I recently had a Facebook Live session where I gave advice on splitting your training, and answered questions about my processes. You can view that chat here.
My first piece of advice was to seek out other methods of training the same skills or obstacle. Not to change methods or to start your training process over again, but to learn how other trainers are breaking down the same behavior. Different methods have different starting points. Different methods have different key components. Learning a little bit about a lot of different ways to teach something might just spark an idea that you haven't come across yet.
Not all training methods can be picked over so easily. You may have to take some time and think through the training stages, to make sure you won't confuse your learner, but in general, if the end behavior is the same, the methods will match up on some level, and you can use different components from different methods.
I credit a lot of my creativity with this practice. Learning all I can about different ways to teach something, and allowing those seeds to grow into new ideas, and things that I can try. The more you know about the ways something can be taught, the more solutions you have available!
The development of my weave pole training, especially, has taken many different paths over the last 20 years, and I struggle to name the “method” that I currently use, but, because I use 2x2s primarily, I'm going with: Not Your Average 2x2s.
I start very similarly to Mary Ellen Barry's 2×2 method, outlined in her Clean Run Article. There are some modifications that I have made for my dogs and my students' dogs over the last several years, that have either come from other training methods, or through experimentation with other training methods.
Placement of Reward I was always taught to train weaves with a thrown reward, and to never reward from your hand. This is sound advice -we want to produce more obstacle focus than handler focus, and rewarding forward creates that!
But then, I was observing that a lot of dogs struggled with particular entries, that required more collection. Could it be that throwing rewards forward after weaving one gap creates too much forward momentum, and if rehearsed too often or for too long, the dog isn't capable of offering the movements needed to collect for the first gap.
So, I changed to tossing the reward either close to the line of the poles, or behind the dog.
I also observed some dogs anticipating the reward on the exit. Stopping early, waiting for the handler to twitch their arm in the way that predicts the ball toss, or leaving the poles early to dash forward after a phantom toy. In fact, in the video above, there was at least one repetition where Gletta was already stopping to wait for me to toss.
So, I changed to a more predictable reward strategy: a bowl at the end of the weaves. It doesn't have to be pre-loaded. The trainer can mark (click) and then deliver the reward to the same place every single time. This predictability has cut down on anticipation, and it's much easier for the trainer to be consistent in reward placement.
Backchaining Vs Forward Chaining
Another modification I've made is in how additional poles are added. Traditionally, the first two poles you started training on are considered poles 1 & 2, and when you add poles, you'll add poles 3 & 4. However, the change in where reinforcement comes from is confusing to dogs, they spent weeks getting reinforced in the same spot, and now you've added more work – this can feel like pushing the dog uphill, while they learn to offer another gap.
Since changing my perspective of that first gap to being poles 11 & 12, the location of the reinforcement doesn't change, so the dog continues weaving more easily, as if being released downhill towards reinforcement. There is no “waiting them out” or stopping in between gaps to collect reinforcement. In this way, getting to 4 straight poles has gone much smoother for students than in the past.
Proofing Your Training During Early Learning Stages
Lots of training programs get the dogs weaving fairly quickly, and then start adding challenges. I'm a big fan of adding in layers of challenges as you go, so that once the dog is weaving 4, 6, or 12 poles, and you start layering in challenges, the dog is comfortable with ignoring those distractions. If we teach our dogs to weave under ideal conditions only, they are likely to make more mistakes when conditions are not ideal!
For example, I can already start proofing my entries and exits when my dog is first learning and only weaving 2 poles! I can move the pre-placed reward around to different locations: this is proofing for *both* poles 1-2 and 11-12. And, I can do the same proofing games as I start to add more poles.
Willingness to Change Things Up
I claim to teach 2x2s and I have a program that serves as a guideline. However, at any given moment, I can observe the dog in front of me and see that the program isn't serving their best interest and promoting successful, happy weaving. And so, I change things up. I branch out to other methods, and make adjustments to that dog's training plan.
New Online Class
If you've got a dog that is ready to start learning weave poles, or if your dog would like a “do-over” in learning how to weave, I hope you'll consider joining me for my new Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Class. Weave Pole Training: Not Your Average 2×2's!
This is 2×2 training, but it's also my blueprint to adding poles, proofing poles, and preparing your dog for sequencing with poles.