Last week, I wrote about weave poles, and the wide variety of skills that are needed for a dog to weave successfully. I often hear about dogs struggling to weave at competitions, but not at home. I want to address a few things I might look for when this is happening…
1. Are they really perfect at home?
When a client tells me that their dog is “perfect at home”, I want to know what perfect means. Besides perfection being a myth, one could conclude that it means your dog is successful weaving 100% of the time at home, no matter what challenge you set for the dog.
So, go collect some data. Are they truly correct all of the time? Do they ever need a second chance? What about your own handling – do you ever misguide them into the wrong entry or pull them out early?
Can you find any gap in your dog's understanding of the weaves? If so, train that piece and see if your success rate improves both at home and in competitions.
2. Reinforcement history vs the pressure of the environment…
More simply put, is the competition environment taking up too much of your dog's focus or concentration that he just doesn't have enough left for the weave poles?
If weaving is difficult for your dog at home, it's even harder for him in training class, and nearly impossible in a competition. Go from there. Take another look at last week's blog and see if you can boost up any aspect of your dog's weaves. The easier weaving is at home, the easier it becomes in other environments (training class and competition).
3. What are you reinforcing?
Reinforcement builds behavior. Are you unintentionally reinforcing mistakes in weaves? At home, or in a training class, what do you do if your dog makes a weave pole error?
Do you reattempt the weaves and then reward the correct response? Do you just ignore it and keep running? Do you stop your dog and return to the beginning of the course/sequence and attempt the whole thing again?
I can't say any of the above are more right or more wrong than the others – it's up to the learner what is reinforcing or not. But, if you are consistently doing it one way and your weaves aren't getting any better, it's time to consider that you aren't reinforcing good weaving.
Above all, a clear communication system with your dog make everything easier. Let me know if you've had any ah-ha moments during this blog in the comments below. Happy weaving!