Q. Where to start? I’m really having a problem with the weave poles with my Poodle Sonic. I started training two poles at a time and eventually gave up and moved onto channel weaves. Sometimes I clicker-train. Sonic is so variable it’s difficult to discover what’s gone wrong. Sometimes she’s fast and accurate. Sometimes she’s too fast and does two at a time. Other times she’s slow and unmotivated. And she’s started entering at the fourth pole and jumping out at the sixth!
A. It sounds as if Sonic is eager to learn but doesn’t understand what you are trying to teach her. That’s why her performance is so variable and why she is losing confidence and motivation. Sonic has put all the things you have taught her in a mixing bowl, stirred well and shoved it in the oven. Sadly, what she has baked is not delicious weave. There are so many different ways that the weaves can be taught successfully.
If you choose just one method, you must follow through even when the going gets tough. If you choose to combine different methods for teaching different aspects of weave behavior, you must be thorough with each and teach your dog how to combine them. Here are some little pieces to consider:
Entry ~ Using only two poles, click and reward the entry. Make sure Sonic is attacking them with gusto and from any angle before adding another two poles. Continue to click the entry but reward at the exit.
Speed ~ Use channel weaves to build speed through the poles. It should be fast and furious with a favorite toy or treat at the end. And yes, channel weaves can teach accurate entries and exits, but if you are breaking things down, you will have selected this tool to teach one specific thing (speed)- anything else will be learned incidentally.
Accuracy ~ Attach the lead or hold onto Sonics’ collar. Thread her through the poles. Not my favorite method of training, but it’s how they used to do it in the good old days. And you will be ensuring every pole is performed perfectly from beginning to end.
The weaves 1, 2 and 3 ~ When you introduce your dog to channel weaves, set them so that the channel is wider than his shoulders. At the start, he should be able to run straight to the end without touching the poles with his body. As the channel narrows, he will have to squeeze and bend.
The weaves 4 and 5 ~ When your dog masters the straight approach to channel weaves, try angled entries.
Exit ~ Click and reward the last two poles. Start with four poles and gradually add two more until you have reached the maximum number of twelve. Continue to click and reward on your dog’s exit, sometimes with a treat, toy, or another obstacle.
Combining ~ When you have broken the weaves down into little pieces, you have to think about what order they will be taught and combined. For example, are you going to teach speed before entry? Entry before accuracy? Will you click both the entry to mark the beginning of weaving behavior as well as clicking the exit to mark the end? Plan it. And don’t be surprised if, when you add a new exercise to an old one, Sonic forgets what she learned before. As Sonic becomes more confident in the new exercise, her skill in the older one will re-surface. Have faith. It will all come together.
Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at http://www.aslanagility.com/
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