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Your dog may be small but he's a pocket rocket. He doesn't behave like a little dog and instead has boundless energy and loves to be on the go. It occurs to you that his active nature would be well suited to agility, and decide to give things a go at home.
He takes to jumps like a natural, hurdling over low barriers with gazelle like athleticism. Likewise, long jumps - he hurtles over these without breaking his stride. He even excels at the tunnel, romping through with his tail in the air. But then you discover his weakness...weave poles. He simply has too much energy and won't listen to instructions.
What to do?
Watching a dog run through weaves poles at full pelt is a joy and a wonderful display of the dog's athleticism. This skill involves running in a straight line while weaving the body around a series of vertical poles. It looks impressive and indeed it is, and when you know how it's actually not as hard as you might suppose to teach.
You will need a space in which to set up the weaving poles, along with some objects from which to create a weaving course. If you are fortunate enough to have some actual weaving poles, then access to a second set can greatly help training.
Remember, this is a fun exercise and should be taught in such a way that the dog feels a sense of achievement. Use your voice to praise and call the dog in an excited manner and be liberal with treats when he does well.
- Two sets of weaving poles (in an ideal world!)
- Objects to create a course, such as flower pots or buckets
- A collar and leash
- Tasty treats
- A treat bag or pouch so the titbits are easily accessible
- A targeting pole
- A clicker (if desired)
The Spread Weaves Method
Understand the idea
This method involves starting with two rows of weave poles arranged in parallel, side by side. The idea is first to teach the dog to run through the narrow channel between the separated weave poles. Once he learns to do this you move the poles closer, making the gap narrower. Eventually the poles are placed so close the dog has to weave between them in order to maintain his forward path.
Correctly set up the weave poles
Invest in two lines of weave poles. Set the up so the poles form two parallel lines, with a gap that is a little wider than the width of your small dog. The poles themselves should be offset from each other, in such a way that when brought together they will form a weave.
Introduce the dog to the channel
With the dog on the leash, show him the weave poles and let him sniff around. Praise him for his interest in order to build his confidence. Now encourage the dog to trot along the channel created by the two lines of weave poles. Having him on the leash and walking alongside helps him to understand what's expected. When he reaches the end of the channel give him lots of praise. Practice this a few times.
Prepare to call the dog through
Now you are going to encourage the dog to run along the channel by himself. Unclip the leash and have the dog sit at the far end of the weave pole course. If his sit is solid, then have him 'stay' and walk to the opposite end of the channel. If the dog is liable to break his sit then ask a friend to hold his collar while you walk to your position.
Send the dog through
You should now be in position with the dog at one end of the weave pole course and you at the other. Call the dog to you in an excited voice. Hopefully, he should run in a straight line between the two rows of poles and return to you. Give him a treat and lots of praise. Repeat this several times until the dog is confidently running to you each time.
Narrow the gap
Now move the poles an inch or two closer together and send the dog through the channel. Because he has less space and the gap is narrower, he will start weaving his shoulders and hips past the posts in order to squeeze through the channel. Repeat this enough times to ensure the dog is running fluidly down the narrowed channel. Once this is achieved, narrow the gap some more and repeat the procedure.
Align the poles
Eventually the channel is so narrow that the dog physically can't pass along it without weaving his body to and fro between the poles. Now you are ready to create a proper weaving course by aligning both sets of poles in a single straight line of weaving poles. If the dog has learned correctly, he will automatically weave in and out of the poles to reach you.
The Leash Leading Method
Understand the idea
This method works well and is especially useful if you are improvising a weaving course from objects in the yard. It's also a good option if you are not confident of your small dog's recall and would prefer to keep him on the leash. The idea is a simple one; you guide the dog in and out of the objects using the leash, hence teaching him a weaving motion.
Set up the weaving course
If you are lucky enough to have weaving poles, set up a course in a distraction-free yard. However, you can also improvise a weaving course by placing objects such as upturned flower pots or buckets. This is especially useful with small dogs, since the object will pose a significant barrier compared to the size of the dog, which helps him learn this skill more swiftly. Arrange the objects in a straight line, with a sufficient gap to let the dog pass between on his way to the next one.
Walk the course
With your dog on the leash, walk him through the course. Keep the leash short if necessary, holding it close to the collar and using the movements of your arm to guide him between the poles. Keep the mood light and positive, praising and encouraging the dog as he negotiates each object in his path. If the dog has difficulty understanding what's expected, then put a bigger gap between each object. Practice walking the dog up and down the line, walking in and out of the objects.
Speed things up
Once the dog has got the hang of walking around the poles while moving forward, speed things up a little. Have him run the course while your trot alongside him. Give him plenty of verbal praise and encouragement so he realizes what a clever dog he is and is keen to practice some more
Run the course off-leash
With the dog confidently negotiating the course on leash, try him off-leash. For the first few runs, trot alongside him to give guidance and encouragement. If all goes well, have the dog sit at one end of the line while you call him from the other.
The Targeting Method
Understand the idea
If bending down to guide a small dog is uncomfortable for you, then teach him to follow a target. This allows you to guide the dog as he follows an object on the end of a stick that you have taught him to follow with his nose. Simply trot alongside the dog, moving the target in and out of the poles in order to have the dog follow.
Teach the dog to target
Decide on an object for the dog to target. For a small dog, using a targeting stick that has a small knob or ball on the end is a great idea, since it saves you from bending. Rub a piece of smelly food such as cheese on the 'target' and show it to the dog. When he sniffs the target or licks it, give him lots of praise and a treat. If you use a clicker, click the dog when his nose touches the target. Repeat this so the dog automatically goes to touch the target when he sees it.
With the dog regularly touching the stationary target, stretch his skill by slowly moving the target and praising him for following it. Make the target attractive by smearing it with smelly food, then slowly move it. Praise the dog enthusiastically when he follows, touching it with his nose. When using a clicker, click the dog when he steps after the target while maintaining nose contact. Gradually increase the challenge by moving the target a little quicker. Remember, the goal is not to have the dog 'catching' a swiftly moving target, but to have him maintaining good contact while it moves.
Weave with the target
Now introduce the target along with the weave poles. Take things slowly and guide the dog through the weave poles by moving the target so he follows. Concentrate on the dog following the target, and if necessary move it quite slowly as he learns what you're asking him to do. Repeat this until the dog is confidently stepping out after the target.
Speed things up
Now the real fun starts as you jog alongside the weave poles, target in hand, guiding the dog through. Start adding a cue word such as "Weave" or "Poles" as the dog weaves alongside. Eventually you will run alongside but without the target, and when the dog has accomplished this, try calling him from one end of the course.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/04/2018, edited: 01/08/2021