The Two Minute Dog Trainer – Killer Weaves

The real difficulty obtaining great obstacle performance in agility is the dog trainer’s reluctance or failure to raise the bar for performance. The handler survives with handling solutions and so becomes complacent as a dog trainer. The weave poles are surely the most technical obstacle in agility and so deserve a long-term training program for the dog to become ever more proficient and confident.

The weave poles define the dog’s movement as surely as a pipe tunnel

In the following series of exercises I am looking to achieve two distinct performance objectives in the weave poles. 1) I want the dog comfortable with a Back Cross. 2) I want to leave the dog in the weave poles while separating from him on the oblique.

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I want the dog comfortable with a Back Cross. Although the handler’s act of shifting lanes behind the dog constitutes a conflict of directives, I want the dog to discover that the primary cue was making the presentation of the weaves and giving the command for performance. My movement behind him doesn’t constitute a change of plans or directives.

Frankly, I took the same sort of training steps with a pipe tunnel. Many very novice dogs will refuse a pipe tunnel if the handler is on the side away from the curl of the tunnel. And so I had to teach my dog that without regard to the direction of the bend of the tunnel or the side I was on when I made the presentation… I want him to get in, and go through. The weave poles are a bit more problematic because the dog can actually see me as he performs.

Note that I’ve put the training wires up on the long line of weave poles. Any time I raise the bar for performance on the weaves I’ll put the wires up because they help shape my dog’s movement and remind him of where to get in and to finish the entire set.

Some dogs may be so averse to the idea of the handler’s Back Cross that it’s impossible to get a single good rep in the very beginning. It might be useful to target the end of the weave poles and perhaps supply a small morsel of a food treat so that the dog is focused forward and less keyed on the handler’s antics. Though when I use a food/target to initially shape a performance I will fade the target as soon as possible and switch to a system of reward. I am fairly convinced that a dog being lured (food on target) is learning at a consequentially slower rate than a dog being taught by a system of reward.

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Having mastered the Back Cross on the approach to the weave poles, I’m going to introduce the increasing oblique separation of the handler’s path. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to master this. If a dog is completely accustomed to the handler looming over him throughout the entire performance then it will be a hard to convince the dog that everything is proceeding to plan if the handler tries to work at too great a distance too abruptly.

Many course designers figure that a set of weave poles is a trapping obstacle. Most handlers will be trapped with their dogs as the dog comes out the last pole. And so the course designer will challenge the team downfield with some technical puzzle and limit the handler’s possible solutions because the handler is likely behind the dog on the approach because they’d been trapped with the dog at the weave poles.

So, what we’re really teaching the dog to do here is finish the weave poles even when the handler uses the few seconds of that performance to assume a strategic control position on the course.

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Did I mention that the handler should give equal weight to practice of Back Crosses and oblique departures working on either side? I suppose I didn’t.

The drawing here shows an angled approach to the Back Cross at the weave poles. Fundamentally, the jump probably should shift to the side only a foot or two in each unique training session with the dog. Making a 45° approach might not be so radical a concept except that it makes the shift of the handler’s path in the Back Cross considerably more of a conflict against the imperative to get into the weave poles and finish the job.

About the Two Minute Dog Trainer

I am content with the fundamental and unhurried approach to performance as a Two Minute Dog Trainer. That means that I will spend a mere two minutes in a given training session on an dog training task with technical performance goals. I take the long view. Like I said, I’m unhurried.

The conventional wisdom with dog training is that a dog is inclined to find the exercise irksome if drilled and practiced for more than about 15 minutes. I’ve seen too many dog trainers in agility undermine relationship with their dogs by over-training and by the relentless nature of their drill and practice that they inflict on the poor animal.

Editor’s Note

I originally posted this on my weblog as a “Page”… before I actually understood how the WordPress environment works. A “Page” is a high-level object that has a continuous presence. So I am removing the page and resubmitting it as a “Post” which is a part of the continuous stream of my teaching, rants, and opinions.

Oh, I also had a very badly written header line. I said “A pipe tunnel defines the dog’s path as surely as a pipe tunnel.” D’oh! The header line should have read: “The weave poles define the dog’s path as surely as a pipe tunnel.” So, I’ve fixed that bit.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@earthlink.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.

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