I’m going to tell you about Tommy. A very special JRT that came into my life around 2008. He belonged to Cherie Whittenberg, and I was lucky enough to be his agility teammate from 2008 – 2013. We went to five USDAA National events and we racked up a whole lot of loot from those events.
But this story is about Tommy’s Terrible Teeter. And guys, I mean it was terrible. I don’t have footage of the very, very beginning, but here are some clips of what it looked like after quite a bit of training and “he’s always perfect at home” woes.
His terrible teeter was the last barrier standing firmly between our goals: High titles in USDAA requires standard Qs. Dreams of Grand Prix Finals require you to enter the GP at the event, and entering requires a couple of GP Qs, which requires an acceptable teeter performance.
Around this time, the “spider dog” handstand trick was becoming really popular to teach dogs. That trick got me thinking about how the teeter performance is really a rear foot behavior. Tommy really liked to go forward, collection wasn’t his best skill, and he was a bulky little terrier – some might even call him front heavy.
So, I went about teaching him this handstand trick. That went pretty well, actually. It was cute.
Was his teeter fixed? Not yet.
How could I convince this dog to keep his rear feet in contact with the board as it moves? He could keep contact with the wall, but of course walls don’t move. Or do they?
I progressed Tommy’s understanding of “spider” to doors. I’d open the door half an inch, cue “spider”, and he would then plant his front feet, swing his rear feet up and then make contact with the door, which then moved, and he moved with it. The criteria of “feet on wall” transferred to “even if the wall moves”, and I watched this dog learn how to stay in contact with a moving board, and it was magic.
And that was that. I remember transferring his trick to the actual teeter, but not for long. I transferred the behavior “spider” to the end of the board, and within a few weeks, he was back on the full height teeter, now cued “spider”, and he never (and I mean never) flew off of or came off early again.
This training discovery of mine was nearly 10 years ago, and while my training habits have improved, this theory of backwards motion to make contact with the teeter has not changed. Instead of handstands, though, I only teach a few steps of backing up. I emphasize the rear legs moving first, and making contact with the target.
After the dog understands backing up, I teach the target position (4on if my preferred teeter end behavior) only on boards that move, and never on stationary boards.
I teach the teeter first of any contact obstacle. I have found that if the dog learns and trusts the equipment that will move first, they have less confusion later on with the dogwalk, than if taught the other way around.
Because my preference is for first using a wobbly prop and then using an adjustable teeter, we are able to layer in challenges like handling, sequencing, and proofing from a very early stage in your dog’s training, making the transition to competition much easier in the long run!
Whether your dog has no teeter experience, or you are experiencing something similar to terrible teeter tribulations, check out my upcoming FDSA Class on teeter training!