Weave skills will be broken down into 2 categories - entries (where we train the dog how to find the correct entry from different approaches) and completing the weaves (where we train the dog to continue to weave in the face of handling elements and distractions).
The goal with weave training is to make the weaves as independent from the handler as possible. We want our dogs to confidently be able to go find the correct entry without the handler's help. We want them to stay in the poles until the end, no matter where the handler goes.
I like to do the majority of my entry training on 6 poles. I can work a lot of entries and not over weave my dog by doing all 12 poles. I can reward sooner, he gets the reward after 6 poles instead of 12. It's less likely there will another error that will result in a non-reward - if you're practicing on 12 poles and your dog hits a great entry, but then pops out at pole 10...you're missing an opportunity to reward the great entry.
For some dogs I suggest going back to 2x2 training and do just 2 or 4 poles. The more poles we add, the more ways the dog can be wrong. Don't add more poles than they are ready for. It's better to make the set up easier and get lots of rewards, than have too many poles and struggle with lots of errors.
The key with weaves is to make them as independent as you can. On some courses it is not possible to beat your dog to the pole to help them find the correct entry. They need to know how to enter them correctly, from any approach, independent of their handler.
1. The first drill is around the clock entries. This goes back to 2x2 training, and why we stress to train it well and independently from the beginning. If you skip steps in 2x2 training, it WILL show up later and we will have to train it again.
Visualize a clock face around the weaves, with the first pole being 12:00.
To train independence, when you send to the weaves only take one step. You can point and step with the arm and leg closest to the dog. Throw the reward to the end.
Dog on left side - start at 12:00 and work down towards 6:00. Aim your step and signal between pole 1 and 2, this is the path you want the dog to take. Throw the reward to the end.
Dog on right side - start at 12:00 and work down to 6:00. Aim your step and signal right before pole 1, this is the path you want the dog to take.
Build distance. You want to grow these distance sends as far as you can - closer to 20ft eventually.
Incorrect entries - Always keep the same angle of approach, just move closer to the poles. Don't make the angle easier, the dog needs to learn how to approach from that angle. But by moving closer, you can be more helpful with your signal and guide them to be correct. Go as close as you need to (like the #1 circle in the diagram below), then work backwards on the same angle of approach - try to send from the #2 circle then the #3 and so on.
If the dog won't weave without your movement - If you're working on independence, but the dog checks back with your, or won't move forward without you, you can try to wean your motion out gradually. You can move with them, just slower than you normally would. And be very good about establishing a reward zone, never reward them out of your hand or when the dog is looking back at you. You can do some work with a manners minder or target plate to help them drive forward without you.
2. Around the clock entries with rear crosses.
Once your dog can find entries from all the way around the clock, you can start to practice the same thing with rear crosses. If the dog is still struggling with certain angles with no rear crosses, don't add rears to those yet.
Start at the 12:00 position and work down the clock as the dog is successful.
Be careful where you are throwing the reward - a rear cross should cue a turn and a side change. Throw your reward slightly to the side of the poles that you finish on.
Chip had some confusion with that early on, he would finish the poles, but turn out of the poles the wrong direction.
3. Entries where the dog needs to turn away from the handler with no side change.
These are similar entries for the dog as rear crosses, but the handler doesn't change sides. When you rear cross the poles, you are cueing the dog to turn away from you. These no side change entries can be harder because the dog has to know how to independently turn away from the handler to enter the poles. Dogs naturally turns towards the handler better than they turn away. Ideally you are establishing enough value for the weaves that it will help the dog turn away from you to find the entry.
Scenarios where we would use this skills -
To train these entries, take an around the clock approach. Start with easy angles then move around the clock as the dog is successful. You want to keep moving and try to stay ahead of the dog.
I don't have a great video example of this, but this is Chip working on some. Dog on right side, from about the 8:00 position.
4. Recall Run Send - This is a general guideline for training lots of elements, especially weaves.
Recall - This works on the dog learning to load weave pole entries when you're ahead of them. Leave your dog in a stay, lead out past the end of the poles. Release your dog and say weave. Make sure to practice with dog on both sides of you. If they struggle with this, don't lead out at far...only lead out to pole 1 or 2. If you get success, keep leading out farther until you're past the end of the poles.
Run - This is probably the most common way we do weaves in courses, both you and the dog running at the weaves. Start with the dog at your side, say weaves and run with them towards the poles. Toss a reward after. Some dogs have a hard time shifting their weight and loading the poles. You want to amp of the speed as much as you can. Use a restrained collar grab and excitement building words. You could start with a tunnel also.
Send - This is works on the dog weaving at a distance. This is similar to the around the clock entries we talked about above. Try to get the dog to send to the weaves on just one step and hand signal.
Completing the Weaves
When working on the dog learning to stay in the poles until the end, most of these drills are done with 12 poles. If you only have 6 poles you can still do the same elements.
1. Motion - Ahead, behind, lateral.
The really nice thing about independent weaves is you can get a huge head start on your dog. If there is a difficult handling maneuver coming up, you can get about 2-3 seconds of a head start on your dog. They must learn to finish all the poles even if the handler is moving in a direction that doesn't support the end of the weaves.
This can be difficult because almost everywhere during agility, we WANT our dogs to watch our bodies and follow us. This is where the training comes in, we have to train them while they're weaving is not the time to follow us. We break motion proofing down into three categories to try and cover all possible scenarios.
Ahead - See how far ahead of your you can get while they're weaving. Start where you can get success and establish the reinforcement zone at the end of the pole by always throwing your reward there. Then really push it and see how far you can run ahead of them. Just make sure to keep your eye on them, or have someone else watch, to make sure they've completed the poles.
Behind - How far behind your dog can you stay? Sometimes the next obstacle is back the direction you've come from, so we need the dogs to weave towards the end of the poles even if we don't go with them. This tends to be hard for a lot of dogs, so you may want to use a training aid like a Manner's Minder, target plate or placed toy. If you leave a reward at the end of the poles, this can help the dog to learn to ignore the handlers motion and weave ahead. This might also be easier to start with 6 poles. I also like to use a "keep going" cue when my motion doesn't support the weaves, and I keep saying "weaves" to help the dog stay committed.
Lateral - See how far off to the side you can while the dog is weaving, throw the reward to the end of the poles.
2. Hand Movements.
Proof moving your hands while the dog is weaving. One of the easiest proofs you can do is put your hands in your pockets while they're weaving. So many dogs weave with one eye on their handler, watching for their reward. Make lots of random hand gestures while the dog is weaving to show them that is not a good reason to pop out. It is more reinforcing to ignore hand movements and get rewarded for finishing the poles.
To really make it challenging if I'm using a toy, I will wave the toy around while they are weaving.
3. Speed Changes.
A lot of handlers will get stuck in running a consistent rhythm next to the weaves, and any deviation from that will make the dog pop out. Sometimes we really need to get ahead for something coming up on course and we need to run faster than we currently are to get there. Dogs will notice this change of pace and pop out to follow. Sometimes the next obstacle is back behind us, so we need to slow down to move in the direction of the next obstacle.
Practice changing speeds while the dog is weaving. Start by making is a gradual change then really make it dramatic.
4. Visual distractions.
We want the dogs to ignore visual distractions they may see while weaving. The dog might see something while they're weaving, and pop out to go see it. Proof this by taking lots of visually distracting (but not reinforcing) things and placing them around the poles - pieces of paper, pieces of plastic, empty target plates, tissues, leafs, etc. If the dog goes to see one of the distractions show them that you had real cookies and they missed out on them...then try again. This is a game, if they make a mistake I say something like - "oh that was silly! That piece of paper wasn't worth it, was it? Look at these real cookies I have for you, lets try again!"
Big jackpot if they complete the weaves and ignore distractions.
Another obstacle can be a visual distraction. If the dog see an upcoming tunnel or jump nearby, they might prioritize that over the last few weaves.
I proof this by putting an obstacle close to the end of the weaves, closer than they will ever actually see it in competition. This is easier with a jump, but good to practice with a tunnel too. Start with the distraction obstacle about 10ft after the poles, then work up to about 6-8 feet. If using a jump, keep it low at first.
5. Crossing the plane at the end.
Depending on where we are coming from and where we are going to next, sometimes the fastest path is to run across the end of the poles. The dogs need to learn to finish weaving even though they see you cross the end. Start by dropping the reward at the exit of the poles while you move across them at an easy angle. The start to run faster and make then angle harder. You can also leave a placed reward at the end of the poles.
You can start this with 6 poles then do it on 12.
Teach your dog to weave towards a reward. For one, this is good proofing. They need to learn never to pop out of the poles, even if something rewarding is at the end. This is easiest with something like a Manner's Minder, so you can control reinforcement. You can use an empty target plate (and eventually pre-load it when you trust them). You can have another person help by standing near a pre-loaded plate to take the treats if the dog pops out. You can leave a toy at the end, and have another person pick it up if the dog pops out.
This is a big part of teaching independence. The dog needs to look forward towards the end of the poles, even if you're not going with them. A placed reward can be really helpful with that!
If you have an error when practicing - don't reward and show the dog the same picture one more time. If they get it correct, jackpot! If they fail again, make the next try easier. You want to keep as much of the same picture as you can, just be more helpful. Don't let them rehearse too many errors in a row, do some reset rewards or balance breaks.
Don't do too many repetitions. Weaves are hard and you will see fatigue errors start to happen if you're session goes on too long.