Teeter Fear – #2 in a Series

Some of my students locally and around the country have performance problems related to Teeter Fear with one dog or another. They look to me I suppose for a magic bullet that would cure the problem and forever banish the fear their dogs have for the teeter. In fact there is no magic bullet.

I’ve had hundreds of correspondences with different agility enthusiasts about their experience with teeter fear. I’m drawing these together as best as possible into a summary of training methods, discussion of the root causes of the fear, and remedies. To tell you the truth it is in some ways a nearly hopeless mishmash of different approaches. These are sometimes contradictory. And I wonder at the validity of some claims. For example, a person will tell me “This is what I’m doing. And it’s working!” only to hear from them months later about how their dog has had a major set-back requiring them to go back to square one.

For my own interest I’ve been especially keen to draw a dichotomy between the forces of nature and nuture. A dog’s nature might lend him to be naturally fearful of movement, or noise, or the jarring discharge of energy from the performance of the plank. In the question of nuture, we have to ponder the proper steps to condition a dog to be fearless of movement; or what event might have befallen an otherwise brave dog to develop a sudden fear of the teeter.


At this writing I’m nearly overwhelmed by the collection of notes and correspondences on teeter fear and training methods. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll work at summarizing those notes and reporting them back to the web log in a series of related articles. And then, when I’m pretty much done with it I’ll publish it back as a permanent page (rather than a transient web log entry) that agility people can use as an ongoing reference. Of course it will always be open for new insights and revisions. Possibly some day we can have a Wikipedia resource for saving the information. For now I’ll try to be the best caretaker I can.

Exocrine Pancreatic  Insufficiency (EPI)

Barb Levenson writes: “I have a 2.5 yr b.c. with EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency). One of the side effects is the inability to store/metabolize vitamin B12 and he is often fearful.  At 8 months after success on the teeter something happened that frightened this dog to the core.  It took a great deal of work over 1.5 year to rehab the dog.”

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a disorder in which the pancreas does not produce an adequate amount of digestive enzymes. This deficiency results in poor digestion and poor absorption. EPI is most commonly found in German shepherd dogs, but can be seen in any breed. It is rare in cats.

“Essentially, vitamin B12 functions in various ways. The most important among all vitamin B12 functions is identified with the assistance in the neurotransmitter production. Neurotransmitter is an important element that regulates almost every function in our body and mind.” – Dr John Anne

Physics of the Teeter Performance

Teeter Whip is defined as the amount of flex in the teeter board along its length. The more flex the more “whip”; this definition by Steve Schwarz. Steve includes a great video and something of an analysis with his web log article Teeter Whip and Base Hop: http://agilitynerd.com/blog/agility/glossary/TeeterWhipHop.html.

We need to have an important discussion of physics. When the dog runs out to the end of the teeter a charge of energy is created equal to the dog’s mass by the rate of fall. The energy must be discharged somewhere. In an unsecured teeter—unstaked and unbagged—the energy is largely absorbed by the hop of the board so as the energy is discharged back down the board it serves to lift the teeter fulcrum.

The entire discussion of Teeter Whip creates the illusion that a stiffer and heavier board will absorb the energy. But, in fact, quite the opposite will occur. The whip itself represents a discharge in the unspent energy. If the board is stiff or heavy the energy will discharge right back up into the dog’s bones and joints.

Note that bagging or staking the teeter are chiefly culprit in transferring the release of energy back into the board. A simple fix might be to avoid bagging and/or staking the teeter, leaving the repositioning of the obstacle to the attention of a ring steward, much as we would have a ring steward take care of the collapsed chute.

As far as I can tell there is only one vendor of agility equipment who has studied the discharge of energy in the teeter performance: Duncan McGilvray of Action K9 Sports Equipment http://www.actionk9.com/. Duncan has created a ingenious teeter base with telescoping legs. The base can be bagged and staked. When a dog drives the board down the energy is absorbed and released by the telescoping legs. I was unable to find this remarkable new design on his website. I’d imagine you can contact Duncan at duncan@actionk9.com.

I had an interesting conversation with Duncan on the problem of the physics of the agility teeter. He wrote:

Agility folks have often witnessed the properties of physics, of movement and energy.  What happens when you secure a teeter base (that cannot absorb energy) to the ground can be somewhat ugly for the dog.  It is not the fault of the obstacle but rather the transfer of energy.  We can argue this point for hours but the outcome will still be the same.  Action K9 has developed a teeter base that seems to absorb a very large portion of this rebound energy and does not pitch the dog off the plank.  Our prototype has been out in the field for nearly 2 years and has done what it was designed to do.  There will always be some opposition to this principle.  Some say a heavier plank, stiffer plank or a lighter one, or maybe a green one, or a red one.  All of these options still produce movement and energy and that’s the culprit.  If you are going to continue the practice of sand bagging, pinning, nailing, or fastening the base to the ground this condition will remain.


Don’t hit kids! (No, seriously, they have guns now.) – unknown


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

7 Responses to “Teeter Fear – #2 in a Series”

  1. Anne Moore Says:

    Hey, Bud — the EPI connection is very interesting to me! You will remember Holly, my GSD, who, for no apparent reason developed a serious fear of the dogwalk. She has never had issues with the teeter, even during her dogwalk-phobic episodes. The interesting thing here: Holly was diagnosed with EPI many years ago. Just thought you’d be intrigued by this information!

  2. Elaine Coupe Says:

    I think many physical problems can cause teeter fear. Bounce, my blue merle BC had just turned 3 and was one leg from his ADCH – and all of a sudden the teeter (and table, go figure) were scary scary things. Turns out he had cardiomyopathy, probably as a result of Lyme disease.
    After 3 months of treatment the cardiomyopathy had turned around totally. The teeter wasn’t as quick. I did have to retrain, but it consisted mostly of letting him do whatever he wanted to the teeter to get movement for huge rewards.

    My first agility dog, Shadow, also had teeter fear – when he became ill with Addisons disease.

    I think the fear is not so much of the teeter per se, but of the dog’s inability to feel well enough to handle the movement. Like humans – when I hurt my knee I still WANT to run my dog in agility, but I know I can’t. So I’d rather not try. (Okay, I’m exaggerating but I’m trying to make a point.)

    I do think when a dog that has not previously exhibited fear of the teeter does “all of a sudden”, my inclination is to recommend that the dog first go see a vet and be sure something isn’t throwing the dog off their game. A simple ear infection may be causing teeter fear!

    Anyhow, just thought I’d throw that out to you.

  3. Sue Phillips Says:

    My 12 yo pap was afraid of teeter due to a couple “flyoffs” in early training, in the early days of agility teeters weren’t adjustable and dogs were just dragged over them.
    So, while he would do the teeter, he’d do it slowly and cautiously- the following method helped to speed him up and give confidence.
    I originally learned this method at a teeter clinic given by sue Verbocy, she learned it at a seminar given by Christine Frank. Give credit where you think it’s due.
    When we start with this method we use what we call a “teeter bra”. :-))))
    It’s basically a plasic lid attached to the end of the teeter with a piece of elastic around the board so it’s easy to take on and off. We squish a gooshy treat onto the target, (gooshy so it can’t bounce off) it gives the dog a reason to run to the end.
    You start by holding the teeter so it can’t move and let the dog run to the end for the treat.
    At first we lower the teeter very slowly while he eats the treat, never fast enough to scare the dog. Slowly increase the speed of the drop as the dog gets more confident, but be careful that it’s never fast enough to scare him. You want the dog to always keep his speed to the end and stay there until the end touches the ground.
    When you start to drop it faster, just let go when it’s very close to the ground. Then very slowly over time let go as it’s a little higher and higher and eventually you can let it drop from full height.
    With a big dog you need an assistant to hold the teeter up, but I’ve found with my papillon I can beat him to the end and hold it up myself.
    I’ve added a release command “go!” when it touches, but I don’t really think I need it, he’s figured out when he should go.

  4. Edna Says:

    My two year old Golden Retriever, Connor, developed a fear of the teeter and I still can’t get him on it. We have started from the beginning, training with the board on the ground and he is still afraid. It has only gotten worse as now when he sees a teeter he shakes. We are not competing Standard anymore just Jumps with weaves. If anyone has any suggestions I would be very grateful

  5. Natalie Bayless Says:

    On the theme of teeter fear due to physical ailments, my then eight year old Bichon Frise, Rufus, very suddenly became fearful of the teeter – literally between one run and the next. The culprit turned out to be a fractured molar. The jarring motion of the teeter hitting the ground, followed by vibration was causing him pain. Once the tooth was fixed, the problem disappeared. (Unfortunately, he responded to the pain by tensing his neck, which led to two months of rest and rehab before he could run again)

  6. Liz M Says:

    After my 1st three dogs went thru a teeter fear period, I started training the teeter thoroughly before letting them near a dog walk. Many instructors teach the dog walk first as it’s one of the easy obstacles. However, you then have a dog that has it’s previously stable narrow plank suddenly dropping under it. If the teeter is taught 1st, it’s easier on the dog’s instincts to have a narrow plank that decides to be stable after being unstable vs their stable plank suddenly becoming unstable.

    Remedial training, once they learned the whole point of the teeter was to “tip it,” instead of “going up then down a tippy board,” they got the point and decided it was ok. All that was necessary was to change the reward point to the tip point. I used this for remedial training as well as initial training thereafter.

    Haven’t had problems with the teeter after doing the above two, including my 3 yr old scaredy cat that I swore would have severe teeter issues regardless of what I did.

  7. Liz M Says:

    A couple other things I forgot to mention. I always have my older experienced dogs demonstrate something first. It’s integral to youngsters to watch their elders to learn the ways of life. What is safe? What is not safe? When they encounter something new, they watch their elders to see how they react. If the elder is happy with something, the youngster follows with the willingness that the situation will turn out ok. If the elder reacts with fear, the youngster follows that way. My older dogs are one of my main training tools for my new ones.

    Also, it really helps to teach scary things at home where a young dog isn’t unsure or distracted by it’s environment at a critical time. It’s asking a lot of a young dog to deal with both the new environment of a new training class and tough new concepts like teeters.

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