Friday, December 09, 2005

Weave Pole Entries

Boost is in the process of learning weave pole entries using Susan Garrett's two-by-two method. The beginning is simply having 2 poles alone and teaching the dog to run through them. Boost is getting pretty good at it once she realizes that that's the game we're playing at the moment. I'm at a disadvantage in some ways because my yard is crowded with agility equipment and so Boost runs past it, through it, and around it all the time. Susan (and others) have said repeatedly that it's a bad idea to let dogs learn to run past agility equipment, because in the long run you don't want them doing that. Oh, well, I'll have to work around that disadvantage.

Tika has really nice weave pole entries. Even though I believe in using 12-pole weaves as often as possible in training, for this I used 6-pole weaves. After she got the basic weave poles down, we had a couple of problems. One was that she'd hit the poles at such a tremendous speed that she'd bounce off the second pole, sometimes causing her to bounce right past the next necessary step--and a couple of times, actually knocking the weave poles over. The other problem was that she wasn't working hard enough at finding the correct entry from difficult directions or when I wasn't right there, a couple of steps before the weaves, to get her to line up.

My biggest progress on both of these issues came with a pretty simple exercise in the yard that we did over and over. I lined up two tunnels in U shapes facing each other, about 40 or 50 feet apart, and put a set of 6 weaves between them. Then I just blasted her back and forth from tunnel to tunnel, doing the weaves in between. (Note that I'm not talking 10 times in a row with no interruption; sometimes 1, 2, 3, or maybe as many as 4 but not usually, then a lot of excited playing with her tug toy.) I used the clicker when she was having a little trouble with certain entries. She'd be going so fast that rewarding for the click at the end of the poles worked very well for her.

This set-up allowed me to vary the distance between the tunnels and the weaves, so she had to adjust her full-speed stride no matter the distance of the approach. I could change my physical position easily--closer or further away, before or after the pole entrance, facing her or facing away, etc. I could change the angle of the weaves gradually, clockwise or counterclockwise, from the main path between the tunnels, so she had to get the entry at full speed from either direction to some very sharp angles--towards the end (after lots of practice), I could have the weaves roughly perpendicular to the path between the tunnels, which gives us better than 90-degree independent entries.

I cleaned up the really sharp angles (greater than 90 degrees) using jumps rather than tunnels for the various approaches. I'm not sure whether she can do a 180-degree turn into the weaves from directly alongside them--hmmm, will have to give that a try today--but she has gotten so reliable that sometimes I forget that, in reality, some weave entries in competition really are extremely difficult and need at least a clue from the handler about where the dog should be going. Still, I can plan on doing very difficult courses or challenging handling strategies that involve the weaves because I know that she'll work hard at getting that weave entry.

She still sometimes hits that second pole and bounces, but now she always makes it into the second turn; the only problem with that is that it slows her down a fraction as she recovers. I can live with that--

My thought is that I can start the tunnel-weave entry-tunnel with Boost soon in conjunction with the 2-pole entry, as she gets better and better at that simply on the flat. I hope I'm directing her correctly; you always hate working on something for a while and then discovering that you missed a tricky key component that makes all the difference in the world. I'll have to ponder the tunnel-entry-tunnel thing, though; it might be most effective only after the dog has learned that they have to make that turn into the second pole. But maybe not. TBD.

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