Training the Terrible Teeter
The key to handling teeter terror is patience. Patience, patience, and MORE patience.
I suggest starting your training or retraining without a teeter! Use a rocker board to teach your dog to accept motion. Start out with minimal motion, and lots of praise. This is fun! It moves! It’s not scary at all, right?
Next, move on to a bit more motion. If you’re using an affordable agility rocker board, set it to the ‘teeter’ setting. Still not a huge amount of up and down motion, but there is now a definite ‘bang’. Treat your dog each time he uses it and bangs it. You are now ready to move onto a real teeter!
(Note: If you are not going to use a rocker board, start with desensitization. It’s much easier with a rocker board, because that desensitizes your dog to motion as well as sound, but you can also train without it. Depending on how terrified your dog is, you may have to start him out walking by the still teeter without fear. After you can get him to do that, do something with him while someone else bangs the teeter or another dog goes over it. Continue desensitizing your dog to the stimulus of the teeter by making it mean nothing! It doesn’t matter if the teeter is banging, you’re with me, and eating this lovely treat!)
When your dog is tipping the board cheerfully, or ignores a banging board, start your dog going on a lowered teeter. If your dog has teeter issues, it really is time to consider owning one of your own, or asking to use the one at your training venue before or after class. Your dog needs to practice it more than just at class to learn to conquer his fears. I like to start with two people helping with the teeter. One person controls the plank to not bang with the dog on it, and two people guide the dog over it. Reward for each interaction with the teeter. Make certain you are rewarding calm behavior, though, not stress behavior! Teach your dog to be okay with the teeter, not cringing on it. If you treat as the dog is cringing, or stroke his ears murmuring ‘it’s okay, it’s okay’ he is going to learn just that. It’s okay that I’m scared of this thing. Momma says so! Keep your voice upbeat and your dog confident. Remember it’s positive, don’t hover in your controlling the board and the dogs’ path over the teeter.
Slowly build up to just the person guiding the plank, and then phase them out as well as the dog learns to control the fulcrum. To begin with, dampen the ‘bang’ with a sandbag or a rolled up blanket/towel so as to not frighten your dog. Let your dog learn how to take control of the plank and reward him for each lovely ‘bang’! Remember the hierarchy of rewards, and employ it correctly. Reward more sparingly for slower teeter use, or not as ‘perfect’. Try to get the teeter behavior you want out of your dog at this stage! Reward the model behavior, not ‘almost good enough’ behavior.
Other ideas and tips:
- Nummy Nibbles Distraction Try using a ‘treat trail’ to start your dog over the teeter without your guidance. Lay a high-value treat along the board, and a ‘jackpot’ at the bottom. This will also help prevent fly-offs if used correctly. Do NOT let your dog have the jackpot if he jumps off prematurely. In order to keep your dog from stealing his reward (which teaches him one thing- cheating!) try using a butter container or other small tupperware. YOU have to open it for him to get the treat!
- Bit of a boost- If you have a small dog, some people ‘sideload’ onto the teeter. This requires four people. One on each end of the teeter, holding it like a table, one lifting the dog on, and one guiding the dog. Slowly lower the teeter as you lead the dog along what appears to be a dog walk, and continue from there. I personally do not prefer this method, since it takes away the training the dog to do as you say even if they don’t WANT to away from the teeter training.
- Clicker! If your dog is clicker trained, the teeter is when to break it out! Click for every reaction you want from your dog. The positive reinforcement will help him overcome his stress about the teeter, and make him realize how wonderful it is. I like the clicker for this kind of training (And toenail training, but that’s a different story.)
- Handholding isn’t Helpful Remember to be upbeat but not comforting about teeters. Don’t be tempted to give in when your dog is shy but compliant on the teeter. While it may never be your dogs’ best, favorite obstacle, you can and should train your dog to go to it, over it, and perform contacts safely and cheerfully.