In Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically, I discuss the target stick — a long, tent-like pole that a dog learns to trace and follow with her nose. It’s a handy way to teach many tricks and can be used to direct dogs in agility, too. With regards to teaching your dog to pass through her contact zone, use the target stick like an arrow to habitually move your dog over the zones as you say “Contact!” The goal is muscle memory, creating a good habit that sticks.

Remember

Use your helper to spot your dog in the early stages. Sometimes the dog’s focus on the target stick is so intense that she loses focus on her footing.

Cruising the Contact Obstacles

Getting your dog to touch the contacts on the obstacles is a matter of staying safe and racking up points. After you’ve decided how to encourage this safety measure (see the preceding section), you’re ready to introduce your dog to the contact obstacles. In this section, I give you specific advice on introducing your dog to the A-frame, dog walk, and teeter.

Tip

The most common directions given for contact obstacles include “Frame it,” “Teeter,” “Walk it,” and “Bridge.” To remind your dog to stick her contacts or gauge her speed, include “Easy,” “Touch,” “Contact,” or “Wait.” Release your dog with the command “Okay!”

Acing the A-frame

Envision this: A dog sails through an agility field, racing toward the A-frame at good speed. She heads straight for this visual obstruction. At the last moment, she angles up into the contact zone, then actually catches air as she skywrites the letter “A.” On the way down, she checks her speed slightly so she undoubtedly lands her downward contact, and off she goes, on to the next obstacle.
The A-frame is a truly beautiful thing. To condition your dog’s movement, practice the dismount first (known as back-chaining) to help your dog learn to run through the contact zones. Once this is accomplished you can work on your approach to and motions over the frame as you chain together the rest of the steps, as follows:
1. Find a helper for the initial learning stages.
2. Lower the frame to its lowest point.
3. Put your dog on-leash, and surprise her with food or toys.

Tip

When practicing on-leash, do your best to keep the leash loose. A tightened collar can throw your dog off balance and slows your dog on the very obstacles for which she needs momentum the most.

4. Lure her up the frame saying a chosen command, such as “Frame!” or “Climb!”

If your dog balks, ease off. Let her watch other dogs manage the frame. Climb it yourself. Do whatever it takes to help her overcome that initial trepidation.

5. Don’t allow your dog to stop on the obstacle, even as you’re rounding the top of it.

Encourage her to move quickly as you lure her forward.

6. Once your dog is cooperating on-leash, raise the frame to its normal position (5 to 6 feet).
Perfected that? Is your dog excited to scale the A-frame? You’re in good shape. Now you’re ready to practice off-leash. Your helper should continue to spot your dog. Move toward the frame using your familiar command and a bowling signal with the arm closest to the obstacle.

Tip

If at any point your dog reverts back or tests the crazy jump-off maneuver, back-chain it, and start over. Stay happy — you need your dog’s pumped enthusiasm to complete all the obstacles on an agility course.

Staying balanced on the dog walk

The dog walk is a bit precarious. A raised, 12-foot-long, 4-foot-high, 12-inch-wide bridge extends between two planks — think balance beam for dogs. Mindful of their footing, few dogs will fall off if they walk it, but you will eventually be asking for speed. A slow and steady training regime ensures that your dog will be more mindful of her footing when you speed things up. Here’s how to get your dog ready for the dog walk, both on and off the agility course.

Off-course

Introduce this fun game in a familiar, non-distracting setting. Here’s what to do:
1. Lay a wooden plank along the floor.

Ideally, set the plank against a wall to discourage darting.

2. Use treats to lure your dog (or puppy) onto the plank on-leash.
3. Guide her down the entire length of the board, praising and treating your dog as you go.
4. Lead her straight off the end — straight off, every time.
5. Once she’s comfortable with this exercise, begin to use your agility command word: “Plank!” or “Walk it!”
6. Direct your dog to run the plank in both directions, pairing the command with a bowling arm signal whenever possible.
7. Remove the leash, but keep enforcing the entire run — straight off, every time.
8. Elevate one end of the dog walk a few inches (use a big book or a brick). It will seem awkward. Go back to Step 2. Lure your dog on-leash as you command and reward her. Proceed through Step 7 using this configuration.
9. Now elevate both ends and repeat Steps 2–7.

Got that? You’re ready for the real deal!

On-course

When possible, introduce your dog using the baby dog walk — it’s lower and safer than the raised version, and it seems less scary to your dog. Here’s how it works:
1. Find a helper to spot your dog on the opposite side of the plank.
2. Lure your dog on-leash, as you did for the A-frame (see the earlier section, “Acing the A-frame”).

Tip

If your dog is hesitant, create a Hansel-and-Gretel pathway with favorite treats. Use this grazing method a few times (and only if necessary) to encourage your dog’s enthusiasm on this obstacle.

Stay even with your dog’s head, and avoid quick motions, which may excite a departing leap. Praise your dog and urge her to pick up speed.

Hold the leash loosely to prevent unconsciously slowing your dog’s progression.

When your dog can manage this obstacle with comfort, you’re ready to try the official dog walk! For the raised dog walk, repeat the preceding steps, asking your helper to channel your dog’s movements to prevent early slipping. If your dog does fall, stay as calm and cheerful as possible. As they say in horseback and bike riding: If you fall off, get up, get back on, and try, try again!

Teaching the teeter-totter

Okay — here’s a twist. This obstacle moves. Like a seesaw. As your dog maneuvers it solo. Seriously! Your dog will shimmy up the board (with unbelievable enthusiasm), hold still until the teeter lowers, and then race off and onto the next apparatus. Cool beans.
To talk your dog into this one, teach it slow and steadily. If you rush into it, your dog may get truly spooked — making it much harder to tune into her inner teeter joy.

Getting your dog used to the motion at home

The following exercise piggybacks on the one I describe in the preceding section on teaching your dog the dog walk, so if you haven’t mastered that one already, start there. Once your dog is comfortable walking on a stationary board, proceed as follows:
1. Place a round object (like a dowel or PVC section) under the center of the board.
2. Place your dog on-leash, and guide her over the plank and straight off the end. Straight off, every time.
3. As your dog’s confidence grows, work this homespun teeter off-leash, commanding your course cue, such as “Teeter!” and emphasizing the direction with a dramatic bowling signal directing your dog to the obstacle.

Tip

Dogs can be startled by the bang of the teeter as it hits the ground. Condition your dog to the sound of the big bang. Ask a friend to drop a large book on a hard floor as you play on your homespun teeter. In addition, go to some agility competitions: Your dog will grow accustomed to the noise.

Practicing on the baby teeter

If possible, find a baby teeter to practice on initially. If your dog is sensitive to sounds, ask your agility instructor to wrap a pillow around the end of it to muffle the sound and lessen the startle factor.
Having a helper is a must. He or she will

Channel your dog as you work her across the teeter

Be there to lower the high end gradually as your dog crosses the apex of the teeter

Initially your helper should lower the teeter gradually so that the shift doesn’t frighten your dog. As your dog’s confidence builds, have the helper drop it partway, then further and further until your dog is conditioned to the movement.
Over 20 repetitions, your helper can incrementally let the board drop until your dog is maneuvering it on her own.

Tip

Practice this obstacle on both sides to simulate a true agility experience. Depending on where your next obstacle is located, you’ll need to position yourself closest to it. 

Making sure your dog hits the contact zones

Like the other obstacles, the teeter has two contact zones. The following three methods help you ensure that your dog hits her contacts every time:

Pause and drop: This is a common and safe method, but if you’re a speed freak — or your dog is — it takes the most time to complete. Here, you teach your dog to stop at the apex of the teeter and pause until it securely hits the ground (see Figure 14-1). If this method appeals to you, say “Wait” as your dog nears the center, and then say “Go!” when it’s safe to proceed.

Figure 14-1: Pause and drop on the teeter.

Run through and crouch: With this method, your dog races right to the end of the teeter and crouches as it lowers to the ground, as shown in Figure 14-2. It’s a speedy technique, but needs to be taught mindfully to prevent your dog from leaping off before the plank hits the ground.

  • To lessen the initial intensity, ask a helper to guide the plank down as your dog races off the end of it. Gradually have your helper phase off his or her protective hold. Done incrementally, your dog will grow accustomed to the teeter’s motion.
  • Lure and/or guide your dog to the end of the plank on-leash. Command a quick “Down” or “Crouch!” at the end, and then say “Okay!” or “Go!” when the teeter is secure.

Warning!

Always insist that your dog wait until you release her to race off the teeter. A free racer is likely to hurt herself by leaping off too soon.

Figure 14-2: Run through and crouch on the teeter.

Two on–two off: Employ the use of a target disc, strategically placed just beyond the dog’s reach at the end of the teeter before you approach the front end of the obstacle, as I explain in the earlier section “Promoting pausing: Two on–two off.”

Tip

Initially, back-chain this move to help your dog recognize your expectation.

Working up to the official teeter

Once your dog is eagerly moving across the baby teeter, you’re ready for the true experience. Follow these essential steps (see the previous sections for more details):
1. Lower the official full-size teeter to its lowest point.
2. Work with a helper, to both channel your dog and lower the high end of the teeter gradually.
3. Guide your dog on-leash until she’s steady and confident with the obstacle’s height.
4. Enforce a method of shifting the obstacle’s weight.
5. Release your dog to dismount once the obstacle is safely on the ground.
Raise the teeter gradually to its competition height, and remember — if your dog falls off or is suddenly spooked, stay calm. After checking for injuries, return to your early baby steps and ask your helper to spot your dog until she regains her confidence.

Weave Poles: Teaching the Ol’ Bob-and-Weave

To be a spectator seeing a dog weaving in action is to witness a motion that blends excitement and beauty. You watch . . . holding your breath . . . letting out a scream of elated joy or crushed disappointment. With the weave poles, there’s one way in and one way out — scripted and ordered, but subtle in execution. Can your dog do this? The trick is in the training.
Envision it before you begin. Your dog will enter the series of poles from the right — always from the right — no matter her angle or position on the field. Once into the poles, her concentration will lock, and her head will be down, focused on the task. Weaving through the poles, she’ll exit from either side, depending on the number of poles standing. Then your dog will look to you for a directional signal and be off to the next obstacle!
It’s exhilarating, this vision of you and your dog held together in the moment, but it won’t happen overnight. If your dog is new to the sport, teaching her to navigate the weave poles may take months to shape. In fact, to many newbie agility dogs, the poles themselves are pretty unimpressive. Erect, motionless — good for peeing on perhaps, but they don’t even carry much scent. It’s your effort that transforms the poles into an obstacle that challenges your dog’s competitive spirit. Your eagerness to train your dog to twist pole-to-pole inspires your dog’s enthusiasm as she grasps your expectations.
In this section I offer a few different techniques that trainers use to introduce dogs to the weave poles. Read through and envision them before you begin.

Tip

If you’re using the push–pull or collar weave techniques (I explain these in upcoming sections), practice with shortened poles. The idea of the poles looming overhead or the notion of getting impaled on a pole can seem threatening to a dog, who may grow wary of the poles! Always start with poles 24 inches apart. Although regulation distance may be tighter — 18 inches — you can narrow the spacing once your dog has mastered this technique.

Channeling: Letting the poles be your guides

Evolution can be a beautiful thing. Running water. Sanitation. For agility dogs learning to weave, the channeling method is heaven-sent.
This training involves a series of steps and some additional props, which can be bought or made. While it may seem more labor-intensive than pulling your dog back and forth through the obstacle, it guarantees a much more positive association to the poles and a far higher success rate. All that — and it’s fun too!

Calling through

Arrange two sets of poles called channel weaves parallel to one another to create a channel. Your mission is to teach your dog to run down the middle at top speed. Here’s how:
1. Ask your helper to hold your dog at one end while you center yourself at the opposite end.
2. Place a target laced with treats at the end of the channel.
3. Call your dog, and reward her enthusiastically when she succeeds.

If she ducks out of the poles, have your helper run her through the channel to show her the goodies/toys — but don’t give them to her until she has run the channel.

4. Start shouting “Weave!” as your dog races through the channel, as shown in Figure 14-3.
5. Move the poles closer together until the channel is nearly brushing your dog’s shoulders.

Warning!

If, as you move the poles together, your dog consistently breaks out, you’re proceeding too fast. Teaching poles can takes months, so pull the poles apart, and work with baited targets and a helper until your dog is ultra-clear that she’s to run straight through the poles, not around them! 

Figure 14-3: Calling your dog through the channel.

Tip

You can purchase channel weaves that have various adaptations to enable accurate positioning as your dog learns to move through the poles. See Chapter Laying the Foundations for Agility for locations to buy agility equipment.

Running alongside

After your dog has mastered running through the channel (see the preceding section), practice running alongside your dog as she runs the channel.
Shout “Weave!” as you run towards the poles. When your dog enters, continue to run alongside her — if possible, next to her head to encourage her to stay focused as she blasts through.
Run on both sides of your dog. Test your encouragements — does your dog do better if you praise her as she weaves, or does that over-excite her? If your dog runs out, send her back in and wait to praise her until she finishes the sequence.
Move the poles together until they are lightly brushing your dog’s shoulders as she races through.

Tip

If your dog curves off-course, use a baited target at the end of the channel. Walk straight down the channel to place the lure, either leaving your dog in a “Stay” or holding her on-leash.

Now you’re ready to teach your dog to weave. Follow these steps:
1. Arrange the poles in a slightly staggered way, so that your dog won’t actually have to twist to get through them.
2. Place guides on your poles, as shown in Figure 14-4.

Guides are low-set, curved tubing or wires positioned pole-to-pole to condition your dog to stay in the obstacle and to navigate it properly. Guides can be purchased or homemade: See Chapter Laying the Foundations for Agility.

3. Let your dog sniff the guides before sending her through the obstacle.
4. Lead your dog to the poles. When she’s eager to run, release your hold and shout “Weave!”

Tip

If your dog is leery of the guides, ask a helper to either bait her or hold her while you bait her through the first few times. If she jumps out of the obstacle, lead her back calmly. You can also guide her through the new arrangement on-leash — always rewarding the exit — until she’s more comfortable with the setup.

5. Run near your dog as you encourage her through the poles. Stay alongside her head, and reward her with a tossed treat bag or toy as she exits.
6. Once she’s consistently making it through the obstacle, approach the poles off-leash from varying positions and distances.

7. Next, move the poles together in a straight line, eliminating the staggered arrangement. Space the poles 24 inches apart to start. Leave your guides in place, and practice with this new configuration (see Figure 14-5).

 Figure 14-4: Staggered poles with guides.
Figure 14-5: Poles in a straight line with guides in place. 

It may seem odd to your dog at first: Lined-up poles are harder to differentiate.

Technical Stuff

In competition, the space between the poles can range from 18 to 24 inches. Set the poles at 24 inches during the initial stages of training, but gradually shorten the distance; then vary it so your dog will reliably perform the weave regardless of the spacing.

Always enter the poles from the right side. If your dog is confused, guide her through the opening with her collar or a leash. As she gets familiar with the setup and reliably enters the poles from the right side, vary your entry run from different angles or positions around the pole. The goal is to teach your dog how to properly enter the poles from the right side, no matter how she is approaching them.

Use a baited target positioned 3 to 5 feet from the last pole to encourage your dog’s forward focus and/or toss a treat bag or toy forward as your dog emerges from the poles. If she looks to you for direction, keep your head down and don’t look back or direct her. Dogs who look to their handler while weaving often miss a pole and are slowed from the task.

Is your dog performing her weaves with the guides in place? You’re almost there!

8. To phase off the guides, practice a random disappearing act. Begin eliminating one center guide at a time.

Did your dog blow through unhindered? Good, put that guide back on and remove another mid-section guide. Now put that one on and take another off.

9. Now start removing two non-sequential guides (for example, the guides between the third and fourth poles and the eighth and ninth poles.)
10. The last guides to remove are those that help your dog navigate into and out of the weaves, the guides between the first and second and the eleventh and twelfth poles.

Tip

The rule of thumb when removing guides is to be verrryyyy flexible. If your dog dashes out — don’t be afraid to put them right back on! Muscle memory strikes again. It’s your goal to shape positive, successful muscle memory — but it can work against you if you allow your dog to make routine mistakes.

Traditional techniques

Before the enlightened technique of channeling, people used to just work their dogs through the poles holding their leashes or collars. Here’s a quick summary of these techniques, which many trainers and handlers still use to teach their dogs the poles.

The collar weave: Grasping the collar

Grasp your dog’s collar firmly, move her back and forth through the poles, and voilà — canine comprehension! When I first saw the collar weave method in practice, I thought “Huh?” It looked a little like rough manhandling, but the word is that for the right dog — one who can learn when shown a routine — and the right handler — one who’s fit and coordinated — this method can be extremely effective.

Troubleshooting the weave poles

Here are some key mistakes people make when teaching the weave poles and how you can
avoid them.
Many people are so enthusiastic when they’re running a course that they make mistakes as they head into the poles. If directions come too late, the dog may have a hard time orienting to the poles; if the handler runs at the poles, the dog will have a hard time gauging herself to
enter in.
To avoid this, dramatically signal and call out your verbal cue, for example, “Weave!” as your dog dismounts the preceding obstacle. Then slow down as you approach the poles to make a successful entry. As your dog performs the weaving motions, steadily move alongside her head: If you slow down, your dog may turn to eye you, and if you run ahead, she may break out to keep up with your pace.
Finally, be mindful of your motions during your dog’s maneuvering. Something as absentminded as a head scratch can break her concentration, resulting in a disqualifying run.
Initially, the poles should be shortened to allow the handler to reach over and guide his or her dog. Here’s what this method looks like:
1. The newbie dog sniffs the poles.
2. At the first pole, the handler grasps the dog’s collar and steers the dog through the poles.
3. As the dog catches on, the command “Weave” is used and the pace increased to as fast as the dog and the person can move as one.
4. The handler gradually lets go of the dog.
This method, when effective, may take a while to solidify. Many of the dogs get über-dependent on their handlers’ interactions, and it can take many months to fade off the physical direction.

The push–pull: Using the leash

The push–pull method involves guiding your dog through the poles on-leash until she learns to weave on her own. When agility first began, this was the way it was done — a kind of show and tell. However, agility trainers have grown more enlightened since the sport’s inception, and this method is rarely put into practice today. Nevertheless, it does work for some dogs.
Here’s how the push–pull method works:
1. Using the leash, the dog is maneuvered through the poles.

Fewer poles are used to encourage a dog’s success rate.

2. Rewards and treats are offered after a run-through.

3. The command “Weave” is added after the dog understands the expectation.
4. The leash is eventually removed as the dog’s confidence increases.

A short leash may be left on to help redirect a missed turn.

5. Eventually, the dog is encouraged to move in front and work solo as the handler shifts sides and directs from various angles.
The issue with the push–pull is that it requires a lot of physical involvement and restrictive leash maneuvering. The constant handling slows a dog’s natural pace . . . and we’re back to that muscle memory concept again! Your dog’s first association with the poles should be free-flowing and fast!

by Sarah Hodgson

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