In this article from our quartly newsletter, Alison True describes one of the foundation exercises that Debbie Allery has been using with her youngster Reeva.

This simple exercise teaches the dog to move away from you to go around an object. Once the dog ‘knows the game’ a cue word (command) is added so that, over time and with lots of practise, you have a dog who will run to, and go around, an object independently when asked to do so. To the dog this is just a fun game for which they get your praise and a treat or toy as a reward but it is the basis of the manoeuvres which, in future, will get your dog around an agility course. You can use any object initially, a traffic cone, a bucket, a broom handle in the ground or anything similar. Training will progress to using a jump wing alone then eventually putting the pole in place too so that your dog will move away from you, go over the jump and return to you. Sounds easy enough but it gets more tricky when you want your dog to turn in a particular direction. For example my 2-year-old who is now competing has 5 different jump ‘turn’ commands all of which evolved from this exercise.

Working around a pole/wing/cone

The exercise develops by moving further away, then adding a “cue” word. Make it rewarding with a treat or game/toy as shown in the following pictures. Step 1 Directing Reeva from one hand to the other around the object. Starting with treat as a reward and standing close to the pole.

Step 2 Moving very slightly further back and using more of a hand motion. Add in a cue word as soon as they start to move towards the object.

Step 3 Take another step back. Use the same hand motion and cue word and reward for completing the exercise.

Step 4/5 Continue to increase the distance between yourself and the obstacle to create independence and use the same cue word and hand/arm motion to ensure consistency. As your dogs confidence increases use the cue word immediately before the hand motion so that they anticipate the action. This helps your dog work with verbal commands only if, on a course, you aren’t able to be alongside them to give the physical clues. Step 6 When they have mastered the ‘game’ of turning over jumps in one direction responding to one cue you can start the process all over again for a different turn and using a completely different command (cue word).

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Date 25-05-2020
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With agility events cancelled, Agility Secretary, Alison True has decided to focus on training that you can do at home. This is a detailed article about learning to weave.

Learning to weave is by far the most difficult exercise we ask of our agility dogs. We are in effect asking them to move their body in several different directions simultaneously to ‘slalom’ through a straight line of up to 12 poles whilst moving at speed. There are numerous methods you can use to train your dog to negotiate the weave poles, more examples of which can be found on the Internet. It is a minefield, but my advice is to find one you like and stick with it but, if at all possible, do so under the guidance of a professional trainer.

The information given in this feature is not aimed at those already attending training classes or as a ‘use alone guide’ for those hoping to compete. My aim is to provide a ‘game’ for those who have a dog and a set of weave poles at home and don’t know how to get the two together, especially those of you whom I know are chomping at the bit to start agility classes but can’t find a training school with vacancies. If you don’t have weave poles but still want to give this a try you could use pieces of plastic tubing or broom handles stuck in the ground with enough ‘movement’ at the base for a dog to safely move it aside without injuring themselves.

Dogs under 12 months MUST NOT be asked to weave as it puts so much strain on their immature bodies. If you follow the increments suggested it is a safe activity for dogs over the age of 12 months. When you do start weave training please keep the sessions short, 5 minutes a couple of times a day is enough for young dogs and those new to it. It is human nature to want to make progress and be impatient to see them complete a full set of weave poles but your reward will come if you allow them to learn for themselves at their own pace.

Two by two method

The technique I have chosen for this feature is one I have used most recently and one also favoured by Debbie Allery who kindly agreed to provide the series of illustration photographs.

It is known as two by two (2x2) because you start with 2 poles, add another 2 poles and so on. It is a method that starts off very simply and builds over time allowing your dog to become more flexible before they are challenged with a full set of poles to negotiate. It is a method that takes a lot of self control from you, the trainer, as the idea is that the dog figures it all out for themselves!

Your job is to encourage them by making it fun to learn and reinforce the behaviour when they get it right by letting them know in no uncertain terms that they have been a fabulously clever dog. You also need to be pretty accurate with your timing and throwing ability as you need to offer a reward at the right place at the exact time that your dog passes through the poles.

One way around this issue if you struggle is to use a word to signal ‘success’ such as “yes” or to use a clicker with the toy or treat reward following immediately. Before moving on to the ‘how to’ visual guide it is important that you understand when and how to reward your dog during all stages of weave training using this method. As I said your timing is crucial for the dog to understand exactly what it is that gets them the reward.

The reward, whether it is a toy or a tasty treat, must land infront of the dog as they reach your chosen spot and arrive on that spot immediately before or just as they get there. You are trying to convey to them that a reward appears ahead of them for passing through the poles. If you are too slow with the reward they will tend to look back to you rather than focussing ahead. If the reward is thrown or placed ahead of them before they complete the behaviour there is a chance that they can get rewarded without completing the task eg sneaking round a pole rather than going between them.

False rewards will confuse the dog and slow down learning. To ensure accuracy timing and placing of the reward both Debbie and I use a Treat and Train machine, a remote trainer, which we activate as the dog completes the behaviour we want of them whether this is just passing between 2, 4 or 6 poles or completing a full set of 12. These are expensive and by no way to be considered as essential (see bottom of photo 5+6). The really important thing with training the weaves is to take it slowly and progress at your dogs pace always making sure that they understand what you want them to do and never being afraid to go back a stage if they seem to struggle.

We all like to succeed and learn better when things are enjoyable, dogs are just the same. Making it too hard too soon will see them fail and become disinterested. Please note, this is a step by step guide i.e. you take it a step at a time! It is likely that if you try to read through all the stages now it will make no sense at all and sound incredibly complicated. Weave training is a complex skill, a bit like driving a car, but if you break it down and work on one stage at a time it all falls into place. Once you master it you no longer consciously consider every little detail as it becomes one fluid action. Work on one stage at a time then, after a few days working at that level, try moving on. Please read these notes before following the visual guide. Do NOT rush your dog, work strictly through each stage.

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Stage 1: Start without your dog as this is about training you.

Place two poles in the ground approximately 2 feet apart and stand 1-2 feet away from them.Practice throwing various toys and types of treat to a spot you mark on the ground approx. 2 feet the other side of the poles. It will give you a feel for how hard you need to throw to get them to the right spot at the right time, improve your aim and your timing. Remove your ‘target marker’ before starting to train with your dog, this was purely for your benefit not a prompt for them.

Stage 2: This is the only time during the training process that you are allowed to use a toy or treats to lure/lead your dog through the gap between the poles.
Set up the poles as for stage 1 and guide your dog through them with a toy or treat in your hand. Do this a few times. Say ‘yes’ (or any other verbal reward word or a clicker) as they pass between the poles followed by loads of praise and treat/toy reward when he/she gets 1-2 feet past the poles. Stay at this stage for the first 1-2 sessions of 5 minutes each before moving to stage 3.
Stage 2a: Only to be used if your dog struggles with moving straight to stage 3.
Stand 2 feet from the poles, show your dog the toy/treat with one hand and, without moving from your spot, gesture towards the gap with the opposite arm, a sort of ‘air push’ indicating to them “this is where I want you to go”. Immediately praise any acknowledgement of the poles whether this is just a glance or slight movement towards them. As your dog gains confidence ask more of them before giving praise or a reward. With most dogs you should see them get the idea within one 5-minute session. If not throw the toy/treat through the gap and reward, break off the session. Stick at this stage for a couple of days if you need to before moving on to stage 3.
Stage 3 (photo1 onwards) Stand about 2 feet away from the poles with your dog by your side and their reward in your hand …and wait, and wait, and wait. Do nothing, don’t say anything, don’t gesture towards the poles, just wait. They know you have the reward and have to do something to get it, they just need to figure out what. If they need any help at all take a step closer to the poles, say nothing just wait for a reaction from your dog. Reward your dog with a thrown toy or treat as soon as they look in the direction of the poles or make any move towards them. Your reward should always land the other side of the poles and be accompanied by lots of praise from you – remember to the dog it’s just a fun game. This builds up quickly to the dog realising that, to get the reward, they have to go through the gap between the poles (I later refer to this as ‘the entry gate’). When they have had their reward never let them return to you through the gap, guide them back round the side of either pole. Progress to stage 4. (note - If they really struggle and wander off or otherwise disengage from you go to stage 2a for a few sessions before trying stage 3 again).
 
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Stage 4: This is the single most important stage of weave training so worth taking time over.

At the minute it is just a couple of poles but eventually it becomes what we often refer to as ‘the entry gate’ which a dog is expected to find independently. In competition a dog must always enter Stages of weave training using 2x2 method the line of weave poles at the first ‘gate’ regardless of their angle of approach i.e. go through the first gap with the very first pole against their left shoulder. We now want to add a ‘cue word’ to the action of going between the poles, a word that they come to understand so well that they will do the action on command from increasing distance and from any angle without any assistance from you in just the same way as they would ‘sit’ on command. Having progressed from stage 3 with a dog who confidently chooses to pass through the gate to gain reward stand a couple of feet away from the poles. Hold your dog’s collar and wind them up a little bit to make them keen to go – in photo 8 Debbie has just released Reeva’s collar.

I usually use “are you ready” or something similar. As you release your dog, in an excited tone, use a word you will always use for training this exercise for example I use “poles” or “where’s poles?”. [Personally I do not use the command “weave” until I am 100% sure that the dog can complete the entire set of weave poles consistently. In my mind they are two different exercises with two different commands. To me it is important that my dog understand that the command weave means “once you’re in there you don’t bob out till you’ve finished the full set!” so using it while the dog is still learning and making mistakes would be unfair.] If your dog struggles move a little closer and set it up again. Never be afraid to go back a stage. Stage 5: Once your dog is consistently running through the straight poles you need to increase the distance, set them up 2 feet away but directly infront of the poles, increase to 3 feet away then 4 feet. You can obviously now start moving forward with them to ensure that you can place the treat/ toy correctly. There is little value at this stage asking for a weave entry more than 5-6 feet away at this early stage. Before moving to stage 6 have something in mind that will help you understand how to progress. Imagine that the start point for the exercise (directly infront of the poles) is the number 6 on a clock face and 12 is the spot where your dog gets its reward for passing through the poles correctly.

Stage 6: You are increasing the difficulty so reduce the distance, start just 1-2 feet away from the poles but take a step to the right so that your dog is starting towards the poles at a slight angle.

Using the clock face idea move from 6 to 5 and send your dog releasing with the cue word (eg “poles”). When they go confidently from 5 o’clock, move to 4, then 3. Super-duper party if they achieve it, no fuss, no drama just go back a pace if they don’t. If your dog is happy and confident repeat the process but from the left, go back to 6 o’clock then 7 o’clock, 8 and 9. After a few days you can challenge them with a game of ‘round the clock’ (or more precisely half a clock! Moving them from 3-9 o’clock rewarding each progression. Look how Reeva is driving to the entry gate in photo 12 with her gaze totally focussed. Move to stage 7.

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 Stage 7: A combination of stages 5 and 6, setting the dog up to take the poles from the various angles but slowly adding a bit of distance too.
Don’t go too far or too fast, setting them up to succeed is more important than progressing quickly … and remember, it’s all just a big game. Stage 8: Photos 5 to 8. Keeping in mind all the above add another set of poles (see photo 5). The distance between the two sets of poles should be 1200mm for reasons which become apparent later. If your dog is struggles initially you can bring them closer or move them further apart (some trainers start as much as 6-10 feet apart and close the gap). Forget all the clever angles and distance stuff and go back to standing directly infront of the poles and, using the cue word (eg “poles”), send your dog through the first set and run alongside him/her which gives encouragement to continue on to the second set, repeat the cue word when your dog reaches the point at which they had previously been rewarded with a treat/toy.
Continue your forward motion and drop the reward 1-2 feet from ahead of the second set of poles. Big party if they achieve this. Go with them a couple of times then stand your ground and send them through both sets using only the cue word and reward success. Initially you may need to repeat the cue word between the two sets but aim to drop the second prompt fairly quickly. When they go through both sets of poles on command (cue word) without hesitation move on to stage 9. Stage 9: Remember to reduce the complexity of what you are asking of your dog with each new stage.
Gradually increase the distance you set your dog up infront of the two sets of poles, stepping back a pace at a time. Once they are confident with a straight entry from a few feet away move back to the original start point of 1-2 feet then start adding angles, first standing to the right (5 o’clock, 4 o’clock 3 o’clock) staying reasonably close to the poles. Move to the left and build up again moving through 8, 7 and 9 o’clock.
 
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Stage 10: combine angles and distance as you did with the two-pole work. Once confident move to stage 11.
Stage 11: add another set of 2 poles. Repeat ALL the steps as you did for 4 poles.
Stage 12 (photos 9 to 12) You now have a dog who will run through a set of parallel 3 x 2 poles with confidence from various angles and at some distance. The reason I previously suggested settingStage 11: add another set of 2 poles. Repeat ALL the steps as you did for 4 poles. Stage 12 (photos 9 to 12) You now have a dog who will run through a set of parallel 3 x 2 poles with confidence from various angles and at some distance. The reason I previously suggested setting the sets of poles 1200mm spacings is to make it easier to change the angles and get the dog weaving through a set of poles which are the correct distance apart (Kennel Club rules). The easiest way to do this is to set your 6 poles up as before then move each pole on the left forward 600mm so that rather than having 2 sets of 3 parallel poles they are slightly off-set (photos 9 to 12).
The gap between the two sets of poles has not changed but they will look quite different to your dog. Stop reading now and go and set this up so that it makes sense before you continue. If you are using fixed 2x2 poles angle each section to achieve the same result as show in the photos. You have made a change which has increased the difficulty so remember to start close to, and directly infront, of the set of poles. The reward point is a foot or two after completion of all 6 poles therefore you will need to run alongside to ensure accuracy of the reward. By running alongside you also give physical ‘support’, you don’t verbally encourage them through but by going with them you let them know they are doing the right thing. Be sure to swap sides at this stage sometimes running on the right of your dog, sometimes on the left .
Stage 13: Once your dog has accepted the staggered poles and is running through confidently you can start to narrow the channel by bringing each pole on the right in a few inches. As the gap narrows the dog will naturally start to flex their body to ensure that they pass through the gaps (see photo13 to 16 ). You are working towards the 6 poles being in a straight line with 600mm gaps.
 
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Stage 14: Once you have a dog who will happily negotiate a straight set of 6 poles at speed from a distance and from both right and left (other angles are a bonus) they are ready for the final stage of training. If your aim is to have fun with your dog in your garden I suggest that you keep to 6 poles which is easier, more fun and causes less physical strain.
For those who want to go on to compete at agility shows you will be required to complete a 12-pole weave. Rather than simply adding more and more poles the easier way to teach your dog to achieve a 12-pole weave is by setting up 2 separate lots of 6 pole weaves several feet apart. Make sure you keep it fun and exciting as they need to want to drive through the poles. Send them through the first set and reward, then send them to do the second set and reward again. Gradually reduce the pause for reward between the two sets until you cut it out completely and send your dog immediately from one to the other rewarding at the end of the end of 12 poles.
When you have a dog that will happily complete a straight 12 pole weave keep it fun but start to ask for more. You can start to work with greater distances, tighter angles (further round the clock i.e. 1 to 11 rather than just 3 to 9), swapping sides as your dog goes through the weaves and starting to pull away from them as they complete the set to ensure that, when you need to, you can move across a course to another obstacle secure in the knowledge that your dog will stay in the weave poles until they have completed the full set. Please remember that this is just one method, there are others, many others. I do not proport to be an expert or a ‘trainer’ this is just a technique that worked for me.
The dog I trained using this method was by far the easiest to train and has, so far, proven to be the most consistent at staying in the weaves and in finding the entry gate from some crazy angles – long may this continue. Also remember that your dog is not a robot and that you are not a failure if your dog misses a weave entry or pops out before finishing the set of weave poles whether this be 6, 12 or any number in between.
All dogs, no matter how experienced, will make mistakes, all handlers, no matter how experienced, will make mistakes we all just need to keep practising… and keep making it fun. Debbie has done some you video clips to illustrate this article. Search Google for You Tube, once into You Tube use their search bar and enter Deb61Deb (a Blue circle with a capital D in the middle) . Once you have established a link to her page go back onto the search bar Do not delete the Deb61Deb just add the words weave training to your search which will help you find them more easily amongst her other items and prevent you being guided to other peoples clips. You do NOT need to subscribe to see the videos. Debbie also has video clips on her facebook page “Hairy Tails- training trials and tribulations.
Alison True