Thursday, June 4, 2009

Can an old dog learn new weave entries?

After watching Susan Garrett's "2x2 Weave Training - 12 poles in 12 days" DVD and following the discussions and questions on her blog, I have long planned on using this method to teach Schema her weaves. It was just a matter of waiting for the right time during the summer months when the training could be done outdoors.
At the same time, I've been thinking about Reason and the issues he has had over the years with weave poles. He is absolutely crazy about weave poles - to the point where they cause more off courses (or at least draw him enough to cause a refusal) than any other obstacle. When he runs into the agility field, he seeks the weave poles out and will stand or lay down near them as I set something up. When he knows that I am going to send him to the weaves, his eyes glaze over in anticipation. Once he is in the weaves, he powers through them. But the problem is and always has been - the entry.
Looking back at many of his runs from over the years, Reason, has had many errors on weave entrances. He powers into the weaves without slowing down and slams his right side into the second pole. While he tries to hang on and then wrap around that pole (and many times he is successful doing that), there are many times that the force and speed is so great that he ends up skipping the third pole. This is worse if there is a very speedy sequence prior to the weaves or if he is entering the weaves from the right side and at close to 90 degrees. With Reason's tenth birthday approaching in less than ten days and with him still in great physical shape, I want to keep his body from this type of obvious stress. The other weave issue for him is when he has to make the entrance from the left side of the weaves and wrap the first pole. I've know for a very long time that Reason's weave entries were not good, but I never realized how little he knew about these entries until I actually tested him on them a few days ago. I decided to set up a simple set of 4 poles to test his entrances. If you imagine the first pole at the center of the clock and the fourth pole at 12 o'clock, Reason could make the entry ONLY if he started anywhere between 7 o'clock and 4 o'clock. He was much better on the 6-4 o'clock range and he started to get less accurate between 6 and 7 o'clock. The more distance I added and the more speed he got, the more mistakes he made - even in this small and very easy range. If I moved to 8 o'clock, I could see that Reason was not "seeing" the entrance. He had that glazed over look and was just looking at the weaves as a whole. When I would send him into the poles, he would just go into them on the left side (wrong side) between the first and second poles, instead of wrapping the first pole and entering on the right side. 
So, I have been pondering these last few days as I get ready to start Schema's 2x2 weave training. I have some time off between trials with Reason. Should I just give it a try and see if I can retrain his weave entrances with this method? Well, it certainly isn't going to hurt anything. And it could only help him see things more clearly. So, the training began a few days ago with both dogs. But first with Reason and 2 poles. I knew that I could skip the first 2 steps because the value of these poles is HUGE with Reason. So we started at Stage 3 - with the 2 poles at 2/8 o'clock. I already knew where his mistakes would start to happen. But what I didn't expect was his high failure rate without being able to figure out the solution. I give this dog credit as he definitely kept trying, but he continued to fail over and over without figuring it out. I had to finally make it easier and go from there. It was after this first session that I felt pretty sad about how difficult these entries are for an obstacle that he loves so much. So after a fairly high rate of failure, during the first session I made the second session more successful. I stayed within the low challenge area and he had a better success rate during that session. With the third session, we started in the low challenge area to set the reward line and stayed there for about 5 successful entries in various places in that area. Then I started moving outside of that area and into the more difficult entries on what would be the left side of the poles (which would involve a wrap around the first pole to make the entry) and he started to make mistakes. I marked the mistake and this time the difference was that when he came back and retried it, he got it the second time. This was a HUGE change in his mental state to be able to focus on the task of finding his entry. I tried one more place on the high challenge area on that same side of the poles and he missed it again, but - again - on the second attempt, he figured it out. I then switched to the other side of the poles so we were starting on the left side in the high challenge area and he got that entry the first time. The second high challenge entry on that side was deeper and he made that one as well. I felt pretty good about his progress after this third session with Reason. So, I'm actually having a lot of fun reteaching weave entries to Reason and at the same time starting Schema from the ground up. Even early in the process, I'm seeing fairly impressive changes in Reason's ability to see the weave entry. While I'm not sure where this project will take us, I know that it is long overdo and it will be something that we can continue to work on and have fun with over the next few months. Here is a video of Reason missing out on a double Q because of missing the weave entrance after a fast sequence.  He couldn't hang onto the entry.  You can't see the crash into the second pole (because of the ceiling posts in this room), but you can see the weave poles getting pulled up from the hard hit (and they were taped down extremely well - I taped them as a course builder). This kind of pounding on a dog can't be good for them.


  1. I think you will find that in reteaching Reason's entries by using 2x2, he will have an understanding of his entry especially on the difficult side. As I was reading the first part of your post, I was glad to see that after so many failures that you did make it easier for him to help the lightbulb come on. How is Schema doing?


    Does poor Score feel left out that Reason & Schema get to do the 2x2 tango?

  3. Kim, Score has awesome entries, so he doesn't need this course. He has plenty of training as he is getting ready to debut in Advanced B sheep (with a shed) in two weeks.

    Jan, thanks for the comments. Schema has been started on this as well and she breezed through stage 1 & stage 2 and is now doing the 2/8 o'clock entries. I think I'll start videotaping her sessions since there is more to see now.

  4. I'm going to go through the 2x2 training with Steam and Slider as Steam needs more drive through the poles and both could use entry work. And hopefully by then I'll have a good understanding of it for when it is time to teach weaves to Merc. I'm also going to Susan's lecture on 2x2 training when she is at Argus later this month.

  5. Very interesting. My "training partner" and I got out the video camera and weave poles a long time ago and videoed Cass and her Aussie, Mick. Analyzing that video was fascinating. Cass would either plant her right foot parallel to the first pole and single step through with the paw on the outside ALWAYS landing parallel to the pole, or she would missi the timing and refuse. Mick was all over. No pattern to his footfall. Then he would severely crash the third pole. He could hold on to that point, then all that stored energy would just overwhelm him and BAM. I've seen this dog move a set of 6 poles four feet in a crash (NADAC doesn't have you stake poles). I felt that I finally figured out what was wrong when I went over to mow the training yard one day and got in their shed to borrow the mower. In the shed was a set of spring base poles. Mick had learned he didn't HAVE to collect because the poles would forgive him. Now; we like to think Aussies are pretty smart, so I'm not sure why he never figured out that he poles had stopped forgiving him and I'm sure those crashes had to be painful . . . Not entirely sure what my point is other than the extreme influence how an obstacle is taught can have on performance.