Tiny Topics: Those Wacky Weaves

Small dogs can have big challenges in training and competition. Tackle your tiny dog issues here!

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The weave poles can be a daunting obstacle for handlers of dogs large and small. While some trainers may argue that tiny dogs find the obstacle either more or less difficult than their bigger counterparts, most agree that weaves pose some different challenges for dogs of different sizes.

While large dogs must twist between several narrowly-spaced poles at a time, tiny dogs have a long way to go between each pole. It takes little dogs multiple strides to cover the same distance that a larger dog can cover in one stride, says Angelica Steinker, author of Click & Play Agility and owner of both Border Collies and a Papillon. With several steps between each pole, there is more room for the tiny dog to do things other than weave. He may even see a set of 12 poles as 12 different obstacles!

Small strides can also make the sending distance to the poles seem much further for tiny dogs as well. Handlers of small dogs may find themselves working extra hard to teach their canine partners to find the entrance of the weaves and begin weaving independently while the handler hangs back. A few feet may seem like several yards for the little guys!

Being so close to the ground poses another challenge for the tiniest weavers. We’ve found that many small dogs first need to learn to not be afraid of the bases, Sassy Joiris says. Joiris, who owns a MACH Norfolk Terrier as well as other successful dogs, says that terrain can also affect a tiny dogs weaving performance, particularly in trials: muddy and the big dogs have run first, there can be trenches where they dug their feet in, and that makes it really hard for the little guys. [Small dogs] also can have problems with long grass for similar reasons.

Another difficulty in training very small dogs to weave (and in general) is that the handler must bend over or find some other way to deliver treats on the dog’s level. This alters the handlers body language and presents a very different picture from what the final weave performance will look like with the handler standing up straight and running alongside, or sending the dog to the poles independently. All that bending over can be hard on the handler as well. A treat after the dog goes around each pole. This involves a lot of bending down which hurts my back,” says Penny Noriega, who is training a Toy Poodle named Roxy. Some trainers have worked out ways to treat without bending, like putting peanut butter on the end of a long stick.

No one weave training method seems to work best for tiny dogs. Beverly Smith, who has been very successful in agility with her Toy and Miniature Poodles and Shih Tzu, says, We’ve used all methods (channels, Weave-O-Matics, 2×2, guides) in training weaves and I believe that the best method(s) is determined by the dog itself.

Using guides to create a path for the dog to go between poles can be challenging since little dogs can jump high in relation to their own height, allowing them to easily leap over properly-positioned guides. One solution to this problem (which can happen with larger dogs as well) is to put two guides between each pole, one low enough that the dog can’t run under and one higher to discourage jumping.

The 2x2training method, a technique developed by Susan Garrett, can work well for little guys. This method involves teaching the weave poles two at a time, with a prescribed process for using a thrown toy to motivate the dog and to eventually move sets of two poles together (Garrett’s method can be learned via DVD see http://www.clickerdogs.com/2x2_weave_training.php). Smith says, If my dog (small or large) is toy motivated then the 2×2 method is the method I prefer. Julie Stokes, owner of Velo, an ADCH Toy Fox Terrier, as well as several Border Collies, says. Definitely I would do the 2×2 method in combination with the channel method. I would teach a small dog the same as I would one of my Border Collies.

The channel method is tried and true and seems to be successful for tiny dogs. In this technique, handlers start by separating the poles into two lines, which creates a channel for the dog to run down the middle. The channel is gradually closed (made smaller in small increments) as the dog is recalled and sent through the poles. Steinker is a fan of training with channels: My first choice is to use my own method of training poles, using a channel set of weave poles and tossing a toy. Starting at the end of the poles you can then back chain the entire set that way, tighten up the channel and then go start at the end again, sending the dog ahead of you on each repetition.

Some trainers use guides with the channel method, sometimes at the beginning and other times not until the poles are in a straight line. Joiris says, In class I start most dogs with a combination of channels and guide wires; I find this works best to encourage novice handlers to not try to guide the dog through the poles. Smith uses guides later in the training process: If we’re having issues when the poles are upright (in Weave-o-Matic training) or closed (channels) then I’ll introduce guides to upright poles for a couple of sessions.

Weave-o-Matics (WAMs) are slanted poles, which start out in very wide Vs and close eventually to upright, straight weaves. Dogs are sent and recalled through the WAMs. This method is praised for helping dogs develop good weaving footwork. But organizing striding into the hopping or two-footed technique (moving two legs together at a time as the dog hops from side to side around the poles) or the single-stride method may not apply to tiny dogs, which aren’t big enough to single-stride and may not even be big enough to hop. Watch videos of great weaving dogs that are close to your own dog’s size (not just in height but also in length of back and leg as well) to help determine whether a dog will benefit from learning to hop or if he will simply run through the poles.

In fact, watching great tiny weavers should be an assignment for all small dog trainers regardless of which method they are using. While many trainers can picture a fast-weaving Border Collie with incredible footwork, they may not be able to imagine a top weaving tiny dog. Without this reference, it will be hard to create a talented tiny weaver of your own.

By Brenna Fender

Brenna Fenderis a freelance writer and mother of two young children, a Whippet, and a young Papillon. The Whippet and her canine predecessors were collectively titled in conformation, obedience, agility, rally, hunting, and lure coursing. Brenna lives with her husband and family in Florida, and can be reached at brennafender@gmail.com.