Weave poles are often a large point of struggle for many teams. It is a complex behavior that requires a lot of physical and mental skill for the dogs. I have trained weave poles pretty much anyway you can imagine:
– Luring on straight poles
– 2×2 with a twist
And any combination of the above! I’ve used shaping, luring, prompting, wires, gates, etc, and I’m still learning new ways to teach weave poles! The biggest takeaway over the last twenty years of weaves is that every dog is different, and every trainer is different. What isn’t different for each team is how you increase the level of difficulty. If you make weaving too hard, too fast, you will probably end up with poisoned weaves. By poisoned, I mean that the dog will experience some sort of anxiety around weave poles and his performance of the poles will suffer at some point in his career.
There are a lot of “things” the dog has to do to weave correctly, and how challenging all of those different things are, depends on the dog – his size and structure can play a big role in how he has to move his body to efficiently move between the poles.
I believe it is really important to take a look at all
of the skills needed to weave, break those skills down and train them all individually before asking a dog to do them in sequence and at speed.
– Seek out/commit to poles
– Collect for entry
– Rebalance their body (harder on really angled entries)
– Proper footwork
– Duration (more poles)
If your dog struggles with weaves, can you pinpoint the skill that is difficult for him? Saying “he struggles with weaves” isn’t specific enough to devise a good training plan, since there is so much involved with weaving. If you know the piece the dog struggles with, you can remove that piece from the chain of behaviors and make that piece stronger before asking your dog for that chain of behaviors again.
For example, if a dog struggles with weave entries, it could be that he struggles with seeking them out and committing to the poles OR he could struggle with collecting for the poles. I would train these two skills differently, so it is important to know which piece is hard for him. For seeking entries out, I would likely use only two poles, and a placement of reward close to the weaves, but for helping a dog learn to collect for weaves, I would likely use three or four poles, and a placement of reward behind the dog.
I train several of these skills at one time, but not together in the same session until the dog has told me he is fluent enough with both skills to try combining them. There are also some skills I can’t begin to train until my dog has a certain skill level within other details of weaving.
Entries: I like for my dogs to be able to find an entry from pretty much anywhere, and I do like them to learn the verbal cue for weaving
Exits: I like for my dogs to be able to complete the weaves with a variety of exits, no matter what my handling is cueing.
Troubleshooting: When my dog makes a mistake in weaving. I reset my dog and reattempt the exact same skill. If the dog nails it, I move on. If the dog makes the same mistake a second time, I need to take a moment & figure out why. I pay my dog, give him a break, and figure out why he can’t offer the correct response. Was the change in criteria too much? Is there some other condition in this particular training session that is making the skill more difficult to do? Taking a moment to figure this out before continuing to train is going to save you and your dog a lot of frustration in the long run.
Proofing: As my dog learns all of these different skills that are required for weaving, I can proof them along the way, long before I ask the dog to put these skills together at speed and with distractions. I use my reinforcers (food and toys) to add pressure to my training at each point in the progression of the skills.
For example, I often use a wide open channel (sometimes with wires/gates), and a pre-placed reward (dish or toy) at the end of the weaves to teach the skill of independence (and speed is likely roped in there, too). Once my dog is driving through the channel confidently, I can add distractions with his reinforcers. I can hold food near the entry and ask him to go forward through the poles vs stop and eat food from my hand. I could also stand in the middle of the poles swinging a toy near his nose level and ask him to go forward through the poles vs pop out and bite the toy.
By adding these distractions early to the challenge of “independent poles” while the weaves are wide open, you are only training and challenging one skill at a time, which makes for a much easier and systematic way to build up these skills for the dog.
Does your dog struggle with weaves? Which part does he struggle with? Leave me a comment and let's try to come up with a problem solving plan!
If you aren’t sure if your dog has a weakness, try working through this course, and making notes of things that weren’t correct on the first time through. Taking video is your best way to do this!