One day I was watching my dog go through the weave poles and he was flying through them.
He had been doing the weave poles slowly. Often, we had to put him back on his leash to get him to complete them.
I mentioned to our trainer that Dakota was running faster that day. He mentioned there was a big difference in how the poles were set up.
Dakota was flying through the weave poles because we had the “training wheels” on.
The idea of the weave poles is that there are 12 poles spaced 24 inches apart.
Dogs enter between the first two poles and weave between all of them as quickly as possible.
It can be pretty amazing watching some dogs race through the poles. But it takes a lot to get there.
When you first start training a dog to weave, there are plastic, flexible tube guides that the handler connects between the poles. These act as the first set of “training wheels.”
The second set of training wheels are the “gates.”
The gates are made of PVC pipes about 2-feet wide by 4-feet high and covered by hunter orange mesh.
They are strategically placed with the wires so the only path the dog sees, leads them to weaving through the poles.
Over time, often measured in weeks or months, the handler starts to remove a few gates at a time, until the dog consistently weaves with just the guide wires in place.
As the dog gets good at weaving with just the wires, the handler starts removing the guides until the dog is weaving through the poles effortlessly.
However, sometimes the dog appears to forget how to weave. What does the handler do? They put training wheels back on for a while. They replace the wires and maybe gates.
Dakota had reached the skill level that he usually needs the guide wires without the gates. But he doesn’t always go fast.
The night he flew through the weaves, we had the gates back in place as well.
By putting the “training wheels” back in place, the dog didn’t have to think so hard.
He could move faster because all he had to do was run the only path open to him.
When we watch a well-trained dog, we love to watch perfection and amazing abilities.
But as we train with our dogs, we often forget the countless hours of practice and all the extra tools we used along the way.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to put “training wheels” back on if Dakota is struggling. They don’t look or feel sexy or amazing but using them in practice goes a long way to creating impressive public performances.