My weave training method of choice is the Weave-A-Matic method, available thru Max200 (800-446-2920). Both my dogs that broke the world record were trained from the ground up with the WAM method. Some of my other dogs in the past were trained with the channel/chute method. I have found, for me, that the channel/chute method created “hoppers”, dogs that put two feet on each side of the poles and *hop* back and forth thru them, in effect weaving around the poles, and some would bend too much (NOTE: short backed and some small dogs tend to *hop* no matter what method used). Not that there is anything wrong with dogs hopping through the poles. Its just not the way I want *my* dogs to weave. I am sure there are plenty of people who have trained dogs to single track (one foot on each side of each pole) with channels/chutes, I just haven’t had any success achieving single tracking with channels/chutes with my own or my students dogs.
My overall goal in teaching weave poles is that I want dogs to weave *through* the poles, not around them. I am looking for the dog to keep a very tight, fast, efficient line thru the poles, to find and to keep a *rhythm* with his footwork all the way thru the poles without breaking stride.
With the “WAM” method, I introduce the dog to the poles completely open. I work the dogs from a recall position (I do *not* walk alongside the dogs). I use a helper if I don’t have a stay with young dogs. I stand in the line of poles straddling the base. I hold a motivator exactly at the dogs head height and centered in the poles. With the motivator held at dog head height I work to encourage the dog to hold his top line flat with his head, neck and shoulder level. This encourages the dog to use his head and shoulder to *push* the poles aside. Dogs don’t tend to *hop* when they are leading with their nose, so you end up with single tracking dog that drives forward and pushes *through* the poles. Another thing that works at this point to encourage single tracking is to attach a leash and buckle collar to the dog and have someone hold the leash from behind the dog keeping a little bit of pressure on the leash. In effect making the dog *pull* a bit. I haven’t had to do this but I have seen it done and it works well for dogs that are structurally capable of single tracking but are finding it hard to get the rhythm.
Once the dog gains confidence and understanding I start moving the poles to an upright position slowly (starting at the center of the poles and working out). I gauge confidence and understanding in the dog when they move thru the poles with rhythm and/or start trying to *jump* over the bottoms of the poles to get to me. I get to about 6 inches off center (centered being straight up) usually within the first few sessions.
I sometimes have to hold the motivator out in front of where I am standing to get the dog to weave in between the poles and not just come straight to me without weaving. Usually I can reach out 3 poles towards the dog. I alternate with poles on the left and right side of my arm so as the dog weaves towards me I can pull straight back with the motivator effectively pulling the motivator between the poles in the same direction and sequence I want the dog to weave. When I do that I pull the motivator straight back towards myself keeping it just a bit ahead of the dog. I do *not* weave the motivator back and forth thru the poles in big arching side to side moves, I pull it back towards me in a straight line. When the dog gets to the toy (and me) he is released. I do not step out of the poles at any time. NOTE: you need to keep your body very still (no side to side movement) when you teach from a recall position otherwise the dog loses his focus on the poles and starts to look at you. Obviously if you are reaching the motivator out towards the dog you will be moving forward and then standing upright, that is ok, its the side to side “weave dance” that you need to avoid. If you train alone, video tape yourself. And yes, at first some dogs focus on the motivator and not the poles, but they start to get the idea in no time to keep their focus on the poles. If a dog misses a pole, I just start over with a “Nice try, let go try it again”. Once they succeed a few times and get their toy/treat they get the idea quickly. I have also found that dogs trained to weave with a recall don’t get distracted in the poles as easily.
I progress slowly and work my way backwards thru the poles until I am doing a full set of 12 (or more). Every time I move the poles up a quarter of an inch I move back to straddling the pole base at around the 2nd or 3rd pole. I then work my way backwards again thru the poles. I keep the poles at 1-2 inches off center for a while, usually about 4 weeks. This is the point in training where I want to build muscle and rhythm memory.
I work all my angled entries at this time. When the poles reach a full straight up position the dog already is experienced with angled entries. Once all that is taught and the poles are straight up, I start working sending the dog thru the poles. I put the motivator on a chair or something close to head height of the dog and send him to it. I like to use food or a toy in a container at this point so that if the dog pulls out of the poles he can’t be rewarded unless I open the container.
In the final polishing stage I start moving along side the dogs while he is in the poles. I work to find a place along side the dog where he is comfortable. Each dog has a different comfort zone where he wants his handler to be, I work hard to find that “zone”. Usually, I find that keeping my body even with his shoulder or hip and focusing on the pole ahead of him works best (though one of my dogs likes me to run to the end, face him and wait from him to weave to me). I add jumps before and after and all that at this time.
When entry problems, exit problems or other problems arise (and they will) I just bend a pole out here or there and work the problem out.
Please note that I did not train my dogs to *just weave*… I trained them to weave FAST and of course to weave accurately. This is what was important to *me*. So my method of teaching the poles is not for everyone, it’s worked for me with multiple dogs and its worked for most of my students dogs. Of my two dogs that broke the world record, both learned to weave in about 5 weeks. The Golden started training weaves at about 12 months old, the BC started training at about 6 months old. The Golden had the best overall success and is the most solid weaver I have, the BC still has entry issues (doesn’t slow and rock his weight back enough on entry so I have to slow him manually with a “lie down” command). My youngest dog (a BC) started weaving at 10 months. She is now 12 months and her poles are 1/2 inch off center. We haven’t worked as hard on weaving as my other two dogs because she isn’t coming out into competition for a few more months. So there’s no pressure. She does have a short back… will she single track??? We’ll see. What ever rhythm she finds the most comfortable is fine with me (you cant force a dog to single track if its not built for it). But whatever rhythm she chooses… I will train her to do it FAST 😉
Not all dogs are built to single track. Some dogs are too small to single track. I use this method with all my students dogs, short backed, small, etc. It produces fast weavers, whether they single track or not, whatever rhythm the dog finds comfortable, they do it with speed, accuracy and happy attitudes, which is the most important aspect of any method I use. It works for me.
As published in Clean Run Magazine.
© Chris Parker
* Chris has been involved with dogs since 1980. She has trained and participated in many canine performance events including agility, obedience, field, herding, tracking, conformation, flyball, earthdog, freestyle, disc dog and road dog. Presently she is working a Golden Retriever, three Border Collies, and a Cairn Terrier. Chris’ training methods are designed to bring dog and handler teams to their top potential, by customizing training plans and teaching handling maneuvers that best benefit each individual team. Focusing on being more proactive then reactive, Chris specializes in everything from fast dog handling skills to training for the motivationaly/focused challenged, from Border Collies to tough to train dogs, including problem solving and handlers/dogs with physical limitations. Chris’ encourages handlers to work outside their comfort zone, to try handling maneuvers they wouldnt normally use or didnt think they could execute, to improving their overall program. All efforts are rewarded (dog and handler) and the focus is always on fun, play and praise. Chris’ students have received well over 500 titles in agility and obedience. She was selected with Mayhem for 2002 AKC/USA World Agility Team World Agility Championships in Dortmund and broke Guinness Book of World Records for Dog Weaving with two of her dogs on the same day. First with her 4 year old Golden Retriever “Cajun” broke the record with a run of 11.04 seconds and then again with her 19 month old Border Collie “Mayhem”, which is the current world record holder, having completed 60 weavepoles in 9:54 seconds.