Miley is my five-year old Shetland Sheepdog, she’s had a fun career and is a great agility partner. In 2010, we were selected to be one of the teams to compete at the European Open Agility Championship (EO) in the Czech Republic. At the European Open, there are two team runs (one is Standard, one is Jumpers), and two individual runs (one is standard and is jumpers). Her two individual runs were good and we qualified and ran in the Finals.
After arriving home from the EO and gathering my thoughts, I decided to work on Miley’s weave poles because we had lost valuable seconds on course due to a lack of independence on the weaves. Her drive through the last four poles in a twelve pole set was not as strong as I wanted it to be. Miley relied on my being relatively close to her and I had to keep moving forward to support her, even if the course was going in a completely different direction after the poles, which it often does on European Courses. This left me just a few steps out of position during my agility runs, even on American courses. I was losing valuable seconds on wide turns by having to over-compensate for the late information I was having to give because I wasn’t able to move into position earlier.
Looking back, I had always rewarded her completion of twelve poles with a thrown toy. Why would this matter? Well, when you look at dogs and their predictive nature, it all made sense. Miley had figured out that due to my horrible aim, I had to be within a close distance to the last four poles to throw her toy. She also learned to anticipate the motion of my arm. She would stop weaving if I was not close to her or moving forward, slow down just a bit to “wait for me” to catch up and throw the toy, or she would see me throw and simply pop out of the poles to get her toy sooner. I had inadvertently taught her that my body position and arm motion were what was important, not driving all the way to the last pole for her reward.
My end goal was to have Miley drive excitedly all the way through the poles once she entered, regardless of how fast, how slow or where I was moving to or from.
I needed to have a reward that I could control with precision placement and timing on my part that didn’t involve having to aim a toy. I wanted to limit my repetitions so my dog would not be getting extra wear and tear. I also wanted a high rate of success but I knew I could only achieve that with well-placed and well-timed rewards. Clearly I could not rely on my aim to throw a treat or toy and I already knew from Miley’s current weave performance that that wouldn’t work.
Here’s where my Treat&Train® came to the rescue. I could reward Miley remotely and away from my body without any kind of tossing motion from my arm. I could also reward her while varying my location and my speed. I no longer needed to be within a few feet of those last four poles to achieve a decent throw. Yes, I was free to move about the cabin!
So, now that I had a goal and I had a tool, I needed a plan.
I broke the end goal down by creating small exercises. I worked around the clock entries using just three poles and one weave pole guide. Again, by only using three poles, I could get in many repetitions without causing extra, unneeded physical stress on the dog. I also made sure to keep moving the Treat&Train around the clock, which allowed me to vary the location of where she could be rewarded. A nice little “freebie” from my retrain was I was able to continue to build Miley’s speed and enthusiasm without frustrating her with my bad aim.
I then worked up to six poles using the same ‘round the clock entries and ‘round the clock reward location with the Treat&Train and weave pole guides. We worked up to nine, and finally twelve poles – a complete set. I would click my remote each time she passed her nose by the second to last pole.
I’ve always been a big fan of weave pole guides for training the poles, but if you don’t like to use them you could easily train independence by using channels or 2x2s. The Treat&Train is useful if you’re like me and have trouble with accurate throwing. It’s also great if you have a dog who is more food motivated and won’t “drive” to toys. Or, maybe your dog becomes too aroused around toys and you spend most of your time chasing him around trying to pry a toy out of their mouth, but that’s another blog post entirely!
If you’re in one of those lucky states with inclement weather this time of year, this is a great exercise to work in the house with just three poles, not only for experienced dogs who need forward focus, but also dogs who need some help mastering proper weave pole entries. Be sure to practice initially with a little bit of motion to help your dog understand that they need to drive forward, and then practice with little to no motion on your part since weave poles should be an independently performed obstacle – one where your dog should enter with speed and enthusiasm and drive all the way through.
Katie Gingrich is a five time US Agility World Team Member. She has earned many agility achievements in both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) and additionally has a background in competitive obedience and Conformation.