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Problem Solving Weaves - Part Two of Two

Trainer Lynne Stephens continues her discussion of challenges when teaching the weave obstacle.


by Lynne Stephens

Back to the weaves - a long duration behavior.

Weaving all 12 poles is a long duration behavior. It is not dissimilar in its challenges to a long sequence of heeling or a long down stay for example.

What usually happens once the dog is perceived to have "mastered" all 12 weaves, is that we fail to practice them as anything other than 12 weaves together. We practice 12 weaves over and over again, both to be "sure" that our dogs have really "got it" and enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with witnessing this great accomplishment. Little heed is paid to the strenuous physical nature of this behavior.

With heeling patterns, it is also not uncommon to see those who have begun to compete (if not before) hardly even reinforcing shorter units of heeling - instead preferring to concentrate on practicing the long and complex heeling pattern.

So how does this help?

Well, what we certainly cannot do is change the rules of competition. But what we can change is the way we perceive the weaves and the way we practice and reinforce them (and perhaps our heeling patterns!) in order to make them much more appealing to our dogs both in and out of the ring.

Using the same science that explains how behavior chains work and the knowledge that a well-timed cue can reinforce the previous behavior in the chain, I have had quite a bit of success in helping students with some of their weave pole challenges as follows.

Now don't expect any rocket science here - just a little behavioral science. This is maybe nothing that you have not heard before, but maybe now you will hear it with slightly different ears, understanding a little more deeply the nuances of the way behavior chains work.

The weaves - one long behavior chain!

Let's think of the weaves, not as one long behavior, but as a chain of several much smaller behaviors.

For our purposes here, let's think of the obstacle as just four poles. (Though if your dog is very happy to do six poles both in and out of the ring, then you might think of the obstacle as a unit of six.)

How much easier that would be for our dogs?

When we practice, instead of asking for 12, ask instead for just four poles. Mark and reinforce with a high value reinforcer each time your dog succeeds with this new obstacle ( lets call it the mini-weaves!) until it truly is a favorite of his.

Next, put this new mini-weave obstacle into a sequence of maybe three or four additional behaviors (e.g. jump, mini-weave, 90 degree turn over the next jump to the A-frame, or extended jump.) Be sure that you have practiced each individual link in this chain independently and reinforced it well before putting it into the chain. If all the links are not of equal value then your behavior chain will break! When chaining the behaviors all together, be sure to mark and reinforce the last behavior in the chain every time!

This is your opportunity to ensure that you are now able to use the next cue as a valuable reinforcer for the mini-weaves. Remember, each cue needs to be given at the exact moment you were previously marking and reinforcing the individual behaviors. Then put it a short sequence.

But  I can hear you say,
"The obstacle is not just four poles and my dog must be able to do 12 poles without a primary reinforcer (food or toys) in the ring!"

This is where the "magic" of understanding the science comes in.

Of course, we will have to ask our dogs to do more than one set of four weaves together on occasion, just as we have to put the A-frame or Dogwalk into a sequence from time to time, though this doesn't stop us from practicing them as single obstacles over and over again without a thought!

So, now, when putting two sets of four poles together:

  • think of this as a short sequence of two sets of four poles.
  • be sure to reinforce the first set of four with a timely cue for the second set.

(In effect you are saying - "Great job! You did the first four, which you love because theyve been so well reinforced - so now you get the chance to do the second set of four!)

Then, when you (occasionally) want to put all 12 poles together to practice, you have, in effect, created a three-part chain, providing you cue each set of four as the dog is completing the previous one.

If you cue each set of four poles within the chain, then you are reinforcing each set of four with another known and well-liked cue. (The science says so!)

Thought about in this way, you will free yourself from having to always practice 12 poles and your dog will be allowed to develop a love of the simpler obstacle (the mini-weaves four or six poles) so that when asked to do three sets of four (or two sets of six) occasionally, he is equally excited by this prospect.

You must remember always to use the cue for the mini-weaves as a conditioned secondary reinforcer and to time your cue for the next obstacle precisely. This, whether we understand it or not, is what is happening throughout all our competition behavior chains. Understanding it won't magically make us all better handlers, but should make us much more sympathetic handlers.

After all it is only science, not magic!

Understanding behavior chains is the subject of our seminar, "But I can't take the Treats and Toys in the Ring!  (Now also available as a DVD from www.tawzerdog.com or www.karenpryoracademy.com).

If you missed part one of this article, it's available here!

Lynne Stephens is co-owner and trainer at DogLogic Training near Statesville in North Carolina. She was an educator in England for 26 years and has more than 30 years' experience in a variety of dog sports. Lynne has taken her own dogs to the highest levels of competition both in the USA and abroad.

In 1987 she won the prestigious Working Trials competition, ASPADS (Associated Sheep, Police and Army Dogs) Patrol Dog of the Year with a Belgian Tervueren. She was a member of the British World Agility team in 2003 and 2004 with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and has taken both Cavaliers and Border Collies to AKC and USDAA agility Nationals in the USA.

Lynne now combines her passion for teaching, learning and dogs in her role as agility specialist, instructor and seminar presenter at DogLogic. At first a "crossover trainer," Lynne now fully embraces positive reinforcement, marker based training and graduated with honors from the Karen Pryor Academy as a Certified Training Partner in December 2013.

In the last couple of years, she has co-authored an online course for the Karen Pryor Academy, "Dog Sports Essentials" and has produced a DVD of her popular seminar, "But I Can't Take the Treats and Toys in the Ring" - available on the Karen Pryor and Tawzer Dog websites.

These days she considers that some of her greatest teachers are the dogs with which she and her husband share their home. Her greatest piece of advice to students and to herself is, "Love your dogs, keep an open mind and never stop learning!" Website: www.doglogictraining.com, E mail: lynne@doglogictraining.com

Photo Credit: Great Dane Photography

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