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Finding new ways for your dog to spend excess energy is always a challenge. Whether you decide to go the route of longer walks, finding a job for your energetic pooch, or trying out a doggy sport, each one requires a bit of effort in order to get the most out of the activity. While these activities may seem higher energy and better suited for larger breeds, even small breeds may get just as much enjoyment out of them, provided they are tailored for a dog of smaller stature.
While small breeds may not be able to train as intensely as their larger counterparts, don’t count on them being idle or lazy. Small dogs like terriers, spaniels, or miniature poodles can excel at agility, especially, using their speed and size to their advantage to weave in and out of poles, rocket through tunnels, and leap over some shorter hurdles. But even smaller dogs need proper training, especially when it comes to the daunting obstacle that is the large, imposing seesaw or teeter-totter.
Unlike the changeable hurdles that can be adjusted to fit your small dog’s stature, the seesaw is generally one standard size that must be mastered by dogs of all sizes. The tipping of the plank and the loud bang it makes when it strikes the ground may both prove to be tricky when training, though they can be overcome with enough persistence.
Smaller dogs should only begin agility training once they are entirely done growing. Too much excess physical activity can wear down on joints and other growing areas. Agility is also not appropriate for some senior small dogs as it can cause injury. Having your dog’s health assessed is important, but once he receives a clean bill of health and approval from the vet, be ready to set aside at least three to four weeks to become familiar with the seesaw portion of agility training.
Before starting with seesaw training, you’ll need to invest in a safe seesaw with which to practice on. Some agility clubs may offer the use of their equipment, or you can choose to build one yourself if you have the know-how. Ensure that any equipment you use is safe and sturdy to prevent any injury or accident.
Once you’ve secured the equipment, then gather up some of your sporty pup’s favorite treats in order to reinforce positive training techniques. Depending on which route you go down, you may also want to get a leash ready for use. When you’ve got all that ready to go, then you can begin your training!
The Sound Method
Start at a distance
Keeping your smaller dog farther away from the seesaw can make it easier to adjust to the sound that it makes when it drops. Start several yards away where the sound is not very loud and is easy to ignore.
Keep the volume low
Have a helper drop the seesaw from a small height in order for it to make a sound when it hits the ground. Reward your dog as soon as the sound is made.
Bring your dog closer
Decrease the distance between your dog and the seesaw over time, rewarding each time he hears the sound. Watch for any stress signals and go back a few steps if he reacts negatively.
Drop the seesaw from higher
Each time you get closer, have the seesaw dropped from a higher height.
Reward every time
Your dog should be getting a reward for each time the sound is made. You can change up the rewards for different tasty morsels if necessary!
Keep going until it’s easy to ignore
Continue to practice until the sound doesn’t bother your dog from any distance at any height. The more familiar he is with the sound, the easier it will be to actually practice on the seesaw itself.
The Leash Method
Secure the leash and collar
Ensure that the collar and leash are well in hand and you have good control over both. The collar should not be tight, nor should you need to pull or tug on the leash in order to help your dog move forward on the seesaw. Her comfort should be important!
Brace the board
Place something onto the board to keep it in place and prevent it from tilting. Your dog should be allowed to get used to being on the seesaw without it moving at first.
Guide your dog upwards slowly
Using the leash to do so, guide your dog up and onto the board, only allowing her to go a few steps before rewarding.
Reward for progress
Reward for every bit of progress to keep training fun and interesting. Keep going upwards until your dog can reach the center of the seesaw.
Introduce the wobble
Remove the brace on the board but have someone keep a tentative hold so it does not wobble too much. Allow it to move slightly and reward generously when she remains on the seesaw. Keep a tight hold on the leash and collar to prevent her from falling.
Tilt the seesaw downwards
Have your helper move the seesaw slightly downwards so that your dog is facing a downward angle.
Guide your dog down
Use your hold on the leash to guide your dog down the other end of the slide, waiting until she reaches the safe zone, usually marked by a white stripe on the seesaw, before leading her off.
Hold the reward until the very end
Hold your reward until your dog can reach the safe zone and hop off and back onto the ground once you’ve made enough progress. She will eventually understand that she must follow through to earn the reward.
The Lure Method
Hold the treat near your dog’s nose
Capture your dog’s interest by holding a treat close enough for him to notice. This will act as your lure throughout the training. It should be something especially tasty.
Guide towards the seesaw
Use the treat to lead your dog to the seesaw.
Reward for stepping onto it
Offer a reward for simply stepping onto the plank. You’ll be able to work your way up from there with a solid foundation.
Go through the motions
Use the treat as an effective lure to guide your dog up, to the center point, and then all the way down, rewarding intermittently. Keep trainings short to prevent overwhelming him too much in one session.
Once your dog is making it all the way back down, remember to hold the reward until the safe zone has been touched and passed.
Make rewards higher in value
When nearing the end of seesaw training, make the rewards tastier and more likely to hold your dog’s attention. He will be more enthusiastic about finishing sessions with less problems.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 03/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021