Posted Date: July 21, 2015
Nothing says pure agility better than a smooth and powerful weave pole performance. By Julie Daniels
Many dogs can perform the weaves, but do not love them. Think of the 12-second weaves you have seen in competition. No mistakes, but no desire either. There are also many dogs who love the weaves, but can't seem to perform them successfully. Think of the 2.5 second wonders with missed poles and early exits.
What does it take to have it all? Think of the three C's: Confidence, Commitment and Completion.
We tend to recognize Confidence when we see it, but what is the difference between Commitment and Completion?
All too often we train up to 12 poles without teaching the dog to be independent in his performance. We simply work for Completion and we don't understand how to build Commitment. Then at some later time, when the dog's expectation is that the handler will always be alongside, we want to change the game and go off somewhere else while the dog is weaving.
That is a difficult job because by now we have patterned our dog to a dependent performance for so very many repetitions! If all your dog does is Complete the poles, then you will never attain a joyful independent pole performance. Go back and raise his level of desire so that he wants to Commit to the poles all by himself!
Here is a simple test of good solid Commitment. Does your dog look at you while he is in the poles? Your dog can certainly Complete his poles while looking at you, but if he is Committed to his poles then he looks at the equipment.
Take a look at this Portuguese Water Dog youngster, Yellow, long before she's ready to compete. She is learning to find and operate on the poles by herself. She is learning Commitment. There is nothing complicated about this set-up. If you have worked with 2x2 weaves then you may have done something like this. All I did for this foundation class was to add a few easy 2x2s to a V-channel set-up of six poles.
Yellow novice 12 poles up and back.
These beginner dogs have seen channels before and have learned to do them with the handler ahead or behind, out of easy eyesight. They have seen 2x2s before and have worked up to three of them in a row. They can go ahead of the handler without looking about or hesitating. Those are the prerequisite skills for this game.
So this double-duty set-up does represent a stretch for my class, but it is a reasonable and logical progression of their novice skill set. No matter how old or how experienced your weave dog is, this might be a useful game for you as well. We are working on the three C's as well as the basis for independent poles.
In this classroom set-up, notice that I am also using a 'peanut gallery' of classmates to offer friendly distraction. This challenge alone is more than some experienced dogs can handle!
I love how this little girl takes off ahead of her handler and seeks the path back down the line of 12 poles. She is on her way to having independent poles. A bright weave future is calling!
Listen to the cheers of her classmates! Yellow is being well rewarded for operating with the power of independent weaves.
Although Yellow is a young novice dog, this set-up would be great for building this concept into the performance of a Masters level dog who could use some help with independence in the weaves. It's better to start with a set-up like this than to work with 12 regulation poles and experience mistakes. A pattern of mistakes will cost the team dearly in all three C's - Confidence, Commitment and Completion.
Instead, set up a simple line like this one so your dog can become proficient at finding the line independently. Remember to appreciate your dog's success like Yellow's handler does!
First Pole on Left Shoulder
If your dog understands that he has to find the first pole and put it on his left shoulder, he is on his way to correct weave entry under pressure. Here is a simple home video of Torri, a novice dog who is learning, through the operant process of shaping, to adjust her path and put the first pole on her left shoulder.
Video of Torri's first pole game.
How important is it that the dog can find the first pole and put it on his left shoulder? Today's toughest courses put that challenge to the test. Here is an example of a very smart adjustment of path by Sophie to get into the poles correctly from a difficult angle of approach:
Video of Sophie - onside independent entry.
And here is Sport answering a completely different weave entry challenge. This one is made even more difficult by exiting blind at speed out of the closed tunnel:
Sport's difficult weave entry challenge.
Divergence and Convergence
Perhaps your dog is fine with 12 regulation poles; he can find the line and likes to weave. Can you change your relative position while he is weaving? If your dog cannot let you go away, or if he cannot let you start further away and come in closer while he is weaving, then you need more work with Divergence and Convergence. These concepts are challenging to the dog whose handler has a habit of always being exactly here or there in relation to the dog.
This video is one I made to help my online students in my Foundation Weaves class. Does this look like a foundation skill to you? With the extreme challenges of today's upper level courses, the standard for weave performance is getting higher and higher. We should be thinking about independent weave performance from early on in order to help our dogs take charge of the job with joy and power.
Colt demonstrating Diverge and Converge.
Colt is also demonstrating a game of Do You See here, which I incorporate into all my foundation classes. It displays both Confidence and Commitment to the obstacle, which of course helps him Complete the assignment. If we want joy and power in our performances, then these silly games become very important!
Here is Dakota, presenting a more advanced picture of Divergence and Convergence with 12 regulation poles:
Dakota - advanced Diverge and Converge.
Here is Atty showing full command of the three C's as her handler leaves (Divergence) and heads downstream:
Atty showing off the Three C's - Confidence, Commitment and Completion.
She knows exactly where her handler went, forward and to her left. She notices when she passes the last pole and she sets off to catch him. No stress, no problem.
No stress, no problem. Just a series of good decisions by your dog based on all the elements of difficulty being addressed in a fun and gradual way by a trainer who wants it all! That is what good independent weaves look like.
Julie Daniels is a two-time USDAA National Champion and has also competed on two IFCS Gold Medal Winning Teams. She has been the voice of Cynosport livestream commentary and is the author of award-winning agility books and DVDs. She teaches online for the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy (www.FenziDogSportsAcademy.com ), where she will be teaching a course in Foundation Weaves in the August term and a course in Advanced Weaves in the October term. Her email is JulieDaniels@WhiteMountainAgility.net