Monday, May 21, 2012

Who's Training Who?

Nettle has recently begun her weave pole training with 2X2’s.  She’s catching on quickly, and we’ve progressed to 4 poles, with some pretty difficult entries.  She’s been able to work through all of the challenges I’ve given her, and that makes me very happy! 

It's 6 am - and 50 degrees outside with a north wind - Yep, I'm dressed up! NOT!!  (':

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from our other dogs is, ‘Don’t make things easier after a failure!’  Let the dog work through it, or they will learn to be helpless.  They learn we’ll come and ‘save the day’!  I wish I would have learned this sooner!  Or at least, really taken it to heart.  I know I’d heard it before, but it never truly sunk in.

Just like people, every dog learns at a different pace, and in different ways.  This doesn’t make one dog smarter than any other, it just makes them different. 

For instance, Seeker blasted through 2X2s in about 7 days, it just made sense to him, and he LOVED doing whatever I wanted to do.  Thus his name “Hail Yeah”, because any time you ask him if he wants to do something, this is his response!  His failures are easy to work through; he’ll keep trying no matter what.  He loves the game so much.  His attention is just on figuring out the puzzle, not about the outside reinforcements.  This is why he can weave through poles with chickens in them; he’s not thinking about the birds, he’s thinking about the game!

Nettle on the other hand, is very distracted by her surroundings.  She likes the game well enough, but doesn’t LOVE it,’ yet’.  Sometimes she’s like the joke, “How many kids with ADHD does it take to change a light bulb? Let’s go ride bikes.”  That’s okay, that’s who she is, and although it makes some things more challenging, it also makes the ‘breakthroughs’ very rewarding. 

Nettle likes to do what pleases HER!  Gosh, who doesn’t!  So, one of the challenges we’ve needed to overcome was ‘bringing a toy right back’ when it’s thrown.  This might not seem like a big deal, but ‘self’ rewarding by sprinting around with a toy isn’t very good ‘team work’.  It’s also difficult to throw a toy with a line on it.  Yep, been there, done that!  Stepped on the line, tripped on the line, and couldn’t throw the toy far due to a knot being in the line!  Trust me; it’s a comedy of errors, that lucky only the neighbors will see!  Honestly, they have probably already seen enough for a life time! 

So, our retrieve work has become no direct return, no cookie.  I might play some tug if we were working on 2X2s and she did a wonderful job…but, no cookie!  Or, as Tracy P says, “No Soup For You.”…which is way more fun!  It’s amazing how this works!  In the video clip, Net does a really nice job with her weaves, but decided a small victory lap was in order.  No cookie, although we did tug.  The next time she came right back.  Good Girl!

I’ve also been very diligent about not making things EASIER!!  This is really hard!  We want to help them understand, but what we are really doing is teaching them by failing, we’ll make it easier!  UGH!  So, I do video tape my sessions, then go back to make sure I’m not moving in such a way to make it easier.  In fact, I try to remain where I released her at this point; just to be sure I’m not tempted to make it easier, knowing I need to add some movement to these difficult entries as well.  I’ll do that tomorrow. 

There is one point in this video that she fails 3 times in a row; she’s looking for something else to do.  Yes, she’s stressed, but she needs to work through it. She sniffs the ground, eats some grass, and at one point finds a leaf that she thinks about grabbing and running with.  In the end, she came back and did a nice job!  It may not look like a hard entry on the video, but I was at pole #3 (second to the last), on the left side, she had to go search for that entry.  I would bet few experience weaving dogs would be able to do that.  This is the one she did the small victory lap, no soup, but we had some play time.

If I would reward those ‘victory laps’ with a cookie, I think I would be increasing the likelihood that she would repeat the behavior.  Now, none of us really knows what our dogs are thinking, but I have tried rewarding for what I thought was ‘finally’ coming back.  Guess what, it just kept getting worse!  Instead of a small lap, I was getting the “Triple Crown” lap around the 120’ by 80’ training yard.  Yep, “I’ll Have Another”!! 

By withholding the cookie reward whenever there is the ‘slightest’ victory lap, those have become less and less likely to occur.  I’ve also been able to ‘unleash’ the toy, which makes tossing into these high winds MUCH easier!  Double bonus!!

Bottom line, if you are one that rewards your dog after they’ve run off to see someone and then comes back, you might want to rethink that.  Verbal praise, sure…but does it really deserve a cookie?  Are you only increasing the likelihood that will happen again?  I guess that’s only a question you can answer for yourself. 



  1. I trained my rottweiler I'm running now on channel weaves. I'm thinking about using the 2 x 2 method with my rottie puppy when the time comes. Thanks for sharing this video...I really enjoy watching how other people do things.