This session I made no changes to the physical dynamic of the poles. Reminder that we are at a point where I have them closed and 4 wires removed from one side. Also a reminder that we managed to skip a few steps and ideally removing wires one at a time is ideal.
When I brought Listo out this time I had him find his entry and he was a bit unfocused. On his third attempt I was helping him by supporting the side with no wires with an open hand at eye level. Applying moderate pressure to help keep him in the poles. I keep my hand steady, allowing Listo to find his way around the poles. He skipped one but jumped back in and finished. I gave him his toy. He loves to work for his toy that he only sees in agility!
You might be saying, “but he made a mistake!” You have to let the dog have his win. Plus in this situation he showed me a willingness to keep working even though he made the mistake. We tried again. He made a mistake again. Different location so I gave him his toy again. Had it been the same location I would have praised him for trying and set it up to make sure that I didn’t allow him to get used to the idea of popping out in the same spot.
One of the reasons he is making his mistakes is that I am allowing him to move at the speed he wants. He is ultimately moving at the speed that he will be doing the poles in competition. I know he knows his job is to try to stay in the poles. I can see that he is keeping his focus there and I have noticed that his mistakes are honest ones due to him trying to figure out the most efficient way to move through and around the poles. I believe it was his 5th attempt that he finally nailed it. We set up again and he nailed it again!
Now I had mentioned that you should delay the introduction of the “weave” command. Now that I can see his intent is to attempt to complete the poles and his focus is forward, it’s time! To do this I say “weave” just before he enters into the poles. He has already committed to doing the job. That way the word starts to become a cue to do the poles. I will say the “weave” command about 3 times while he is moving forward. I will attempt to keep it random. I do not want to accidentally train him to stride on my command. Not only will dogs learn to stride on command they will become dependent on it. Imagine if you only had to say weave a couple times. You would have so much more oxygen available to you! When you are running, oxygen is important. Save your breath for those moments you need a verbal command that may save your course! In any case it is important the dog be able to function in the weaves without your support and minimizing your verbal barrage will be a big step towards this when you start introducing more distance work! Something else I do for my dogs is that I will introduce the word “nice!”. I do this for entries. The point is that there are times when the entry is challenging and when I see the dog struggle but maintain himself to stay in, I like to verbally reward that! My commands that I use for the poles are used in the following manner; I will say weave to target the obstacle and have the dog look for entry. Then I will say “nice!” at the entry if it was challenging. If I see that the dog might struggle I will say “nice weave” I do this to reward and command at the same time. This helps the dog continue to try to hold themselves in the poles. Likewise during the poles I might say “good weave”. I do this when I see that the dog is offering excellent speed and enthusiasm. Then I will say “weave” near the end. I do this because I want the dog to still focus on the poles even though the finish is close. This also allows me to be able to move freely around the poles into a front cross or blind without the dog pulling out. At the beginning of the poles you can do the same thing if you are attempting to rear cross the poles.
With Listo I attempted the poles from both ends and both sides. This gave him a look at different entries because one end has a different layout of wires. This also helps the dog start to learn not to expect wires and watch the poles for entries. If your dog is entering the wrong side of the poles (the dog’s left shoulder must always pass the first pole…always!) This is probably happening because of additional pressure from you and the position you are in when you start. Try to give the dog a little more space. Remember, too many of the same mistakes in a row can start to introduce problems. In most cases the dogs will start to lose confidence. Or worse they will learn to do it only the wrong way! I also want to remind you that Listo is learning on old style channel weaves. They are not at regulation distance yet. I was also happy to notice that Listo was starting to “swim” his way through the poles. This basically means he is extending his paw and leg full forward much like the front crawl in swimming. He is able to set his paw down and use it to push his body through and “steering” his way into his next extension. If your dog is not doing this and you are happy with his speed…no worries! Let the dog do what they are comfortable doing and don’t obsess about changing what might be a physical preference in the dog!
My next step is to start removing more wires. I look forward to the next time I get to train the poles with him and I know he looks forward to it too. He absolutely loves this obstacle! Seems like he is well on his way to possibly entering Steeplechase. Or Jumpers with weaves in AKC or CKC agility. He is a few months from competition but I hope that by January he can start to see competition because I hope to prepare him for Regionals next year. I suppose it is time to start looking into his registration into the different organizations! Happy training!!