Strange New Things Part 3 – Helping Mercy Love the Weave Poles

I’ve recently written about using classical conditioning to help your dog be comfortable around strange new things. The previous two articles were about helping my dog, Mercy, learn to interact with a big long blue tunnel. I’ve wanted to do Agility for Fun, so we’re training for that enjoyable activity. I’ve been successful in getting her to accept the new object in more than one location, so now it’s time to introduce yet another new object – weave poles.

Just like I did with the tunnel, I set up the weave poles and merely let her explore them. Every time she interacted with them, she got a click and a treat. She’s getting reinforced for interacting with the weave poles (positive reinforcement), but because she enjoys the yummy food that comes after the click, classical conditioning is also in play. Good stuff is happening around the weave poles.

At first it was as simple as looking at them that earned a reinforcer (a yummy piece of food). As she became more comfortable, I waited for more interaction before the click and treat. It didn’t take long before she was very comfortable with the weave poles and freely walked through them to get to something she wanted on the other side. Now it’s time to start showing her what these goofy blue and white poles are for.

To get her to weave through the poles I used one of the first and, in my opinion, best tricks she’s ever learned, nose targeting. This is a simple trick to teach. When asked, all she must do is bump the palm of my hand with her nose and she gets a click and a treat. She really likes this game! Once it’s a well-trained behavior, I can use my hand to effortlessly guide her or reposition her to another spot (off the couch, into a sit of my left side, for example). I use it when putting on her harness before we go out for a walk, so she gets lots of practice nose targeting. Here’s a short video of using nose targeting to direct her through the weave poles.

Now that she seems to easily be moving through the poles, I’ll start adding a verbal cue so she associates the sound of the cue word “Weave” with the behavior I’m after – moving through the weave poles. Before long, she will be dashing through the weave poles at full speed. Ok, full speed might be a stretch, but we can work on speed after we generalize the behavior to other locations and around other distractions. You might enjoy some Agility for Fun with your own dog!

Jim Ross is currently a Cold Nose College Apprentice and is also enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy of Animal Training and Behavior. He’s a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, is trained in pet first aid and CPR and carries the Pet-Tech First Aid/Canine CPR caregiver designation. Jim is also a volunteer dog trainer working with the detainees and their shelter dogs within the Rescued Program at the Colwell Probation Detention Center in Blairsville, Ga. 

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