In agility, one of the most challenging things for a dog to learn is the weave poles. They have to bend their bodies in an unnatural way and be accurate enough not to miss any poles. They also have to weave quickly. On top of all this, they must always enter the weave poles with their left shoulder to the first pole, no matter which direction the weaves are approached. It is easiest to teach them by using two poles and the correct weave entry to start off, then building from there.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- At least two weave poles
- Easily visible treats
Set two poles in place between 18 and 24 inches apart. The space between the weave poles differs according to the organisation. If you do not have a weave pole base and poles, here's an easy way to make them for your back yard. Buy plain driveway markers that are pushed into the ground. Get some PVC pipe cut in three foot lengths and slide them over the markers.
Start by encouraging the dog to merely go between the poles. Don't lure the dog, just encourage him. The minute his shoulders pass between the poles, click and throw a treat in front of him. Whatever you do, don't give the dog a treat from your hand. For weave poles you want the dog moving forward with his head down, never concentrating on the handler. Do not give your dog any commands at this point. Just reward for going between the poles, and don't reward him for, say, walking around or next to them. Remember this is a very hard exercise for a dog to learn, so be patient and positive.
Once your dog is offering to go between the poles (because he gets rewarded each time) start moving forward with him and encouraging him to enter with his left shoulder adjacent to the first pole. At this point you can name the exercise. Don't call it 'weave' because, at this point he is not really weaving yet. You can call it 'poles' or 'enter' or whatever else you like.
Increase the complexity as your dog gets more proficient at quickly going through the poles. Approach them from different angles, or increase your distance from the dog while he enters. You can start rewarding him with a favourite toy thrown ahead at this point, if he is excited by toys. Agility training should be structured play so always keep it fun.
Increase the speed at which your dog goes through the poles. You can run with him at first, but also try working with a little distance and try to send him. Weaving is a very independent exercise for the dog so you want to keep from having him too focused on you, the handler. Keep him focused on the exercise and the rewards, always by throwing the treat or toy for him.
Ask your agility instructor how to proceed from the two-pole exercise. There are many ways to teach weave poles. Some instructors like to simply add more poles over time, some use channel weaves, and some use a separate pair of poles to encourage the dog to run through all four. If you have a good weave pole entry, your dog is well on his way to understanding one of the fundamentals of weaving.
Tips and warnings
- If you tend to be dyslexic with left and right, put a little piece of masking tape on your dog's left shoulder so you can be sure to reward him for every correct entry.
- If you don't have a clicker, a verbal 'yes' or 'good' or other consistent praise word works too.
- You can phase out the clicker as he "gets it."