Getting the Great See-Saw Performance You’ve Always Wanted!

So many trainers! So many ideas! Where to start?

As with pretty much any subjectand teaching the see-saw is no exceptionthere will be more than one opinion about ”the” way to approach the challenge. Your trainer’s favorite method will likely differ from that of your friend’s trainer. Your own experiences will be different from those of your friends. The many and varied methods are sure to promote much animated discussion at the end of the day and trainers will be keen to impress upon you the advantages of their ”way.”

Of course, this phenomenon is not just restricted to dog training! In any walk of life there will always be different ways to do things and varied opinions on any number of subjects. This is how it should be and, for me, is what makes life so interesting and wonderful.

So, onto the great see-saw debate!

I myself have taught the see-saw in a number of ways since I began training for agility over 30 years ago. If you have been training for some time you might also recognize some of these methods.

  • The ”Coax the dog up the plank and lower it gently down” method.
  • The ”Run the dog up an elevated plank and gently or not so gently lower it” method.
  • The “Let the dog run up the plank to discover the joy of flying through the air” method.

Which may have led to the, “Oh my, how do I get my dog to go near this thing!” dilemma.

Hopefully, if you are just beginning your agility journey, these will all be unfamiliar to you. With all the new advances in understanding about how dogs learn and advances in agility training, you will undoubtedly be working on a far less intimidating and safer method of teaching the see-saw.

Thankfully, agility has moved with the times.

Since those days new, more dog-and-handler friendly methods of training the see-saw have been developed.

The concept of giving our puppies a thorough, fun and really broad foundation before introducing any obstacle is finally catching on. Building a firm foundation is essential when teaching the see-saw.

The use of wobble boards and other unstable surfaces, popular games such as ”The Bang game,” are widely taught. By the time you are ready to introduce the see-saw, your pup will already be very happy to step onto strange surfaces and make them move. The see-saw will just be another of these and yet one more opportunity to have fun with you.

However, the time will come to take the bull by the horns.

It will be time to introduce the actual obstacle and here is where you might find a variety of ideas as to the best way to approach this. Nowadays most trainers do agree that the see-saw needs to be trained carefully and in small increments in order to maintain the dog’s confidence.

Well-known and great methods

Here are a few examples of current, well-known and reliable methods of teaching the see-saw.

  • The ”Two tables” method.
  • The ”Wooden pallet” method. (Using pallets to hold up the see-saw)
  • A variety of other ”Suspend the see-saw methods,” e.g. with poles, chairs or even an instructor’s foot.

So why do we need something new?

I have thought of myself in many ways over the years. Wife, mother, grade school teacher, school principal, and most recently full time dog trainer, instructor and coach. But inventor? Never! However, little did I know that things were about to change.

It was in this last role of dog trainer, instructor and coach that I regularly experienced the challenge of helping multiple groups of dogs and handlers to achieve a fast, confident and independent see-saw.

Despite my comprehensive training and teaching background I have often been frustrated when trying to help a larger number of students, all at different stages, to master the see-saw in my classes. In fact, when analyzing some of those classes I realized that teaching the see-saw was becoming something of a rarity! I was actually, sub-consciously avoiding teaching this obstacle! This revelation began to make me increasingly uncomfortable  especially as I was also starting to encounter more and more new students asking for help with dogs that had already become tentative or fearful when performing the see-saw.

While questioning the reason for this I became increasingly aware of how much the instability and unpredictability of the see-saw, adds a whole new dimension of challenge to this obstacle. This challenge is very real for the dogs, for individual handlers and for trainers aiming to successfully accommodate all levels of students within their classes.

If you are an instructor yourself, you may identify with some of the following scenarios that I realized I was encountering on a regular basis. Or if you are an individual handler, trainer or student, you may certainly recognize your own dog.

You are teaching a class of beginner dogs how to perform the see-saw. There are all kinds of dogs in the class…big dogs and small dogs; bold dogs and timid dogs; all progressing at different rates. Some of the dogs have been through your own foundation classes and are ready to progress quite quickly, but others may have recently moved into your area without such a thorough grounding. Using the traditional methods of adjusting the see-saw tip, a great deal of class time is often taken up with just moving the equipment needed to accommodate all the different levels. Tables, chairs and the like are moved around to adjust the see-saw tip in fairly small increments  and still the see-saw tips too much for some of the more hesitant dogs.

Or maybe you have been in this position, as I have on a number of occasions.

A client brings you a dog that is already afraid of the see-saw. In order to rebuild the dog’s confidence, you need the see-saw to tip in very, very small increments. But, once again, such tiny adjustments are difficult to make using tables or chairs. Too much movement will delay the dog’s progress and so you resort to using telephone books and the like to adjust the see-saw by the smallest degree possible.

I personally identify closely with this quote from a top American trainer and competitor, Tori Self:

“I was very pleased to first hear of the TipAssist’s existence. For me, training the teeter generally turns into a game of finding chairs and other knickknacks tall enough or short enough or medium-height enough to support the teeter board at various heights. It was nice to work with a product that was so easily and readily adjustable, and that was designed specifically for training the teeter — no creative stacking necessary.”

Hence, with “necessity being the mother of invention,” my idea for the TipAssist was born.

The TipAssist is not

  • A new method of teaching the see-saw.
  • Limited to use in only one place.
  • A magic pill! Time, patience and plenty of reinforcement will still be necessary!

The TipAssist is

  • A convenient, portable, lightweight tool that replaces the need for tables, chairs, poles or any other equipment to support and elevate the see-saw.
  • A tool that allows you to take complete control of the see-saw’s motion when teaching drive to the top and stop at the bottom of the obstacle.
  • A tool that allows you to change the degree of tip quickly and easily when working with multiple dogs (either your own, your friends or in a class situation.) Each dog is able to progress at its own pace.
  • A tool that allows individual handlers and trainers to easily work on any number of different see-saws, ensuring that confidence on the obstacle is generalized.
  • A tool that allows you to increase the amount of tip in extremely small increments for beginner or fearful dogs.
  • A tool that encourages independent obstacle performance right from the very start of the training.
  • A tool that is easy to transport, allowing individuals, seminar presenters and instructors to take it along to any venue.

I have personally been using the TipAssist in my own classes and for teaching my own dogs for about three years and cannot imagine life without it now. In fact, it was the encouragement of my students that led to the launch of this product as a valuable tool to other individuals and trainers.

For a visual demonstration of how the Tip Assist works, the step by step increments to guarantee your success, click on the following video:

and for working with larger dogs:

Please note, this article was published in its original form in Clean Run Magazine in 2013.