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For owners interested in agility, there is any number of obstacles that your dog must learn to be able to partake in serious competition. Most agility courses have a set of regulation equipment that every dog, regardless of size, will need to know back and forth in order to succeed. However, some of this equipment can be daunting for a timid dog or one that is easily dwarfed by most of the obstacles and, while competitions will adjust things for size, a dog’s fear of an obstacle can easily mean disqualification.
The trickiest of the agility obstacles is the seesaw, or teeter-totter, which is a tilting platform that a dog must ascend upwards, find his pivot point, tip the seesaw, and then exit the bottom of the other end. There are a lot of intimidating components to the seesaw, including the movement, the tricky balance, and the noise that it can make. All of this can present some difficulty, but learning the seesaw is not impossible, even for a fearful dog.
Learning the seesaw can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the type of dog you have. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that regardless of his experience level, your dog will be much more likely to succeed if given time and patience and the ability to take things slowly. Rushing or forcing your dog to perfect the seesaw will likely only yield poor results, or worse, a larger fear of the equipment itself.
While the seesaw can be tricky, it’s crucial for your dog to be familiar with the obstacle and know how to properly navigate it, as it will almost always make an appearance on any professional agility course. A refusal to go onto the seesaw or an avoidance of it entirely will likely mean deducted points or an elimination from a competition, so it’s better to get your dog used to it sooner rather than later. If possible, start training in the puppy months, as it’s easier to adjust to new things when your dog is younger. However, you can still train an older dog to manage as well, but expect to tack on a few extra weeks to your training.
To begin with, you’ll need access to a seesaw that is safe for your dog to use. Most local agility clubs will have one available, or you can purchase one yourself. Be cautious if ever trying to build one yourself, as it must be safe for your dog to walk on and operate. Regulation agility seesaws should be 12 inches wide and 12 feet long, with the center point being 24 inches above the ground.
As with any agility training, you’ll want to get together some yummy treats to reward your dog for good behavior and a leash, if desired, to keep him nearby and focused. A toy can also be used as a reward at the very end of your training session to keep it fun and less stressful for your dog.
The Exploration Method
Place treats around the seesaw
Your dog should be rewarded for exploring the area around the seesaw to begin with. Don’t touch the seesaw and just scatter treats around the base to get him used to the obstacle being there.
Place treats on the lower part of the seesaw
Without touching or moving the seesaw itself, place some treats on the side of the ramp that is touching the ground already. Encourage your dog to sniff at it and take the treats.
Move the treats higher up
Continue to avoid moving the seesaw itself while placing treats higher up on the entry side of the plank. Do not place them near the pivot point yet, as this method is about slower encouragement.
Lift the entry point a few inches above the ground
Place more treats along the entry ramp and gently lift that side of the seesaw so that it’s a few inches off the ground. Encourage your dog to continue taking the treats.
Increase the height as you go
As your dog builds confidence, gradually start tipping him towards the pivot point. Reward frequently. This part may take multiple training sessions as it is the trickiest.
Coax your dog towards the exit ramp
Once you can successfully get him to navigate the pivot point and start angling downward, place more treats along the exit ramp and down to the exit contact point. Encourage him to walk down the ramp instead of jumping off prematurely.
Don’t hesitate to try again
Your dog may jump off of the seesaw early many times at the beginning. Simply reset the seesaw and try again each time, being encouraging and fun. Keep plenty of treats on hand.
Soften the impact
The noise that the seesaw makes when it hits the ground can be scary. Keep a hold on the seesaw and place a little bit of force on it when your dog exits so it doesn’t hit the ground as hard. Alternatively, use a rubber bumper or something soft to keep it from spooking him.
The seesaw is best practiced as often as possible, even for dogs who are familiar with it. Build your dog’s confidence with lots of treats and praise throughout and be persistent. Take breaks if necessary.
The Lure Method
Get a hold on your dog’s collar
This works best with fingers underneath the collar and pointed up towards the nose. This should be a hold, not a pull!
Use a treat to lure your dog forward
Keep a good hold on your dog’s collar and hold the treat in the other hand a little bit in front of his head. This will keep him looking and walking forward.
Reward for any positive movement
Even if he takes a few steps forward onto the ramp, you’ll want to reward him for it. Any movement on the seesaw is good movement and you want him to know that at first.
Proceed up the seesaw
Continue to lure your dog upwards and towards the center point. Keep a hold on his collar throughout and go very slowly. Do not try to pull or rush him.
Work your way downward
Use the same method to make your way over the center point and down the other end. Take your time and don’t worry if he decides he’s not ready.
This may take several training sessions as the seesaw can be scary. Never rush your dog through the process, or he could develop a fear.
End all training on a good note
Whether it’s a handful of yummy treats or playtime with a favorite toy, be sure to reward your dog for a job well done at the end of the session.
The Reverse Method
Start at the exit point
With the exit point of the seesaw already on the ground, place your dog a few steps away from the exit by lifting her up and onto it and then rewarding for proceeding down to the exit.
Place your dog gradually higher
Since you’re working backwards, you’ll continue to place your dog a little bit higher on the exit ramp of the seesaw each time. Use a treat at the exit contact point to ensure she touches it before hopping off.
Work towards the pivot point
The goal is to get your dog to gradually move from the pivot point down to the contact point. Work your way up to this with plenty of rewards for a job well done and take breaks if she seems overwhelmed. This may take a few sessions.
Do the whole obstacle
Once your dog can reliably go from the pivot point down to the exit contact point, try the whole seesaw, catching the exit ramp at first to keep from startling her with the noise too soon.
Drop the seesaw from gradually higher points
When your dog first does the whole seesaw, drop it from a low height of just an inch or two off the ground. Each time she performs the obstacle, drop it from higher points, rewarding frequently, until she can drop the seesaw herself without issue.
Build confidence and speed
Once she can navigate the seesaw on her own with minimal help, turn it into a game. See how fast she can do it safely, offer treats often, and reward with a fun play time at the end of the training session.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 12/26/2017, edited: 01/08/2021