2×2 Weave Pole Training with a Food Only Motivated Dog

Monday, January 26, 2009

Now that there are so many of you excelling with the 2×2 process I thought I would answer a few questions that you have sent in about training dogs that are not toy motivated. First of all yes, this method works well with all dogs, regardless of what motivates them! As I outlined in my 2×2 Weave Pole Training DVD, the key to success (which really is the key to success with all dog training) is the transfer of value. You must start with a motivator for which your dog has an intensive drive and, by applying the laws of how dogs learn, you will transfer the value of that reward into the weave pole entry.  If problems arise while using this method, it is more than likely due to the technique being altered from what is outlined in the DVD.

Now I would like to address the topic of value. Ideally you are starting with high value food and moving to a high value toy when you train. However I recognize that not all dogs have the same high value for toys that they do for food. My personal advise is to work at this, do not allow food to overtake the toy drive. I have written some suggestions below that should help you get started. We get tug-drive with the all of dogs at our school, so it IS possible regardless of what breed of dog you own. Having said that, I realize some of you have what you have right now and my goal here isn’t to source out the reason why your dog isn’t tugging, but to suggest solutions to your current situation so you can still train brilliant weave poles.

I have had people write in to say they want to use a Manners Minder or Treat and Train for their 2×2 weave pole training. I would caution you against doing this.  It is not that I do not like the product, quite the opposite, we have two of them at the school and do find them very useful for various applications. My caveat goes back to what I said to start this blog. The 2×2 works incredibly well and fast if you apply good dog training fundamentals.  You can do this with a Manners Minder BUT it will A) will take you longer as you will have to fade out the massive lure of the MM and B) will require a greater knowledge of dog training as  you have a high potential for problems to crop up that you may not notice.  The problems will arise because the dog is always focused on the value.

The big advantage of the MM is that you will have a well established reward line that does not depend upon your ability to throw. However, there is a good chance that you will not get the “transfer of value” that you would if you were throwing the reward as the MM is just a big ole lure isn’t it? It is similar to putting a cookie on a target plate at the end of a contact obstacle. The dog rarely develops the drive for end position, only for the plate. Once the plate goes, often times the understanding of end position goes with it, at the very least it is weakened by the removal.  I recognize this isn’t exactly the same as a MM as you can remotely control the distribution of the treat, but it is similar enough to cause issues. The dog’s attention will be focused on the “value” the MM rather than his job of finding his entry.

The other issue I have with the MM is that there will be a conditioned reinforcer built in. I  stated on the DVD the problems that may develop if you use a clicker during the training of the 2×2. Both the marker tone when you hit the remote and the delayed sound of the drum rotating to spit out a cookie become conditioned reinforcers to your dog and you may unwittingly be rewarding things you don’t intend to when using one.

Is it possible to use the MM and have great success with the 2×2? Yes of course it is, but I think there is an equal chance for disaster. Some of you may try and have great success. Others may end up with a poor behaviour in the poles and a lack of understanding of entries. My warning is if this is you, please do not blame the 2×2 method as it is not the method’s fault but rather your own alteration to the process that caused your issue.

So for those of you that want to use food only in your 2×2 training I am going to lay out  a couple of suggestions. First of all please do not just throw chunks of food. Yes, I suggest using food for the first 2 or 3 sessions on the DVD, but then I transferred to a toy. If you are not moving on to a toy,  move on to a toy you can stuff with food. There are a few reasons I am not a fan of just throwing cookies throughout all of the stages of your 2×2 training. Number one, it will be difficult for your dog to see the treat so he will likely slow down to make sure he can track it. With this will often come sniffing. Watch your dog, is that how you want him weaving when he has completed his training? Of course not. Your dog should really be driving hard to the poles within the first few sessions of 2×2 training.  Secondly, you can not throw a piece of food very far, especially if you are training a mini dog, which so often are the dogs that have been trained with food alone. With little guys we have to use little bitty piece of food, that will be difficult to see and limited in how far you can throw. All of this means you will once again be staying close to the poles, losing that great independence we want from the 2×2 trained dog. In addition, you will not be able to throw a small morsel of food with any degree of accuracy, so your reward line will not be as well defined. Rather than just pitching chunks of food, I strongly encourage you all to get yourself toy that you can stuff with food. When using one please do not be one of those people that throw the toy, run out pick it up yourself and give your dog a treat from your pocket. OUCH! Where is the value there? The goal when using these toys is to get a transfer of value from the food to the toy. Do not allow yourself to be shaped by your dog. Picture yourself in the middle of one of those Gary Lawson’s Far Side Cartoons. Your dogs are hanging out in the yard before training and one laughs and says to the other “yeah, just watch how I get her to not only throw the toy but bring it back for me before I get my treat! How much fun is that?”  So if you are currently stuck in your own animated toy-retrieval hell, get out! One of the best food-toys on the market to start a dog that is truly unmotivated by toys is the “Tug it”

tug-it-starter-cropped-picturefinal4 toy.  I am a big fan of this food transition toy.  The Tug-It is an awesome way to move away from exclusively using food, to incorporating a toy in your training. Even if you never make the transition, you can just use Tug-it stuffed with food for all of your regular training. The toy is very durable with large meshing that food can squish out of into the dog’s mouth. The starter version (pictured here) has a wider mesh allowing for more food to escape from the toy with each bite your dog takes. You can transition down to the smaller holed mesh in the process of creating a dog that will work for both food and toys. If you are using the Tug-it for the first time PLEASE DON’T TRY TO USE IT IN YOUR WEAVE POLE TRAINING! Take a week to build the value for toy. Your goal is to get the transfer of value from the food to the toy prior to using it in any  training.  Once you have that, you can easily transfer the value of the toy into your work (such as weave poles). Start with really gooey food like liverwurst or something similar that the dog will immediately drive towards, and will get reinforcement from, the moment he bites into it. One of my students uses raw ‘guts’ (liver, kidney etc)–it is really gross, but I must admit, the dogs’ go crazy for it (note: if using raw organ meat in your training be certain to have disinfecting wet wipes with you and don’t train indoors on surfaces that can’t be disinfected afterwards).  To start, attach the Tug-It to your leash and drag it around on the floor until your dog pounces on it to hold it still. Don’t do too much ‘teasing’ with the toy, allow the dog to learn how reinforcing it can be to chop down on the new toy. Allow the game to go on only for a minute or so. Put the toy away and try a few hours later. Stop with the dog wanting more. Do not make the mistake of having your session go so long that you end up stopping after the dog’s interest starts to wain. Be disciplined about this, less really is more when teaching drive for a toy.  The manufacturer of the Tug-It has a great video clip to show you how to easily make the transition from the Tug-It to tugging on a regular tug-toy (for those of viewing this at work the link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD8p8-XkdLg)   Once the dog is showing drive for the Tug-it, you can move to stuffing it with a less messy treat  like more traditional dog treats or cheese or meat.  If you want to create toy drive the key is to transition. Do not leave the dog obsessing about the food at the early stage or you will be stuck using those gross, gooey treats forever! Trust me, if you don’t shape your dog your dog will shape you!  If you really don’t care about creating toy drive (seems a bit strange to me) then can just use your Tug-It for your 2×2 training with the food in it, no problem with that at all. You may need to weight it down though, with something such as a small hard rubber toy, in order to get the Tug-it to throw a long distance with good accuracy. Now here is the really good news, I am so crazy about the “Tug It” I have arranged to make it very easy for all of my blog readers to own one (or a set) and get a discount at the same time!  You can click here to go to the creator’s website and order the product, once you have put in your address etc there is a spot where you can put in a “DISCOUNT CODE”  Your promotional code will be the word TUGSY put it in and receive 10% off the purchase price. So do it now, spend a week building high value for the Tug-it, then get to you weave pole training. Don’t forget to report back on how your 2×2 training with your Tug-It has progressed.

Today I am grateful for a warm place to train on a very cold day in Canada.



  1. Great post! I’ve been considering getting the Tug It! for my sheltie, not sure if he’d actually tug on it or if he’d just lick it, but it sounds like it’s worth giving a try!


  2. My Springer just licks it. She is an odd dog. If we are on a walk she will tug ferociously on a stick with me. I dont do it too long as just the sheer joy of her tugging with me is wonderful. And I have read enough about keeping the intensity. Now indoors she has no desire to tug. She will retrieve but is happy to let go!! I have waved the tug it, put peanut butter in it but she is very passively interested. She did tug on turkey necks once in training but I find those disgusting, slippery and she ended up getting too much off in a tug and eating it, another yuck. She loves to shape and offer behaviours, but the tugging, well, she is winning this battle unfortunately. What if she gets a decent retrieve and no tug?

  3. Michelle, why not put the raw turkey or chicken neck inside the tug it? I would try different treats inside but in the end, no there is no problem if you throw the tug-it your dog retrieves it TO YOU and you open it up for him to have a bite–but that would not be my first choice.

  4. This is timely. I am on the verge of quitting the 2 X 2 training with my food-only motivated dog.

    Everything is going along swimmingly with my toy motivated dog. The value of the toy has transferred to the poles, he is learning something every time we do a 2 X 2 session, and he is close to 4 straight poles!

    My food only girl is stuck back on one set of two poles. She gets the idea, but I’ve really hit a bit of a brick wall when it comes to adding the second set of poles. Granted, even that tiny bit of work I’ve done with her has improved her weave pole drive and entries, but we are really stuck as far as the 2 X 2 process goes.

    I tried the Tug It! with her unsuccessfully, but probably did not use high enough value food. I’ll give the process you’ve described here a whirl and see how that goes.

    This dog has always had an aversion to playing with toys interactively with a human. She will tug with another dog, but the minute a human gets the end of the tug, she drops it like a hot potato. Maybe the Tug It! can change her mind. Stranger things have happened.

  5. Thanks Susan, good idea, holding that greasy slippery turkey neck was a challenge. It might also add to the excitement of her retrieving. I am persistent, who knows, there may be a tug in her future that is not only outdoors with a stick!!

  6. I actually got a “tug it” this summer at one of Susan’s camp in case I came across such a case (I have 4 tug crazy dogs so not needed here). In a class, one of the student’s dog would not work for tug toys, balls or even much for food. I took out my tug it and we stuffed it with different things over the weeks until we found something she would go for… it turned out that it was raw liver…. yuck…. but it worked, we now had something to work with.

  7. Hi, Susan, I am enjoying reading your blogs nearly as much as I have enjoyed working your 2×2 method!

    I just had to write, as I am so very excited and proud of my little red heeler, Five – today we completed our first set of 12 straight weaves!!!! I want you to know I am a convert to the 2×2 method for sure.

    I have 11 dogs, all of whom are competitive frisbee dogs, I do agility with 3 of them; all 3 learned weaves using the channel method. When I got your dvd, I decided to ‘experiment’ by choosing one of my disc dogs to train with the method first. Five is a 7 yr old aust. cattle dog with no agility experience ( he knows a couple obstacles and that’s it!). He’s a bright and intense learner, with alot of shaping history so I thought he’d be a great test subject.

    Today was our 38# session, our 19th day (as I did 2 sessions per day instead of 3). The fun part is that a good friend of mine began training his 3 yr old BC on weaves using the channel method on the same exact day……………she is still struggling with entries with the poles offset about 2-4″! Five is hitting entries 2 of my 3 agility dogs wouldn’t dream of hitting! I’m sold…………I’ll be retraining those 2 dogs, as well as using this method with all future dogs. Just wanted to thank you for an insightful and easy to follow dvd

    Hope to post some vid of Five after this snow storm leaves us in Missouri!


    • Tracy that is just an awesome story and one EVERYONE needs to hear! I hate that dogs continue to struggle with traditional methods of weave pole training when this one makes so darn much sense!

  8. I’m delighted: my dog is weaving 6 poles for a ball he loves.
    Then: I watch my 2 X 2’s DVD again to check up on where I am, and review my next steps. Here’s a little tidbit that I didn’t “hear” the first time around, for example:vary the toy reward you use, don’t always use the same one!

    Oh-oh, and now I read this post, and I realize, what about motivation in a situation with big distractions, such as a lot of other interesting dogs around! then he is not interested in his favorite ball, nor tugging with me, ( although he loves to tug with me at home). However, he is still very food motivated, succulent roast beef in particular.

    So kids: I’ve ordered my Tug It ! we gonna get some value in the toy and fun!
    I advise anyone ordering from overseas to order 2, the shipping cost is the same as for one.

    I’m so grateful for all the details and advice you give concerning shaping, and shaping vs luring. I hope to become more aware of what I’m actually doing.

  9. Thank you so much for this information. I am ordering Tug Its today. While my young setter loves to tug, my older guy has no use for it. His most favorite thing is a ball. I use a ball that doesn’t roll very well – it has nubs on it and I can throw it on the line. He is very treat motivated – when he knows I have treats he gets way to focused on them. Hopefully, I can now train him using the Tug It. I am excited about the prospect of great weave entries and have ordered my own set of 2×2 weaves. Come on spring weather – we’re ready to train!!

  10. Susan,
    Today I told my dog she was a genius for completing 12 poles on her second try. The credit goes to you and your method. The food disc CleanRun sells was our toy. I can toss it well. I am introducing her to the Tug It. I used the 2×2 method 6 years ago and loved it then. The improvements you’ve made are wonderful. The transition from 6 to 12 was just as smooth as you described in the video. The entry challenges are fantastic. Thanks for sharing your secrets.

  11. Susan – I got your DVD and have been working my VERY food motivated terrier. When we moved from working on the patio to the grass, our progress slowed significantly due to his not fabulous retrieving skills. (My fault – I know). He loves to tug, but loves food more. If I buy the Tug It, I’m afraid he’ll just run to it and chow down. So do we need to just concentrate on retrieving a non-food item?

    Thanks for your help!

  12. I am loving the 2 x 2 with my Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Syd. She’s the first dog I’ve had who is so wild about shaping behaviors, and this has been fun. We do have one snag though, and I wonder if any others have had this happen. With the first set of poles, Syd is perfect and I can move from say, 8:00 counter clockwise all the way to about 12:30 (around the right side in the diagrams). However, the minute I take even one step to 12:00, Syd is completely unable to “get it.” She offers down, pretty, spin, anything, and she’ll even go around deliberately and try to come around and enter from behind the poles (the wrong way), but she seems unable to go through the poles in the right direction. How can she get it so well with me in one place, and then act completely clueless when I move 5 inches from that spot? I am stumped because I know Syd is trying to offer behaviors, it seems it doesn’t occur to her to go through the poles in the same direction she did when I was standing a few inches away.

  13. A Friend and student of mine is having a few issues with the 2×2 method, and I have been having a bit myself, but I think I know what my boy’s issue is. (I’m gonna start over and see what happens with him.) But my friend’s rat terrier, is doing great with one set of poles, but when you add the second, she just doesn’t get it. She acts completely clueless about what to do. She’ll stand there and then start to offer other behaviors, but doesn’t even head for the second set. My little all-american boy is similar, except he was never really clicker trained before and so he’s not sure, he’s getting the idea <of course he offers a down more than anything else > but I’m pretty sure I just screwed up on the building of the value in the first stage. So I THINK I’m gonna go back and try that again for a session or two until it clicks and then go back. Now our little pap/corgi mix who wasn’t really shaped to do anything before, but was weaving picked it up really really quickly. She’s up to 8 poles and started several weeks after my boy. It was cute to see her face light up when there were four poles, she was like “OH!! OH!!! That’s what you meant!!”

  14. Great Post! That sounds like good fun, I think I will be giving this a go our dog is really energetic so should make for some good fun, i hope!

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