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Lessons we have learned

Is there a ‘best way’ to teach the Weaves? Lesley Harpley has tried them all. Her conclusions are that all dogs are different. There is no 'universal best way.' Here she shares some personal case studies spanning the last decade and the lessons she has learned!

 1992  Barnaby – Getting the basics right

BarnabyNow 14, Barnie was a rather timid rescued cross breed, from Chiltern Dog Rescue Society (CDRS), with some definite ‘Lurcher’ tendencies (all or nothing!) In those days, most of the training was still on the left, and we were generally encouraged to train on all the weaves in upright position.

 Lesson One: Train on both sides from the start, and get the entry right!
I remember the look on my instructors face, when I delightedly showed her my ‘homework’ and Barnaby promptly went in on the wrong side!

Barnie was quite tough to train, because he was in all respects a rather ‘proper’ dog, and it was quite difficult to get him to play and go on after a toy. I never really managed to ‘wean’ him off my body and hand movements when weaving, and he never really achieved a very fast technique. He regularly achieved top ten places in Starters in his ‘middle’ years but sadly never a trophy. Barnie seemed to do better in competition if we hadn’t done much training.

 Lesson Two: Get to know your dog and what switches him or her on... or off.

 1996  Tommy – Speeding up the slower weaver

In 1994 I went to CDRS determined to ‘get a collie’ and came out with a five month old Whippet/Staffie cross with a bit of terrier thrown in for good measure.

By the mid 1990’s V-weaves and the Channel method were being tried. We bought some yellow ‘bendy’ poles - like the kind used for electric fences - and started on a cross between channel and V-weaves, angling the poles out as the base came together.

It went fine and little Tommy flew through them with the poles whipping about on both sides! Then, when he was old enough, we migrated to upright poles and hit two obstacles:-

  1. Tommy didn’t like having a metal base under his feet (Back to square one!)

  2. He couldn’t weave unless he could see a gap through the middle! Bugger.

With weeks to go till his first show, I reverted to the ‘steering’ method used for Barnaby. We got there, but still he was relying on me too much and his weaves were still quite slow.

Some lessons with Kathrin Tasker at that stage really helped, using the hinged V-weaves on a metal base and sending him on to a food bowl with treats. Although I tried to be really encouraging, it seemed that Tommy sometimes found it oppressive so we played tuggy games where I had to let him ‘win’ to build his confidence.

Kathryn also occasionally encouraged all the handlers to cheer and celebrate when each dog completed the weaves to make it exciting. Tommy sustained reasonably fast weaves for several years, winning out of Starters in January 1999. He did tend to rely on me sustaining some sort of encouraging noise throughout though, which was not always physically possible!

 Lesson Three: Do get some weave poles at home. (Don’t weave upright until the youngster is at least 12 months old).

 Lesson Four: Check out how your dog is reacting to your ‘encouragement’ does he or she feel pressurised? If so it could have the opposite effect.

 1999  Star - V-weaves & Channel methods

At last, my dream girl, my puppy, my border collie! Oh, the months of anticipation. This time, I was determined to let Star work ‘for herself’ and not to ‘over handle’ the weaves.

By now, I had my own hinged weaves on a metal base and the bendy poles had been relegated to supporting the ‘fence’ around our caravan! Again, we started with a combination of channel and V-weaves, around ten months old and very, very gradually brought them in line.

Lesson Five: With V-weaves, some dogs like to jump them if they are not up enough (which means waiting for pups to grow up).

Star was just starting to weave like a dream, when disaster struck and she broke her neck running into a horse fence in the dark!

After four very stressful months with Star restricted in a cage, we resumed training, and miraculously, according to the orthopaedic vet, Star still loved her agility and was even still able to weave. Of course, I was very nervous and so passed this on to Star.

Our first year was rather hit and miss, but Star went on to win about a dozen trophies and numerous top ten places in Novice. Star has never settled into a particular style of weaving, although she is definitely better if I hang back and let her get the entry ahead of me and if I stay in line with her shoulders. Sometimes she weaves ‘single’ footed and sometimes misses her step and does a few with both feet.  Unfortunately, she now also has Addison’s disease (a hormonal imbalance related to the kidneys) and so is rather ‘up and down’ these days.  But she is still my golden girl and everything she does is magic for me.

 Lesson Five: Work out where your dog likes you to be - ahead, behind, close or further away.

2001 Casey – Using wires and extra poles to stop an ‘excitable’ dog skipping weaves

Casey is Colin’s dog. In 2001 we rescued her from CDRS, aged twelve months old. She is a pretty special example.

She had not been socialised at all, nor housetrained, and was something of a psychological wreck. Casey was very difficult. When we got her she showed signs of nervous aggression to people and dogs, but could also give appearances of being quite dominant.

In short, I was determined that Casey would weave for herself so schooled Colin (who was new to agility) not to over work the weaves. Casey tended to leap over V weaves, so we had to start with them quite close together, maybe 6 to 12 inches apart at the top. Casey loved it. We migrated to upright poles and Casey kept missing poles.

First it was the entry, then the end and then finally she settled on missing poles in the middle. Casey’s history made it virtually impossible to guide her by hand, as she became too distressed. So, we tried the wires.

For some insight into the story of how we
re-habilitated Casey, click on the link here. Casey’s Story

To start with Casey jumped them. We moved them up a bit. Then she went under them. So we added a second wire. After a few weeks, Casey was flying through the weaves with complete success. Then it came to transferring the skill to the environment of a show. For the first few shows it worked, with Casey winning out of Elementary and Starters in her first three shows. Then she started getting ‘cocky’ and no-go! Casey reverted to skipping weaves, now typically coming out at the tenth pole!

So, how did we solve it?
This time with advice from Sue White, we put a second pole beside the tenth pole (one the outside, thus making it subtly more difficult for her to bypass the pole). We had an opportunity to do that in the show environment in a ‘practise ring’ at Supadogs. We only had a minute, so I ran in and ‘planted’ one of the long jump uprights by the tenth weave. It worked and now Casey generally weaves fast and accurately.

 Lesson 6:  If a dog is struggling, find ways to make it easier for them to get it right.

 Lesson 7: If there is a practise ring, use it to transfer a skill into a show environment.

2003 Mace – Mixing methods, training the entry separately, back chaining

Finally, my new pup Mace recently started weaving upright at 15 months. Again, we used a combination of both the channel method (at Aylesbury CTS) and the V method at home from around ten months, keeping it lots of fun and using toys and treats. But this time, I taught him the entry separately.

I did this after talking to several good handlers who ‘back chain’ weaves, starting with very few (three or four) and doing that confidently before building up to twelve. So, I started with three weaves, at a very slight angle, in the living room before his breakfast! We then moved on to four upright weaves, a slight angle and so on. It does seem to have helped. (I still trained a whole set of twelve weaves using the channel and V method though.)

A key advantage is that Mace has got some experience of different types of weave pole, wooden and plastic and does seem to look for the entrance. He still sometimes misses a weave, but not so much as Casey did so I don’t feel I need to resort to the wires. I have forced myself to hold back from over handling the weaves - believe me it has been hard at times - and to let him do it for himself. We had a patch of very slow weaving after coming upright, but he does seem to be speeding up a lot now he is getting more confident. Mace seems to be quite sensitive, so I do force myself to stop if he is successful once and make it lots of fun, throwing a toy at the end and playing tuggy. Time will tell, but fingers crossed.

 Lesson 8:  try to let the dog work for himself or herself.

 Lesson 9: Stop if it works!

 Lesson 10: Break the training into separate stages, such as training the entry separately on a few weaves.

To summarise
We have had quite different experiences training our own five very different dogs. Each dog is different and there is no one best way to train. Do what works for your dog. If I have two words of advice, it would be:

  1. Make it easy for the dog to succeed the first time and stop right there on a positive.

  2. Buy the guide How to Train Your Dog to Weave for Chilterns Dog Rescue Society (please).

About the author...
Lesley Harpley
is one of the team of Instructors at Aylesbury CTS, where the club has a great variety of rescued and mixed breed dogs as well as some rather lovely pedigree dogs!



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