Monday, February 18, 2008

Teaching the Weaves

Guppy left a comment the other day about teaching the weaves. . .

Well, first let me say that there seems to be as many ways to teach the weaves as there are people running agility, so I encourage everybody reading this post to add to the comments and explaination of how they teach the weaves. Like a lot of things in dog training, there is no one size fits all method, IMHO. I think the most important part of teaching the weaves is to make it FUN. I can't imaginge a dog doing really fast weaves if they aren't enjoying themselves.

I think the two big keys to learning the weaves are 'muscle memory' and that the dog learns that they have to weave to the end of the poles, regardless of how many there are, to 'complete' the exercise. By muscle memory, I mean that the dog learns how it 'feels' to do the weaves, and eventually does it without thinking about it, like learning to drive a standard shift car.

The way I taught weaves to my dogs was inherited from my dad; we use the off-set weaves method. This is one of the two most popular methods, the other method being having some sort of a physical guide that directs the dog in the path they should take through the weaves. These two methods can also be combined. I have some pictures of half (3 poles) of the weaves I use here at my place. The other three are an exact mirror image of the first three. These are pretty easy to make yourself using different lengths of PVC pipes, endcaps and T connectors and some colored electrical tape on the poles for contrast (you can also make home made jumps the same way). A woman that used to be in my agility class had a great idea, if you have a short dog (hello, Cardigans!) and tile or hardwood floors. She bought a bunch of toilet plungers and just stuck them to the floor! Easy to adjust however you want, and easy to put away when you're done!! Just remember that the poles should be 21 to 24 inches apart, and I wouldn't start with more than six poles. Of course, you can always buy ready made weave poles; the Clean Run store is a good place to start. Here is a link to their agility equipment.

So, if your're going to use the off set method, put a wide connector between the two sides of the poles (in the pictures the smallest connector is in place), wide enough that you have a nice channel between the poles a little wider than the dog's body. Then either lure the dog down the channel with a treat or toy, or have some one hold the dog at one end, while you are at the other end and call the dog. If your dog is already target trained, you can also put a target at the end and run down along side as your dog goes through the channel to go to the target. The dog ALWAYS enters the weave poles with the first pole on his left side (I know my dad used some clicker training to teach Meg that she had to enter the poles from the correct side).

Now, if you are using a lure, make sure you get your hand down low enough so that the dogs head stays level, not looking up (this is where having short poles comes in handy if you have a short dog). You want your dog to get into the habit of having their head facing forward and looking where they're going, since later on they tend to pop out of the weaves if they aren't looking where they're going.

Over time, you'll put smaller and smaller spacers in between the two sides, but don't rush it. Now you know enough to get in trouble everything you need to know about teaching the weaves!! Really, I think the one thing that really helps is repetition. If you have a set of weaves (or toilet plungers!) actually in your house or backyard, you can run through the weaves a couple of times every evening. I really believe that muscle memory makes all the difference.

It does seem to take a while for the light bulb to go off, 'Oh, I'm supposed to go back and forth around these poles the same way, every time!' but once a dog 'gets it' the progress gets a lot faster. And remember that long backed dogs can have a harder time with the weave poles, and long backed dogs in particular should never start learning the weaves until they're physically mature. Oh, and make sure you practice weaving with you running along side on BOTH sides, don't let your dog get into the habit of having you on only one side!

So? Everybody, let's hear how you teach the weave poles!!

Holly and Mikey say 'Hi.'


manymuddypaws said...

Wicca was taught using channels- which is similar to what you have in your pics- except that the channel can be completely closed when the dogs get there. We teach weaves completely independant- with no luring right off the bat, using targets and toys. This method is great- but is very time consuming and the dog doesn't learn muscle memory right away- they do however learn to weave fast. This method isn't great for teaching entrances however- so it is good to use two poles and work on those seperate.

I am teaching Vito on the gates- and I really like this method as the dog really gets it right away- they are having to actually weave and they don't have the chance at first to make a lot of mistakes. You gradually start moving gates away, and changing the way they are configured. This method is fast, and teaches accuracy right off the bat.

You are right about there being tons of different methods- and sometimes, like in Sam's case you have to use a combination of methods!

Anonymous said...

Gates as in xpen?

Casper targets on yogurt lids really really well.

The thought of being hunched over to get him to target just makes my back cringe in pain.

One more Q for his RE and then on to agility! We better get busy!

Cardimom said...

If Casper (love his name!) is already target trained, you've got it make in the shade, no bending over! Yes, gates as in x-pen. I'm not sure which method I will use in the future; I'm always nervous about something that's used as an 'aid', even targets, because I always like training to look as much as posible like competition, or vice vera. On the other hand, I'm all for anything that helps the dog to understand the concept faster.

manymuddypaws said...

they nice thing about the gates is that it is completely independant- so you don't have to bend down at all, or lure them through- so less pain on your body!!

which is a good thing when your dog is short!

Guppy said...

We started last night with those stick in the ground type horse fence posts... they are used for temporary electic fencing and are big and white and obnoxious looking...

Amazingly enough, I just point "in, towards me, in" and the boy does them and then shoots out the end to the jump I have set up.

Jumps have become a HUGE issue... He is so into LOOKING AT MOM, that he tries to jump them and look at me as I run by and takes them down on the far side.

I have to get after him to LOOK FORWARD...

Cardimom said...

Sound like you're off to an awesome start! I have had simular problems with Mikey; I think it has to do with the transition from obedience work, where you want them looking at you, to agility, where they have to look where they're going. In fact, Mikey once walked off the side of the teeter, and once ran face first into a weave pole, because he was looking at me instead of where he was going. All I can tell you is that it has become less of a problem over time. . .